Chapter 1 (Entire)

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A Pastor’s Kid and a Prodigal Become Friends

Joe Coffey, Bob Bevington

Joe:

Bob was a crisp, button down Christian. He knew a lot about the Bible and carried it to church with him every week. He was the kind of guy who could teach adult Sunday School. He had a good reputation as an eye doctor and was a pretty upstanding citizen.

Then the meltdown. He had an affair with a young woman at work. He divorced his wife Rita who taught at the local Christian high school. She was diagnosed with cancer not too long after that, which made Bob an even greater pariah.

When fishermen are out for shark they do what they call “chum”—they throw bloody stuff overboard that attracts the sharks and drives them into a frenzy. Bob was a kind of Christian chum for a while. We were the sharks. What he did and how he did it pulled out all the self-righteousness in our little community. We fed on Bob for a while until we finally lost interest. Bob disappeared and when he resurfaced years later he was completely different.

I don’t know if I had ever met someone so radically changed by grace. Usually you can poke someone hard enough to get them to try to defend and justify themselves. But the Bob I had known was dead, and in his place was someone else, someone I found myself desperately wanting to know. Bob Bevington has taught me about grace. I have seen it heal his relationship with Rita and with their children. I have watched as it has flowed from him into the people God brings into his life. Bob Bevington has shown me what it looks like when grace confronts brokenness.

I remember the day he called my office to make an appointment. I looked forward to the meeting since I wondered how he would defend what he had done to Rita and why he now seemed so concerned about other people’s marriages. At the time the only real contact I had with Bob was through his new wife, Amy. Amy had called to talk about a concern she had for a couple who were separating because of an affair. She said she and Bob were praying for the couple and wanted to do anything they could to help keep them together. I found that fascinating, and not in a good way.

A few days later Bob showed up at my office, sat down across from me, and leaned forward as he is prone to do. Bob is not laid back. He is an avid Ohio State Buckeye football fan and it always seems like he is ready to jump up and yell. But as we talked about how his life had blown up, he never defended himself once. Instead he asked me how I would feel if he came to my church. He rehearsed what he had done and how he had done it. He said, “Joe, I am the worst. Everyone knows it. I will completely understand if you think we should find someplace else to go to church. I’m sure it would be simpler for you, and it would probably be better for us.”

I realized he was making it easy for me. I could just agree with him, and we’d be done. I thought about it for a minute. I thought of the people who had already warned me that Bob was attending. But when I looked in his eyes I saw something I have rarely seen. I saw someone who has been forgiven much and therefore loves much. It was grace I saw that day, and I told Bob I wanted him to make our church his own.

For the past few years I have been able to dive into grace with Bob and it has utterly changed me. For that I’ll be forever grateful.

Bob:

I was hung-over the first time I met Joe Coffey. My first wife, Rita, took me to Hudson Community Chapel, a church that met in a school gymnasium. I remember thinking it was a funny place for a church.

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