“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
The address looked familiar. It was located in the Westchester area of Miami near Florida International University. These were my old stomping grounds, full of friends and acquaintances, where my parents resided. Then I saw the building, and a flood of emotions engulfed me; we were returning to the scene of the crime.
My friend Steve had invited me on several occasions to join him at Sunday service in the new church he was attending. He marveled at the teaching, the spirituality of the worship and the genuine love of the congregation. So, why not, and thus Julianne and I trekked south in late August of 2021 to join him and his wife at his place of worship. And there was the familiar parking lot, with some of the small potholes still in place, and the building that took me back to the spring of 1984, the place where I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. The church looked much the same as the one I had abandoned in late 1997, but it felt different; the Holy Spirit was alive and well here; the crime scene had been wiped clean.
A newly minted Christian
The first months of a newly minted Christian usually are filled with bouts of elation while sharing the newly found faith; not here. My personality called for expression, but my church surroundings screamed composure and social order, more social than order. But I truly enjoyed the congregation, and in due time began to participate in the “studies” and events. The founding pastor perceived leadership qualities in me, and with the passage of time I became a deacon, an elder, the service leader and finally an occasional preacher of the Word. However, what I was preaching to the choir and to the congregation from the standpoint of Jesus the Christ left a lot to be desired, yet it was readily accepted by my brothers and sisters. It did not deviate much from our pastor’s weekly sermon.
Then the only leader our church had ever known decided to retire. A search committee was subsequently formed, which was comprised of four brothers and me, who was assigned the leadership role. Two main candidates surfaced: a member of the pastoral family and an outsider from a Latin American country. More than half of the congregation leaned towards nepotism while the rest called for change. After months of deliberation and church unrest, the decision was made. I provided the deciding vote, and the war began. The “intruding pastor” from Mexico was totally unacceptable to the parochial majority, and soon thereafter we began to bleed members. When it became unsustainable, I resigned, left the church after 13 years, and settled elsewhere. The church never recovered.
Once I ventured out into a new congregational culture, the passion for studying the Bible became a welcomed reality. Success in life is often measured by how quickly we ascertain what we want versus what we don’t, and then putting our analysis into action. I did not want to be a Revelation 3:16 believer any longer, thus my walk with Christ and His church took a turn for the better. Today, our lives are defined by Scripture reading, prayer and worship, all embellished by our church experience.
Why did God bring me back?
But why did God bring me back to where it all began? I surmise that firstly He wanted me to accept responsibility for what had occurred in that building decades ago. I had not come to grips with the fact that my lack of leadership and spiritual maturity greatly impacted the implosion that occurred. I was as much to blame for the “crime” that occurred there as anyone else… mea culpa.
Secondly, He was showing me true redemption. The church’s original name was El Redentor (The Redeemer); spiritual renewal has taken hold of this new congregation and now the old name finally applies; Christ is the centerpiece in this building which now bears a new name. And lastly, He is imparting restoration to my life, tying the loose ends, if you will. As 2nd Corinthians reveals, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, live in peace.” We have now come full circle, and peace has been restored.
“It was the best of times……
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