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The Circle of Life

Forty years ago in Louisiana, I was pastoring my first church. That church had been in serious decline. Then the Lord sent me there and it was rescued. But soon trouble erupted. A deacon named John Courtney led a conspiracy to remove me as pastor. He became offended with me after I baptized a black child who had invited Jesus into his heart.

This deacon stirred up strife to unseat me. Without me knowing about it, he met the black family outside the church and told them they would be happier at a church down the street. The boy and his parents disappeared but I didn’t know why. That wicked man was successful in his conspiracy. Although the church grew dramatically under my leadership, it was forgotten due to my “trespass” and I was dismissed as pastor.

I grieved for the new believers I’d won to Christ and then had to abandon. My dismissal felt so unjust. Because I was rejected, I felt wounded. So I made an inner vow: “I’ll never let a church hurt me like that again!” I was done with organized religion- or so I thought.

I left and moved to Texas. There, I served with a team of pastors at a new church where the elders were in charge, not the people. While I was there, the old John Courtney tracked me down and said, “Preacher, I need you to forgive me. I’ve had a heart attack and nearly died. I want to make things right.

I said, “John, I have already forgiven you. But you’ll still answer to the Lord for what you did to that little boy and for the damage to the church.”

After ten years in Texas, I sensed it was time to be sent out, but to where? I decided to fast and pray. While doing that, I was home alone on the last day of my week-long fast. I had sought the Lord with this request, “Lord, shorten the time and show me the place.”

I was walking to and fro saying to God, “Lord, my times are in your hand.” I allowed my Bible I was holding to fall open. Its pages fluttered to 1 Corinthians 7, the chapter on celibacy. I celebrate God’s gift of sex, so I don’t have that gift! I think the best sex in the world is in the marriage bed, between a man and a woman in covenant, who are Christians. So I don’t read much in that chapter. But a verse leaped up off the page like it was highlighted. I saw, “the times have been shortened.” I began to thank the Lord for the Holy Spirit speaking to me through the Scriptures. God had heard my prayers and shortened the time! Then the telephone rang.

When I answered, a southern voice in a soft, slow drawl said, “This is John Courtney. I’m calling from ____ , Florida. I’m a deacon in _____ Baptist Church. I’m supposed to talk with you about you coming down to preach and maybe being our pastor.” As he spoke, the Holy Spirit whispered, “That’s the place!”

I was in shock for a moment. Another John Courtney? How can this be?

Two different deacons with the exact same name. Both in congregationally governed churches. Ten years apart. I had come full circle, but this time I was prepared. One man betrayed me and hurt the church, the older deacon in Louisiana. The other man, the John Courtney of Florida, loved the church and the people and honored its pastor. That John Courtney is a noble and honorable man, with a family of believers who love one another, and he is my friend.

God used the second John Courtney to heal the wounds inflicted on me by the first John Courtney. How perfect is care of our Heavenly Father, who remembers every detail, who answers our prayers, and lovingly makes plans for us.

Fast forward to today. Lana and I are in Florida this week spending time with Papa John. His wife of 58 years, Miss June, has now been elevated into eternity. As she fell asleep in Jesus, the family was gathered. We cried, hugged, prayed, and then praised the Lord for His great salvation.

I’m grateful to the Lord for adopting us into His family of faith. The spirit of adoption we feel from God and from each other is the best cure for the spirit of rejection. And this I also know: Christ’s gift of eternal life frees us from the fear of death.

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