“It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: But when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.”-Proverbs 20:14 (KJV)
Who did you know? It depends on when you met him. Like the shrewd haggler in the proverb, you may have seen one face before a conflict and witnessed a completely different set of expressions after.
Most of us have experience with what car dealers call, “knocking the trade.” The customer thinks their car is in perfect condition and they want full retail based on “excellent condition*.” The car dealer, the haggler in the verse above, sees the true value of the car and has to make an offer to buy the trade and still have room to make money when he sells it.
So the battle is joined. The car dealer does his best Dana Carvey imitating our 41st president and cries, “It’s bad! It’s bad!” The customer demands a queen’s ransom for their precious and immaculately curated beauty. Once the sale is made, the customer breathes a sigh of relief they won’t have to buy tires, or change the transmission fluid before the ol’ junker falls apart. The dealer brags to his pals about how much he can make on this diamond in the rough when he sells it next week. God knew about used cars 3,000-years before Henry Ford changed our world.
I knew and loved a man who could be Jekyll or Hyde. My dad knew him before I was born and warned his temper might surprise me, but I did not see that face…for a while.
He could not have been nicer to me when we finally met. We spent many an hour talking in his office. The church building literally joined the property where I rented an apartment and I loved having an experienced man of God with whom I could discuss God’s word. He seemed excited to help me write sermons and always listened to the tapes and gave me pointers as I learned. Frankly, I was always struck with how reasonable he seemed in private conversation about doctrine. I met my wife in his family’s home and he married Wendy and me in 1997.
What I could not see was the face I would witness after he decided to retire and then unretire. I have no interest in litigating events from a quarter-century ago. It will suffice to say that one-third of the congregation thought, “Glad to see him go. I can’t wait to have a new preacher!” While another group openly proclaimed, “He is my preacher and if he leaves for some nearby town, I’m going with him!” Both camps were expressing their opinions to my friend. It was selfish, ugly, and I hated what it was doing to the church.
I decided to preach a sermon on I Corinthians chapters one and three. Christ’s church was divided between those who said, “I am of the old preacher,” or “I am of the new preacher,” when we all needed to be reminded, “I am of Christ.” No preacher has been crucified for you. We are not baptized in the name of some preacher. This is Christ’s church, Christ’s business, and we are not to divide Christ’s body over men. I told both sides they were wrong. Our focus should always be on God rather than man and we are duty-bound to behave with the Spirit of Christ toward one-another.
I felt I had defended him and the truth. He had an agenda that was hidden from me. Ironically, I thought he would like the sermon. My friend’s face changed that day. The temper others whispered about was etched on his forehead. I did not understand what other people were talking about when they said my friend could be downright mean. They had seen Hyde and now so had I. Over the years I met people who had met one or both of this same man. Churches divided into camps over them. The group who knew only the first face did not believe the others. Those who saw both men struggled to explain themselves. Much harm was done and many of the separations have not been reconciled.
Recently, an elder and friend of mine told me of his passing. I am sad. I loved him. I loathed how his duplicity damaged families and churches. I pray for healing. There was much to admire and love about my friend…and much to fear. I will remember him with grace and pray the Lord does me the same. May God have mercy on us all.