Monday, June 23, 2008

We fought pillar to post and gave all we had then discovered deep down ten times more than we dreamed, all by the grace of God…this damned, pathetic, depressed and forlorn cave we moved into a year ago this Saturday, is now a home.

I do not know what Jesus has planned…but I assure you with every fiber in me, Satan did all he had permission to do to thwart both missions during this last year. Selah.

The first four or six weeks Naomi did not live here with me because we had no bathroom. Every day during that time I drove 20 minutes to her grandparents (where she was staying) and 20 minutes back just to shower. We had internet and cable TV in one room (most of the house did not have working lights) and that was it.

It wasn’t a week or two after Naomi moved into “the cave” that it was broken into in the middle of the day. All the copper pipes from the basement were ripped from the walls and they grabbed my new TV on their way out. That was stellar. The insurance paid for an extended stay hotel room which allowed pets (I have three dogs…in a small hotel room…for a week or so…it was great fun!!!). So grampa had the pleasure of re-plumbing the house a second time and Naomi was back at her grandparents house for another week or so. Two thumbs up!

I’ve written a bit about the break in but allow me to say this. That was an undeniable warning shot from Satan himself. “Stop this now or I will kill you…” I could somehow hear him growl this with hatred as I stood in what became the kitchen waiting for the cops to show up. The whole thing was crazy. For some reason they only took my stuff (my new TV, the only thing of value and entertainment I had in the house) or stuff that effected me (the plumbing). Grampa had at least several hundred dollars worth of tools throughout the house which they could have so easily taken and did not. They break into a gold mine of tools and they don’t take a single one. Only things that belonged to or effected Naomi and I were taken. That Satanic shot made an impact to say the least and prepared us for what was to come.

Once the house was re-plumed…again…the entire project was forced into a four month standstill. When we took the leap we were already working with a bank to finance this project. At the time we moved we were given the strong impression by this bank that given the fact this property was owned by the church free and clear and given the fact that the association had voted to co-sign for the loan on behalf of the mission…the small loan amount we were applying for would be no problem for them to swing at all. It was our assumption that within a month the finances would be set and work would begin on the rest of the parsonage at that point. We really thought everything would be done by, say, Thanksgiving or certainly by Christmas. I was given this strong impression, as was Naomi and our Associational Missionary, Martin Jones. Oh…how terribly naïve we all were. At the last minute something or another fell through…and the deal was taken off the table by that bank.

And that started a series of similar situations, three or four in a row I believe (my brain is just fried right now and I can’t remember all the details). Each time a new bank was approached we were told this was a slam dunk deal and a few days before closing the deal would either drastically change beyond what we needed or they would just put the kibosh on it. Each bank would take about a month of our time, keeping our hopes up, up, up…and then “splat”. Meanwhile we’re still living in the most depressing hole in the ground you’d ever have seen in your life. Even Saddam Hussein would have searched out a better cave to hide out in after the fall of Iraq.

This almost happened a fifth time, with the bank our local association has done business with for decades…until Robert Smith (the sba treasurer), in the most Godly way possible, almost went ballistic. Let me be clear…Robert is a Godly and even tempered man who loves Jesus and loves missions. I have never seen a display of such Christ-like indignation in my life (neither has our DOM Martin Jones) than what I saw that day in some big shots office. His anger was not in any way of the flesh…that was Spirit filled anger, man. He didn’t cuss or get loud…but he got very serious and made it clear that it was in the banks interest to do what they had promised to do for weeks. There is no law requiring the SBA to do business with them for decades into the future and this bait and switch move was going to cost them big time he assured them (key word: assured).

It worked. And we got funded.

In late October or early November (I can’t remember exactly off hand).

During the summer, while we haggled with banks, I was working with our insurance company over the break in and the damage to both the church building and parsonage due to a fairly massive hail storm. It was around the end of October when we finally had a new roof put onto the parsonage…not having water pour into what is now my office was a great relief.

So…as I explained…the funding came through in (or about) November. In case you are not from around here, it starts to get cold in late September and October. The furnace in the house was totally shot and it was getting cold. We started to use electric space heaters in whichever room we were in but I knew that wasn’t going to help keep the pipes from eventually freezing. The SBA stepped in at the last minute and spotted the mission the money to buy a new furnace (97% efficient baby!) and we were able to pay them back once the money was transferred into the Coram Deo account from the loan. It was a close call because the very next week the temperatures really dove.

Once the funds were available the first project was the kitchen. To make a long story short…it was done just before Christmas. Again…we moved into the parsonage on June 30th…we went nearly six months with no stove or kitchen sink. There are certain things in life one takes for granted and really under-appreciates. Trust me when I tell you this…having a fridge, stove and kitchen sink are on the list of underappreciated items for most of you. There was no easy solution accept to either buy microwave meals (and let me tell you…they all taste the same after awhile) or to run through a drive through. We did sit at restaurants a good bit…but man…sometimes you just want to go home, get comfortable, watch the news and eat. Someone offered to let us use this burner thing used for camping…the only problem was we couldn’t do dishes in any (remotely) practical way. And as I said…most of this time we anticipated funding was right around the corner so we didn’t even have a fridge for the first three or four months (why muscle the fridge in the church building up the hill and into the parsonage when in just a few weeks we’ll have to muscle it right back out we would ask ourselves). This lifestyle didn’t exactly make it easy to maintain my weight loss (and almost impossible to continue to lose)…all things considered I’m not in terrible despair right now (believe me, it could have been a complete disaster)…but I have to now make up for the lost ground of the last year and continue the journey I started two years ago. I’m not the least bit worried about that.

Room by room grampa and Naomi’s dad Vince would tear into and discover terrible things…even many dangerous things. Thank God no family ever died in this house is all any of us can say at this point. Because of the constant surprises discovered in each and every room the work drug on and on. A responsible carpenter can not simply cover over these types of things once they are discovered. These things must be fixed. Anyone who has ever done this type of work can testify as well…undoing and correcting the mistakes of others takes far more effort than just doing it right to start with.

So the cave became a construction project with tools, saw dust, buckets of drywall compound, paint cans, nails, stacks of drywall and two by fours all over the place. Most of the winter significant portions for the walls and ceiling were exposed without insulation while being worked on. Widows were forced open due to the excessive dust created by ripping plaster off the walls…in the dead of winter. I was on the phone, studying and writing all winter long bundled up in a hooded sweat shirt, sweat pants and two pairs of socks under my shoes in a corner of what is now our den. Hindsight is 20/20 of course…I really wish I had spent far more time last summer and most of the winter doing more in the parsonage after they left for the day. No one knew how many surprises were in store in every room…I could have been tearing old wall paper off the walls upstairs long before I did. At the time I would have thought that doing so would be to undercut Grampa and Vince…I wasn’t trying to take food out of their mouths in other words.

It was also during all of this that Naomi and I received crushing blows from two different families who were very dear to us. Both issues were separated by several months which in many ways made it worse I guess…you begin to deal with one and then get hit with another. I’ll never get into the all details of either situation but obviously in both cases the issues were multi-layered and in both situations I truly own plenty of the blame. What rocked us so hard was the complete lack of grace or mercy initially shown to us by people who frequently told us how much they loved us. The first situation was initially handled in a way that was, frankly, just plain nasty and it ended up costing Southside several families. The fact that this family back-tracked once our DOM Martin Jones was brought in by one of our elders to help us sort through it all didn’t matter to the families that left. The second situation could have been handled better in my opinion…but there was no attempt by them to rip families from the church or anything crazy like that. In fact, God is bringing healing to that situation as we speak. And as amazing as it may be to me…the first situation has a chance to begin to heal as well. Let me be clear as I can be…I made real mistakes in both situations. I’m not the monster both families initially painted me as of course…but I certainly handed them rocks and then dared them to throw them at me. I made mistakes I will not make again. I’m still learning and growing in my walk with Christ and as a leader of His people. I’m still a young pastor and have learned the hard way to think more before I speak…because words are powerful and can be taken out of context with ease. Wither I like it or not, wither it is fair or not…there is a different set of rules for pastors apparently and I’m done resisting them. What stunned me was not the confrontation of “hey man…you hurt me when you said this…” Those confrontations are normal and healthy and lead to repentance and growth. What shook me so was how fast and unexpected the gloves came off in both situations, how fast my words were taken out of context (poorly chosen yet well intended words) and how easily I was made out to be a monster by people who not long before constantly assured me of their appreciation and admiration.

All of that happening at the same time we were fighting the devil in this parsonage…truly…it about did me in. I really don’t even know what to say other than, “but God…” His grace took hold of me is the only way I can describe it. Naomi…she’s just hard core. I sometimes wonder if anything really phases her. Sure…she complained her fair share…but her spirit was never once defeated. Mine sure was…I was tempted to take a flying leap off the top of the church building more than once. I’m telling you…I have no clue how Southside Christian Fellowship survived and then became The Epicenter Church. No clue at all. None. Where it not for grace alone (because we had nothing else to which we could cling) everything would have fallen apart. I get frustrated that we’re not healthier than we are…but all things considered it is amazing we are this strong. People are still being saved and discipled, TEC supports missions in general and a family planting a church in a closed nation and we are able to help those in need in our community far more than a church of our size would ever be expected to do. Jesus is at work at TEC…what a blessing. More on that later.

Through all these trials, toils and snares we’ve come out ok on the other side. The Epicenter Church is not where any of us are satisfied with…yet she’s very much alive and the vibe is so great. The summer has brought lean Sunday attendance…but I guess I should just join the club on that one. Phase 1 of Coram Deo is now, unbelievably, complete (is any house ever “done”?). We can now engage the community and offer hospitality to them! We can now have people from the community in our home for dinner! We can have Bible studies in our home! We have mission teams coming all summer long to work on Phase 2: the church building. If you are interested in volunteering in the church building, or leading a team from your church, let me know! With the price of gas these days Coram Deo might be a good fit for your mission trip budget!

How do I end this? Hmm. All I know is that a year ago I thought I understood what grace and mercy were. I really did. I can now say that I have a better understanding of both so I am truly grateful for the last year. I might finally be crushed enough to be somewhat useful in Kingdom work. My prayer is that I am never so hard again that God must crush me. The opportunity to call men to repent and lead their homes under the authority of Christ in not just one mission…but two…still floors me. My mouth waters when I think about preaching at Coram Deo in the morning and then preaching at The Epicenter Church at night. I can hardly wait to see elders raised in both congregations. The vision, by the grace of God, is becoming more clear and I am thrilled to be a kite in Christ’s hurricane in northeast Ohio.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:2-6 niv


Naomi said...

Gary, thank you for putting that story of ours in know how I forget things!

It was rough, but I would do it again! There is such a satisfaction to be found in working to exhaustion because look at the finished product! Now, may God's hand truly guide and be with us and we reach out to the community around us. May He have already began to prepare the hearts of those who will recieve His message.

I love you Gary, and it is so awesome that God put us two CRAZY people together who are crazy enough to do the things we do!!

I hope you are enjoying your office today...I think that is my favorite is so nice for you to have that. You deserve it.

jeremy schweyer said...

Great work Gary Fox! I loved every minute of it. That is literally like two chapters in a book or something! I hope you are sitting in your office now and enjoying the few! Prayers!

jeremy schweyer said...

suppose to be "office now and enjoying the view!"

Charles said...

Gary, How blest you are! You and Naomi are a great team and I can see that our Father has great things in store for us all through the coming days of both Corem Deo and Epicenter. I have been privileged to serve with you at RBC. I will be praying and watching with baited breath to see what the Lord is going to do next. I pray that some of you will be present on Saturday, at 6:30pm to meet with Ernie and Dinah Bergan. Charles

irreverend fox said...


thank YOU for dealing with me! you were used by God to bring me untold stability and comfort! I love you!


dude...I appreciate your kind words so much. you're a great brother and I can't wait to chill in Seattle with you...thanks man. Remember…I only do stuff that I truly want to do…lol…so I can only ever blame myself for what I get into!

Brother Charles,

your words of wisdom and patience with me have served me immensely! thank you for cheering Naomi and I on! I always need your affirmation and encouragement...always pray for us!

N Fox said...

Dealing with you??? Your a gem! :)

I'll miss you while you are on your pastor's retreat! Don't fall in!

Anonymous said...

As one of the parties in question that set you on your heels, let me apologize again for that. I am glad that God has once againg gotten ahold of both of us and is bringing healing once more. Do you ever get the feeling there's more going on "behind the scenes" than we are seeing? Good blog.

irreverend fox said...


not exactly sure who you are...but I have an idea. God is always at work, breaking people...breaking strongholds and then rebuilding it all in the image of and for the glory of our King, Jesus Christ.

and never forget...we're all still young! the story ain't over!