It was around sunset as we wound our way on the country roads approaching the Antioch church of Christ in Thonotosassa, Florida. We were reminded by the scenery of the little country town of Silverton, Oregon where Mark grew up, and we often motorcycled together, especially during the four months we dated before we married from July of 1979 through December of that year.
We didn’t know much about the congregation, other than that my daughter, almost twenty years previous to our visit, had enjoyed Dr. Thaxter Dickey’s classes when she attended Florida College, but during our visit we learned that in the late eighteen hundreds, a preacher with the last name of Hamilton, who had a heart for restoring New Testament Christianity began to preach the word of God without the addition of man-made creeds, and that the Antioch Church Of Christ is thought to be the oldest continuously existing congregation of Christians in Hillsborough County, Florida.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of this congregation is that, despite the typical problems often experienced by congregations that are caused by sin or individual differences around doctrinal understandings, or challenges around personality conflicts, there has never been a split in this congregation. And to this day they work together and support preachers in Duluth, Minnesota, the Island of Seychelles, South Africa, Honduras and Botswana in Africa.
On the evening of our visit we enjoyed how they sang from the bottom of their hearts with much feeling. We found the congregation to be quite warm and inviting and after the building had been locked up for the night, we stood outside under the stars and chatted with a circle of spiritually minded Christian girls from the college that felt the extra time and expense to travel several times each week so that Antioch could be their home congregation was quite worth it.
So off we went and circled the country for about 20,000 adventure-filled miles, until winter weather again slowly pushed us back into the Tampa area. Around that time I got a sweet text from Dana Carrozza inviting me to be a guest at the Sacred Selections table at the annual Ladies’ Tea at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club that helps provide scholarships for Florida College students. It was more lovely (and yummy, and hilarious, and relaxed!) than anything I could have imagined --- and I especially enjoyed the sisters I met and was reacquainted with at our beautiful table, including a young mother snuggling her adorable little baby she had just adopted.
Another sister, dear to my heart who was sitting at the Sacred Selections table, and is likewise an adoptive mother, described her own more recent visit to the Antioch Church of Christ, and the great lesson from Dr. Dickey she heard called “In His Time”. She described how, in the lesson, Dr. Dickey used many of the examples of the times in scripture when the tension runs thick in the hearts of men because “all looks lost”, and yet over and over again how God comes through in every kind of unimaginable way, at a much more advantageous time because of reasons only God could have known. Whether in fulfilling His promises to give Abraham a son, or God providing a lamb in the thicket to take the place of Isaac, or the miraculous rescue of Jerusalem from Assyria in 2 Kings 19, or in the raising of Lazarus, or even the long-awaited coming of the Messiah, and finally the perfect timing of our Savior’s resurrection. In every one of these points in history, we see again that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, Nor are God’s ways our ways… truly, as the Lord Himself declares, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). The takeaway, of course, is that since God in His perfect wisdom, does things at exactly the right time, that rather than despairing when the circumstances of the world or our personal lives are crumbling, we can rest our hearts in the knowledge that God is always up to something benevolent for those who believe and trust to their core everything that He says, and honor Him with their whole hearts.
I was glad this sister I’d known for years brought up this sermon she had heard because God’s perfect timing is not only one of my favorite concepts to talk about, watching His providence play out, happens to be my favorite part of living nomadically. Surely His perfect timing never ceases.
At the luncheon, a lively quilt auction transpired, conversations around the table turned this way and that, and our server came and went with all kinds of delicious little sandwiches and fancy little baked goods. Some time later my friend started to describe a situation of a friend she has who had volunteered to temporarily care for a niece and nephew in a desperate situation. However, this niece and nephew needed more than the temporary care she could provide. They were in dire need of a permanent home. And because the young nephew had been expressing his desire to have God in his life and was wanting to belong to a church, this auntie reached out to my friend, knowing her to be both an adoptive mother and a Christian, to find out if she knew any people of faith who would want to adopt her niece and nephew. My friend reached out to Dana Carrozza, and as God’s perfect timing would have it, a family many states away had just a few days prior, reached out to Dana who was interested in adopting one or two older children. In a matter of a few days, the connection was made between this adoptive family and the caregiving Auntie of the children. The conversation started in July, and everything fell into place so smoothly that these happy children were with their new, loving family in time to start school the next month and the adoption was already finalized by October. God came through again with just the right Christian home for a couple souls He loves even more than we can love one another. I noticed that her story went right along with the lesson she had heard at the Antioch congregation, both of which reminded me of the song we often sing written by Diane Ball:
In His time, in His time.
He makes all things beautiful, in His time.
Lord, please show me every day,
As You’re teaching me Your way,
That You do just what You say,
In Your time.
As the luncheon ended we noticed a sister who had won one of the lovely auctioned baby quilts, quietly walked up to the new adoptive mother and warmly gifted it to her sleeping baby. What a lovely reminder that God’s gifts to us happen at just the right time, and sometimes we are given opportunities to reflect His beauty when our gifts to one another are also perfectly timed.
The universe itself runs on His perfect time, and all this has me wondering, was this what God wanted me to write about in relation to the Antioch congregation instead of the original theme I had in mind the year previously when we had visited? I’m not sure. “I’m not sure” is, I believe, the humble thing to think with regard to things that only God knows, but even with our limited knowledge about the workings of God, we can certainly continue to thank Him for the amazing timing of the opportunities that come our way, since "every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). What good opportunities might He be up to in your life? I’m not sure. But I do know this: “...the Lord longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.” Isaiah 30:18.
Antioch church of Christ
10405 McIntosh Rd, Thonotosassa FL 33592