This week’s column is going to be very personal. Last Sunday we had a birthday celebration for me. A lot of you reading this were there. If you weren’t, you can get some of the flavor from my title. More than 100 people came from different parts of West Michigan to celebrate with me. I’ve never had so many hugs and glad embraces on one Sunday afternoon. I was thrilled and moved by the comments, some of them in private, and some of them spoken into a microphone and heard by everyone in the room. I felt warmed and even carried away by the love people expressed to me.
At the same time I was deeply gratified by the work my dear Mary Ann and some of our family, Kevin, Lori, Hannah, Turner and Wendy (all the way from Denver) invested to plan and prepare the food and decorate the hall at Bachelor Covenant Church. They went over the top. Picture boards portrayed my life from being a little guy on a farm in Minnesota (1939-45) before going to school and then all the way to the present. Those neat Bachelor Covenant ladies kept the food flowing for everyone to enjoy.
Seeing people from the Good News Community whom I had not seen since 1985 in some cases, and others from Saranac Community Church where I concluded my ministry in 2000, and so many other places like Grand Haven, Manistee and Ludington coming together lifted me up so high I think I could see the Kingdom of God. I am saying that very seriously.
This gathering gave me a vision. It is as if all these people were knit together like a fabric of different threads from different times and places, different years long ago or just recently. There was a feeling of “time-warp” like on Star Trek. But all those different threads were real people smiling and sharing memories; in some cases getting acquainted with others who held something in common with them. They are all connected in some way to me, of course. This is why they cared enough to celebrate my birthday. But they are also connected to the Lord Jesus Christ and demonstrate their discipleship in a variety of ways. They were young and old and anywhere in between.
These wonderful people were threads in a tapestry of a big part of my life all woven together, different colors, different experiences, different memories of things we have shared when we served together, struggled with problems together, sometimes cried together in the years past. And all of that flowed through my mind like a river of God’s love just pouring over me.
I had the courage to sing a few songs and accompany myself with the guitar, with the largest audience I ever dared to sing in front of, exactly because I knew they would love me even if I didn’t do it very well. I knew I was accepted just the way I am. I felt the grace and love of God through them holding me up.
I didn’t cry while I was there. I was too busy getting filled up with love. But when I went home, when I was all by myself for a few minutes, I cried tears of joy because I was so full, so full of the love and joy we shared all those years and all the way to the present moment. I think that is what it will be like in heaven, in God’s presence in his Kingdom to come.