Last night I headed up to Madrid, IA to say goodbye, again, to a good friend. The congregation there was holding a good bye party for him as he and his family head to Texas as I write this. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to see him again before he left when I saw him last month. It sure was wonderful to see him and his family one last time.
As I sat there watching the elders and others say good bye I realized that this was the 1st time I can remember being on this side of the party in a really, really long time. As a preacher I have moved more times than I like. In the last 13 years I have lived in Florida, two different towns in Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, and now Iowa. My wife and I often joke that whenever she gets pregnant we have to move as each of our children have been born in different states. Saying good bye is something I have had to do over and over again. And the truth is, it never gets easier.
Even the places that I left under not so good circumstances, I left part of my heart there. I wept tears of sorrow as I hugged those whom I loved. I wept tears of sorrow as I didn’t know if I would see them again. It was amazing how in 2-3 years I could grow so fond of perfect strangers. It was amazing how in 2-3 years they went from perfect strangers to beloved brothers and sisters. I can still recall as if it were yesterday some of these goodbyes as if they were yesterday. I can remember one brother in Christ who once told me he would never hug another man slapped my hand aside and hugged me the day I told him I was leaving to work with another church. I remember the 1st time a brother in Christ gave me a holy kiss. His scruffy beard against my cheek is something I will never forget. I can remember the sister in Christ who hosted me and my family the night before we left town just trying to hold herself together as we got into our car and drove away the following morning. And as I watched last night’s good bye I was humbled. This man has spent 11.5 years with the saints there. These men and woman were hardly strangers. They were family. Saying good bye, as I could see in my dear friend’s eyes was not easy. As he talked to me about his last sermon, he told me how hard it was to start and how hard it was to finish. And I thought to myself, I have been in Iowa for almost 5 years; almost twice as long as I have stayed anywhere prior. Not that I am looking to move again, but how can I say goodbye to my friends, my family. How can I say good bye to the people that helped my daughter to understand that she needs to put Christ on in baptism? God’s family has become my family and I don’t think my heart could take saying good bye.
Last night, I also go to talk to another brother in Christ from Texas. It was my friend’s father-in-law. As I spoke to him, he and I gravitated toward the amazing nature of God’s family. We spent a good portion of the night discussing the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter what town you are in, or what state you are in, or what country for that matter. God’s people are the same wherever you go. You can walk into a congregation a perfect stranger and walk out as a beloved. This was never truer for me than the time my car broke down in North Carolina. I was on my way back to college my senior year. On the way down I decided to stop in and see on good friend of mine in eastern Kentucky. Upon leaving his places a few days later I got a little lost as I missed my turn (this was back before GPS devices). As I looked over my map, I knew where I had to go and started making the corrections needed to get back at least close enough to the interstate that I could easily find on onramp to get my back on course. It was a good half day detour as I drove through the mountains. I was frustrated because that meant that I would not get as far as I had hoped and would have to find a way to stay in a hotel room and pray I had enough money to pay for gas to get back to campus. As I went through the mountains with a fully loaded truck, I learned my little truck couldn’t handle the mountains. I blew my engine. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. I knew no body. I had money for maybe two nights in a hotel. Naturally I called my folks. They wired the money for me to fix the truck, but it would be a week before I could head out for Florida. I didn’t know what to do. As I sat there, a little worried, a little scared. Just then, I heard a knock on the door. Standing before me was a young lady I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. She was on my Forensics team in college my freshman year. I happened to break down in her town. She took me to her parents’ home and they kept me for the night. I was then picked up by another saint there in town and he kept me the rest of the week. I never met him before, but he took me around town. Made sure I had something to eat each day. It was really something else. When I thought I was all alone, God’s family was there to lift me up.
I full well understand why the bible speaks so much about being with God’s people (Heb. 10:25). They are completely wonderful people. Why wouldn’t you want to be around those that love without measure, that love without question, that love even the perfect stranger?
Words and Music by Lanny Wolfe
We’re part of the family that’s been born again
Part of the family whose love knows no end
For Jesus has saved us and made us His own
Now we’re part of the family that’s on its way home
And sometimes we laugh together sometimes we cry
Sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs
Sometimes we dream together of how it will be
When we all get to Heaven God’s family
When a brother meets sorrow we all feel His grief
When he’s passed through the valley we all feel relief
Together in sunshine, together in rain
Together in victory through His precious name
And though some go before us we’ll all meet again
Just inside that city as we enter in
There’ll be no more parting with Jesus we’ll be
Together forever God’s family