I am surrounded by deceivers and liars…who are my most beloved friends and family.
On Sunday afternoon, my wife called me and asked me to run up to the youth center to allegedly help her and a friend 'move something'…but when I got there the room was filled with 80 or so people who had shown up for a surprise party to celebrate my 20th anniversary in student ministry and my (early) 40th birthday. Family from out of town. Friends I hadn't seen in 15 years were there. Former students who are now married with children of their own and current students that are currently walking with me through a messy life of what it's like to worship and follow Christ in Austin.
It turns out that I was the one that ended up being moved.
For a year, my wife has had people hack into my laptop, steal phone numbers and emails, strategize, send photos, and write stories of our lives together. For the second time in my life, I was speechless. (The other time was when I held Darien for the first time in the delivery room.)
The letters and words were beautiful. There were photos and slideshows that brought back a flood of memories and highlighted some remarkable ministry and personal moments. But the best part? Being reunited with family and friends. Rekindling the eternal bonds of those relationships that have sustained me and formed me over the years. Parents. Mentors. My brother. Co-laborers in student ministry. Adults and students that have been like iron-sharpening iron over the years, encouraging me, investing in me, and blessing me by sharing their lives with me. It's an incredibly overwhelming and humbling experience to have a roomful of confidants and Jesus-lovers by your side, and to know the unmerited favor of such eternal relationships.
In the midst of things, the Holy Spirit reminded me (as He usually does) that this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Not some ethereal plane of eternal bliss. Not the portly, cloud-sitting, harp-plucking cherub we see in those lame paintings. But the Kingdom-rule of living in and among a brother/sisterhood of genuine community. A community focused on God-life, God-rule, and God-love. Agape love in the most literal sense of cine sera. A way of living that is God-centered and others-focused. Of all the things I chase after in my life, only two will last forever in the Kingdom: the things I've learned and the relationships I've formed. Or, more simply, WHO and WHAT I know.
Woven throughout His ministry, Jesus states, "…the Kingdom of Heaven is like…" . It is valuable. It is Eternal. It is Relational. It is Compassionate. It is Shalom of the truest sense. And it is Communal. It is ike the man who sells all he has to obtain the treasure (Mt. 13:44), this God-life is worth more than we possess. It is like the workers in the landowner's field (Mt. 20), we are richly and equally rewarded. And it is like the mustard seed (Mt. 13) that is very small when planted, but when watered and nurtured and fed, grows so great that others come and enjoy the benefits of it's maturity.
I was left standing at the microphone at the end of the party to 'say a few words'. I couldn't think of anything to say. Until today. What follows are my 'few words':
Thank you, Jesus.