This week because of the gift of our daughter’s job working for the airline I could fly east to the state of Virginia for a week of vacation with my brother, fellow pastor, deep confidante, and good friend Mike.
There’s nothing like a friend.
Mike graduated from the same seminary as I did over a decade after me. We were on a leadership team for the seminary together for four years beginning in 2002 and connected immediately. Some friendships are like that. Instant brothers. Instantly authentic.
At fifteen years difference in age, there could be points of disconnect but there never have been.
We do admit — there are differences: I eat healthy, Mike eats donuts. I typically eat dinner for breakfast and Mike breakfast for dinner. We are in different seasons of life — I’m entering my 60s and Mike will turn 45. I have grandkids and Mike has kids at home.
But the similarities far outweigh these few differences. We are both married. We are both pastors in same denomination. Both of us are dads to awesome kids. We share the faith in Jesus. And we both are seeking to become all God would have us become. Besides all these: We wear the same size jeans and to top it all we have an equal dislike of shopping at the Michael’s craft store! My wife knows this of me and will offer to go so I needn’t enter the maze!
My flights from Oregon to Virginia took 22 hours! This was due to flying standby and was complicated by the government shutdown and TSA workers not showing up to work! I don’t blame them for this — they aren’t getting paid.
So I arrived having spent one (six hour) freezing, overnight stint in the Seattle airport, (they had turned down the heat since fewer people were in the terminal), and having hiked between five gates in three concourses in Atlanta trying to get in flights. I was weary but there’s nothing like a friend. Mike was there to meet the flight and the reunion and party began.
He’d purchased a gym pass so we were able to go workout Tuesday morning. Wednesday was filled with so many great conversations, walks, reconnecting with his kids, whom I had not seen in a decade. Zoe, 13, plays oboe and sax, swims and is a freshman in high school doing Spanish immersion. Ben turns 17 June 1, golf and track and field (shot putt).
Ben found out I hadn’t seen the Jason Bourne movies and turned to Mike and said, “And you call him your friend?”
Then Ben turned to me and said —
“Wait. How long have you known him?”
I answered, “2002.”
Ben quipped, “Oh you say you met yesterday?”
So we had to watch them.
There’s nothing like a friend.
So we squeezed in the first two on Tuesday night. Watched the third on Friday night and the fourth on Saturday. It was a wild immersion into that story.
We played a ton of games and Thursday spent a 12-hour day driving to DC and touring the Museum of the Bible.
THE MUSEUM OF THE BIBLE IS INCREDIBLE
If you go to DC this is worth a visit.
They’ve found ways of housing more than artifacts, and great evidences of archeology, which they also have, but they have created experiences that take you into the stories, the people, the work of God’s spirit over time found in the Bible.
There are experiences for the Old and New Testaments in addition great displays of the history of the Bible, recorded live videoed interviews surrounding the question of the Bible and Science, opportunities to introduce you to historical characters quoting their thoughts on Scripture, such as Jefferson, Washington, John Adams, and others. They have looked at the impact of the Bible on literature, movies, and the numerous places it is quoted. There is a remake of the village of Nazareth with live characters, dressed up like the people, sharing about the town.
It was incredible, really, and our five hours there were not enough time to finish seeing it. At one point I was tired, so sat down on one of the benches in the central area to await Mike and Maria.
This little girl crawled up on my bench and laid down to rest, wearing her cool pink boots. I thought “yes! That’s exactly what I would like to do! Lie down!”
She then sat up and after we had exchanged smiles and soft hellos while her parents’ tour guide droned on and on above us she quietly said to me:
“I’ll be turning 3 soon.” Her big eyes filled with wonder!
She looked that age. “Three!” I said, “Congratulations!”
“You could come to my birthday party,” she responded!
I was so blessed. There is nothing like a friend. I was staggered.
“That’s a high honor to be invited,” I said. “I cannot make it, but Thank you!”
Precious little person!
Her mom then invited her to come over to them again. It was one of those moments that emphasizes the goodness of God. There’s a precious beauty in little people.
On the way home, we stopped for coffee at Ebenezer’s Coffee a shop started by a local church redeeming crack house. The name comes from 1 Samuel 7:12 in which the last judge for Israel recognized the help of God for the rebellious people. It felt like a Starbucks to me with that welcoming, community vibe.
Friday, we decided that I would take the whole message time doing STS storytelling for the focus after Mike and I introduced what was coming.
After breakfast Saturday we went to church so I could experience the space and get a feel for how storytelling might work with the two groups of people anticipated.
I was feeling disquieted. I knew it would be ok but had been discouraged by the failure of the fall workshop and felt like I had lost momentum. Is it a vital method for communicating the Gospel? Or mediocre? What if it flops and people are disappointed? There was some nervousness there.
We drove up and seeing a pickup backed up to main doors, Mike said, “Oh looks like John is working here.”
John is a member and a super able “fix it all” kind of guy. He was crawling around in the crawl space above ceiling tiles. Eventually Mike found him and brought him to the sanctuary where I was praying and turning to practice through the story.
I walked up to this Santa-Claus-type guy with his laugh, smile, joy, and peace exuding from his countenance. I shook his hand and got washed in the Holy Spirit. There was this release and all the nervousness left. And I heard the voice of Jesus speaking, saying:
“He’s my gift to you child. He is here to demonstrate to you that I am here. This is of me that you are doing the story tomorrow.”
There’s nothing like THAT friend!
We remained at church for three hours. I had a great time walking through the story for I had the image of John before me and knew he’d love anything.
Sunday morning was powerful — both services carried their own flavor. The people responded. There was immense joy. And conversation. Conviction. Confession. Afterward one woman said “Wow! That was an amazing experience.”
Another woman stayed for second service to experience it again.
Kids and youth participated. Just like I see at Westside. When the Bible is offered as story and people are invited to investigate it, Jesus shows up and people are engaged and enriched.
This one guy Jackson (10) sitting with his parents raised his hand and commented a few times. We were in the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. I’d asked what we might learn about Jesus that he had shown up, stooped, called Zach by name and invited Himself over to Zach’s house?
Jackson said “Jesus loves people even when they don’t always do the right thing.”
When we returned to his observation as we sought applications this took people deep into their own discoveries that Jesus loves even them when they felt they’d failed. And his dad applied it to his own life. It was beautiful.
The conversation about how people interested in Jesus had hindered someone seeking Jesus from getting to see Him, caught people. We noted how our own behaviors, while claiming to follow can hinder others.
The conversations continued after church. People said “I won’t forget this. I’ll be thinking about it all week!”
One of the staff commented on how first service is usually mellow but how they’d come alive for the story.
The many people, the engaged way in which people were involved was incredible.
Some insights they had.
Teen – “I want to have the willingness to stop for others, to love and care.”
Man – “Jesus loves me even when I don’t always do the right thing”
Another guy: “I find myself holding feelings of jealousy of others who haven’t had to suffer as I have (listed losses) and feel like it’s not fair that I’ve had to experience these hard things.”
It’s so hard to decide what’s true for others by appearances. That’s the Facebook culture we are part of!
Another woman shared about a friend of hers struggling with jealousy and how hampering it was. These applications emerged from their observation that the crowd might have been jealous of Zacchaeus.
As Mike and I stood chatting after many had gone, Martha, a woman in her 60s. (No longer is that older!) She was exuding light and joy:
“I had a vision and a word for both of you. May I read it then I’d like to pray for you?”
“Yes,” we said.
“It’s from Isaiah 60:1-5.”
With us standing there she read these words…
““Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy….”
As she read joy came over me. She then spoke over us a blessing and encouragement, saying, “God will use you as lights in the darkness.“
This day was such a highlight. What a gift. All because my my friend Mike who swung open the door..
The rest of Sunday was filled with relaxed times together. Today, as I was readying to leave, Zoe said her dad is not allowed to come visit me anymore. I am the only one who’s allowed to travel, so she and family gets to see me too. ♥️
Jesus — There’s nothing like a friend.