This weekend was something of a homecoming for me. I was asked by an old friend Tom Feitchman to speak to at the Bethany Bible Fellowship’s men’s ministry retreat.
Bethany was my first church. The person who led me to Christ brought me to church. That church was Bethany Bible Fellowship (actually it was the church out of which Bethany was born but that’s a little longer story). I remember when only pastor I had ever known explained why they decided to name the church “Bethany”. Bethany is the place where Jesus would go to be with good friends, to feel at home to be comfortable. It seemed like a great name for a Church. It also seemed like a great name for a daughter. When Bethany started, it met at La Quinta High School (I went to the rival high school). A church meeting in a school was quite unusual at that time. We called it ourselves “a church beyond walls.”
But for me the story of Bethany is the story of a church that accepted a kid with LOTS of rough edges. Somehow they saw some potential in me. It was in a service at that church when I felt God’s call into ministry. It was this church that believed in me and entrusted me with leadership and launched me into youth ministry.
Your birth determines your DNA. There is a sense in which that is true spiritually as well. My “alma mater” (literally mother of my soul) blessed me with a DNA to long for experiencing God. This DNA was encoded with the information that people far from God matter immensely to Him, that a church didn’t exist for itself but for those that have yet to connect with God thru Jesus. There is so much more.
So it was a privilege to serve and speak to a church that has invested so much in me.
I was stoked that my best buddy Tom Roy was going to the retreat so I swung by his Lake Forest home so we could ride up together. Tom came to Christ shortly after I did and we’ve been fast friends ever sense. We were both on staff at Bethany, Tom doing Middle School while I was doing High School ministry.
We arrived at Verdugo Pines Camp outside of Wrightwood. It was a killer weekend to be in the Mountains – perfect weather, snow still on the mountains. Of course most of the people at the retreat had no memory of me being at Bethany. But there were a dozen or so guys from back in the day. Some of our staff of volunteers were there and even a couple of victims,…errrr students.
God moved. The guys came with a desire to meet God. The idea of “more” and “longing” was clearly led by the Holy Spirit.
Here are a few thoughts about a homecoming like this that I’m reflecting on:
• The goodness of God is greater and more than we remember. The ripples of anything we do in the name of Jesus go farther and have more impact than we will even know.
• People grow, but they remain the same at the core. Several guys said, “that’s the Ed, I remember, you are the same guy.”
• Years seem to make gratitude grow as one realizes how much grace you have been shown and how much of what is good is really the result of someone’s heavy lifting and unconditional loving.
• There is something deep and permanent about sharing life in the Kingdom of God with people. If relationship is based on common life stage, family situation, activity – it’s not likely to last over time and distance. But we will always have the Jesus, life with God, passion for following Him in common.
(all of us were doing youth ministry together at Bethany)