We flew to Atlanta Monday morning for the memorial service of a dear friend. A saint and a sinner like all of us, but also a man who has left a powerful kingdom legacy that inspires thousands.

It’s been a weird, hard, mystical journey that we have participated in from afar the past 9 months as Steve died “well”; honest about the pain and even fear, of letting go, but also the joy of reaching out to heaven – the next leg of the eternal life he began with Jesus here on this earth.

We left Minneapolis at 14 below zero and deplaned in a tropical 46 degrees. As we drove to the hilly, pine-forested suburb of Peachtree, I was amazed by the gift of purply pansies, crocuses, and yellow jonquils, defiantly triumphing over February. A courageous picture of the life we were celebrating.IMG_3856

I sat in the classic white, sanctuary before the service, buzzing with people of faith, converging from states coast to coast, greeting each other. Bound together by Jesus and grace. Hard to imagine more prestigious national ministry leaders gathered in one place.

I felt inspired, strengthened, sobered by the privilege of standing together before our God, singing lustily “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God our Father…”

Side by side stood book writers, soul winners, slave rescuers, well diggers, good news bringers, and advisors to presidents.
Prophets, pastors, and professors with voices raised together in worship. The room was filled with so many we know, love, have served with… Scattered throughout the sanctuary were friends who have fertilized and cultivated our small faith.

There were others too, who have impacted us differently: a pastor removed from ministry for a “moral failing”, another divorced and remarried, his ex-wife also present. Across the room, a ministry leader who deeply wounded me, and a supremely confident, sharp-witted woman with whom I feel small and intimidated.

Many would look at a list of the people in that room and think, “What an amazing collection of kingdom leaders.”

But what struck me was “What an amazing collection of sinners saved by grace. What a gift to know that this is what binds us together. Not our sufficiency, but rather, our utter dependance on Jesus who died for our friend Steve, and for all of us who are, like toddlers, lurching forward and stumbling, trying to follow Him.”

In the end, we’re all just a sacred mess, waiting for clean up on aisle six.

Our voices – those of holy riffraff all – were raised in faith and hope.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine and ten thousand beside…”

Monday night it got cold and snowed in Atlanta. But the flowers still bravely stretched their faces towards heaven. Like we do.