In a few days I will observe—though probably not celebrate—my fiftieth birthday. I still have much to learn, dream, and accomplish. On the other hand, one cannot reach a major milestone without some reflection and self-assessment; I am curious about the progress and present status of the people among whom I have ministered over the past 25-plus years.

One special group for me has been the New England congregation for whom I served as pastor in 1968. Affiliated with a “mainline” denomination, the parish dates back to the late seventeenth century, and the historic meetinghouse was the object of affection and pride for the small band of regular worshipers. Although few members understood or shared my evangelical convictions, all were unfailingly gracious to me and tolerant of my theology. I found it easy to love and appreciate these friends.

When I moved to another position, the church gave me a small flowering crab-apple tree as a farewell gift. The tree was planted in front of our now former home, where it has continued to grow, flourish, and bear an ever-more spectacular and bountiful display of blossoms and fruit.

In subsequent years, whenever I saw the tree and thought of that special congregation, I sought a report on what God was doing in their midst. What I learned often thrilled—and usually humbled—me.

When I left the church, a young seminary graduate whom I had seen develop fine ministry skills was called to serve as their minister. Thus began a bonding partnership in ministry that has now extended over two decades. In an era when the average pastoral tenure is becoming shorter and shorter, both pastor and people have exercised the patience and perseverance necessary to have not only a long ministry together, but an effective one as well.

Gradually the Holy Spirit brought renewal and revival to the congregation: solid, but not flashy. The redemptive power of the gospel captured first one, and then another person and family. New understanding and vision followed from clear biblical exposition. Men and women were nurtured through fellowship and prayer in many formats. Indifferent neighbors were galvanized by the vital faith coursing through the renewed people of God.

Additional staff were engaged. New ministries and programs were added to fulfill growing opportunities for expressing the love of Christ to those in need. Over the years attendance has grown more than tenfold. The budget for ministry and mission has grown even more—and the annual fund-raising fair is just history now.

Last month I was invited back to help celebrate the construction of a wonderful new meetinghouse. Reminiscent of the old historic building, long outgrown, the new facility reaches out to invite all those who need the Good News of salvation and who need help with the challenges of life in a thousand ways.

I think I understand how Paul felt as he thought fondly of his Philippian friends among whom he had ministered. I know why he began his letter to them as he did: “I thank my God every time I remember you” (v. 3).

Likewise, I identify with Paul’s heartfelt expression in his two letters to the Thessalonians. Like Paul, I thank God for all my friends, new and old, in that New England church. Regardless of how they are earning their living, their first vocation is the life of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Their efforts, often frustrating and sometimes exhausting, are prompted by their love in growing ways. And they have demonstrated a “sheer dogged endurance” because of the hope they have in our Lord Jesus Christ. Their tree is in blossom.

Even as I affirm them for this good report, I too long that their faith might become ever more complete. I know the Lord can enable them to expand their love and nurture for one another and for others yet to be reached. I boast about them now and will even more as the grace of God continues to invade their lives together.

Such memories are good. The hopes and dreams are even better.

Being 50 is okay.

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