God’s family

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, March 2, 2016

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I was 13. Dennis, one of my mom’s former junior high choir students, was the church pianist. He was 18 or 19.

Dennis was leading music for revival services at a little country church and asked me to come out and “sing a special.” Mom and I got there early to go over the song. She was accompanying me on the piano and as I practiced, Dennis started harmonizing. I thought it sounded good, so I asked him to sing with me.

“We’re part of the family that’s been born again; part of the family whose love knows no end. For Jesus has saved us and made us His own. Now we’re part of the family that’s on its way home.”

Those words and harmony that night in a little country church began to forge one of the best, longest and deepest friendships of my life.

We brought the song back to our own church and it became our pastor’s favorite song. He could never remember the name, but whenever he spontaneously asked us to sing “that song,” we knew what he meant.

Dennis and I began singing as a duo in some area churches as well as our own. When I was 15, the church asked me to be the music director, so each Sunday I led music with my mom to my left on the organ and my best friend to the right on the piano.

Soon our duo became a much more popular trio as we added Bonnie’s smooth alto voice and really pretty face to our group. The invitations continued coming and the friendship deepened. I was involved in all kinds of activities in high school, but the “ministry” part of my life was consistently being nurtured by the friend who had become closer than a brother.

Bonnie left for college, so our trio became a quartet, adding brothers, Mike and Rudy. During that year, God truly began planting the seeds in my heart of where my life would be headed. Dennis encouraged me to do more than just stand there and sing, but also to share a few words of encouragement in introducing a song or two. He gently nudged me to play the piano and guitar in front of people and not just at home. I don’t know if he ever had an inkling of what my life would become, but God used his influence in those early years to set the trajectory.

Our frequent singing together ended when I left for college in 1980, but our friendship remained. We went our separate ways, raised our families, found our own ministries and sometimes went for months and even years without regular contact. But whenever we have been able to get together, it’s like we’ve never missed a beat.

The last time I saw him was last December when members of the Southern Gospel Music Association hosted a benefit concert for him to help with expenses related to his health and living costs, since he had been disabled with pulmonary fibrosis. I was tired that evening and would rather have stayed home, but it was important to me for him to know how much I love him. We had a great few minutes together that evening.

Dennis went to heaven a few days ago. I’m thinking this morning about how our lives and friendships matter to God. And I’m remembering the refrain of that first song we sang together:

“And sometimes we laugh together; sometimes we cry. Sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs. Sometimes we dream together of how it will be when we all get to heaven, God’s family.”

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur.

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