When I was growing up birthdays and anniversaries weren’t big events. We didn’t build anticipation a month ahead of time or throw elaborate parties. But before you start thinking that I had some rotten, deprived childhood, I’ll tell you that it was anything but. My home was full of all kinds of love and affirmation, but annual celebrations of birthdays were modest, intimate gatherings of family and the occasional close friend or two.
When I first started working at Willow Creek I realized pretty quickly that around here we make a pretty big deal about our church’s birthday every single year. And, honestly, I didn’t really get it.
My first week here I was sitting in a meeting when someone happened to mention the 40th Anniversary, an event that was still two years away. Suddenly the room was abuzz with people talking about how exciting it was going to be, how big it was going to be, where it might be, and what might happen. More than ever, I felt like I was missing something. I just didn’t get it.
But I have to say that after the last couple months… I get it.
In order to prepare for the 40th Anniversary Celebration, our teams have spent the last few months waist-deep in the story of Willow. We’ve read books, watched videos, and waded through countless embarrassing photos. And we’ve sat down in conversations with people who have made this their home, some for two years and some from the day the doors first opened. We’ve met multiple generations of families who have had their legacies rewritten because they began to follow Jesus here. We’ve talked to people from around the world who have been inspired and supported by this church. We have laughed, and cried, and been inspired by life after life and transformation after transformation.
As we’ve listened to these stories (and endeavored to tell a few), we’ve heard of impossible coincidences, decisions, surprises, and miracles. And every time we ask how? or why? the consistent answer is: ONLY GOD.
So I get it now. I get why our anniversary is a big deal. We’re celebrating 40 years of God’s favor and faithfulness on our church.
Throughout scripture there are instructions for God’s people and oaths that they take together. One consistent oath is that they will tell the Only God stories, passing them on to generation after generation.
We will not hide these truths from our children,
but tell them to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders he has done.
God tells his children to tell his stories because they lift him up and because they strengthen our faith.
And that’s the journey I’ve been on the last few months. As we’ve been planning this event my faith has grown. Through story after story I’ve found myself moved and overwhelmed by the story God has woven. I’ve been reminded that God is so much bigger than the limits of my imagination and the reaches of my strategies. He is greater than my greatest thought and bigger than my biggest problem.
So this weekend we’re going to tell 40 years worth of “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.”
Like me, I hope people walk away from the United Center on Sunday evening overwhelmed, not by what a few people have done but by a God who is awesome. The prayer of our team is that we end the night having experienced the massive expansion of our definition of God’s faithfulness, leaving us shaking our heads in wonder and repeating these words again and again:
I’ve always thought that birthdays and anniversaries were about the people who reached the milestones—the marriage of 25 years, the birthday of a 5-year-old—and in most cases they are. But Willow doesn’t celebrate every single year to make much of us. We celebrate to make much of God.