Our world is in crisis. We are in a mess in the natural world, the political world, the social world and the spiritual world. We may not be able to hold back a storm, but we can help people deal with disasters. The “news” of the weather and the earthquakes and the fires etc. etc. etc.are not new to us, We have been watching these things take place for the last few days. But I am writing about these things today to memorialize what is happening. I am writing about a dysfunctional family too. This is not “new news”either, but it is a problem that is every bit as destructive as a storm, earthquake or fire…and it is insidious because this type of family is supposed to be a refuge; a place of safety.
Charles Swindoll says, “We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.” Our personal control over natural disasters is questionable. Our personal control over how we serve others in their personal disasters should be obvious.
So the news today is….Hurricanes are roiling around and over and through islands in the Atlantic Ocean on a direct path toward the entire state of Florida. Predictions are that the enormity and intensity of the storm will effect the entire state of Florida from tip to top and much of the Southeastern United Stated coastline. This dire threat has not happened…yet. And as I sit in my sunny kitchen on a gorgeous September Saturday morning, it is hard to believe that it will. But our advanced weather satellite images and radar systems don’t lie. Irma will make landfall sometime today in South Florida and another hurricane, Jose, is coming right behind. Two hurricanes with over 150 MPH winds on the same path within a few days of each other. The question is not whether they will arrive, but will they be category 3, 4 or category 5 when they do.
Millions of people have heeded the Governor of Florida’s demands to evacuate. Vehicle on roadways have been creeping northward for days. Gas lines, where gas is still available, are long. Drivers and passengers are tense. Flights out of the state have been full and the cost for a ticket restrictive for many. Anxiety, needless to say, must be super high. People have boarded up their homes; schools are closed to become make-shift shelters; and people are making their exodus with kids and pets, the elderly and the sick. Where will they all go? And then what will they do? Where will all these displaced people go and what will they do if they have nothing to go back to?
And my life, other than pondering these things, continues on as usual. There are fires raging in the West, and Hurricane Harvey that washed over Houston and flooded much of South Texas was only two weeks ago, but with all of the other chaotic, scary and potentially catastrophic news in the world and in our country, Harvey seems like a lifetime ago to me. 24/7 news cycles barely give me time to catch my breath before another wave comes from a different direction and takes me under. And I am not even in Florida or along the United States East Coast; I am not in South Texas, or the West Coast of the U.S. or Mexico, or the Korean Peninsula. I am not protesting or counter-protesting Confederate statues. I am not in Washington D.C or Moscow. I don’t work for MSNBC or FOX News. I am here: up on a high hill; about 875 feet above sea level give or take a few feet. I am in the middle of Alabama. No waves threaten a storm surge; no dams are likely to overflow or break. Streams and rivers might flood low-lying areas and the wind might rip at any number of limbs and trees that grow in abundance around me…but “natural” storms and man-made storms usually feel like they are far away from me.
But is any of this far away from me? It is said that “ignorance is bliss”, but I say “ignorance is dangerous”.
This morning I sat down to write for the first time in months and months. I thought that I was going to create an allegory to try and teach a lesson about how our individual and corporate choices have the power to save or to destroy. My story was going to be about a dysfunctional family. You can imagine the characters…just pause a few minutes and imagine your own extended family. There is the self-proclaimed boss of everyone. There is the doormat; the one that can never be satisfied no matter what; there is the peace-maker; the one who will stab you in the back while giving you a hug so you don’t know it was them; the one who will do what you want them to do, at least while you are watching; the passive-aggressive one; the quiet one who picks up everyone else’s slack and does whatever needs to be done without being asked, without hope or need of thanks;; the lazy bum who does absolutely nothing but mooch off of everyone else…or at least off of the enablers; the enablers that justify and make excuses for all of the bad behavior that they see in the family and in the world; the complainers who never offer solutions; the self-righteous, legalistic, perfectionists that think that no one else is doing their share and that no one else is doing “it” right; the reluctant leader, who does not demand his/her way but who is the one others know is going in the right direction; the wise ones who ask, seek and follow the promptings of the Spirit, God’s Word and Jesus’ Way; the loud leader or the charismatic leader that others who are too lazy to think for themselves follow; the loner; the narcissist; the black sheep; the secret addict; the one with an anger management problem; the pathological liar; the obvious addict; the preacher; the teacher; the artist; the engineer; the spokesperson; the “yes-man”; the rebel;the prophet; the one who is disgusted, leaves and never ever comes back; the invisible; the haunted; the broken in spirit, broken-hearted, and the physically unwell; the jealous; the joyful;the gracious; the greedy…
You get the picture.
So, this family, full of characters, all come together regularly. No one is perfect…each one knows that no one is perfect, although a few harbor their own superiority in their hearts. One day, some family members decide that One Member of the family group is worse than all of the rest and a council of the members decide that they shall speak for all of the rest. The council discusses, disagrees but ultimately the majority of the “leaders” tell The One family member that the person is not welcome any more.
Yes, this person, asked to leave and not return, is not perfect. Have you heard the story of Jesus and the people who were about to stone the sinful person?The lesson of the story is that we are all sinful and that no sin is greater than another. Yet, this One, who has been a very active part of the family for a very long time; this One has a family within the larger family including parents, a spouse who is also very active within the greater family…and children have been born and raised in the greater family. Understand, the larger family is the family of the spouse and children too. The spouse and children are told that they do not need to leave…but how can they stay? So, eventually they must leave. It is too hard. The little family leaves with the One to prevent the separation that would eventually destroy them.
But, sadly, that happens anyway.
The little family that was so much a part of the larger family no longer has the support that they needed, no longer felt welcomed and loved, and no longer has others to share larger family life, to be encouraged by…to serve. The little family’s own problem got magnified with no one to share their burdens or celebrate their joy. My understanding is that those who love us are supposed to double our joy and divide our grief…but, sadly, in this story it happened the other way around.
So freakin’ sad…and so unnecessary.
And many of those in the larger family who did not agree with the “leaders” who took it upon themselves to make the decision to rid themselves of the One, each became the family member “who is disgusted, leaves and never ever comes back.”
Oh, everyone who eventually left tried for a while to stay…because it was their family too. They wanted the others to come to their senses and see the error of their ways…to see how unloving and unforgiving and destructive it was to the entire family in the long run, to judge and shun. Many tried in their own way to plead for the One who had been banished. “Where is the love? Where is the forgiveness? Don’t we all make mistakes? No one is perfect!” To no avail. the pleas fell on deaf ears and hard hearts.
Those who said that they had the authority to decide, did decide.
Their cold choice not to get messy or walk the difficult path together left the little family members on the sidewalk.”Best wishes. We are sorry! Good luck.” Empty words were not what the little family needed. They needed love.
The bigger family eventually lost much too. Those “leaders” continue on as if nothing ever happened. Out of sight, out of mind. “Don’t consider the damage that was done. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think or reminded us of it and we can continue on as if it did not happen.”
Except it did.
Acknowledged that they were wrong?… Apologize? Never.
Those who remain- loyal- to- the- family- no- matter- what, to this day, don’t have to think about it anymore. Because, those who continued for a while to plead the cause have grown tired of beating a dead horse. Beating a dead horse is not productive. It is a waste of time and energy. But the problem remains. It remains in that family and in other families like that…and that is why I am telling this story. Because it was unfair, is unjust and it remains unresolved too often. As long as this type of thing continues, it must be called out for what it is… destructive. And hateful.Hate Full. The opposite of Love Filled.
This is a church story but not a Church story. There are so many churches….so many dysfunctional families where those who claim power see themselves as judge and jury over others. And I suspect that those who condemn others the loudest are the ones who need to do the most self-reflection and ask God to expose their own sin. These episodes in the church are what gives the Church a bad name. My experience with things such as the story above makes me want to scream…or cry…or bang my fist…or stomp my foot…or write a blog post that let’s all who read know that this church business does not reflect Jesus. These people’s actions do not resemble the lessons of Jesus. At all. Quite the opposite. Actually, this hateful legalism is exactly what Jesus came to change.
Every place that puts up a sign and proclaims itself to be a Christian church needs to think about what it really means to be The Church.
Galatians 5:13-14 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[
Galatians 6:1-4 says, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else,”
Galatians 6:7-10 says, “ Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
We are supposed to have “Fruit of the Spirit” when we have the Spirit of God in us. The greatest evidence of being filled with the Spirit is love for one another. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)
We are not just “supposed to”. We are COMMANDED to love God and love people. Not out of Law and Fear but out of Love and Thanks. When we love, then everything else falls into place. Are our motives pure? Do we truly care about the other person? Is it 100% “how can I serve this person”, or is any of our motivation selfish or self-centered or self-righteous or for our own self aggrandizement or our own self esteem?
As my pastor said last Sunday…”we are sowing seeds of something. Eventually the seeds will come to harvest. We may not see the seeds we sow, but we are sowing seeds into lives…”
And “sowing takes proximity. I must be close to the “field”, I must be close to people to plant seeds in lives. And sowing takes time. It takes diligence. But it will pay off.”
Sowing seeds in lives and serving others is not an obligation, or a duty, or something done out of guilt or the need to look good or to feel good about ourselves. We don’t do nice things for others because it is the Law. We “do” Love because we Know God and we have Christ in us…God sowed a seed in us and this is the Fruit.
Will the world know we are Christian by our love? The Christian Church is only as Christ-like as the people who profess to be followers of Christ. My experience with far to many places that call themselves “church” is that Christ is not leading, and others with their own egos and large logs in their eyes are blindly and loudly telling the other sheep where to go. And where they are going is …astray.
That has to change. We have one Shepherd. We have to learn His voice and only heed His voice. Otherwise, there are so many ways to go and get lost.
This world is a mess and getting messier every single minute. We need help. We need divine interaction. We do not have sufficient strength or wisdom to do this huge task on our own. We don’t . But we are Promised that He is with us…and will never Forsake us. But we cannot forsake Him either. We must acknowledge our need. We need God. We need You, God.
Whether these are “the end times” or not, and the world is going to be destroyed by wind, rain, fire, disease…man’s hate…I am not advocating that anyone be afraid. I am doing what I can in this moment to tell everyone to “Wake Up Right Now and Think about what we as individuals are doing in this world. Do we display the Fruit of the Spirit? Are we sowing seeds? What will those seed produce? Are we loving God and our neighbor? Are we?
And Love is not only an emotion, it is an action. What are we doing to or for our world and one another… individually and corporately? We have got to stop hating and pointing fingers. We have to take responsibility for our part of what we need to do or what we need to stop doing. We must become servants with hearts that are motivated by love. We have to stop seeing others as enemies… We have to stop being either cynical or stop being naive. We have to start caring about something bigger than ourselves and start working together. God help us. Give us wisdom. Please. Help us be stewards of your creation and help us be the Creation that you looked on and said, “This is Very Good”. Let it be so, because You have already made a way for that to be so if we will only take it seriously! Help us bring Your Kingdom to Earth, as it is in Heaven. Thank you, in advance. You are Good, and loving and merciful.
Please forgive us.
Again, we need Your help, God. We, every single one of us, need Your help. I pray we recognize it. I pray those who say that they are your ambassadors on earth will give family members real help. Let us be The Church people. Don’t go to church. Be. The. Church.