Do you have fond memories of family gatherings where it felt so good for everyone to be together? Maybe you saw many of the family members on a regular basis, but there was just something special about seeing all these smiling faces in one place. This might have been that great opportunity to get pictures~ this group and then that. Perhaps one of all the
girls together, and then all the
boys, all the couples and then all the family units, each kid group and then all the kids together. Cameras flashing all around, including learning how to use everyone else’s so that all would have every shot. And then, of course, the big attempt to get everyone all in the same picture! How was that going to happen!
Togetherness can be an amazingly warm experience, leaving us with lasting and treasured memories.
This was very much like a family gathering that took place in my life a couple of years ago~ February 27, 2011 to be exact. It was our celebration of the
February birthdays. You know how these days, when the family gets so big that you start doing the combo parties?! So it had grown to three for February at this point~ two of my daughter-in-laws (whom really became daughters in my heart) and me.
It was such a wonderful day. Everyone was able to attend, and all were well. There were joyful greetings and big hugs as each one arrived. The little cousins began running and playing at first chance. The adults were gathered around the before dinner snack table laughing and joking, trying to wait patiently for the main meal.
When dinner was ready, we all got in a big circle and held hands to pray. For me, this was always the most heart-warming part of these gatherings. It was such a joy as Mom and Grandma for us all to bow our heads together before the Lord. Then it was time to eat that food we’d been smelling for so long! It was an informal dinner, so we all got our plates of food, and as all the seats on couches and chairs began to fill up, the rest began squeezing in wherever they could fit~ making it especially nice and cozy! And then the little ones on the floor or high chairs or on someone’s lap~ plate on one leg and baby on the other! There was tons of talking and laughter throughout our time of eating together, with a lot of reminiscing and catching up on current events.
After dinner was the gift opening, with all the little ones very willing to help us rip open the packages~ proudly smiling as we saw what their own families had given. Next came the family singing
Happy Birthday to us. As the three of us sat around the cake to blow out the candles together, it was such a sweet and beautiful sight to see the candles glowing on the faces of my daughters as we shared this special moment.
And of course, throughout the festivities was much picture taking! All the group shots a person could think of! I also ended up with some treasures that I especially desired~ pictures of me with all the
girls, and with all the
boys; one of me with all of the adult
kids, and one with all the grandchildren. I was in heaven!
As evening approached, all the grandkids were very much ready to be taken home for bed~ and we all knew we were ready to bring our time together to an end. There were hugs all around and those final birthday greetings as we said goodbye. What a day this was! Full of blessed memories~
The reason I remember the exact date of this gathering is that it was the last time all of us would be together. About a month after our birthday celebration, a treacherous storm hit our family. It began falling apart before my very eyes. No prayer was causing it to stop. I knew the Lord was in control, but I felt so very helpless. The road had become crooked. Relationships were being uprooted and tossed about throughout the entire family system. There was a whirlwind of emotion and frantic reactions that heightened the disaster. It felt like my loved ones~ my family unit that seemed inseparable~ was literally slipping through my fingers. I could see relationships being pulled away by a violent and unstoppable wind tunnel. And then they were gone. Our family was broken to pieces and became like chaff on the threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace (from Daniel 2:35).
So what really happened? There would be much I could say about the events that took place, but that really would not provide the answers.
The reason our family could be utterly crushed is that its’ feet were made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. Kingdoms have been divided and have fallen because of this.
Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it, even as you saw iron mixed with clay. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and not remain united, anymore than iron mixes with clay (Daniel 2:41-43).
In these verses, Daniel is telling the king about his dream and then interpreting it through the wisdom the Lord had given him. The king saw a statue in his dream. It was
an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance (Daniel 2:31b). The various metals and the clay it was made from represented his kingdom and the kingdoms that were to follow. Our family was seen much like this statue~ big, awesome and beautiful in appearance. It seemed so solid, strong and unbreakable. Many probably referred to us as such a nice Christian family. One man at a church many of us attended together at one point called us the backbone of the church. I knew that statement was misguided when he said it, however, it is a good example of how people looking in from the outside viewed our family. But when the storm came, what was holding us up was found to be weak and so quickly and easily broken apart.
So what was faulty about our foundation as a family? We had a lot of love for each other and enjoyed very much that we were a family. We really liked being together. We were all patriotic, and conservative in our views. We all attended a Christian church near each of our homes. My adult children taught their children to pray, to know the name of Jesus, and took them to Sunday school.
Why did this happen then? Didn’t all of this love and togetherness we had for so many years count for anything? Wouldn’t our strong belief in family make us able to work through hard times? Didn’t our unity around some very important aspects of life provide a glue to help us stick together?
First of all, it is very important to understand more about togetherness and unity. Both sound like good things, and for most, positive connotations are attached to these concepts.
Let’s begin with togetherness. In reality, people come together for any number of reasons. Simply being together does not mean that it is for some noble purpose. The family gathering I described above was one that portrays all of those warm, comforting feelings of together-ness. But there were obviously many issues hidden within our family system that were not apparent to the on-looker.
And what about people who have rarely or never had a good experience gathering with family. What if there are only difficult memories that bring pain and heartache? For this person, being together with family would likely lead to anxiety and even fear.
Broadening the concept of togetherness beyond family to gatherings for various other reasons~ these times of coming together may be for good purposes:
The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the LORD has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. (Exodus 19:8), or perhaps for evil:
All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt, there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:3). So being together with others is not automatically a good thing. And what comes from time with others is not necessarily something that truly benefits us. And we also know, as was the case with my family~ togetherness in itself does not bring about bonds that hold people together under stress and duress.
So what about unity? Just by the way this word sounds it seems as if it must be a good thing. It seems as if unity would be even more likely to form strong bonds among people that would withstand adversity. Again, these things are not necessarily so. A question would be: United in what? United in dysfunction; united in false beliefs; united in secrecy; or destructive practices? What about having a united front for a cause; being united to help others in need; or united through attending a church together?
Well, surely the latter examples of unity would all be very positive things to be united in. It depends. If fighting for a cause is one the Lord has expressly led you to participate in, it is good. If He has not, it is your own will, no matter how good of a cause you think it is.
What about the helping others example: Isn’t that always the right thing to do? Only if the Lord has given clear direction to you personally would it be good to help. The Lord says that our own righteousness is filthy rags to Him. So be united with Him, and He will show you what is good in His eyes.
Remember the Lazarus story where Jesus waited two days to even leave to go and help His friend who was very ill. In fact, Lazarus had been dead for several days when He arrived. God had a plan that only He knew would bring the outcomes that were best for everyone involved, and for His glory.
Now we will look at the example of being united through attending a church together. Only if a local church is living in Christ and Christ in and through them; fully submitted to and dependent upon God; preaching boldly His Word of truth; and faithful to all of the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, would it be good to be united through attending church together. Anything short of this is not of the Lord. A church congregation may have all kinds of programs, give to the poor, support missions, and show kindness to others. But if they are not one in Spirit~ living in the Spirit, it is all empty human efforts to be good.
People gather together in churches all around the world, sometimes several times a week. Some even call this their church family. People gather together with their families for big occasions and small, some occasionally and some very often. There may be strong unity in a particular church congregation through their mutual attendance and being involved in ministries together. Families may be strongly united through long-standing tradition and years of built memories. But in either case, if their togetherness and unity is not truly founded on, or lived in, our Lord Jesus Christ, the unity will not remain. How could it? And an even tougher thought: Why should it?
The Lord makes it so very clear in His Word that division will come if our foundation is not truly built upon Him as our Rock and are not picking up our cross and following Him. In fact, Jesus tells us that He Himself will bring division:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law- a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10: 34-39).
So many people today wear togetherness and unity as a badge, whether in their family, with friends, or in their church. They have been deceived into believing that being bound together with a lot of people~ and experiencing warm feelings of belonging~ is somehow the same as unity in Christ. For example, there are many Christians today who have joined social networks such as Facebook to find their identity and sense of belonging. If a person has a huge number of friends, and they get lots of Like responses to their posts~ this is what fills their heart with love and acceptance. But unfortunately when this becomes a badge of belonging~ the person has been deceived by the enemy. The warm feelings that come from what they see as togetherness and unity blind the heart. When this is happening with someone, there are issues that are bringing separation and division from the Lord in their lives. The true need is intimacy with Christ and unity through Him with others. Unknowingly the person has substituted a counterfeit to maintain the comforting feelings that belonging bring. Then there is no love at all. We do not truly have love when we are filling ourselves with things that leave us empty~ yes, even when those things feel so good at the time.
There are also many local churches that have developed a false sense of unity. In these churches, a common problem is that the pastors and other leaders are ignoring issues or trying to sweep them under the rug. There may be unaddressed sin on the part of a leader. There may be false teachings that are leading people astray. Often these pastors will turn away concerns expressed by the congregation, because they are afraid to look at the truth and follow the Lord onto the His path of freedom. In this case, those raising questions are told that they are causing disunity or dissention so that the truth will be suppressed. Will division come under these circumstances? When there are members of a church who desire to follow the Word of God, but are being shut-down, of course there will be division. And again, shouldn’t there be? We are either for Christ or against Him.
The only way unity in Christ can take place with others, is if we are living in Christ ourselves~ and when all the members of the group have fully surrendered their lives to the Lord. When everyone’s sole reason for togetherness is to worship and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. It is then that they are one in His spirit and one in purpose:
I (Jesus) in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have love me (John 17:23).
If what is holding up our own lives, our family, our friendships, or our church has a faulty foundation, one way or another the foundation will crumble. This is the answer to the question about what happened to my family. We were not united in Christ. The baked clay mixed with iron was crushed to pieces and our family unit fell to the ground.
Jesus loves us so much that He will cause or allow absolutely whatever is necessary to bring us to Himself. He is willing to watch people, families, friendships, and churches fall apart if they are not living in Him and united through Him. And as we know, God Himself divides and breaks apart for His good and mighty purposes.
Did God make the road crooked for our family? If so, He says no one can straighten it but Him. This says to me that He loves our family SO MUCH, that He would not settle for where we were. He would not settle for something that appeared united in Him. I believe with all of my heart, that the Lord had much work to do in each of our hearts. He knew we needed division for Him to accomplish what He desires in each of us before our family will bring glory to Him. God only does things in extraordinary ways. And He promises that He works on behalf of those who wait for Him.
Dear Lord Jesus~ Help each one of us to trust You and Your ways no matter how difficult our circumstances. Dear Lord help us to desire unity with You above all things, so that we may truly be united in heart, mind and Spirit with those we love. Dear Lord please comfort us as we follow You into the sometimes unknown and uncomfortable places for health and healing. We rejoice oh Lord in the fact that You will do everything necessary to draw us and keep us close to Your heart, and then we will be able to love others as You do. Help us keep our eyes on You, prayerfully waiting upon Your miracles. In Your precious Holy name Jesus, Amen.