When the Lord Came to the Family Picnic…

I saw Jesus yesterday… And I ignored Him.

Only one week ago, I stood in front of a whole room of my brothers and sisters and preached a message from I John 3 about love. I centered the message around verse 18, which reads, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.” I explained the four Greek words behind these English terms, word, talk, deed and truth. Word points to the idea or concept of love. Talk is literally the word for tongue and points to our tendency to talk about love or (merely) to say “I love you.” Deed points to the action of love. And truth points to the reality of love.

I explained the progressive nature of these things. First, there is thinking about the idea of love. Then there is speaking lovingly. There is nothing wrong with these things. But too often the progress of love stops right here. Beyond these, a person can act lovingly and, ultimately, become a person of love. John is telling us not to have the first two as our goal, but rather to aim for the second two. If we aim to have loving ACTIONS and to BE loving people, we will have the first two as well. If we are truly people of love, it will necessarily be the case that we will be people who think lovingly and who speak lovingly. This was the heart of the message I preached last week.

The sad fact, however, is that all this sermonizing about love was itself just talk.

Also, I created and led through most of last school year an adult Sunday School class called “The Other Theology.” The reason I did so was that I wanted to explore ways in which I and others might become, more and more, the sort of people who would live lives of love for others. That too, if left at the level of word and talk, is pointless.

For quite some time now, I have been wanting to get involved with homeless and poor people and other down-and-outters. I have been wanting to be part of a ministry where I could work with other believers to bring the Lord’s love to such people. I want to become a lover in deed and truth.

Enter: The Lord Jesus in what Michael Card has sung about as “His distressing disguise.”

Yesterday, my family and I attended a family picnic and caught up with all sorts of extended family members. We played Texas Washers and other silly games. We hung around and visited and had a pretty good time. It was good to see everyone who was there.

Then at one point in the afternoon, a certain one of my cousins arrived. He came walking feebly into the scene. He is a thin and pale and shaking man. I do not know the exact nature of his physical problems, but I am fairly sure that it is the result of years of drug and alcohol abuse. He slowly made his way up onto the deck in my aunt’s back yard, where he was mostly ignored by everyone for the rest of the time that we were there. I, of course, went straight to him and sat and talked with him and showed interest in him and loved him with the love of my Lord… Right?… Wrong… I stayed busy with other things and people. I did say a quick ‘Hi’ at one point, but it was pathetic, awkward and quick.

I had a chance to be a sheep and not a goat. I had a chance to love the least. I failed.

I don’t actually know who noticed, but I feel like everyone there saw me NOT relate to my cousin. Several years ago,many of the same people stood around me in a cemetery, as I represented the Lord and spoke the message at the memorial service of another cousin–the brother of the one whom I barely acknowledged at this picnic yesterday.

This morning, I sat in our Breaking of Bread meeting. As I took the bread and the cup, I asked the Lord to forgive me for ignoring Him yesterday… which, of course, He did.

I don’t know when I’ll see my cousin again, or whether I ever will. As I sat this morning aching to have yesterday back again, I realized that in my failure to go and be with my cousin and to minister to him, the loss was at least as much mine as his. I may have the Lord’s forgiveness, but I’ll never have yesterday again.

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5 thoughts on “When the Lord Came to the Family Picnic…

  1. This is kind of tough for me to read, not only because I was there, too, but because I have done the same things.

    Its been a while now that I have deeply desired to live out Christ to people who are waiting for him and know it. I have prayed constantly and have desired wholly for the Lord to bring into my life people who obviously need help. I have prayed for the opportunity to meet with homeless people, with druggies, with “the least,” hoping that I might reflect in a tiny but great way the love Jesus has lavished on me.

    And God has answered my prayers. And have looked the other way, literally.
    Sometimes I am still haunted by the face of a man who walked up to me, while I was wearing a brand new concert shirt and holding another one, and asked me if I had any change. I only met his eyes after I said “No.” I still hear his question sometimes, when I ask the Lord to put me in the path of the least. I still hear my answer, my rejection of him without even looking, or loving.

    I know I have failed him. And since that day 1 John 3:17 has broken my heart, because I know I failed Him, failed to be Him.

    But that IS what I want. The line from the Keith Green song based on Romans 7 that says, “those I want to help I pass right by,” tortures me. But it reminds me that Christ knows what I want to do. Although He is intimately aware of my sin (for it was committed against Him), He is also aware of the struggle between that sin and righteousness (because it was His struggle too). And although I have failed at it, and I am sure that I will again, He has prevailed. My victory is in His success, and when I am faithful it will be for his glory.

    But for now, I know I have failed, and I know I will again. But I will rejoice, because one day soon I won’t have this struggle. The Lord Jesus is coming. And when He comes we will be like Him.

    p.s. I finally left a comment 😉

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ammie-Bear! (To other readers, Ambyr feels silly about the idea of leaving a comment here on my blog, since she lives right here under the same roof with me. :-))
    I appreciate you identifying with me here. Your mother also identified with me/us, when she read it.
    You know, your grandfather was very good about loving such people. In fact, get this: I’ll tell you a story about Grampa and the very man about who I wrote this post, my Dad and my cousin.
    I have no clear recollection from my childhood years of this cousin we saw on Saturday. I know he was around from time to time; I just can’t think of a memory from before my teen years with him in it. His brother, the one whose funeral I spoke, lived with us quite a bit, so I remember him a lot more.
    Anyway, the earliest clear memory I have of the one whom we saw this weekend was when your Grampa was taking care of him one afternoon/evening. It was some time after Mom and Dad’s divorce; I think I must have been about 12 or 13. Somehow during the week or so prior–I don’t remember the details at all–Dad had run into this cousin in town. (Now, keep in mind that this was his nephew by a marriage that had been dissolved.) He had given him some food and some transportation (and some money too, I think). And now here we were on one of my weekends with Dad, and we were doing it again. Not “we,” really. Dad was caring for my cousin. I was along for the ride, but was not enjoying it at all. My cousin was not nearly as physically beaten down then as he is now. But he was on his way. He lived in some run-down house somewhere that smelled awful. In fact, he smelled really bad. He had a dog that also was very dirty. It was one of those situations where you just want to get out of there and hit the shower. But Dad drove this cousin around to get him to a couple of places where he needed to go and get some things he needed to get, like some groceries and so forth. And then we took him home to this gross dwelling. He must have invited us in or something, because I remember being inside the place. You would have thought that your Grampa had just driven a dignitary around town and was now seeing him to his room at the Hilton.
    My memory of all this is very hazy now. But I remember very well that as we drove away, I expressed my revulsion toward the grossness of it all. Without making me feel like a rotten person, Dad gently told me that this is where Christian faith really showed itself. I don’t remember what words he used, but I remember the lesson.
    Perhaps that’s why my failure this weekend is especially bitter to me.
    But you are right! The Lord loves, forgives and builds beautiful things from the ashes of our failures.
    I love you, Baby-Bear!

  3. KC,

    I am so glad that I decided to visit your blog today. I read this blog first and then the second one and my mouth literally dropped, because as I read this I was reminded of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s own story of how, on his race to the white house for Jesus, he nearly tripped over him embodied in the homeless man in the subway. Thank you for your honesty in this post; it is a real blessing.

    ~Jasmine

    • Thanks, Jasmine.
      I am trying to move from theory and talk to deed and truth–from thinking and talking love to doing and being love. Much of the time, I try to convince myself that the greatest barrier to that transformation is my set of life circumstances. But the truth is, I am my own greatest barrier.
      Where did you read the story of JWH’s moment of awareness?

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