The older I am the more difficult it seems to get through these harsh Michigan winters. I am still shaking my head in amazement at the blizzard 3 weeks ago and am simply grateful that it didn’t start to snow and blow until I was within a half hour of home after a 2 day cabinet meeting in Okemos. Last week’s warmer weather was a welcome relief, but yesterday we were blasted with another storm. I find myself dreaming of long hot summer days, abundant sun, evening walks, and bike rides out in the country. I don’t like having to wear 2 pairs of socks to bed every night, bundling up in sweaters and blankets, and using a space heater in the office. I especially dislike having to watch the weather on TV early every morning to see how bad the roads are.
There is a wonderful story that comes out of a village located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, a little bit north of Cape Horn in South America. A young man built a boat all by himself and made plans to sail it around the world. When the day arrived for him to leave, the people in the village came down to the shore to wave good-bye. Many of them were crying because they didn’t think they would ever see him again. Others were shaking their heads in disbelief as if to say he was a fool.
The young man’s family was very upset. His mother kept hanging onto him and pleading with him not to go. His father was angry and said that his son was doing the stupidest thing he’d ever seen in his whole life. Others were giving him all kinds of warnings and advice. “If you get to the Cape, and the wind is howling out of the Southwest, turn around and don’t go any further!” said one man. “If the temperature drops below freezing during the late afternoon, give up your voyage right then and there. Don’t keep sailing into the night!” said another. “If you get around to the other side, and you’re having any difficulties with your radio, please find a safe harbor. Don’t strike out across the Pacific!” said yet another. On and on the comments went.
But one person was different. Just one. He happened to be the oldest man in the village. “Son,” he said to the young, adventurous sailor, “I’ve watched you grow up from a little baby to a young man. I know how much you love the sea and what a great appetite you have for excitement and adventure. All I want to say to you is this, ‘Go forth with joy! Savor every minute! Have a great time! Just know as you do that the Lord our God goes with you and will be with you every step of the way!’”
One of my greatest learnings as an adult is that life’s climate is more important than its weather. All the people who warned the young man in our story were worried about the weather and how it would affect this man’s sailing. Only one person was concerned about the climate: go with joy, savor every minute, have a great time, and remember that the Lord goes with you.
What is the difference between climate and weather? Weather is momentary. Climate endures. Weather lasts for a limited time. Climate describes a prevailing characteristic, an attitude, or way of being in the world.
What’s the weather like outside as you read this? Gray, frigid, sunny, dreary, icy, snowy, windy? How many of you have already talked about the weather today? It’s sure a lot safer than talking about religion, sex, or politics! For all we talk about the weather, you’d think it was the most important thing in life. The weather people on TV are actually celebrities. They tell us what they think the weather will be like in the next few days, we complain, they’re often wrong, we complain again, and the cycle repeats itself.
We love the weather mostly because it’s so unpredictable. Weather is a temporary occurrence because of factors such as humidity, cloudiness, precipitation, temperature, wind, or rising or dropping pressure. Climate, on the other hand, is not an instantaneous event. Climate is a pattern that develops over a long period of time and becomes the dominant feature of a geographical area. That’s why life’s climate is more important than its weather.
Climate, not weather, determines how and where plants, insects, birds, and mammals grow. Climate molds civilizations. The world’s most highly developed civilizations are located in the world’s most moderate climate zones. When it’s not too hot or too cold, people work better, and the variety of weather components stimulates the mind and invigorates the body. Oddly, the best climate can also have the worst weather. Tornadoes and hurricanes afflict the temperate areas of our world more than the very hot or cold areas. Climate, not weather, determines how and where plant, animal, and human life grows.
Climate, not weather, also determines how churches grow. Psalm 100 is a favorite of mine. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
It doesn’t take too much to figure out what kind of climate the writer of this psalm wanted for his people: joy, gladness, singing, thanksgiving, praise, and blessing. Certainly, the Hebrews had their share of tough times. They were constantly threatened by foreign powers, tempted by pagan gods, and in hot water with God. The weather was often stormy. Yet when God’s people came to worship in the temple, they were able to look beyond the weather to a climate of hope and joy.
In the same way, you and I determine the climate for our congregation. When visitors walk in the door of our church for the first time, they have an intuitive sense of the climate.
The desired climate in our local churches is often depicted in our vision and mission statements. We describe who God is calling us to become and how we want to be known. Words like making disciples, growing, loving, serving, reaching out, diverse, inclusive, transformation, grace, and welcoming abound in many of our formal church statements.
At the same time it’s clear that weather conditions can change at a moment’s notice. Every Sunday, the weather is a bit different, isn’t it? The sound or video system acts up, or there’s no heat in the sanctuary. The service runs long. The preacher has a bad day, and the sermon doesn’t go anywhere. A beloved member has just died, and the mood of the congregation is somber. We focus on our friends and forget all about making our guests feel welcome. Sometimes, it’s like we have a blizzard or lightning strikes the steeple. Other times, however, everything seems to click. The wind of the Holy Spirit swirls around us, and God’s presence is very real. The love and joy of Christ penetrates deep into our soul.
Do not give the weather more attention than it deserves, for the weather is not a trustworthy guide to reality. Weather conditions change from Sunday to Sunday. The climate of our congregations, however, is much more important than our weather. When people walk in the door of our churches, do they sense community, safety, unconditional love, grace, acceptance, warmth, a genuine welcome, and respect? It’s the calling of each one of us to create that climate. The church is a climate zone, not a weather zone.
Finally, climate, not weather, determines how we grow we as individuals. Climate does not simply refer to weather conditions on any given day. Climate is the predominant influence or condition characterizing an individual, group, time period, or place. We all have our ups and downs, just as every climate has different weather patterns. From time to time, we are affected by the temporary weather of illness, hardship, financial difficulties, broken relationships, or lost jobs. Despite the weather, however, each one of us can determine the climate for our lives. An underlying sense of peace, hope, and joy enables us to endure when the weather is depression, anxiety, or uncertainty. But if we choose a climate of negativity, resentment, anger, and ingratitude, we won’t be able to survive the storms of trials and tribulations. Bad weather will pass, but a good climate remains.
In the end, the climate of our lives and of our churches is dependent upon our relationship with Jesus Christ and the active presence of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus is at the center of our existence, joy is inevitable. Joy comes from knowing that, no matter what the weather is like, God has chosen, loved, forgiven, saved, and called us.
I’ve learned that I can’t change Michigan’s winter weather. Nor can I change the unpredictable weather of my daily life. So I’m going to focus on the climate of our churches and the climate of my heart.
How about you? Can you create a better climate in your own life by resolving to make a joyful noise to the Lord, give thanks to him, and bless his name? Can you create a better climate in your church by offering your gifts in service to God and working together to bring in God’s kingdom? Can you create a better climate in your community and around the world by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ wherever you go and treating others with respect and dignity, even if they disagree with you?
Go forth with joy! Savor every minute. Have a great time. Just know as you do that the Lord our God goes with you and will be with you every step of the way.