To flee, or not to flee? That is the question.
No doubt, fresh in our minds today, are the images of the once beautiful little town of Gatlinburg, and of the dreadful tragedy that struck our neighbors there this past week. Over a matter of hours, a small wildfire burning in the mountains was swept by strong winds, into a fire storm that overtook the town, burning hundreds of homes, cabins, and business, leaving death and untold destruction in its path. With only a few minutes’ notice, fourteen thousand residence fled their homes, braving fire and smoke along the only roads to safety. Many more were trapped in their hotels, in their homes or in their cars as the fire raged around them, blocking off their only path of escape. Many lost their homes—some lost their lives or those of their loved ones. All have come away with harrowing stories of escape, and haunting memories—memories that are, perhaps, the only thing that remains of their once lovely mountain homes.
,A remarkable story of survival emerged this week involving a couple in their 80's.
Daryl and Robert Hullander have been married 57 years, and operated a small bed and breakfast in Gatlinburg. When they heard warning that the fire was burning through their neighborhood, the had only a few moments to get out. It was already too late to drive away. So, they took their only option—they escaped on foot.
"We are 82 years old. Going down a mountain is not on the exercise list," Daryl Hullander said. "Fire was blowing across the road, so I didn't know of another way to get down from where we
were easy," Robert Hullander said. "So you just cover up your mouth and we'll run right straight through it."
It was the only reasonable way to go – down a hill, in the darkness. They had to feel their way down.
"You put one foot in front of the other and you just keep on going and if you fall you get up and you keep on going," Robert Hullander said.
Once they got going, they found they were calm, not panicky or scared. They focused on keeping going.
They've lost everything.
"These are the only clothes I own," Daryl Hullander said. However, they have each other.
"It's things, you know. You can't buy your body but you can buy things, so you just don't fret about what you've lost," Robert Hullander said.
We are shocked and amazed by the stories of tragedy and heroism, brought even closer to home by the haze of smoke that hung in our own streets and mountain hollers over the past weeks, and realizing that, but for the grace of God, their fate could well have been ours as well.
When danger threatens, what is a human’s instinctive response? It is one we share with many animals: “fight or flight.” But the questions looms, “to where can I flee?” Our house, like many of yours, is in the woods. But we live on a dead-end road. The only way out, of course, is through the woods! A fire could easily trap us in, with no good way of escape.
Of course, fire is not the only threat that faces the human family. I have spoken of this before, but if you look at the world today, millions upon millions of people are fleeing their homes and their lands, because of war, famine, and persecution. But in their flight, their quest for a place of safety is often arrested. “Where can we go?” They ask. And their options are more and more limited. We fear those who are different from ourselves, so too often we shut up the men, women, and children fleeing their homes into refugees in camps that are worse than prisons, or worse yet, send them back to the dangers and almost certain death they faced in their own homelands.
You know, even Jesus knew what it was like to have to run for his life. Not much time had elapsed after his birth in Bethlehem, when the angels sang, and shepherds came to worship him. After the wise men left, and angel said to Joseph in Matthew 2:13-15
Now when they had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Yes, even Jesus knew what it was like to be a refugee. He told his would-be disciples, in Matthew 8:20: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Most of us here aren’t fleeing eminent physical danger. But how many people do you know, who are struggling in their lives at home? Marriages falling apart, finances wrecked, family members lost. And this stress brings on the same instinctive response, and so many are looking for a way to escape. Men, women, and even the young people turn to drugs and alcohol, wreaking havoc on their families and their society. Many more look for more socially acceptable means of escape, through music, video games, relationships, Facebook, or a hundred other ways of shutting out the terrible realities of “real life.”
The only problem is, when you put down the bottle, turn down the music, shut of the WiFi, or break off the relationship, the problems of life are still there, and bigger than ever. We wake up from our dreams and realize that our lives are little more than the burned-out shells of Gatlinburg—hollow, empty relics of what we were meant to be.
And so, we long to flee, but to where can we flee? Yes, we may be able to outrun a forest fire, or even escape a repressive nation, but what if the danger we flee lies within ourselves? What if the danger attaches itself to us, so that wherever we flee, we bring it along? Are we being weighed down with a dangerous kind of baggage, so to speak—so that every new start we make in life ends just like the previous life we ran from?
You might be thinking of some people you know who are like that—perhaps you feel like that yourself. I know I do, sometimes.
When I was young, my family moved a lot. Before I was born, my parents left California, and for the next 14 years, I guess you could say we never put down roots. I was born in Kansas, as was my brother Timothy, although I never remembered it. My family moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then to Shreveport, where my maternal grandparents still live. Then, Dad got a teaching job in Washington State, where we lived 5 years, then finally a year in Canada, before moving to Kentucky. I wouldn’t say we were “running from our problems,” per se, but we did stay on the move. Dad always had a job, even if he had to cross the country to get one.
Even as a child, I remember looking forward to moving. A big part of it was the sense of adventure of course—the excitement of looking for something new. But I also remember, at each move, looking forward to being rid of some of the “problems” our family faced. Whether it was an uncomfortable living situation, cranky neighbors, or even church services that made us uncomfortable, I was always optimistic that things would be better if we could just leave it all behind and move away.
After my family settled in Kentucky, I didn’t stop having itchy feet. For anyone who looks at me, you’d think I’ve always been pretty easy-going, pretty content to stay put. I guess in some respects I am. I also have a wife, and a mom, who don’t ever want to move across the country again! Even still, I’m the one that’s always optimistic about change. Changing jobs, starting new ventures. If I don’t like something, I’ll be the first one to try and fix it.
There was one of my dad’s favorite sayings, that he used to remind me of a lot: “You can run, but you can’t hide.” You know, there’s a lot of truth to that. As I’ve found out, sometimes there are things in our lives we’d like to run away from. But try as we might, they somehow always catch up with us.
Things like our past. You ever hear it said that you past can come back haunt you? That can be true in a lot of ways. Debt. Collection agencies. Credit Scores. A record with the law.
There are the people you just wish you’d never have to see again. People who know too much about you—you just almost wish they’d go away. But even if they weren’t around, you’d still know—and the guilty conscience itself is haunting.
Of course, there are physical maladies that weigh us down—that affect our bodies and our minds. And then there’s our own personality and character traits. The things we keep doing over and over again, without thinking about it. Bad habits—ways of talking, ways of relating to people that we wish we could learn all over again.
And so, we run away. We run but we can’t hide, because I’m still me, and no matter how fast I can run, I can never run fast enough to outrun me...
5 Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7 yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”
Friend, are you weighed down by your past? Would you like to flee from it? The key to escape is found in
6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Like the prodigal son, we may have spent our lives running away from the only One Who can truly give us rest. How long will we continue to flee? Don’t flee any longer from Him! Come to him, and let him free you from your past!
Are you burned with cares and perplexities? So much so that you’d just like to run away from it all?
1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Are you depressed by grief, or sorrow? Are you harrased by temptation? Jesus is still there. Even if you try to run from Him, like Jonah on the ship, His spirit is still there! How much more when we come to Him in faith?
“In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
‘Flee like a bird to your mountain.’”
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
Are you battered with sickness and infirmity? Are you tempted to get discouraged under trial?
8 But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, a my friend;
9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
God may not take away your trials. He didn’t prevent the Hebrew worthies from being thrown into the fiery furnace. But in the presence of Jesus Christ, through His Holy Spirit and the angels He will be with you, just as he was with them.
Jesus said, in His prayer for His disciples in John 17:15-16
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
Christ, in His prayer, could the time when his disciples would have to flee to the mountains of Judea. He could see the horrors of the destruction of Jerusalem, the terrible persecutions of the middle ages, and yes even what you and I face today. Though he came to bring peace on earth, that perfect peace and harmony here is yet in the future. But my friends, the angel message has not been lost. Christ did, indeed, bring peace on earth, in bringing it to your heart and to mine. By his life and death, he reconciled us to God, so that we no longer have to flee from God’s presence, as Adam fled in the garden of Eden. We no longer have to flee from ourselves. God has given to you and me, the wings of a dove, that we may fly to him and be at rest.