During a recent gathering with some friends, our conversation about the ups and downs of life and work sparked some interesting thoughts on the hit TV show, “Stranger Things.” If you aren’t familiar with “Stranger Things.” it’s a story about a group of kids who encounter an alternate universe known as The Upside Down. This dimension (spoiler alert) exists as a parallel world to the one we know. It contains all the same places, the only difference is it’s void of anything life giving. It’s dark, it’s cold and the only creatures found there breathe death and destruction.
What became most intriguing to us was realizing how, in their fight against the destructive forces of this alternate universe, the characters who discovered The Upside Down, found a freedom from everything that had previously divided them. In fact, not only did they find freedom, they developed a family bond unlike anything anyone else in their town was experiencing.
In seeing this connection, I began thinking about my life and journey over the past couple years starting Fort Myers Community Church. I wake up every day in a pretty amazing place. My wife, our three (soon to be 4) girls, and I live in sunny Southwest Florida. I have a great job as a Realtor helping people in our community find a house they can turn into a home. Three years ago, Lauren and I set out to become missionaries to our community after 12+ years of serving in full-time ministry at two churches. Our hearts were to see new disciples made and a new Jesus-centered family form.
But as we pursued this hope we kept finding so many people, like the townspeople in “Stranger Things,” who don’t see The Upside Down around them. It’s as if a little success at work, some obedient children, and some money to play with creates this false happiness. A barista recently said to me, “People seem to always divorce themselves to the reality of the world they truly live in. They want to believe they are fine and have it all together… and if they don’t, they can just obtain success with a little more performance in whatever area they feel is lacking.” If I’m honest, this paradigm hasn’t only been problematic for those we love and long to reach, it’s been difficult for us too.
The mission to love and disciple is hard, and it’s even harder when so many people don’t believe in The Upside Down that reigns all around them. Yes, there are times where we just want to quit. But the more we keep walking forward the more people are experiencing the reality of our Upside Down. Life is always throwing things at us we didn’t plan or are ready for, and all of a sudden there is now this family, this bond that has formed as people discover the freedom found in Jesus.
This family looks different than other families we have experienced. It’s messy: messy because no one is trying to outperform one another; messy because we aren’t trying to clean up things with church programs; messy because no one is trying to prove they are the best at fighting The Upside Down. In fact, we are finding the opposite. When people share their stories, what comes out is their inability to fight, their inability to work themselves out of the darkness and how they are finding life in their total reliance on the One who has set them free them from it all.
I guess you could say something life-changing happens, whether we’re the leader, a member of the church, or the person being discipled to Jesus, when we encounter the reality of our world and discover that it was “FOR freedom” that “Christ set us free.” (Gal 5:1)
Bill Vecchio is the pastor of Fort Myers Community Church