Willow’s 42nd Anniversary message/Bill’s succession announcement.

(The following is a transcript of Willow’s 42nd Anniversary message/Bill’s succession announcement. The video is also available to you here, and more on the succession update here.)

Hey, friends, seriously, wait, before you sit down, the true founder of this church is in the house with us. Dr. B is with us, and so...

Alright. You can have a seat.

And he’s a 187 years old. So. It’s a miracle, every year that he shows up for another anniversary.

Hey, you’re all familiar with the passage in Ecclesiastes 3 that says there is a season... in life... for everything. It says there’s a season for every purpose under heaven. Six and a half years ago, the Elders came to me, and they said, “We’re wondering...” and they said this very courteously, very respectfully. They said, “We’re wondering if you have any idea how long your season should be as Senior Pastor of this church.” And even I know there was kind of... a question behind that question.

And so I said, “Really, I haven’t given it any thought.” And in that meeting, we chatted about a little bit, and we said, “Well, you know, someday my season, surely, is gonna have to come to an end as the Senior Pastor. And because Willow is an influential church and a church of some scale and impact around the world, we would probably... serve God and help our church if we would do a thoughtful, prayerful transition process over time... to see if we could find new leaders who could take us into the future.

And so, after many months of prayer around this, we decided, “Let’s start that faith journey.” Six and a half years ago.

The Elders asked me to do the initial vetting process. To find some... some leaders who could take us into the future. And then... they would make the final decision... on who would take us into the future. I do the vetting; they do the final deciding. And that’s as it should be, biblically, and I was more than willing to do my part.

When I was just sitting down to decide how to do this vetting process, I felt I had to have some values that I could do some vetting by. And so my first one was that I wanted the Holy Spirit to guide this process. When I was reading through the Old and New Testament, there were many baton passes... and when the Holy Spirit seemed to be a part of the baton pass, they seemed to go pretty well. When the Holy Spirit was left out of the equation, it got a little ugly. In fact, some baton passes wound up with people killing each other over this stuff. And I thought, let’s have as little bloodshed as possible... in this transition. So let’s let the Holy Spirit guide it.

Secondly, and this was just a leadership decision I made, I said, “I want my executive team, the leadership team of the church, and all the lead pastors of all our congregations—I want them in on the vetting process from the very beginning.”

We have an incredibly talented and committed... humble, servant-oriented leadership team and lead pastors. And I thought to myself, If I don’t engage them, and, then, at the end of the process, I announce, maybe, who the leaders are gonna be in the future, and it comes as a surprise, and they’re not all on board, we could... that could be a hardship on some people that we really need to, you know, be on the same page. So, from day one, I invited all of those people into the process.

Next is I wanted the process to be transparent. No smoke-filled rooms. No side deals. I wanted to be honest with the people who put their name in the hat. If they weren’t gonna make it, I wanted to tell them honestly why I wasn’t going to further their candidacy. And I wanted to tell them so that they could either grow or so that I could affirm the fact that they are in the right place at the right time. And so I wanted to make it transparent.

Next is I wanted it to start internally. All the leadership research shows if you can find internal candidates, well, they’re probably gonna do... it’ll probably be a smoother transition than if it’s external. So I started with an internal focus. But because of my relationship with the Willow Creek Association and the Global Summit, we’re in 130 countries. So right when I started looking for who could be the leaders that would take us into the future, on every trip I’ve been on—every culture, every country—domestically and internationally, I would be saying, “Holy Spirit, show me somebody.” And there’s some very, very interesting leaders and communicators on the international front.

And in some countries that you wouldn’t except, I mean, there are people who can lead and preach... in a very impressive way. And so... when I would run across these people over the years, I would arrange to have a special dinner with them and find out what God was doing in their life—if they were interested in becoming a part of our story. And, at one point, I said to the Elders, “Now, I do have the freedom to... use the whole world as a canvas for selection, right? I mean, like, you’d be okay if God brings an international person? Someone from a different culture? A different ethnicity? A different skin color?”

And they were like, “We’re trusting God to guide you in the vetting process, and we’ll make the final decision. So search the world.”

And I did.

One of the big revelations that came my way fairly early in the process as I was searching all over the place... was that there are some people who can really lead and can teach to set a pulpit on fire. You know, I mean, really exciting. But I was to learn... that some of them, as capable as they were, don’t really share the values of our church. What makes Willow, Willow? It’s not a cool building. It’s not just that we use the arts and so. It’s our values.

We ache over people... who are far from God. It’s like a major, front-of-mind concern for us every day around here. If you go out into our lobby right now, you’ll see those banners that have the stickers on it of all the people that we’re praying for that they will come to faith in Christ soon. And I stood in front of it yesterday... prayed there for two or three minutes... and some of you said, “I’m praying for my dad.” Some of you wanted the whole church to pray for your neighbor, your boss, your... coworker, and so. And so much of what drives our church is the belief that people far from God matter to God... and they ought to matter to us.

Another value of ours is that our hearts break over the plight of the poor. I mean, we built the Care Center during the worst recession of our lifetime. We do Celebration of Hope every year. We had a job fair here this week—hundreds of people who have not been able to find employment streamed into our lobby, and employers came, many of whom run businesses in our church, and we tried to match people up cause... people who have fallen on hard times need jobs. And we do this joyfully.

We love diversity in this church. There are some churches that aren’t very interested in having the richness of diversity that we enjoy. And we’ve gone from 2% to 38% diversity, and we really believe the words of Jesus... when He said that “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.” We have a hundred nations represented in this church. And that’s a value of ours.

Next is we actually believe that women ought to be able to use their full spiritual giftedness in the ministry of the church along with men.

Here’s another one that’s fairly odd, if you think about it. We serve other churches. Now, you think about this for a second. We serve other churches. We decided some twenty-some years ago to start this thing called the Willow Creek Association, where we would put a serving towel over our arms and we would render assistance and coaching and mentoring and resources to any church anywhere that needed our help. And that’s a little different.

We care for prisoners. We care for prisoners. That’s not every church’s deep concern, but we do here.

And... we have a special heart toward a ministry called “Special Friends,” that takes care of our disabled kids here. That’s a very important value.

And... we fight for peace in a world of conflict. We’ve sent over three hundred of our senior leaders to the Middle East to understand the complicated narrative of the Israelis and the complicated narrative of the Palestinians. And we’ve been training people in peacemaking efforts so that maybe they can push the peace agenda up field in addition to what the politicians are trying to do. But we believe Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

So I could go on and on about our values. But... I would find a fantastic leader... in some part of the world or in our country or even in our congregation, and I would find that they would hold some of our values but not all of them. And I started to realize that’s gonna be a deal breaker. And I had dinners with pastors of great churches, and they would never let a woman lead anything significant in their church. Or... they... teach God’s Word, but they’re not too interested in people who are outside of their church who are... pre-Christian. They mainly wanna preach to the already convinced and so.

And I started to realize... it’s gonna be very complicated... to find someone who’s capable and gifted and who shares the values that make our church unique. So that really narrowed the field.

Now, a further complication several years into this process was... we brought a consultant in from outside the church. We had many... Christ-following consultants along the way. One we brought in... who doesn’t know Willow very well and is really not a person of faith yet. But we wanted his fresh eyes on our transition process. Sometimes, you know, people who aren’t real familiar with you can see things that we can’t see, cause we’re blinded by what’s in front of us.

So our executive team met with this guy in Michigan. And he said, “So I know you brought me in to help you with this transition process. If you’re trying to replace Bill, let’s ask the question, ‘What does Bill do around here?’”

And my team said, “We don’t know what Bill does around here. We don’t. I mean, we cover his backside. He’s gone half the time, and...”

So the guy goes, “No, I’m semiserious. I have to understand what he does.”

And so we told him mainly what I do is I spend my time teaching and then leading. So the consultant said, “Uh, how many hours?” He looked right at me, and he said, “I don’t know about these things. How many hours does it take you to put a decent sermon together?”

And I said, “Well, I’ve never actually delivered a decent sermon... but I put in a lot of hours trying.”

He said, “How many hours for the average sermon?”

And I said, “Well, minimally twenty-five hours a week. And if it’s a tough passage on a tough subject matter, that can bump up to thirty-five hours a week.”

And he goes, “Okay. Do you do holiday services? Do you do funerals and weddings?”

And I said, “Yeah, I do some of those.”

And he said, “How many actual times do you deliver these messages over the course of a weekend?”

And I said, “Three.”

And he said, “Do you greet people?”

And I said, “Yeah.”

And he goes, “Well, by my calculations, you’re over forty hours a week with just the teaching.”

I said, “I... it could be. I don’t keep track.”

And he said, “Now, let’s talk about the leadership side. What does it take to lead this organization?” He said, “How many staff?”

I said, “Well, four hundred or so.”

“How many campuses?”

“Eight.”

“What’s the budget?”

“$77 million.”

He goes, “That’s a big leadership challenge. How many hours does that take?”

I said, “That’s, that’s probably forty of forty-five.”

So he writes that down. And then he puts eight-five hours, and he circles it. Was a little moment of truth.

And someone around the table said, “Who would we wish this job on?”

And when he left, he made a tremendous contribution to us. Really not even knowing... what a breakthrough it was for him to bring this into sharp relief. And we prayed on our knees after that as an executive team and said, “We maybe have to put an improved leadership model in place. Not for every church but for our church at this time in our history. And maybe... maybe we need to do away with the Senior Pastor model when my tenure is done, and maybe we ought to replace that Senior Pastor title with two titles, two positions. One being called the Lead Pastor, who will do that leadership job that needs to be done, and another title called the Lead Teaching Pastor, who would focus on teaching and being with the congregation and raising up other teachers and so.”

And I called the Elders right after that retreat. I said, “I think... that... not only am I gonna bring some names to you about who can lead us into the future; I think I’m gonna present a new model of leadership for our church. Again, not every church.”

And they said, “We’re all ears. Come to the next meeting and explain it to us.”

So I did. And, within just a couple of hours, they were like, “We see this, too. And we think, we think you’re on the right track here.”

So I proceeded. 

Well, now that I know that I’m looking for people who have the right gifts and who have our values, it got really intense. And by God’s grace, with this new two senior leadership positions open, I found two people... that I felt fit those roles. And I quickly brought back in my executive team, leadership team, and all the lead pastors, and I said, “I’m getting real, real serious now on these positions and these people.” They agreed 100 percent with that—with the decision that I was about to present to the Elders.

So when that was all done, and we were all on the same page, then I went to the Elders. And I said, “Here’s the leadership model, and here are the people who I think can fit these positions beautifully.”

 

Now, put yourself fin the shoes of our Elders. These are people who have full-time jobs. These are people—many of whom have, you know, full family schedules and so. They’re volunteers. And they put in hundreds of hours just normally doing Elder stuff. And, on top of all that, during their tenure, they wind up having to make this... quite large decision. And so... they told me, and we had pre-agreed on this, that when I gave them my recommendation, then I had to step out of the process... so that they could do a true independent process. Because maybe the thought would be that the Elders would simply rubber stamp my recommendation. And then they would have to stand before you and say, “Yeah, we didn’t, you know, we just went with whatever Bill wanted.”  

And they’re pretty independent people anyway and are very strong Christ followers... and I knew it was the right thing to step out of... that process. So for thirteen months... without my involvement... they vetted my recommendations. And they prayed on their knees about the leadership model and all that. And... eventually came to the same conclusion that I had come to about the personnel and about the model.

Now, we hit one little speedbump right near the end. And that was because of the way our governance works as a church, I, as the Senior Pastor, have been the connecting person with the Elders. The Elders do not wander around our church and advise staff how to do their job. We don’t have that kind of model. We have a very disciplined, board model where the board concerns itself with vision and values and the future of the organization, and then if they have concerns, they communicate them to me as the Senior Pastor, and then I communicate to the staff. And that’s... we keep their purview and the staff purview quite differentiated. And it works really, really well. We’ve been in that model for seven or eight years. But now we have two senior positions. How’s that gonna work out?

And it took an additional month or so for us to wrestle this down, but we said, “We should defer to the giftedness here. The person with the strongest leadership gifts should be the one who reports up into the Elders and from the Elders down, back into the staff and so. And so we said that the Lead Pastor would be that connect with the Elders. And then the Lead Teaching Pastor would attend Elder meetings but not as a voting member. Give input and all the rest. But we would stay clean with a single Lead Pastor communication link between the Elders and the staff. And so, when we got that done, that sort of completed the process.

Now, along the way, I had an experience with God that I want to spend just a moment telling you about. I could take you back, believe it or not, I could take you back to where it was, what day it was, what I was doing... when I felt very strongly called to start this church.

And it was one of those... callings, you know? When God stirs in your heart, and He gives you—I’ve never heard the audible voice of God—but He gave me such a strong impression. Dr. B had been saying, “Somebody needs to try to start an Acts 2 church in our day.” And that was... reverberating inside of me. And then there came that day when God said, “Bill, I want you... to leave your family business, and I want you to do this.”

And I went to Tim VandenBos and... Scott Pederson and Joel Jager, my closest friends, and I said, “Will you leave what you’re doing... and will you help me with this?”

And they said, “Yes.”

And so we all just said, “Here we go.”

Well, I’ve been running on that calling, that energy, for all these years. And then I was on a solitude retreat in... on a little island in the Atlantic. And God came as... as personally and powerfully to me on that day as He did on the day He called me to start this church, and I heard Him say through an impression by His Holy Spirit, “I am now releasing you... from your role. Not releasing you from being passionate and loving and being a part of the church. But I’m releasing you from your role as Senior Pastor. It was only ever intended to be a season. And you’ve completed the season that I wanted you to complete. I have other things that maybe you can do. But... this season is coming to an end.”

And it was so real that I... called the Elders right away. And the cell coverage was terrible. I had to call back two or three times. And I said, I told them what happened, and I said, “I’m not going to be a problem child in this... transition. Because I feel released from this role.” And they were pretty glad to hear that, actually.

And we confirmed that my end date... my end date in my Senior Pastor position as it’s comprised right now will be one year from this weekend—it’ll be October of 2018. Where I will cycle off the staff of the church. And from what I can tell now, the one certain thing I think God wants me to do... is pay more attention to the building of the Global Leadership Summit all around the world, and, for some strange reason that I don’t fully understand... I feel a special calling within that calling to bring the Summit to the poorest countries of the world, to the countries where no one ever comes to do leadership development—to the countries that are filled with corruption and conflict and all of that. So...

During my last year here, I will do my absolute best to coach and develop and to mentor the senior staff of this church. And I’ll be giving them increased responsibilities. I’ll be moving out of my infamous third-floor office and locate somewhere else—I’m thinking about the pole barn or maybe the CARS ministry area. Some place a little different.

This will still be my home church. I’ll still worship here and be a part of things, but I’ll be in a different... will not be in this role. And, finally, I decided, in this last year, I’m gonna start giving hugs. Yeah. Huh. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

And I’m lying to you right now.

But anyway, don’t worry about me and my family. We’re great. We’ve seen God’s hand in all of this, and we’re in a terrific place. And I’m gonna be around for another year or so—there’s nothing abrupt that’s gonna happen. But now, I have the awesome privilege, on behalf of the Elders, to introduce our new Lead Pastor to you—it’s Heather Larson—and our new Lead Teaching Pastor, Steve Carter. So, guys, come up.

Alright, have a seat.

I wanna tell you a little bit of, kind of, the behind-the-scenes rationale of why I chose these people and why I believe the Elders affirmed them as soundly as they did. I wanna talk about Steve first. I’ve known Steve for fifteen years. And I’ve followed his ministry in two other churches. And I followed it because... he is uniquely gifted, and I felt God had His hand on Steve’s life. And so we’ve stayed in touch for over fifteen years. Then... a little over five years ago, when we needed some teaching help, when I did anyway, I hired Steve... and I was to learn, over the course of the last five years, Steve has an incredibly strong, pure New-Testament gift of teaching. And what that means is... that Steve, when he opens his Bible, the Holy Spirit... illuminates... the Word of God to him. And while it’s... while at the same time it’s being illuminated, God is already giving him ideas of how to communicate. Illuminate and communicate at the same time. It’s a really cool... manifestation of the pure spiritual gift of teaching, and he has it.

 

Another thing is that Steve has an insatiable appetite to get better. He just, he loves to be coached. And every time he gives a message, he’ll come to Heather and me and others in the back room, and he’ll go, “I think I can do better than that... tell me what point needs to be stronger. Tell me if that illustration worked, because I have two more shots. And I’d like to do better and give God more glory and help people more next time around.” Just wants to get better.

This is probably my favorite part of his teaching gift. And I get emotional because this is so rare—if you only knew... how rare this is. Steve is a servant teacher. He comes into my office, and he goes, “Where do you want me to teach the next thirty days? Five people, fifty people, fifteen th- doesn’t matter. You want me to teach in Elevate? You want me to teach Student Impact?” He is a pure servant teacher with no ego. And wants to use this gift with a serving towel over his arm. Very rare.

Another thing... another thing that’s very unusual is to have someone with the pure gift of teaching at the level he has it whose second gift is the gift of evangelism. And I’m not proud of what I’m gonna say next, but—and it’s an observation, not a judgment. Some of the best Bible teachers that I know... are motivated mainly to preach the Bible to the already convinced. And if you say, “Well, what about the people who aren’t convinced yet?”

They go, “Well, you know... I’m not so interested in them. I want to teach people how to do a deeper walk,” which is a beautiful thing. But this church was born... to reach our friends. And if I was gonna put someone in the role to be our primary teacher and the teaching was all gonna be focused on the already convinced with not much thought for those who are not yet a part of our church... that would be a violation of one of our fundamental values.

Steve’s second gift is evangelism. And Steve... Steve builds relationships with people far from God when he’s not on the church clock. He just believes that everyone he meets would be better off if God were at the center of their story. Which is a beautiful thing.

Many of you know that his first book was called The Invitational Life. How do you live your faith out in front of your family and friends that would be inviting to them to check out the story God could write for their life? So that’s a powerful thing. Steve loves to be with people in our congregation. It’s embarrassing for me to walk around the campus with Steve, cause he knows more people than I know. And they all run up and, you know, go, “Yeah, hey, Bill... Hey, Steve!” You know? I don’t walk around with him much anymore.

Steve owns all of our values and would take a bullet for them. I have never had to say, “Hey, can... can you... pump up yourself a little bit to help our congregation care more for the plight of the poor?” Steve owns every value that we hold dear... and is passionate about them without input needed from me or anyone else.

Team... he’s team oriented. You know, every third illustration, have you noticed? Every third illustration is athletics that he uses. Keep track some time. I’m rarely off on this. But... it is really... his athletic background has served us well. Because he’s utterly team oriented. When we’re in planning meetings and so, I mean, he wants to know, what are the other team members think? And when we do something that works, he always is like, “I wanna spread all the credit to the people on the team.” Staff people love working with Steve because he is so team oriented.

In addition, this is another very rare thing about a gifted teacher... a lot of people can teach... and if you ask them how they do it, they don’t know. It’s just a gift. Steve has reflected on it enough, and I think from his athletic and coaching background, Steve is uniquely capable and fired up about raising up other teachers. He has a class with seventy emerging communicators in it from all over our campuses to raise up new teachers. It’s a very rare thing.

And... because Steve... over the course of this transition is gonna become what we call Teacher One, we’ve already had this conversation. In that class of seventy emerging teachers that he’s building into, he’s gonna have to find a Teacher Two. So that he can take a breather once in a while and go on a family vacation. And he’s totally committed to raising up Teacher Two and Three and Four, and we have some interesting people who are getting pretty close to being ready.

Steve has a fantastic family. He has a fabulous marriage with Sarah. Two incredible kids. And it mattered to me... that he’s a great husband and a great dad. It really mattered a lot to me. So...

In summary, what I wanna say is, I did feel the freedom from the Elders... to look all over planet Earth... for our Lead Teaching Pastor. And I chose this guy, and the Elders affirmed it, and we are very glad that he said yes.

Now... hang on. Now... I wanna say a few words about Heather here. Heather is a twenty-year veteran of our staff. Now, you think about it. She’s been on our staff for twenty years. I hired her when she was in the seventh grade. Just... kidding. But she... she has the Willow DNA. She... she understands our culture. She understands... our history. And she knows a lot of the veterans around our church. And... and that really... is important to me.

She has the pure Romans 12:8 gift of leadership. And many of you have it, too, and God entrusted that to me as well. And when you have that as your lead gift, as it is in my life, you can spot... who else has that gift because your mind thinks similar kinds of leadership thoughts. And I’ve known for over a decade that her top spiritual gift was leadership. And I’ve been trying to mentor her along those lines because I knew, someday, you know, she would, she would play an increasingly important role.

Another thing that I’ve done over the last twenty years is I’ve put Heather in five or six different positions on the staff just to see how that leadership gift would emerge and so... she exceeded our expectations every single time in every one of these positions. A couple of things that you wouldn’t know. And this is embarrassing for her. But I’m gonna tell you anyway cause I think you need to know.

When people ask, “Who’s the founder of the Global Leadership Summit?” that would probably be me. If I were to ask people around Willow, “Who’s the founder of Celebration of Hope?” you wouldn’t know. But the founder, the person who God put the dream of Celebration of Hope into is Heather Larson. And she has built that for over a decade.

She was also the chairman of the building committee for the construction of our Care center. Brought that to completion on time, within budget. So I could see a little bit where her life was taking her. And... a couple years ago, I said, “Alright, here’s another test. You have to lead the budgeting process for our entire organization, for a season.” And... she doesn’t have... a degree in accounting. But I had to figure out if she could get her head around the numbers, if she’s gonna be the Lead Pastor, can she understand the budgets? Can she... figure out the right economic model and divide the resources properly and raise money and all this kind of stuff. She passed that test with flying colors. She gets it.

Here’s something a little... her style is just... one lane over from mine, you might say. She leads a little bit more collaboratively than I do. You know what I’m saying? She actually listens to people. Which I don’t quite understand. I’d rather just say, “Let’s go!” She actually says, “Come into my office, and I’d like to hear where you wanna go first.” Terrible waste of time in my view. But... when staff feel heard, then whatever the decision is, they can buy in because they were listened to. And Heather is a fabulous listener. And she gets input from all the people that she needs input from. And then... she makes the executive decision that has to be made. And we move on.

All the Lead Pastors... she’s been in all my meetings with the Lead Pastors of all of our regional congregations. They voted for her unanimously. Heather knows that one of her first jobs is gonna be to replace the position that she just vacated. She’s been an incredible Executive Pastor for five years. But now, as she becomes Lead Pastor, she has to back fill that position; she understands that.

Heather has boundless energy. I suspect she consumes massive quantities of Red Bull... every day. I don’t know what it is. But... I mean, she has a lot of energy. And one of the phrases that best describes her, we were talking about this in the back room the other day... Heather, wherever I am in the world, she’ll email me, and she’ll say, “I don’t know what country you’re in or what time zone you’re on right now. Here’s what I’m moving ahead today back at church.” And that little phrase—“We’re moving things ahead”—she hates the status quo. And comes in every day saying, “I’m gonna move these two things ahead. I’m gonna meet with these departments, these ministries, with this regional campus. And we are gonna move something ahead for God’s glory today.” I love that sense of energy and drive.

Heather has a fantastic family. Her husband, Dan, has been on the staff for almost as long as she has. And he does all the cool lights—all that you see here every weekend? Her husband does that for us. Which is really cool. And... she has two precious daughters—Teegan and Avery. And so she’s a terrific mom and a terrific wife. And, in summary... well, I guess there’s one more thing I should say.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed. We forget once in a while. She’s a woman. Okay? Did I say that right? And...

So... when it came time to say, okay, is this the person that I’m actually... going to recommend to the Elders to be our Lead Pastor... I said, I wonder if her, the fact that she’s a woman is gonna be all right with our church. And because this is a deeply held value of our church, I just said, “Our church is gonna celebrate that a woman gets to be in this role.” So... there we are.

So, in summary, I searched the whole world. And when it came right down to it, the recommendation I made to the Elders and that was affirmed by the Elders is that Heather Larson would be my first choice and our first choice to be our Lead Pastor.

So... anyway, I wanna ask these guys a couple questions real quick. I’m tired of talking. And... you’re tired of listening to me. Steve, Pam Orr—the chair of our Elder Board—called you a couple months ago and said, “We are gonna ask you to be the Lead Teaching Pastor of the church.” How did that phone call go? 

Steve: Yeah, when she called and told me the news, it... I mean, in one sense, you are profoundly humbled at this opportunity and honored... and then there’s this... surge of excitement. To be able to do this. And what got me so excited is... they crafted a role that is exactly true to how God has wired me. Friends, I win. I don’t have to go to meetings like Heather does. Unbelievable. Don’t tell anybody, okay? But I... for them to see how God has made me and said, “Steve, we want you to teach. We feel that you were put on the planet to open God’s Word,” and it’s something I love to do.

And I still have room to grow, and I wanna keep getting better and better at teaching. But to have the chance to teach at this congregation... of people that I love so dearly... it’s just incredible. And not just teach but to also coach emerging teachers. I mean, from Promiseland to Elevate to Impact, people at all of our regionals—we have some incredible communicators. And I want every stage at Willow to have the best communicators to teach our kids, our students, and our congregation. It matters to me. So, for me, being able to teach, to coach, and then, they said, “Steve, you are a pastor. And we want you to be present with our community.” I love having the chance to sit with you at Dr. B’s. To hear your story. To pray with you. To open God’s Word with you. To help you in seasons of trouble and celebrate seasons of joy. It’s amazing.

And, they said, “We want you to be a local pastor.” And we’ve, you’ve heard it so many times. We say it all the time. The local church is the hope of the world. And for them to say, “We want you to be a local pastor. Keep living in the community and inviting people into what God’s doing.” I mean... our values. To partner with Heather who does... I mean, she moves things forward. I have the utmost trust in her. To have a coach like I do in Bill. To have the executive team, leadership team, Lead Pastors, our staff... it’s amazing. And the only way I know how to describe it is... through a sport’s analogy. So...

But, many of you know my dad... isn’t doing too well health wise. And a couple weeks ago, the University of Michigan invited my dad and I to go to a football practice. Now, it was an incredible experience. You see Harbaugh’s got his kakis on. And he’s got a bullhorn, and he’s walking around the practice and... he’s barking out plays over the bullhorn. And then, a couple times during the practice, he just stopped. And in that bullhorn, he just screamed out, “Who’s got it better than us?!”

And for a 115, 120 players, who felt honored, blessed, to have the privilege to play at the University of Michigan, to wear the maize and blue, they stopped what they were doing and all screamed out together, “Nobody!”

And when I think about our church... I think about the history and the legacy. When I think about the values of this place. When I think about the opportunity that God has put before me... here... I just think about that question: “Who’s got it better than me?” Nobody. Nobody. Nobody.

Bill: And... Heather, I think the same night, you got a phone call from Pam as well, and how did that call go for you?

Heather: Well, I resonate with Steve that it was incredibly humbling. I would say it was overwhelming for me in... the best of ways. This is not something I expected. Or something that I plotted out. But as I look back, I see how God planted some seeds in my heart almost twenty years ago. I was working on staff for the American Red Cross, and I started attending here at Willow. And, at that time, for the very first time, I heard this vision of the local church. And Bill’s words around that. And I started diving into Acts chapter 2. And God cemented in my heart that I want my life to be about building the church. And it’s when I came on staff here.

But then fast forward to just a little while ago. I was in a CEO program at Kellogg. And I felt like God was nudging me that He wanted me to step up my leadership. I called my husband, I said, “I don’t know what God’s prompting me to do.”

And as I was talking with him about it, he said, “It’s very clear to me that you are going to be leading something somewhere someday. I can’t imagine anything our family would wanna be a part of other than building this church that we love.” And now, we get to be part of doing that! And I get to be part of it with Steve. And God has such a unique anointing on Steve’s life and his incredible gift of teaching. And when Steve comes down from that stage after giving a great message, I’m like, “Yes! You did it! And I’m so glad I don’t have to do your job! So glad you’re in the role that you’re in.”

But it’s not just the two of us. We have a fantastic team of leaders. Our exec team. Our Lead Pastors. Our leadership team. And we have all linked arms. And we said, “We are committed to the future of this church.” We’ve started doing some vision meetings together, just dreaming about what is next. We’ve met with every single staff team. With regionals. With each of our Elders. Just hearing what God is stirring in each person.

And I would say one thing we know absolutely for certain is that God is not done with this church. And... and we are committed in the future of holding strong to the biblical values that have been part of our church since the very beginning. We wanna passionately pursue our friends who are far from God. We wanna spur one another on to grow deeper in our faith. And we wanna find ways to courageously show God’s love to our neighbors in need and to the world around us.

There is a whole lot that we have to figure out, but our team is ready. We are fired up. And we cannot wait to see what God’s gonna do.

Bill: So... lot of Red Bull there.

One thing, this is just a little irony. When I first started that vetting process, there were several, lots of people who threw their hat in the ring. Steve was pretty new with us at the time, and he didn’t throw his hat in the ring. And so I tracked him down one day, and I said, “Steve, you gotta throw your hat in the ring—go through this vetting process.” 

And he said, “Bill, I, I’m too new. I don’t understand the culture yet. I’m probably too young. And so I would feel more comfortable staying on the sidelines.”

And I said, “Look, you know, I’m mentoring you, I’m coaching you, I’m asking you to go through this process if for no other reason that I think it’ll be developmental for you. If you don’t make it through the vetting process, you’ll know what you have to work on.”

And he said, “Well, if it’s developmental...”

And I said, “Yeah.”

And he threw his hat in the ring.

Heather was not on anybody’s radar at that point. And so I had her on my side of the table as we were vetting the other candidates. And here, six and a half years later, he winds up in this role, and she winds up in that role. It’s another Only God... kind of story.

Steve: You know, if you think about the history of our church, and right in my sight line is Dr. B. This story of this, of Willow, is Dr. B pouring into Bill. And... it’s been so beautiful how Bill has poured into Heather and me. And I have to tell you this—I’ve got a number of friends who are my age, who are in a succession process. And I’ll talk to them on the phone—“Hey, how’s it going?”—and sometimes, they’ll leak and just say, “I can’t wait for that per- our Senior Pastor to go.” And there’s something inside me that breaks. Cause I don’t want that. We don’t want that. And what gets me really excited is to have Bill come back and to teach. Now, it’s gotta be under forty minutes, but I want him to come back and teach, you know? And what’s gonna be so beautiful... is just that coaching that we’re gonna be able to get. And I just, I just need to say this. He has led. He has taught us. And... he took on a full-time job, another one, to do this succession process. And do it right. Bill, we owe you so much. Thank you for what you’ve done.

Heather: One of our team mantras through this is that we wanna fight through the funk of succession. We know this is hard. It’s hard in any organization or corporation that goes through a transition. But we are determined to have good, healthy conversations with each other to figure it out. We know there are some people on one extreme who would say, “Oh! The younger people are just coming in and pushing out the older people!” Okay, well, that is not true. Then you have people on another extreme who would say, “Oh, Bill’s really not going anywhere. He’s just behind the curtain. He’s just pulling the strings.” Well that is not true either.

We are determined to be able to be responsible for the roles and the gifts that God has given us and to continue to lean into the wisdom that Bill has. You know, Bill is traveling all over the world coaching pastors. And I know two pastors who are in line wanting that same coaching. And that’s the two of us in that regard, too. And one thing that’s really convenient—the three of us actually like each other. And we have a ton of respect for each other. And just really grateful that we get to do this together.

Bill: Yep. It’s all true.

Okay. Let me... let me predict, we’re almost to the end here, and let me predict what’s gonna happen after we do a closing prayer. You’re gonna get into your car... and the conversation in the car is gonna—you’re gonna go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Is this actually gonna work?” Cause that’s what everyone wonders: “Is this gonna work?” Okay?

Can I give you a couple steps that will greatly increase the likelihood of this transition working? First, commit to praying for Steve and Heather every single day. Rearrange your prayer list. These guys are stepping into massive new roles. I grew up with my role. They’re stepping into huge new responsibilities. Pray for them. If you catch them doing anything right, email them, encourage them, stop them around the campus and bless them.

If they get a couple things wrong, give ‘em a grace period. Just... you know... they’re in new roles. There could be a mistake here or there. Have grace. This is a grace-filled church. Am I right? We are. Okay.

And finally... continue to serve in your ministries. Serve. Do your volunteering. Do your absolute best in your current role around our church. Continue to serve. Continue to give your full tithes and offerings so we can stay financially strong through this era. If you do all of that stuff, and these guys work hard, I think God’s gonna honor this. And I remind you of one last theological truth. God birthed this church. Think about that now. So... we were not spun off by a denomination that wanted a franchise in Palatine. It was just four guys that wanted to reach their friends. Because God had prompted us to try to start an Acts 2 church after Dr. B just... got us all fired up about that vision.

God birthed this church. God grew this church. You all know the Scriptures... that unless the Lord builds the house, you labor in vain. We know who built this church, Who grew this church. God has protected this church. He’s sustained this church. And the way I describe it to some of my friends is I think God is fond of Willow for some strange reason. Just fond of it. And... I think... He sees how tricky this transition period could be. And I think He will turn His face of favor and fondness toward us if we do our parts.

And I think we’ll come out of the other side of this just marveling again at another Only God story. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Okay?

Now, Pam and the Elders, would you please come up? Just stay seated—we’re gonna do a closing prayer here, and then we’re gonna sing the Doxology. While they’re coming up here, I would also like Dr. B to come up. And someone’s gonna have to help him up the stairs. And... yeah. Hold him up. Again, he’s ancient. Wait till you see him.

Anyway... Pam is the chairman of our Board of Elders, and she’s gonna say a closing prayer.

Pam: This is an incredible weekend for our church. And as much as it pains me to lean into a Michigan illustration, when I look at these three and I consider the last forty-two years, I would look at you, Willow, and say, “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody.” Let’s pray.

Father God, we are awed by Your goodness to our church over the last forty-two years. You have provided for and protected us in ways we have witnessed with our eyes and in ways unseen. Thank You for the inspiration of Dr. B in Bill’s life. And the faith of Bill, Lynne, and the other founders to courageously step into this journey. Thank You for Bill’s faithfulness over the past 42 years to love and serve Willow as our Senior Pastor. We are all humbled that You have chosen each of us to be a part of this incredible expression of the local church. Thank You for answering our prayers and for providing exactly who we need to lead Willow into its next season. Father, anoint and equip Heather and Steve to lead and shepherd with humility, love, and wisdom. Fix their eyes and their hearts on You. Empower Heather to lead our church into its best days ahead. And anoint Steve to pastor our congregation into a deeper walk with You, Father. We ask you to continue to pour out Your blessing, guidance, and protection on Willow. We believe that the local church is the hope of the world. Multiply our efforts and help us to continue to be a thriving Acts 2 church where more people come to know You, Jesus. Use us increasingly to be Your hands of hope and restoration to a world that so desperately needs it. We lift all of this up in Your strong name, Jesus. Amen.

Bill: Thanks, Pam. Thank you very much. Would you stand now? You know, the song we sing at milestone events around the church is the Doxology, which Christ followers have been singing for a long, long time. This is a pretty good time to sing it. I ask you to sing it in full voice. Thanking God for what he’s done. So, Matt...

Search Mode

(The following is a transcript of Bill Hybel’s “Search Mode” message, part IV of our Expectant series. The video is also available to you here.)

One of the most transforming experiences of my whole life... happened in a thirty-minute time span while I was studying three little stories from Luke chapter 15. I’d like to tell you about it. And the first question that you’re already asking is, “Can you tell us about it in thirty minutes or less?”

No. But I’m gonna try.

So I was in my twenties. I was sitting in our rented offices while this church was still meeting in the rented movie theater. I’m innocently reading through Luke 15, which, as you know, contains three memorable stories. The first story is that of a shepherd that has a hundred sheep, and one wanders off. And the shepherd is concerned—goes to look for it. Searches high and low. Finds it! And the text says joyfully takes that sheep back to the others. Later on, he calls his shepherd friends, and they have a great big party to celebrate that that wandering sheep was found... and brought back to the fold.

The second story is a woman who has ten silver coins. Every one of them valuable in her day. And she loses one. She lights a lamp, the text says, sweeps the entire house, hoping to find the misplaced coin. And finally she finds it. And she calls her friends and throws a party for her good fortune of finding that lost coin.

The third story you all know. There’s a man who has... two boys. One gets restless and rebellious and asks for his inheritance early. When he gets it, he heads off to a distant country. And in no time at all, he blows all of his inheritance on wine, women, and songs. (But no one really thinks that he sang that much.) And when he was penniless long enough, he gets a job feeding pigs. And when the husks he was feeding the pigs started to look tasty to him... the Bible says he hit bottom. Its exact phraseology is: “He came to his senses.” It’s a rich phrase, if you think about.

He remembered that his dad’s servants ate better meals and slept in better beds than he’s sleeping in these days. So he decided, hang on, to humble... himself. And to go home.

On the way home, he’s practicing his apology speech. “Dad... dad... I wronged you. I was rebellious, greedy, and then stupid! I have forfeited the right to ever be thought of as your son. I understand that. But, Dad, if you can find it in your heart to take me in as a common servant, no special treatment for me, just work me hard along with all the rest of the servants. But if you can provide room and board like you do for the other servants, that would be outrageously generous of you after the foolishness that I have brought on this family and after the ways that I have disappointed you.” He’s practicing this speech on his way back home. He doesn’t know what’s gonna happen... if his dad’s gonna buy it or... whatever.

So he’s practicing, and off in the distance, he sees a man running his way—he can’t sort it out. And then, all of a sudden, he realizes this man has his arms spread wide. And it’s... his glance looks like it’s filled with love and affection. And before he can sort out what’s really going on here, he realizes it’s his dad, and his dad wraps his arms around him and hugs him and kisses him, and he can’t stop saying, “I’m so glad to see you, son. It’s so good to have you home. I missed you so much. Ahh.”

The rebellious son is determined to get his apology speech in. He’s been practicing. And he really does feel bad. So he starts in, but his dad cuts him off midsentence and says, “Take a shower and get cleaned up, because I have a brand-new designer robe for you. I’ve got cool new sandals for you. And I’m gonna put a ring on your finger that I’m gonna ask you to never take off. You’re gonna be my son forever.”

And his dad says, “I’m gonna call every friend I have—throw the biggest party I’ve ever thrown. And we are gonna eat and drink and dance all night because I thought... you were gone for good! Worse, I thought you might be dead. And now to see you again... and to have you home... it’s just the absolute best.”

So the story ends with the description of how raucous the party was and how tweaked the older brother got over the attention that the younger brother was getting. That’s a whole other story. All to say, the father of that wayward son went nuts... over that son’s return. He was so unbelievably happy... to have his boy back.

Let me remind you, I’m in my mid-twenties in a rented office. I’ve had no seminary training. Had just come out of the business world. I didn’t know how to use Bible commentaries, Journey resources like you get to use. I just had an open Bible and a sincere desire to learn more about the God who wrote this thing.

And, all of a sudden, as I’m reading Luke 15, the Spirit prompts me with a series of questions. And if you’re wondering, I’ve never heard the audible voice of God. Not even one time. I do get impressions... that, if I think about them, I realize are not self-generated. And I put them through a little filtering process, and some of them I discern are actually from God.

So I got this impression... a question. Bill, do you think these three stories in Luke 15 are totally random? Do you think they have separate meanings? Do you think if you ever preached about it, they ought to be preached on different Sundays, perhaps? Or do you think these three stories are told together for a reason, and might they combine to pack a triple, powerful punch?

I didn’t know the answer. I had just read them. And before I could address that, another question came: Bill, do you even remember why Jesus told these three stories in the first place? And I admitted that I didn’t. And so He said, Well, maybe start there. So I said, Okay, maybe I will.

And I looked in Luke 15, verses 1 and 2. And... here’s what it said:

Now [the] tax extortioners, and other various kinds of sinners, had all gathered around Jesus to hear him teach. This caused the Pharisees and [the] other religious experts to mutter, “[He] welcomes sinners and [he] eats with them.”

Which doesn’t mean much in this day, but I’m going to explain how much it meant in that day. He welcomes... these people. And he eats with them.

Do you wanna know what bothered Jesus so much... that He decided I’m gonna tell you not one, not two, but three stories back to back to back—I’m gonna rapid fire truth into you to penetrate the... ignorance and the arrogance... of the hearts of people who don’t understand the heart of God?

So what bothered Jesus was the contempt... that the Pharisees harbored in their hearts for anyone less religious, less spiritual, or a little different from themselves. He... the contempt... just bothered Jesus to no end. And, actually, it’s worse than just contempt. Here’s how the Pharisees did their math.

It began with: “We, the Pharisees, are God’s chosen ones. Obviously. And we bust it every day to live by His rules, to stay in His good graces. We fly straight! It’s back breaking, but we do it, and we do it pretty much perfectly. Cause we’re religious. And we’re Pharisees. These other scoundrels that are gathered around Jesus right now? They don’t give a rip about the Father. They’re not attending worship gatherings. They don’t study God’s Word. They say bad words. They sleep in the wrong bed. They party till all hours of the night. They lie, cheat, and steal. We can’t stand them”—now, hang on—“and we know for absolute sure that the God in heaven—the perfect, righteous God in heaven—can’t stand them either. How could He?”

So now they reason, “Hey, if Jesus is walking around claiming to be God’s Son, God in the flesh... he wouldn’t be able to stand these scoundrels either! But it’s obvious to any and all that not only does He sort of tolerate these people... he welcomes them to his gatherings. He eats three-hour dinners with them...” Cause that’s the custom in the Middle East—still, to this day, if you get invited over to an Israeli or Palestinian or Jordanian dinner, get comfortable. It’s gonna take a long time. Okay? And they’re saying, “He welcomes these scoundrels to his meetings, and he has three hours’ worth of dinner with them.”

I think you know what they’re accusing him of. Catch this. I think they’re saying, “He’s actually quite fond... of these misfits. So he cannot possibly be God’s son. Right? Cause God hates ‘em. We hate ‘em. Jesus ought to fall in line with the rest of us and hate ‘em as well.” Okay?

What do you think of the Pharisees’ math? There’s some people we hate, we know God hates, and Jesus ought to hate ‘em so it’s all good.

Before we... undo their math anymore... just a quick question to all of you. Who do you think—who are you pretty sure God can’t stand? Okay?

Most people don’t like to talk about this. Certainly not politically correct. And it’s really not spiritually correct. But, truth be told, there’s a lot of Christ followers who walk around with great certainty in their minds and hearts of who God can’t stand. Can I name a few? Democrats. I mean, come on, how could He? Oh, my gosh! How could He?

What about NFL players who don’t respect our flag? Oh, oh, careful. What about people who respect the flag but don’t respect... the racial... tension and oppression that’s still going on in our land?

Some people walk around pretty sure that God can’t stand illegal immigrants. Others walk around thinking He can’t stand people who set up sanctuary cities.

We, you know, Packer fans, of course. We know. Everyone in New York City—how could He stand them, you know?

Almost everyone I know walks around with just a little list they rarely talk about, and they have surprising certainty... about who God hates. And then, as the math go, you see, this gives them the right to hate them as well. If God hates them, and I’m a child of God, then I can get on that hate train... and ride it with God, and we’ll both hate ‘em. Kay?

Which is why, parenthetically, many of the bloodiest conflicts throughout history have religious rationales somewhere in the mix of the justifications for bullets, bombs, and genocides. Cause it’s us and God collaborating to exterminate... or to oppress... or to get rid of a group of people.

We’re not gonna go very far down that trail. I wanna go back to the rented office. Sometime in the late 70s while I’m realizing for the first time in my life why Jesus told the three stories in Luke 15. It was in response to the Pharisees’ contempt... for people less spiritual, people different from them. And Jesus is gonna respond to their contempt. And He could’ve confronted them straight up. But He does something far more creative and, I would argue, far more... effective.

He says, “Hey, gang, I’m gonna tell you three stories. And then you figure out... why I told them.”

So He tells the three stories that I just related to you. And then, if you think about it, there’s common themes in these stories. The first obvious common theme is that in each of the three stories something of value... winds up missing. A sheep. A Coin. A son. Now, the sheep is one of a hundred, but... one of a hundred, that matters. A coin is one of ten. Now... see how the drama’s increasing? And then, when He tells the third story, He goes, “The father only has two boys.” A hundred to one. Ten to one. Two to one. He’s just drawing everybody in. Letting the tension build.

So He says, if you think about it, something of value winds up missing. And... stay with me... that which is missing in these three stories... really, really matters to somebody! The sheep really matters to the shepherd, and if you understood sheep herding in the first century, you would understand... more. We don’t have time to get into that now.

The coin really matters to the woman. Could be a tenth of her whole... net worth.

If you’ve had any children ever before in your life... and if one of them winds up... in a distant country... in a self-destructive lifestyle... do I gotta talk to you about how much that matters? Nope.

So now, imagine the Pharisees. Who are deeply offended that Jesus is hanging around with the riff raff, see. Imagine them listening to these three stories back to back to back. And then, later on that day, after Jesus has already left to go on to another town, imagine them sitting in a circle around a campfire, wondering about the meaning of the three stories.

 

Maybe one of the Pharisees goes, “Hey, guys, wait. Think about it. In each of the three stories, something of value wound up missing.”

And they go, “Oh, yeah, we all caught that, too.” Dot, dot, dot.

“And that which is missing... really, really, really mattered to somebody!” 

And someone goes, “Oh, hey, wait. Before you take that too far. You don’t think... You- Jesus could not possibly have been suggesting... that the sin-infested scoundrels that were gathered around him today represented something of value... to someone in heaven.”

Another guy goes, “I don’t like the road you’re going down, but it, it might be worse. He might’ve been suggesting that those despicable people... really, really matter to God the Father!”

Is that what Jesus was saying? Is that what these stories are... alluding to?

So, gang, again, I’m like... mid-twenties. Not seminary trained. And I’m just asking God to speak to me by His Word. And that’s the conclusion that I came to. And it almost made my head explode. That anyone, any human being, who is missing from God’s family, who has wandered away, who is lost... anyone who is missing from God’s family for whatever reason... still has enormous value to God! And they all, no matter how they’re living, still really, really, really matter to the Father.

You name another God... in the cosmos who has a heart like that. A God who still values people who thumb their nose at him. Who commit cosmic treason again and again. And who keep running away. And here’s a God who says, “I still love you, I still value you, you still matter to me. You really, really still matter to me.”

 

When that all came clear to me that day in those rented offices, I... I said, you know what just happened to me? I just lost... my moral justification to hate anybody.

Worse. I lost my religious leverage... to write off individual or whole people groups that annoy me. Why? Because whether it fits my fancy or my theological paradigm in the past, these stories reveal that... all people... in whatever condition... no matter how screwed up they are or how far away they’ve wandered... they still really matter to the Father, and, hang on, which means... they ought to matter to me.

Please get that math.

If you claim that, through Christ, God is your Father... spiritual-formation doctrine would say that what God’s trying to do is put His heart in you. He’s trying to shape your heart to be more like His heart. So, over time, as you grow up as a Christ follower... the concept is... you learn that all people, in whatever condition, matter to the Father, and you go, “Then, therefore, that’s what God’s trying to shape me into. It is to be someone for whom all these wandering people still matter.”

So in the office that day, I’m like, “Okay, these people matter to God. They ought to matter to me.” And before I move on in the teaching, you know what I wanna say to you straight up? They ought to matter to you. Every... single... one of you.

And if you’re choking on this... yeah. It does get worse. Because the second common thread in all three of these stories? Is that whatever winds up missing—you know, that really mattered to someone—mattered enough to warrant an all-out search! How much do they matter? Mattered enough to warrant an all-out search. The shepherd just... I mean, he leaves ninety-nine sheep in peril to go search high and low, day or night, to rescue that wandering sheep. And the woman would’ve swept that house a hundred times... to find that lost coin. And the Father’s been searching the horizon every single day to see if his son might return. Which probably suggests, if you just look at the text... that our God... looks at people all over the planet. And even if they’re still running away from Him... they are of enough value to Him... that He’s going to search for them. He’s going to search for them.

If you’re fuzzy about this, one time, Jesus was asked by some religious experts, “Why did you come here anyway? Supposedly you’re God in the flesh, you’ve been up in heaven. So why did you come to planet Earth?”

And Jesus said, “Well, I’ll reveal my strategic intent.” Luke 19:10:

[I came] to seek and to save. [I’m on a rescue mission. I’m on a search.]

I came to seek and to save that which is lost.  

I don’t know how many of you ever... I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t. I don’t know how many of you have ever been involved in an intense search operation. Maybe some of you have. First time I ever had it happen to me was on the shores of Lake Michigan. When I got into wind surfing. And, back in the day, I really got hooked on wind surfing—it was like an obsession. And so... I first bought a big board with a loose, floppy sail. And then I got good enough that I got a smaller board with a better sail and, you know, several years into this obsession, I had a small board with an extremely high-performance sail, and when the breeze really blew up, and the waves were... building... I could go out. And I could get a lot of air and do a lot of trick stuff. I was into it.

Well, Todd, my son, my only son... he was... four or five years old at the time. And he used to sit on the beach and watch me do all this crazy stuff. And, one day, Lynne and Shauna had gone back up to the cottage to fix dinner or something. And I’m coming in from... some real high-velocity... you know... sporting... on that windsurfer. And I come flying up on the beach and... Todd, again, between four and five years old, and he can swim a little, but like ten feet, right? Dog paddle. And he goes, “Dad, take me out on that board!”

Well, we had done this in peaceful conditions many times. He would stand between my legs, hold up on to the boom, and I would put my arms around his little hands, and we’d have a ball.

These conditions were way too dangerous to have that kid out on the board with me. And I realized he didn’t have a life jacket. I didn’t have a life jacket. Lynne had already brought ‘em up to the cottage. And he’s like, “Come on, Dad! Come on! Just one short ride.”

Yeah.

Against my better judgment, I said, “Okay, man, one short ride.” So he climbs on. And we go out. And... we’re hitting waves, and the wind is building, and he’s having such a ball. I said, “I gotta, think I ought to turn around.”

He goes, “Oh, a little further! Little further!”

Long story short, I launch off a wave... and I lost control of the board. I went one way. He went another way. And the board... sort of did endos, okay? And the sail, and all that. And when I came up from out of the water, I knew... that I had about ten seconds to find this kid. He couldn’t swim very well. And if you know anything about the undulations patterns of waves... in big-wave situations, you could be ten feet away from someone, and if they’re in a trough, and you’re on a crest, you can’t see them. And that was the condition I was in. So when I was up on the crest of a wave, I could barely see where the wind surfer was, as the wind was quickly blowing it away, and I couldn’t see Todd’s head.

So then I’d go down into a trough and couldn’t see anything; when I’d come back on the crest, I couldn’t see anything. And I’m counting down ten, nine, eight, seven, six, and I’m like... this kid’s gonna drown.

And I started screaming his name. And I actually screamed his name so many times so loudly that I tore my vocal chords. And then I realized, he’s not going to hear me. So I just have to swim like a madman... to hopefully bump into him out here, and I’m already out of time. I had just made that decision. I came up on a crest. And he came up on a crest. I saw his little blond hair. I went and grabbed a hold of that kid... and I put him on the board. And got the board and the sail and him back to the beach.

And when I did, get back to the beach, I put my hands on his little shoulders, and I said, “We do not need to tell your mother about this. I am... really glad you’re alive, but I’m gonna be dead if you tell her about this. So, you know? This is a guy thing, right?”

And he’s like, “Yeah, okay.” Yeah.

During those ten or fifteen seconds... my net worth, the size of this church, what kind of house we lived in—there was no other interest on my mind but finding that kid that I loved. Okay?

Shortly after nine-one-one, when the Twin Towers came down in New York, I was invited to be a part of a group of ministers who were asked to be right down in the fresh rubble, to minister to first responders and to people who were still being rescued. It wasn’t something I was excited about doing—I knew it was the right thing to do.

So I went out there. And it was... the closest thing to like combat as I’ll probably ever—hopefully—that I’ll ever get to. It was... terrible... to see people with missing limbs and crushed... torsos and... and watch firemen find buddies who had died. And, I mean, I was right there in the thick of that. And it was terrible.

But what made it even worse is our work got interrupted several times. We had to wear minister’s tags. So some people would rush up to us, and they would have—some of them had like goggles and they’d have surgical masks on, and they would show pictures, they would say, “Have you seen this person? This is my mom. Have you seen her?”

And I’m like, “Dude, I just... no, I haven’t.” You know?

And then there’d be other people come running up to us: “This is my son, and he’s missing. Could you help us find him?”

I’m like, “Wh... we got a lot going on here.”

And over the normal course of the next couple days—and you can go on the internet and probably still see these pictures today—New York City officials built like a bulletin board that stretched for blocks. And people with loved ones in the towers that had fallen, that they didn’t know if they were dead or alive, they would put pictures of all their loved ones, and they’d just walk around, and just searching and asking people, “Could you help me find, could you help me find, could you...”

They were obsessed... with the search. Okay? Those are the only two times I’ve been real close to intense searches.

If you read this text and understand what Jesus was driving at here... Jesus is saying, “You think my Father... thinks ill of these people who are hanging around Me? It’s actually much different than that. He is on a life-or-death all-out search driven by love, trying to rescue each and every one.” Okay? That’s the Father’s heart.

And... one of the coolest things about Christianity is that when you finally get redeemed, however your story unfolds and you wind up in God’s family, okay? Someday, you’re gonna sit down, and you’re gonna realize that throughout the course of your life—before your redemption day—throughout the course of your whole life, you’re gonna start seeing ways that God had been reaching out to you. Ways that He had been searching for you.

Ways that He had put other people in your life to direct you His way. Resources. Opportunities. Experiences. And, at some point in time, what’s supposed to happen... is when you find that you’re not only someone who has great value to the Father—you are someone who has been the object of an intense love-driven search. And when that all... gets clear to you... at a point in time... it ought to just blow your mind. It ought to fill you with worship.

And... it ought to motivate you to become the kind of person who joins... God’s search team... as He’s trying... to seek and to rescue those who have wandered away.

You ought to be wired up like the shepherd who’s searching for wandering people. You ought to be wired up like the woman... who’s looking for that coin. And the son who’s looking over the horizon.

There’s... I was thinking about this, this week. You know how Jesus died. It was on a cross like this. And I don’t wanna say overtly too crassly how did Jesus actually die, really? He bled out. That’s cause of death. He bled out. Just before He bled out, He’s reaching out, not to a model citizen, He’s reaching out to a guy whose life was so screwed up that he wound up receiving the death penalty. And Jesus, with whatever little blood He’s got left in His body that’s keeping Him alive, reaches out and goes, “Today, you can be with me in paradise, dude.”

You were searched for.

...with the last drops of blood that Jesus had in His body. That kind of intensity. And when you get found, that ought to stir you, and you ought to join His search effort and be the kind of person who’s reaching out to family and friends and praying for people at work and having dinner conversations and inviting people to church and all of that.

But what I find, and I won’t spend long on this, cause it just hurts me to even talk about this at Willow...

There are Willow members who used to be fired up about the fact that they had been searched for and found. And so they joined God’s search team, and they were fired up to align with the purposes of God to search those who are still wandering, missing, and so. And then, at a certain point in time, the wonder of their rescue... left them. They opted out of the search team. They’re not looking for people anymore.

And if you stay out of the search effort long enough, former searchers become... judgers.

And judgers... become condemners.

Just like the Pharisees. They become people... who are go-to-hell-ers. Pretty sure that God can’t stand this group. They can’t stand this group. Jesus doesn’t like these people so... you’re justified to hate. And when that happens, when someone who’s been searched for and rescued opts off the search team and becomes a judger... rivers of tears flow out of heaven. It was never supposed to happen like that.

And don’t... let... that happen... to you. Don’t become that kind of person.

Well, there’s one more common theme. There’s something of value wound up missing, and it mattered, and that which is missing mattered enough to... bring an all-out search. The third, final common theme is retrievals bring rejoicing.

What motivates a shepherd to throw a great big party over just one sheep?! But he does.

What motivates a woman... the coin didn’t go that far! It was still in her house. Might’ve just been six feet away. But she finds it. What motivates her to throw a great big party with all her friends?

It’s a little more understandable with the father whose son was in a bad place.

Luke 15:10 says, “I tell you there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of [heaven] when a single sinner”—when a single sinner—“repents.”

So one last time, let me take you back to the rented offices where I’m sitting in my chair, reading these stories and realizing there’s common themes, and I’m trying to put all this together, and my head’s being blown, okay? And I started to look at that phrase from Luke 15:10, you know, that there’s rejoicing in the presence of the angels of heaven. And I thought, well, that’s like a party. All three of these stories have parties in it. I wonder what a party in heaven looks like.

Well, I’d never thought about it before. You probably have, but I hadn’t, so I just leaned back in my office chair, and I said, well, I’m just going to imagine. It doesn’t give details in the text, so I’m just gonna imagine.

So I imagine... a large, ornate ballroom... just my weird imagination... hundreds of tables, round tables, white tablecloths, thousands of angels sitting around them. Amazing food and drink. Incredible music—if angels are making it, my gosh, it better be good. And then, up in the front of the ballroom, I just imagine a head table with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sitting at it. And there’s joy and laughter and fellowship all over this big ballroom. And then, over the head table—just my imagination now—I imagine this banner. And at one point in the evening, couple angels come and lower the banner. And one artistic angel takes some paint of some kind and paints a name on the banner. Perfectly spelled, of course. And then, at a certain point, God the Father hits a wine glass with a piece of silverware... quiets everyone down and says, “The reason for tonight’s celebration... is that a man named... whatever... a woman named what... a student named whatever—” and He reads the name, and the angels erect that banner with that name on it.

And God says, “We’ve had a sinner come Home. We had a sheep that got rescued! A coin that got... we had- we have a son... who came back Home.” And then there’s a raucous celebration for hours afterward. So that was the first time I ever thought about that. And I thought, it’s pretty cool.

And the Holy Spirit said, Hang with me. One more movement here.

I was like, I don’t know what it is.

He goes, Think of the party again.

So I rethink the whole thing—ornate ballroom, round tables, angels at ‘em... you know, all this kind of stuff. Banner coming down. Angel does his job putting a name on the banner. God clinks the wine glass. He goes, “Ladies and gentlemen,” whatever, you know...

“The person we’re celebrating tonight,” The banner goes up...

First time I ever thought this thought in my life. My name on the banner. Bill Hybels on the banner. I was just like... oh... are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?

I grew up in a home where we skipped my birthday for a couple of years at a time. We didn’t, we didn’t, we were hardworking. My dad was gone a lot. My mom was busy with five kids. Nobody ever made a big deal about that kind of stuff for me when I was growing up.

And there’s a party all across heaven. And everybody’s like going nuts—Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and all this stuff—because when I was seventeen... I came to my senses on a summer night in August of ’68 and came home and humbled myself...

Something changed when I saw my name on that banner. I’ve never been able to quite fasten that back down. I’ve never been able to go to the pre... days of understanding that amazing truth. But it gets better. So you imagine with me now... ornate ballroom. Round tables. Angels all over the place. Great music. Tables set. All that kind of stuff. Certain point, the banner with no name on it comes down. Angel does his work. God the Father... hits the wine glass and says, “Hey, everybody. We had another person come Home today. That’s why we’re partying tonight.” And they raise the banner up over the head table. And the name on the banner—are you ready for it?—it’s your name. And your name. And your name. And your name. And your name. And your name. And your name.

And everybody gets up. And there’s this raucous celebration for hours... over you. Over you.

These are spiritual concepts that are far more than religious creed to me. These are passages in Scripture that wreck me. These are passages in Scripture that affect me on such a deep level... that they reorder my steps. And they reorder the affections of my heart. Because I long for the day when every family member, every friend, every colleague, every neighbor in my neighborhood knows what it feels like... to be loved by the Father. To be cleansed by Christ the Son. To be filled with the Holy Spirit. And to be celebrated for all across heaven. I want that for everybody.

And when you understand these things, I think you want the same things, too...

...You’ve heard me say this before. What differentiates Christianity from every other religion in the world is that every other religion in the world, there’s a to-do list, and you better get it right, and you better do enough of it, or you’re out. And Christianity doesn’t have a to-do list. It shows you something that has been done... for you. Jesus Christ died a substitutionary death. That’s been done for you... so you could take your wrongdoings and rebellion and all the mistakes that the rebellious son in Luke 15 did... you can’t clean all that junk up on your own. That’s why Christ went to the cross. To cleanse all of that. That’s been done.

Your job is to ask for Christ’s work on the cross to be applied to your pile of moral debt. And then, by faith, reach out for the hand from heaven that’s already outstretched to you, grab hold of it, and say, “I don’t want to live apart from Your program anymore, God. I don’t wanna live in a distant land. I wanna be Home. Home with You. Home with the Father. Home in a family of like-minded believers who are doing something with our lives. Fixing what’s broken in this world and headed toward heaven someday...”

 

 

Managing Expectations

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s “Managing Expectations” message, part III of our Expectant series. The video is also available to you here.)

Alright, we are in a series called “Expectant.” And many times, people will ask me, “Hey, Steve, how do we come up with a series’ title? Why this word—expectant? Going through the book of Luke?”

Well, a number of years ago, my son and I decided to turn our basement into a soccer field. He was about four, five years old at the time. And we were playing. And it was getting pretty rough. And he kicked this ball so hard it put a hole in the drywall. A little bit proud, but I looked at him, and his eyes were just wide open. And he just said, “That’s not supposed to happen.”

And I started thinking about this. Like, every time something doesn’t go our way, kind of my wife and I just say, “That’s not supposed to happen.” Do you ever have one of those days? Where, maybe, it’s just filled with those that’s-not-supposed-to-happen moments.

Recently, I had one of those days where it felt like... everything didn’t go the way that I had hoped or planned or expected. I woke up early. Went to go make coffee—there’s no coffee. I go to the local coffee shop, and they forget to make my coffee cause there’s such a big line. I finally get it. I show up to a meeting. And one thing after another after another after another was filled with these moments that did not meet my expectations. Have you ever had one of those days?

And it does something inside you, right?

So on my drive home from work, I decided to call my mentor. Someone who lives outside the state. I give him a call. And I said, “Hey, have you ever just had one of those days that just doesn’t go the way you hoped? The way you expected? The way you planned?”

And he just simply said, “Welcome to life.”

And I was like, “Okay. Thanks a lot.” Hang up on him. And...

But we started talking more about it, and he said, “You know what? You gotta really get back to... what biblical expectancy is all about.”

And this past summer, I just spent time just diving into... when this word expectant or expectancy was used in the Scriptures, what did it mean?

And so, today, I want to talk to us openly and honestly about our own personal expectations. How they rob us. How they hurt us. And what does the Bible say about expectancy? And then how do we... be the kind of people who can overcome unmet expectations? And I wanna do it all through looking at one of my favorite characters in the Scriptures. John the Baptist.

Now, John the Baptist, many of you know, he was born, but before he was ever born, his mom couldn’t get pregnant. Her name was Elizabeth. She struggled to get pregnant. It was a prayer. She had basically given up on the idea that she would ever be a mom. But, one day, she had heard this prophetic word—that she would give birth to a child. Her husband, Zachariah, was a priest. And he was going to the temple to do his work. And he had an encounter... and heard a prophetic word that his wife was gonna have a child. And he was like, “There’s no way.”

And, all of a sudden, the angel just made him mute. Couldn’t speak. Which... there might be some spouses here who wished their husband went mute for a couple months.

But he can’t speak! And he’s just sitting there. And, all of a sudden, he realizes something is going to happen. They... this child was gonna be different. His parents were a little bit older. But the words were true about this, this boy. His whole life he would never drink... alcohol. He would be someone who would be a forerunner for the Messiah. He would know God’s Word, and holiness would be something that was so true to him... and he would live in the wilderness.

Now, wilderness was something central to the Hebrew mindset of how God would be preparing a leader to do something quite incredible. And so John was there. He had a life verse. A life verse that was straight from the Old Testament—the Hebrew Scriptures. We see it in Luke chapter 3 verse 4. It says this:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

Now, you remember, this verse... it was central because before a king would enter into a new city, he would send these couriers ahead. And their job was to allow people to know the king was coming and to ensure that the roads were safe. That there was no rocks or anything that was blocking the king from getting from point A to point B. And as fast and as safe as humanly possible.

And John said, “This was my verse. My job is to prepare the way so people can encounter the Messiah.” And he was out in the wilderness. The Scriptures say he wore a robe made out of camel hair. He ate locusts and honey. Wasn’t married. He was celibate. He didn’t drink. And he studied God’s Word. And he spoke with a prophetic fire, where people from Jerusalem went out to the wilderness to hear him speak. And you know what he talked about? Repentance. Returning back to the heart of God. And after he spoke about repentance, he led people into the Baptism waters and said... baptizing them... into this idea of repentance so that their minds, their hearts, their bodies, their lives would be prepared for the Messiah to come.

But John was always open, saying, “Someday, a Messiah’s gonna come. And when this Messiah comes, I’m not even worthy to unbuckle His sandals. He’s gonna come, and He’s gonna speak with a fire. There’s something about this Messiah.”

And, one day, John looked up, and he saw Jesus. His cousin. This Messiah. And Jesus said, “John, would you baptize me?”

And John was like, “I-I, I’m not worthy to baptize You—You should baptize me.”

And Jesus says, “No. I must do this.”

And so Jesus enters into the waters with John, and many of you know this story. As John is baptizing Jesus and Jesus comes out of the water, the heavens, Luke says, are torn open. And the Spirit and the presence of God descends on it like a dove above Jesus. And a voice from heaven screams out, “This is my Son, in whom I love and in whom I’m well pleased.” And right from that moment, the Scriptures say in Luke 4 that the Spirit led Jesus where? To the wilderness.

Now, we often think about this from Jesus’ perspective. Think about it from John’s perspective. I bet for John, he’s going, “My job’s done. I’ve prepared the way. I baptized. Oh my goodness, heavens were ripped open. This voice from God. And now, now the Spirit’s leading Him into the wilderness, where I have done all of my work. God is gonna prepare Him.”

And I bet in his mind, he’s thinking about... Moses spending forty years. And how many days did Jesus spend? Forty. And he’s going, “This is happening. Oh my goodness, God’s gonna be preparing this Messiah. And what’s this Messiah gonna do?”

You have to know, contextually, the Hebrew people were living in occupation. And Rome was oppressing them. And the belief was that the Messiah was gonna come and liberate the people—set them free. Establish the Kingdom of God here on earth. And that there would be a movement of signs and power and the presence of God. And John was believing this was going to happen.

Now, John had this prophetic fire as well. He loved to speak, and when he knew Jesus was the One, he started to speak against power even a little bit... more loudly and boldly. There was a man by the name of King Herod. Many of you know him from the Scriptures. He ends up dying, but he names basically all of his kids Herod cause... he liked... ego and pride.

And so one of the sons was married to this woman, and he stopped liking her, and so he wanted to divorce her and marry his brother’s wife. Awkward. And so John begins to speak about this. We learn about this in Luke chapter 3. It says this:

But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: [and decides] He locked John up in prison.

And so John gets a little bit bold. He begins to speak, and he goes after Herod, he goes after power. And Herod’s like, “Okay. Well. Come with me, you Baptist. You’re going to prison.” And he locks John up. And John’s in prison. And I imagine him being here going, “Okay, it’s all right. Jesus is gonna come for me. It’s all right.”

Day one, telling the guards, “Hey, don’t worry. The Messiah is gonna come. And you’re gonna pay.”

Day two: “Don’t worry; Jesus is gonna come.”

Day three: “You got any locusts or honey? No? Jesus is gonna come, though. I guarantee it.”

Day four: “Jesus, are you coming?”

Day five: “Where are you, Jesus?”

Day six: “Have you forgotten about me, Jesus?”

Day seven, I’m wondering if he’s starting to doubt... whether Jesus is who He says He is. And he’s just stuck here in prison. And he’s probably going, “That’s not... supposed to happen. We were supposed to take down Rome! We were supposed to see the presence of God descend! We were supposed to set up the Kingdom of God on earth! And here I am... here.” And yet, all the while, Jesus is teaching.

I mean, you flip through Luke chapter 4 and 5 and 6, Jesus is eating with sinners and tax collectors. Something John wouldn’t have done. He’s calling disciples who were tax collectors and a zealot. Something John wouldn’t have done. He’s healing people. He’s speaking about loving our enemies and not judging others. And then... news about Jesus just begins to spread. Cause Jesus does these incredible healings. Like healing this centurion man’s servant.

And, one day, Jesus is even walking in Luke 7... and He sees this widow. She had lost her husband. And she’s grieving because she’s just lost her only child. And the pole bearers are bringing out this child, and Jesus sees this woman grieving. And he walks up to her. And he walks up to the bed that these men are carrying with this dead child on it, and He holds this bed. And the son comes to life. And people were amazed. And, all of a sudden, people were going, “This, this guy is more than a rabbi. This is more than just a teacher.”

And news began to spread. Luke 7:17 says, “The news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. [So] John’s disciples” go to the prison, and they “[tell] him [all] about all these things.” So John’s hearing this. John’s in prison. His disciples are there. And he’s hearing story after story after story. And he’s here in prison. And he’s going, “I... this is not what I expected.”

So he does something. The Scriptures say in verse 18, he calls two of them to him. And he sends them to the Lord Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” It’s a powerful question.

These two disciples find themselves hearing John, their rabbi’s, question, and they decide to go, okay. They begin to go look for Jesus—where is He teaching? And they find Him. And look what it says in verse 20:

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not [fall or] stumble on account of me.”

Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question. John asks this powerful question: “Are you the One to come? Or should we be expecting someone else?” He’s in this prison cell going, have I prepared the way for the wrong person? He’s questioning it because Jesus does not fit his Messianic expectations. And so Jesus doesn’t surely say, “Tell John I’m the guy.” He could’ve easily said that. You know what He says? He quotes Isaiah 61. And just says, “People are healed. The dead are raised. The blind can see. The deaf can hear. And the Good News is preached. Blessed is he who does not stumble on account of Me.”

And John’s disciples take that, bring that back to John, and share with him... what Jesus has said. And when those disciples leave, Jesus then tells the entire crowd how amazing John is.

And I find myself just thinking about this. Hey, what a powerful question. And John does something so beautiful because he feels this... that God isn’t meeting his expectations. That Jesus isn’t who he expected Him to be. But he does something. He goes right to Jesus, and he asks, “Are you the One? Or should we be expecting someone else?”

What’s biblical expectancy? I think it’s important for us to know this. Because here’s where a tension lives. And if we do not understand this tension, we will find ourselves drifting farther away from the heart of God.

Here’s what biblical expectancy is. Biblical expectancy is MY alignment with GOD’S intended desires. It’s me aligning my life, my heart, my mind, my values with what God desires to do today on earth. But something happens. We sometimes switch a couple words. We sometimes just change a couple words around. And we think that is what biblical expectancy is. Sometimes we think it’s GOD’S alignment with MY intended desires. And, friends, it gets really messy. We start thinking, God, You work for me. God, here’s my request, and here’s what I need You to do, and if You don’t do it... we create these if/then scenarios with God. We make God more like a genie and less like the Father.

When we say, “God, You gotta come, and You gotta give me this job or You gotta give me this life or You gotta give me this protection. You gotta give me this safety.” And it’s not us aligning our lives... in what God is doing. It’s just saying, “You work for me.” And, friends, when this begins to happen, I tell you what, we find ourselves like John—in a prison.

I remember fifteen years ago. I paid my own way. I flew out to Chicago. I sat in the Lakeside auditorium. And I went to my very first Global Leadership Summit. And I heard an incredible pastor speak. And he told the congregation who was listening, he said this: “You know what pain and frustration and angst is? It’s the gap between expectation and reality. However big that gap is, that is where all of your angst and your pain live.” And I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

You ever find yourself having expectations that are so far off from reality? And you find yourself frustrated, angry. And so I’ve done a number of research, lot of research on this, and I began to realize there’s three types of expectations... that lead us into a prison. The first one is this:

Unrealistic expectation. You know what this is? It’s when you call and tell your spouse that you’ll be home in five minutes. And she knows that’s not humanly possible. But you know I can be home in five minutes. It takes you more than five minutes to get down the elevator and find your car in the parking lot. And you’d have to hit every green light possible, and that’s never happened in the seventeen years that you’ve worked at this place. Unrealistic expectation. And we do this all the time with our family. With our friends. With our boss. With our teammates. And even with God. Unrealistic expectations. And when that comes to be a massive gap, we find ourselves quite frustrated.

The second one is unspoken expectation. You know what the kindest thing you can do? Is tell people what you desire. For many of us, we just keep it unvoiced. We don’t talk about it. Think about this. How hard is it... to buy a birthday or Christmas gift for someone who doesn’t tell you what they actually want? It’s so hard. And there’s this thought of, Well, if they love me and they know me, they should know what I would like. You’re basically setting up an opportunity for me to fail every single time. Help me help you. Speak your expectation, right? And oftentimes, we don’t speak about it. We hold it. And then we go, “See? They don’t know me. They don’t get me. They don’t love me.” And we make these assumptions about another person. Unrealistic expectations. Unspoken expectations. And we have these. For our spouse. For our grandkids. For our own kids. For our boss, for our team, for our neighbors... and also for God.

And then there’s a third one. This is a dangerous one as well. They’re the expectations that we’re unaware of because we’re moving so fast. And then, at the end of the day, we realize we have been triggered or really frustrated or really hurt because something didn’t happen, and we thought it should have, and we didn’t give it the time. We didn’t actually name it. We didn’t even get the chance to even wrestle if it was realistic or not. We just were unaware. But it’s living within us. Friends, here’s the danger. Is when you have these three unrealistic, unspoken, unaware expectations, and they find themselves far off from reality, what ends up happening? Something begins to linger. Something begins to take root. And it’s often bitterness... anger... and what ends up leading to is sin.

And, for some of us, this is just what happens. That gap goes, “Fine, you don’t like me, you don’t see me? Then, you know what, I’m just going to say this about them. Or do this. Or act in this way.” This is what’s so powerful about John. Even in the midst of being in prison, he calls two of his disciples and says, “Please, just go ask Jesus. I’m a little bit fuzzy here. It’s not making total sense right now. It’s different than what I thought it to be.” And he asked them to go. To get clarity. To find out: am I off? Was I off my entire life? Or was what I believed still actually possible?

What’s your gap right now? Is there some area in your life that you’ve expected this of God, expected this of a spouse, expected this of a friend, that’s far off from reality? And where is that taking you? And the most sincere, strongest Christ followers I know have learned how... to shrink that gap, to hold things loosely, and to walk throughout their day more expectant from a biblical perspective, more dependent on the Spirit and God, and not walking with all of these unrealistic, unspoken, and unaware expectations. That will only lead you to a prison. That will only lead you to more brokenness, more pain, and more sin. And I just don’t want that for you.

But then... Jesus... Jesus’ answer’s pretty though.

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

I mean, I can just read this once, and we can just move on. But this is the deepest of the deep when you really think about this. Jesus’ answer is quoting Isaiah 61... and then simply telling John, “Blessed is the one who does not stumble, who doesn’t fall away, who doesn’t lose sight of what God is doing because... of me.”

After one of the services, someone came down front and just said, “It’s really hard right now cause I’ve got this situation with a grandchild. And I can’t get this grandchild to come to church. And I know it’s what God wants, but he just won’t come. And there’s all this pain in this child’s life. He won’t come. And I feel like God’s not answering my prayer.”

Another person came down front and said, “You know what? I’ve got a... a family member who’s dying right now. And I’m taking care of it. And I just have been praying for healing, and it’s not happening right now.”

And those words, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me...” Another person said, “I’ve got this special-needs child. I love this child. But it’s so tiring. And I find myself just running... and running... and just remembering that verse. Because it’s hard.”

And when you get really, really honest, there are these moments where some of us have been making these prayers. Having these expectations. Having these beliefs. And, sometimes, it’s far off from reality, and Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me. I see you... I know what you’re going through. I feel you.” And Jesus knows what this is like, cause even when He went to the cross, He was forsaken. He was alone. And He had to basically incarnate this phrase for Himself.

And if any of you have ever been in that space... what John was going through. I want you to know you’re in good company. But, for many of us, we don’t wanna go here. But when you lean into this... phew. Your depth of faith. When you can say, “I see it. It’s hard. I’m gonna lean into it. I’m not gonna stumble. I’m gonna stay trusting You. I’m gonna stay expectant. I’m gonna keep trying to align myself with You, God.” Man... something profound happens within you.

So how do we do it? How to become the kind of people who are overcoming the expectation gap? How to become the kind of people who don’t get stuck in prison? How do we do this? I’m gonna tell you, in twenty years of ministry, this is what I’ve learned. You have to become attentive to and aligning with.

Attentive to. You have to become so attentive to the unrealistic, unspoken, and unaware expectations that you are carrying. And if you can’t name those, you can’t talk about those, you can’t identify those, you are gonna find yourself stuck in a gap. Become attentive to those. And then you have the opportunity to align yourself with biblical expectancy. Aligning yourself with God’s intended purpose for today. For you.

Now, this is really, really unique. What I think John was having to go through is by asking that question—“Are you the One to come? Or should we be expecting someone else”—something powerful was happening. What he was going in asking that question was... an opportunity and invitation to do three things.

One, to learn... to learn. Cause every one of us has something, no matter if we’re an explorer, a new believer, growing Christian, or Christ centered, we all can learn more about the heart of the Father, the way of Jesus, and the Spirit of God. He was giving a chance to learn.

But he was also giving himself a chance to relearn. To relearn what the Scriptures say is true of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. But he was learn, relearn, having another thing. And there was something that he was gonna have to unlearn.

I don’t know if you are like me, but maybe there were some things that were shaped in your theology that you thought were true. Maybe for some of you, you grew up in a system where fear, shame, and guilt were... the voice of the Father. And there’s been something that you’ve had to unlearn as you’ve learned more about the Scriptures. And about the way of God.

Or maybe, for some of you, you grew up in a system where it was all about what you do. Works. Works. Works. Works. Works. And there was no grace. And as you’ve dived into the Scriptures, you’ve had to unlearn something. And go, “No, no, no, it’s about grace and the response to what God has done through Christ Jesus for me.”

There’s always things on the spiritual journey that we must learn, relearn, and unlearn... if we are gonna grow towards full devotion in Christ.

I sat with someone who’s from our community. We’re eating this week for lunch together. And he tells me this story. He and his wife, they moved to the Midwest from the Northwest. And they came here because a local college gave them the chance to do one year of a PhD program on audit. And then he could apply to actually get accepted. And so he was excited. He’s like, “Man, I’m here. I’m learning with some of the best professors in the entire world. And I have this opportunity.”

He goes into his application. Writes everything up. He’s fired up. He sits with the professor, and the professor looks at him and goes, “We’re not accepting you.”

He’s like, “I-I moved my whole family here. I wasted one year of my life—you’re not gonna accept me? I thought, I thought this was it...”

He’s like, “We got two candidates who are better qualified, who are smarter, and we’ve decided to go with them. If one of them would’ve said no, you would’ve had their spot. But sorry. We’re going with these two.”

Expectation: PhD at this incredible school.

Reality: Denied.

And he left there, and for two weeks, he said, he was just spiraling. Anger. Frustration. Hurt. Struggle. What am I gonna do with my life? Why did we move out here? There’s snow out here. What are we doing? And he’s just swirling, right?

And during this time, he leaned back in to God’s Word, and man, he’s gotta be attentive—what’s God really like? What do I gotta learn and relearn and unlearn? And he found himself seeing how much of his prayer life was trying to get God to join his dream and his plan. And in those two weeks of even the most difficult season of his life, of feeling that denial, God began to give him what biblical expectancy really was. And in those two to three weeks, someone told him about a role in a local publisher and said, “Hey, I think you’d be perfect for this.” And so he went into it. And for the last five years, he’s been working at it.

And he goes, “I wake up every day thanking God I am not a PhD student. I thought that’s what I wanted. And I realized God brought us out here for one year to prepare me for the role that I’m in right now.”

I say that to tell you this. For some of you, you’ve might experienced some denial, a no, and maybe, just maybe, you can’t see the Google Earth, God vision that He can see. And maybe you are zooming in, and it’s zoomed in so much you find yourself in a prison that maybe, just maybe, God’s saying, “Would you be attentive to what I wanna do? And would you trust Me and align yourself with what I am doing in you, what I want to do through you, so that My purposes can be done today here on earth. Will you join me?”

And my friend said, “I am so grateful. For this church. I am so grateful for the community in my life. And I’m so grateful that I didn’t stay in that prison for too long.”

I don’t want that for you, friends. I don’t want you to live in that space. Cause that’s the enemy’s playground. And he will just try to take you and hold your life in check. And it requires us learning, relearning, unlearning, and becoming the kind of people who don’t have unrealistic expectations, unspoken, and unaware expectations... but do whatever we can to be attentive to and aligned with God’s intended purposes. Amen? Alright. Let’s stand for closing prayer.

 

 

Out of Hiding

by 

Sharon Martin

On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. Luke 6:6–10

In the above account, the spotlight is on the Pharisees. Their callous hearts, their manipulation and disregard for those they should’ve shepherded, their disdain for mercy. But after listening to Bill’s recent message, I’ve found my focus shifting toward the afflicted man. Depending on the translation, his hand is described as shriveled, paralyzed, or withered. Whichever word we choose, the appendage neither looked nor performed as it should have. Becoming instead a source of embarrassment and shame. And amazingly, an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus.

So let’s forget about the Pharisees for a bit. And marvel instead at the courage of a man who came out of the shadows into His light.

When I was seven years old, we lived next door to a family who had a beautiful little dog. I don’t remember his name, but even after all these years, I can still see the way he’d prance whenever they took him out, his thick white coat shining in the Georgia sun, his fluffy plume of a tail held aloft. During one particularly hot summer, in the days before air-conditioning, the family decided to shave the poor creature’s coat down to stubble. My guess is that the act was motivated out of kindness. But the dog was mortified. One wouldn’t have thought it would matter. He was just a dog after all. But until his fur grew out, the little guy was in absolute misery, wanting nothing more than to hide. Shorn head down, he’d slink to the back yard to do his business, with what now looked like a possum’s tail tucked tightly between his legs. Daily walks became a thing of the past. He wouldn’t go.

How silly, we think. Yet even those of us who don’t consider ourselves vain cover blemishes, check our reflections in the glass to make sure our hair hasn’t blown out of place, or run tongues over teeth for errant bits of food. How many of us are comfortable having someone show up when there are dirty clothes strewn about, or toothpaste smudges on the bathroom sink?

Hiding, for us humans, is as natural as breathing. Those far smarter than me can explain the tendency in medical and biological terms. But this is what I know. When any part of me feels “wrong,” I don’t want others to see it. My desire to be seen and known doesn’t extend quite that far. I want to be the one who decides what gets seen and when. Flight and isolation suits me just fine, thank you. But though both are intrinsic, they are also dangerous. To our emotional health and well-being, to our souls. Which is why Jesus loves us too much to let us stay in the shadows.

In Luke’s account, the man’s healing began with an invitation. Because Jesus knows. Step one is always about coming out of hiding.

Last year, my husband began attending Recover. Plagued with an ongoing struggle against depression, anxiety, and self-contempt, he chose to come out of the shadows, to heed an inner invitation to “come.” Overwhelmed and depleted with my own challenges at work, I took a pass. I was glad for him, and immensely proud, but I just couldn’t. I had too much on my plate. Anyone could see that. And so, on Thursday nights, when he left for Recover, I didn’t. Hiding instead, putting in a few extra hours at work, then coming home to eat everything in sight.

Nothing got better. Not me, and not the situation. I told myself I just couldn’t, not with everything else on my plate. I told myself that others with bigger issues deserved the support of something like Recover. That I didn’t have it so bad and should just get over it. I told myself all sorts of lies. It was a miserable year.

But when it was over and I was able to look back objectively, I realized my mistake. The supposed quiet I’d craved after crazy days hadn’t refueled me, and the junk food certainly hadn’t restored me.

In the book of Ezekiel, God portrays Himself as a pursuing shepherd who “looks after his scattered flock and rescues them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.”

That was me and is me. On the dark days, on days of clouds, I run and hide. I’m so, so grateful for a God who pursues me there, who understands days like that, who doesn’t leave me.

Such were the thoughts in Jesus’ mind when He invited the man with the shriveled hand to stand, to come out of hiding. There is something about standing, isn’t there? The very posture invites vulnerability. But the next request, even more so: “Stretch out your hand.” Bring it to the table. Expose your wounds and brokenness to the light. Let yourself be known.

The Pharisees, of course, were indignant, and perhaps others in the group gasped, or turned away. But in my mind, I imagine others in the crowd, those who carried their own hidden infirmities and shame. Those who drew courage from this man, who—perhaps because of him—ventured toward Jesus at another time, in another place; a leper, a woman who bled, a man born blind.

And the result. Healing.

So, this year, I’ve chosen to accept Jesus’ invitation. First to stand up. Then to come. To bring my stuff to the table. To come out of the shadows. You’ll find me on Thursday nights, at Recover, seated at a table with others who, in exposing their wounds, are learning what it is to be pursued by a God who knows about days of darkness and shadows, who loves us too much to leave us alone.

 

 

 

 

 

The 8 Value Statements of Willow

(The following is a transcript of Bill Hybel’s “The 8 Value Statements of Willow” message, part II of our Expectant series. The video is also available to you here.)

Morning, everybody.

Some people kindly emailed me this past week to congratulate me for preaching a shorter sermon last weekend. One guy even suggested the perfect formula for sermons.

I said, “I’d like to hear it.”

And he said, “Here’s what it is. A perfect sermon,” he said, “has a fantastic introduction, a fantastic ending, and as little space between the two as possible.”

That’s not gonna happen today...

...Hey, how many of you could quickly point to the passage in the book of Luke—we’re studying the book of Luke these days. How many of you could quickly point to the passage where Jesus blows up a worship gathering? Just blows it up. Any of you could do that right away? No, well, this is gonna be fun, then, cause you’re gonna learn something new.  

The story is found in Luke chapter 6, but let me provide you with some context before I read you the episode I wanna read to you today. All throughout history, religious people have found certain passages in this book, the inspired Word of God, and then they fixate on certain of these passages. They put way more emphasis on specific passages than they were ever intended to have.

Often, religious people throughout history have taken a particular passage in the Bible and then added multiple layers of their own biases onto the subject matter in the text. They build many religions out of these things. And then inflict that stuff on naïve, gullible followers. This has happened more than you would think all throughout Christian history.

In Jesus’ day, one example of this is what the religious leaders—who were called the Pharisees—did with the fourth commandment. Do you know what the fourth commandment is? Maybe not. So I’m gonna read it to you. You can follow along.

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your sons or daughters nor the manservants or maidservants, nor your animals nor the guests

Interesting word; it actually could mean refugees, immigrants, sojourners, okay? Strangers within your gates. Okay? They shouldn’t work either.

In six days, God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything in it and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Now, this is straightforward, gang. The seventh day of the week should be set aside from the other six. It should be treated specially. The seventh day, we should focus on God. We should rest. And we should refrain from doing our normal working patterns. Trivia question—what national fast-food chain is famous for shutting down all 2,200 of its restaurants on Sunday? Chick-fil-A, that’s right. Do you know why? Because the founder, Truett Cathy, was a devoted Christ follower who felt that the fourth commandment should be followed in his home and in his business that he owned. So he joyfully gave up a billion dollars of potential revenue every single year so that all 144,000 of his employees could remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Truett’s son Dan, who’s a friend of mine, runs that company today and continues with this conviction.

Back to Luke 6. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees took one portion of that fourth commandment, and they took it to the moon. The “don’t work” part. They came up with hundreds, not scores, hundreds of little rules never mentioned in the Bible as to what constituted work on the Sabbath day and what did not constitute work. And then they inflicted all these rules on their followers.

So one rule was how much weight you could carry in your hands on the Sabbath day before carrying that constituted work. How far you could walk was another rule. Cause if you walked too far, that was like working. How much food you could prepare or eat. How much wood you could add to an existing fire before it was like working on the fire. Follow me? So it just got crazy, and crazier. And the Pharisees, of course, saw themselves as the Sabbath-day police. And they doled out severe consequences to anyone who violated these petty, man-made rules.

So it’s in this context that Jesus walks into a worship gathering and does something that blows up the entire service. Now do you know what episode I’m talking about? Okay, I’ll give you another hint.

Prior to the story that I am going to read to you from Luke 6, Jesus had healed a blind man on the Sabbath day. This made the Pharisees hold an emergency board meeting where they unanimously agreed that a healing on the Sabbath was a flagrant foul. Game objector. Automatic suspension. For you Catholics, a mortal sin. Why? Because work had to be involved in that healing. I mean, some energy had to be involved, right? Some exertion from Jesus to the person being healed. And that was a violation of the Sabbath in their minds. So the Pharisees decided if Jesus ever does another healing on the Sabbath day, they’re gonna throw the book at Him and seek to ruin Him permanently.

So now let me read the story from Luke 6.

On another Sabbath day Jesus went into the synagogue and began teaching. There was a man in the gathering with a shriveled right hand.

Quick time out. Who is writing the book of Luke?

...This is not a trick question. Who is writing the book of Luke? Luke. What does he do for a living? He’s a doctor. Right. So he would have a keen eye for the details of people with physical challenges. This guy has a severe abnormality with his right hand. Which might’ve curtailed his ability to be a craftsman. It would be embarrassing to greet other people. The hand that you would use to eat or drink, you see. And Luke notices this important little detail—it’s the right hand of this man that’s all shriveled or withered up. On with the story.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they [started to watch] him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking.

Parenthetically, He always kind of knows what we’re thinking.

[He] knew what they were thinking and [he] said to the man with the shriveled hand,

...If you can imagine this...

 “Get up and stand in front of everyone.”

Can you imagine how this guy would not have wanted to do that? He, you know, if you have some kind of physical infirmity, you don’t wanna be in front of people. But Jesus said, “Come up front.”

Then Jesus said to the crowd “I ask you, [what’s the] lawful [thing] on the Sabbath...”

...Is it okay to do good on the Sabbath? Is that a good idea? I know you got all these rules. Is doing good a good idea? How about doing evil, should we do evil on the Sabbath? Cause you have all these rules. Would it be good to save a life or improve a life on the Sabbath? Would that be good? Or would you prefer that we destroy a life? Would that be better with all your little rules?

Jesus is just... playing with them, if you will. He knows what’s going on here. Now, the apostle Mark apparently was in the room that day with Luke and Jesus, and when he writes about this account in his book, called Mark, he adds this little detail:

Jesus was filled with anger and deeply distressed at the stubbornness [the callousness, the arrogance, the legalism, the hardness of heart] of the Pharisees’.

He was angry. And deeply distressed. Truth be told, and Jesus knew it, the Pharisees didn’t give a flying rip about the man with the shriveled-up hand. They didn’t care. They didn’t care if his disability kept him from providing for his family. They didn’t give a rip if his hand embarrassed him in social settings.

In fact, one day, when I was reading this in my chair time and had a little head space and put myself in the story and was trying to figure out what was really going on in the worship gathering that day, the thought occurred to me, now, wait a minute. The Pharisees really wanted to catch Jesus doing a healing on the Sabbath. Wasn’t it convenient that a guy with a shriveled hand shows up in the gathering? And I thought, I wonder. It’s not in the text, but I thought, I wonder... if the night before the Pharisees went into the town square and started looking for someone with a physical infirmity. I wonder... if this guy with the shriveled up hand was a paid plant. Wouldn’t that explain why Mark says that Jesus was just filled with anger and distress at the uncaring, manipulative hearts of the Pharisees?

Anyway, think of this drama. The Pharisees are on the edge of their seats because their sting operation to discredit Jesus is going precisely as planned. And then there’s this disabled guy who probably still has his robe pulled over his hand. He’s standing in front of people. Doesn’t want to be in front of people. Doesn’t want anyone to see his hand.

And here’s Jesus looking over this mass that’s going on in a worship building, you know. No one knows what’s going to happen in the next ten seconds, but there’s high drama in the room, gang.

Then, suddenly, Jesus says with a commanding voice, “Stretch out your hand.” This guy does not wanna show everybody the infirmity he’s been hiding his whole life. Big crowd? Come on. But he takes a leap of faith, and he pulls his sleeve back, and he lets everybody see that deformed hand. And the Bible says in the very moment that he stretches it out, “his hand was completely restored.” In an instant. And it was just like the other hand. I mean, it wasn’t a baby hand; it was like, just like the other—trained and ready to go. It was a good-to-go, brand-new hand. Okay? Totally healed.

Stay with me now. You are not gonna believe what happens next.

Some of you are guessing, well, a wild celebration breaks out, right? The worship team runs up on stage and leads everybody in singing the Doxology: “Praise God form whom all blessings flow. He has done great, great things.” You would think that they would sing that Doxology over and over, clap and dance, maybe lift Jesus and the guy with the renewed hand now—lift them up on their shoulders and take them through the town square. Because a physical healing is a big deal, gang. Always has been. Always will be.

And by the way, if I ever pull off a physical healing up here, you better sing the Doxology. You better do all this stuff. Cause it’d be God doing something great, okay?

But... that’s not what happens in the story. The split second after this miraculous healing happens, all the Pharisees packed into the synagogue that day stand to their feet and scream, “Got ya! Got ya! Got you dead to rights! Got you in the act of healing on the Sabbath. And we are gonna destroy you. You’re done. And we will kill you if we have to for such an egregious violation of the Sabbath.”

That’s just astonishing, isn’t it?

The apostle Mark adds this detail in Mark 3: “Then the Pharisees”—right after this healing—“went out.” What does that mean? They went out. They stormed out of the building before the worship service had even ended, and they all vacated the premises, “and began to plot with the Herodians”—a radical sect—“on how they [would] kill Jesus” for what He did on the Sabbath.

So hang with me now. If all the Pharisees have stormed out of the building, who’s left inside the worship center? Maybe just Jesus and the guy He just healed, right? Now, this is not in the text, but one of the advantages of spending fifteen minutes a day in a chair reading your Bible is that, again, you can think about, you can put yourself into the drama, you can imagine a little bit. So this is what I imagined one day when I was reading this story.

I think the only two people left in the building were Jesus and the healed guy. And maybe they sat down on the edge of the platform—remember, He had invited him up front, so maybe they just sat down on the steps or on the edge of the stage. And maybe the healed guy says to Jesus, “That was a weird ending to that service. Did I, did I get You in trouble? Did this healing... get You in trouble? Cause if it did, I’m really, really sorry.”

And I imagine Jesus putting His hand on the guy’s shoulder and saying, “Oh, my friend. Do not worry about me getting in trouble. Let’s talk about your hand. Who are you gonna tell first? What activity are you gonna do that you’ve never been able to do before? You gonna go out and learn how to juggle now? What are you gonna do? Let’s talk about that kind of stuff.” I imagine they did.

Now, I imagine—purely my opinion, again—that after that beautiful conversation, Jesus probably said to the man, “Hey, go celebrate. Go home to your family. Go home to your friends.” Which then would leave Jesus all alone in that worship center. All alone in the building where He had just blown up the service. And I imagine Jesus scanning the seats, just looking all around this worship center, and then looking up into the balcony, looking everywhere. And thinking to Himself, what just happened in this worship center, in this congregation, is so unbelievably far away from what the Father had in mind when He commanded His children to gather in worship centers to worship and to pray and to receive teaching. This is like the polar opposite of what the Father had in mind.  

You know... what was... embarrassingly absent in that congregation that day was... love. Think about this. They were more concerned about the violation of their man-made rules, more concerned about being right... than they had genuine compassion for a man whose whole life had been affected by a withered hand. No one came to the service that day wanting to worship with a pure heart. No one came really wanting to pray. No one came that day really having an appetite for God’s Word. They came to do a sting operation and to find a way to discredit Jesus.

I imagine Jesus getting up and then heading for the door, taking one last look at the worship space and breathing one final prayer to His father. Hey, Abba... when we launch a church in the not-too-distant future... and when the Holy Spirit’s full power is released in that new church that’s coming soon... let’s turn over Heaven and Earth to make that church feel and function way different than what just happened in this room. It’s gotta be different and better than what I just experienced here.

And then I imagine Jesus walking out of the door, through a dusty town, looking for a seashore where He could finally find some solitude and rest and push this horrible, heartbreaking experience out of His mind.

So that’s the story in Luke 6. Well then, as you know, after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the first church was launched in downtown in Jerusalem. And it did feel and function so much different than the debacle that happened in the synagogue that I just read to you about. In Acts chapter 2, it describes the beautiful and powerful experience that happened in the first true church. It describes how thousands of people were coming to faith in Jesus Christ. How bold prayers were being prayed and Heaven was answering. How worship was genuine and joyful. How rich people were really, really caring for the poor. How gender walls and racial and ethnic walls were coming down. And how people were gathering at each other’s homes to encourage and support and pray for one another like hundreds of you are going to be doing.

The Acts 2 church in its early days totally lived up to the ideals that Heaven had in mind when the concept of the church was first imagined. And as you would expect, word of that first church in downtown Jerusalem spread like wildfire, and soon, there were fantastic churches popping up all over the known world. And if you were to ever connect the dots... I don’t know if you ever have... we’re in this church today... because of what happened in the first church in downtown Jerusalem... shortly after Jesus’ ascension.

Now, with the moments that remain in this service, I wanna do something I haven’t done in far too long. I’m gonna read eight brief statements to you that our elders spent two years working on. Eight value statements that our senior leaders feel have defined our church and will define our church going into the future. And I have my reasons for doing this.

I’m sure you’ve all been in social settings. Subject comes up—you go to church? And then, if someone asks you, you go, “Yep, I do.”

And they say, “Where?”

And then you say, “Willow Creek Community Church.”

And then sometimes someone will say, “Well, why do you go to that church?”

And then you kind of stumble through your reasons why you come to this church. You do the best you can.

Maybe after today, you will be better prepared to tell people why you go to Willow Creek Community Church. That’s my hope. Here we go. Eight statements that define the unique identity and the biblical values we hold dearly to at Willow Creek Community Church.

Statement number one. “People far from God are coming to faith in [Jesus] Christ [regularly].” Translated: We, as a church, love people who are not yet Christ followers. We are not annoyed with their behavior or angry about their lifestyle or language choices. They don’t have God in their lives yet. How should they be living any differently? We don’t think about people who are far from God and judge them and talk trash about them or wish ill on them. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world and everyone in it,” those who believed in His Son and those who didn’t. Romans 5:8 says for God commended his love toward us even while we were in the middle of our sin and far from Him, Christ died for us.

I grew up in a church... had several pastors who would use this book to tell Christ followers to look down, judge, feel superior to, stay separate from people far from God. We were better. You see? And we shouldn’t hang out with people far from God because they might have a bad effect on us, you see? And pastors would explain this from this book... and it screwed me up. Cause I was like, wait a minute, wait a minute... at a certain point in time, we were all far from God. And I thought God so loved the whole world. And I thought if we’re gonna become like God, if He expands our hearts, that we should have concern for people far from Him and hope and pray that someday they would come to faith in Jesus Christ.

We started a church in a movie theater primarily to reach our friends in our teenage years, in our early twenties, who were far from God. We weren’t annoyed with our friends who were far from God. We prayed on our hands and knees that we could share something or reach out to them in some way to interest them in their search for Christ. And many of you can remember not so long ago when you were far from God, and you’re glad that someone from this church reached out to you. Aren’t you glad that that happened to you? So that’s a value of ours. It’s a value of ours that we will continue to be a church that cares for people far from God.

Statement number two. “We are fighting injustice...” Fighting it, really. Strong words. “We are fighting injustice, working for peace, and extending compassion to people in need.” Translated: Once we get redeemed, we don’t just hold each other’s hands, sing beautiful songs, and wait to be taken to heaven. That’s not the plan. This church believes differently than that plan. We actually believe what Jesus said in Matthew 25 is that we, between the time we get redeemed, and between then and when we go to be with Him forever, that we should do everything in our strength and power to fix what’s broken in this world. Jesus said it with blinding clarity. Please read it again sometime. Matthew 25: “Feed the hungry.” Feed them. “Clothe the naked.” “Shelter the homeless.” “Visit the prisoners.” “Welcome the strangers.” “Work for peace.” “Fight injustice.” “Overturn systems of oppressions anywhere and everywhere.”

And, gang, the fact that Willow believes so strongly in this particular value... makes Willow both very special to many people... but I must admit it makes Willow very complicated. Believing in this value is what makes a lot of people absolutely love our church. And it results in a steady, small stream of people leaving our church... because a lot of Christ followers want four worship songs and a thirty-minute, tidy little Bible study over and out for seven days. That’s all they want. And we’re not that kind of church. We’ve never been that kind of church. We’ve actually decided... that... we decided that living out Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 25 will always make us a very complicated church.

So twenty years ago, when the AIDS pandemic broke out... and nobody knew what to do about it... what caused it, and who was transmitting it, and all that. My wife and I took a trip over to South Africa. And we got our heads into that whole situation. And I came back and she came back and we said, “Hey, we’re gonna let others figure out if we can ever cure the disease. But there are just... millions of AIDS babies... that need help.” We were one of the first churches in the entire Western world... that went to the aid of AIDS orphans and AIDS babies because of the mandate of Jesus.

And people said, “Oh, you’re getting political.”

We said, “We, we think we’re living out the mandate of Matthew 25.”

We’re a church that realized our community was changing a little bit, and a lot of Spanish-speaking people were coming. And so we started this beautiful service that’s going on in our chapel right now. Seven or eight hundred Spanish-speaking people and... it’s called Casa de Luz. And it’s bringing people to Christ that are becoming members of the family of God. And some of them come to our Care Center because they need food and they need clothes and so. And we do not check their papers... when we distribute food and drink.

And for several years now, we decided to do something for prisoners. And you would think that that’s a slam dunk because Jesus Himself said, “Visit the prisoners, pray for prisoners, encourage prisoners.” And so we started... making sure that every single incarcerated person in the state of Illinois would receive a hope-filled Christmas present coming into the holidays. And that fired up tens of thousands of you. And... a steady stream of people said, “Those people committed a crime. I don’t want any church money going to encourage people who committed crimes.” And they left our church.

We have a crisis-pregnancy center right in our Care Center. We believe in life... and the protection of it from the womb to the tomb. Now, in some circles... in some circles, that’s not a very politically correct thing to do. Doesn’t bother us at all because... it comes straight from Scripture.

We’ve sent two or three hundred of our top leaders to the Middle East to sit down with Israelis and then to sit down with Palestinians to understand the dual narrative that’s kept them in conflict for the last fifty years. Sounds political, doesn’t it? We don’t do it for that reason. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and the politicians aren’t getting that done. So we’re trying to do it with spiritual people on both sides of that wall. So.

What’s the most violent country in the world over the last ten years? Any of you know... which country on this sore planet... has killed more of its people than any other in the last ten years? Democratic Republic of the Congo. Five million people... have been slaughtered in that country. It’ll never make the news because almost all the people we’re talking about are poor, illiterate, and black.

So we’re one of the only churches in the world that sends leaders over to the Democratic Republic of the Congo because we have some churches in the middle of that conflict zone, and we’re trying to encourage them and see if we can... help them come to peace.

But, you see, this makes Willow... extremely complicated. It’s not four worship songs, a tidy sermon, and we all go home and live our lives and wait to go to heaven. If we’re gonna be the hands and feet of Christ... if we are gonna carry out Matthew 25... our hands are gonna get dirty and our uniforms are gonna get soiled. So be it. It’s who we are.

I wanna show you, I wanna show you one more picture of how complicated we are. See this picture? This is on our property. Anyone know what that is, where it is? Okay, so we have a giving garden. There are volunteers in this church who wanna use their gardening skills to be able to grow produce to supply our Care Center. It’s a beautiful thing. So I took my grandsons out there yesterday morning just to encourage the volunteers. This is over by our Fast-Trac parking lot. And I see these posts that look quite complicated to me. And they’re... they’re impaled into the ground quite deeply. And it looks like someone’s doing some engineering there. And I said to the volunteers, “Now, now what?” You know?

And they said, “Well, you see... a lot of our volunteers are disabled. They come to serve here in wheelchairs. And it’s hard for us to involve them because they can’t get out of their wheelchairs to help us pick the produce, so a couple of our engineers and carpenters—all volunteers, mind you—have designed these posts, and wheelchair-height countertops are gonna be put out there so our disabled wheelchair-bound volunteers can help with our giving garden.” Now, come on!

 

I was walking with my two grandboys out of there, and I say, “Hey, guys, I love our church. It’s complicated. But it feels like we’re trying to do what Jesus told us we should be doing between here and heaven.”

They’re like, “Yeah, yeah. Let’s go get breakfast.”

Number three. “We are reconciled to one another in radically inclusive,”—radically inclusive—“biblical community.” After Jesus overturned the tables in the temple, He cried out, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.”

Gang, we used to be a church that was comprised of virtually all Caucasians. Didn’t bother us all that much. And then we started to be convicted by the Holy Spirit who said, “Are you really a church for all the nations? All the cultures? All the colors? Are you really?” And, see, so we have fought like junkyard dogs... to be welcoming, to reach across racial divides, gender divides... and gender-preference divides. We have tried to reach across generational divides and language divides. All of that. To be a radically inclusive... radically loving... community of people. And that’s who we’ll be in the future. That’s not gonna change. It’s who we are. And who we’re supposed to be.

Number four. We are becoming, “We are becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.” Our mantra for decades has been “95% devotion to God is 5% short.” God has only ever given His absolute best to us, and we will only offer back to Him our absolute best. Our best worship. Our best commitment, devotion. Our best deployment of our spiritual gifts. Our best love. And we will repent when we don’t. In this church, we resist half-hearted, lukewarm Christianity in ourselves... and we don’t wanna tolerate it in our church. Fully devoted followers of Christ. Cause that’s where the joy is. And that’s where the action is. And that’s where the miracles start to flow out of.

Number five. Women and men, “Women and men are serving according to their spiritual gifts.” From back in the theater days, we’ve always organized everything around spiritual gifts. I’ve taught you from the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit sovereignly, the Holy Spirit sovereignly decides which gifts... to deposit into your life for you to discover and deploy so that the church can move ahead in the world. And I’ve told you that Scriptures teach clearly that God distributes, the Holy Spirit distributes these gifts, to women and men. And we believe that the Bible teaches that women as well as men must deploy their spiritual gifts to the zenith of their potential, and we will not put a limit on that. Right, men? Right, women? Right. Okay. It’s who we are. It’s just who we are. We respect churches that disagree with us on that. We can respect and have good fellowship who hold a different position, but this is ours.

Six. “We are stewarding our resources generously, wisely, and sacrificially.” Here at Willow, we believe that everything we have... comes from the hand of the good, good Father. We teach that money management—please, get this... we teach that sound money management is a critical part of our discipleship process. Not just a good way to get ahead in a materialistic culture. We teach that God-honoring financial stewardship is a part of our spiritual formation. We believe that the Bible teaches we should earn all we’re capable of earning. That we should give the first tenth of whatever income He brings our way back to God’s work through the local church regularly, obediently, joyfully. We believe that God rewards and resupplies those who do. We believe that the Bible teaches we should avoid debt like the plague. We should live well within our means. And we should save and invest for our futures. And, most importantly, we should always be willing to share with people in need as the Holy Spirit prompts.

And further, and this is different... further, we believe that the finances of our church should be absolutely God-honoring. Totally transparent to anyone who asks. We believe that we should live within God’s provision for our church. That we should have disciplined budgets and triple layers of accountability so there’s never any funny business with money. And... we believe that we should be ridiculously generous to other churches and organizations as God guides. 

And for those of you who are new around here, it might surprise you to learn that in the last ten years, and I’ve checked these figures like five different times this week... in the last ten years, this church has given away fifty million dollars to ministries and needs and great organizations around the world. And despite all of that generosity—or, might I say, because of it—we operate today with adequate operating cash, long-term cash reserves, and we are totally debt free here at South Barrington. Totally debt free.

 

Now, some of our regional campuses are carrying some debt because they just completed or are in building programs, but they’ll pay that down soon. But we actually believe as a value that fantastic, God-honoring financial management is a hallmark of our church, that it honors God, that it motivates our members, and it’s a great example to other churches who look our way... for an example.

Number seven. Only two more. “We are gathering regularly for biblical teaching, corporate worship, and prayer.” Hebrews 10:25 just says it: “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” Luke 4:16 says Jesus went to the worship gathering. Next four words, read with me, “as was his custom.” On Jesus’ monthly calendar... any, every Sabbath, He was at the worship gathering. And I ask you unapologetically to follow the example of our leader and the other teachings of Scripture to gather every weekend in person, on time, with kids and grandkids, with a spirit of expectancy, believing that God is gonna meet with us, and God is gonna speak to us, God’s gonna move us ahead on our faith. And almost every time... I talk to people all the time, people say, “I’m so glad I came to church today.”

Like, duh. You know? So just put it in ink.

And finally. Number eight. “We are dependent upon and courageously obedient to the Holy Spirit.” You better thank God that this is number eight and that we’re almost out of time... because... I have so much of what I hope is the right kind of pride in our elders for valuing this and for putting it in black and white for everybody to read. We are dependent upon and courageously obedient to the Holy Spirit. Gang, remember where we came from. The Holy Spirit... prompted us to start this church. We were not started by a denomination who thought they needed a franchise in Palatine. We were not started by some rich guy who felt he wanted a little recreational church to play with. There’s just four of us or six of us or eight of us—a handful of us... who felt the stirring of the Holy Spirit to start a church in a movie theater to do church in a new way to reach our friends and to obey the Holy Spirit.

And then, six and a half years later, when the church was growing, the Holy Spirit whispered to us that we should buy—hang on—ninety acres of land. At that time, I didn’t know a single church in the world that had more than twenty acres as the size of their campus. And when we started looking for a loan to help us buy the land, I remembered going into the president’s office at the suburban National Bank, explaining that we were gonna try to buy ninety acres of land.

He said, “How old are you, son?”

I said, you know, I think, “Twenty-six.” I was twenty-six or twenty-seven at the time. And...

He said, “You’re living in a fantasy land. Your church can’t raise the money. I’m certainly not going to help you. And... no church on planet Earth will ever utilize that much land.”

I said, “Thanks. Thanks.”

And we sacrificed everything. And took out personal bank loans to buy this land. And if we had bought nine acres, that would’ve constricted this ministry thirty years ago. And now we utilize even more than ninety acres. The Holy Spirit knew. He knew. And we... trusted Him.

And then... twenty-five years ago, when this church was rocking and rolling and just... you know, miracle a month, it seemed like. Twenty-five years ago, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Serve other churches. This is not the only important thing going on in the Kingdom on planet Earth. You have talented people. You have mountains of resources. You ought to be cheering on and training and serving every church that preaches God’s Word.”

And I remember just wilting under that... prompting. I was like... that is... that’s gonna break my back. That’s gonna stretch our church. That’s gonna be a burden I don’t know that we can carry. The Holy Spirit says, “You... trust Me on this.”

So for the last twenty-five years, through the Willow Creek Association, we’ve been serving tens of thousands of churches in a hundred and thirty countries... and God knew. God knew.

Then in year 2000. The Holy Spirit said, “Launch regional expressions of Willow Creek around the Chicagoland area.” We didn’t even know what that meant.

And I went into board meetings and elder’s meetings, and I said, “You know... God’s talking to some of us about starting like... outlets. Starting like... branch offices. Or auditoriums. Or... you know... various places around the Chicagoland area.”

And they were like, “Well, until you can describe it better, we’re not gonna fund it.”

I was like, “I’m trying. I’m doing my best. If the Holy Spirit would make it a little clearer, I’d make it a little clearer to you.”

Anyway, we didn’t know what we were doing. And now all these years later... Willow Creek Wheaton and North Shore and Crystal Lake and Chicago and Huntley and South Lake and Casa de Luz... over nine thousand people worship at these regional campuses these days. Nine thousand people. And I shake in my boots when I think what would’ve happened if we would’ve said no to that.

And lest we forget. During the worst recession of our lifetimes. When many of us were losing jobs. People were lowering our incomes, curtailing our bonuses. Some of you lost your homes. In the worst recession of our lifetime, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Build a Care Center. On the property. And build it with a waiting room that will provide dignity to the guests. They’ve already... been through the embarrassment and the discouragement of not being able to put food on the table. Don’t make them stand outside in the snow. Build a beautiful waiting room for them. Make it look like a hotel so they... you serve the poor with dignity. And... put restrooms in there. And put a place where they can... where their kids can play. And make it a full choice-food store. Don’t just hand them a bag of groceries. And fix their car.” And... this whole dream was blossoming and...

We did the studies and figured out that was gonna take ten million dollars. And I remember walking right up here. And looking at you. Many of you who were going through the worst financial period of your life. And I described that vision, and I said, “The Holy Spirit... wants us to build a ten-million-dollar Care Center on our property so we can do a better job of caring for the poor.” And you gave so much money, sacrificially, so quickly, we surpassed the ten-million-dollar goal before we broke ground. It’s one of the enduring highlights of the story of our church.

So I love this value. That we are dependent upon and will courageously obey... whatever the Holy Spirit asks us to do as we move into our future. And right now, the Holy Spirit is telling all of you, I think you can hear Him, “He should end this sermon!” So maybe I’ll start ending the sermon now.

Would you stand with me. Hey, where did we start this sermon? Go way back in your mind. Where did we start this sermon? We started it when Jesus had His heart broken in a worship service... because the congregation was filled with legalistic arrogance, devoid of compassion... would not even rejoice over a man whose... infirmity was miraculously healed. We started with Jesus’ heart being broken... over what happened in a worship service.

Now, just to be clear, we are a far cry from being a perfect church. A far cry from being a perfect church. Maybe because all you sinners goof stuff up all the time. And mainly because I’m the chief of sinners, and I’m trying to lead you.

But I will say this. I love the values... of our church. And it doesn’t bother me all that much that it’s complicated. Cause when you’re helping people find Christ and rebuild their broken lives, it is complicated. And I love the fact that you embrace this complexity. I love the fact that someone wants to build counter-height... working stations for people in wheelchairs who are harvesting vegetables to feed people in our Care Center.

I love it that we’re trying to bring... peace... in the worst conflict zones on planet Earth. I love the courage of that. I love the spirit of this congregation more than you’ll ever know.

This church has never been a personality cult. My name has never been on the sign. Technically no one ever offered to allow me to put my name on the sign.

This church has always been led by a team of elders. It’s always been taught by a team of teachers. It’s always been ministered to by teams of volunteers. All for God’s glory. It’s never been about a person. Except Jesus Christ.

Now, a month from now, as I alluded to earlier, we’re gonna celebrate our forty-second anniversary. And it’s gonna be a ruckus celebration. And we have some very exciting news about the future of our church. And I hope you’ll join us... for that.

But back in Luke 6, when they should’ve risen to their feet and sung the Doxology after, you know, that miraculous healing. They didn’t. We’re gonna do the right thing, and we’re gonna sing the Doxology that they didn’t sing. We’re gonna sing it right now. Lead us, Marshall...

 

About Thoughts

 

by

Sam

(The following entry reflects on Bill Hybel’s message “Five Leadership Tests,” part one of the Expectant series. If you missed it or would like a refresher of it, both the video and the transcript are available to you.)

“...I think Jesus figured that Peter was special. Not perfect. Peter was never perfect. But he was special. He was usable. He was honest..."

 

Perfect.

...Faultless...

Where does my perfectionism come from, then?

I have been tracking down this question.

...Or its answer, rather.

Hadn’t really gotten all too far.

And then I saw the phrase

...special. Not perfect.

So... special & perfect are not the same thing.

And it’s not that I thought otherwise. I just... hadn’t thought to think about it.

Then I did.

Of the years I’ve been alive, the first seventeen were not in the US.

Missionary parents and the lot.

We moved back to the area my dad grew up in on the threshold of my senior year of high school. (And I mean that literally. We arrived at some ungodly a.m. hour, slept a couple minutes, maybe seconds, and then rose again to be in school for its first day of fall semester.)

And when people hear that, the question becomes: “Did you have serious culture shock?”

My answer always has been: “No. It felt like coming home.”

And it did.

...But something happened, too.

When I was abroad, it seemed I was “unique.”

I sang. I spoke English. I spent class periods writing novels (I mean, taking really, really copious notes). And it felt to me as though those things about me were perceived. Appreciated. And encouraged.

That felt like enough to belong, in some way... as though I had a place for me that no one else could occupy.

...As much as I wondered what it might be like to have souls I could do the things with and “belong” in that way...

I suppose in the ideal of this, you can share passions and heart while remaining unique, seen, uneclipsed, indispensable. Belonging, fitting in, and being unique. At the same time. Fancy that.

But that’s... not instinctively the feeling that comes over you, then, is it?

When “unique” is no longer enough. Or even “true,” apparently.

So perfectionism. Maybe that became my coping mechanism. My subconscious coping mechanism. (I didn’t exactly sit down and decide this. Or, if I did, I forgot it. Conveniently.) It must’ve gone something like this. If I cannot be intrinsically unique, I’ll be unique by being perfect, because no one’s perfect, but I will be, so I’ll be unique, and I will have my place, because I won’t be trouble.

Perfect. Off to it, then.

Last week. Steve. Two words, two sorts. Stoics. Epicureans.

My brand of “perfect” aspirations went off and embraced the stoic “ideal,” it would seem. Something like... don’t make mistakes. Don’t ask for things. Don’t... emotions. And if you absolutely can’t get rid of the lot, at the least, for the love, do not show them in front of other people. Except for happy. Happy is good. Happy is great. Actually, if you can be (or, again, at least show) yourself elated (see: perfect) all the time, you will be worth relationship for others. You’ll feel safe to them. They’ll want for you to be around.

My rational brain knows perfectly well that this perfection thing is not a thing and I’m not going to be perfect if that’s not even a thing.

My other brain couldn’t care less about this knowledge. (What it lacks for in intelligence and rationality it goes off and makes up for with tenacity.)

But.

Maybe a goal, some real ideal, is moving away from perfection... from the striving for it... and then... rediscovering special. This sort of special.  

Is that all it is? Being grateful? Being honest?

Being usable (and worth relationship. and worth belonging.) for it?

It is a thought to think about.

 

 

Five Leadership Tests

(The following is a transcript of Bill Hybel’s “Five Leadership Tests” message, part I of our Expectant series. The video is also available to you here.)

Shortly after I became a Christian when I was seventeen, a wiser person—older, wiser person—told me to read the book of Luke. Slowly. Deliberately. Reflectively. For fifteen minutes a day. And I asked, “Why Luke?”

And the response came: “You’ll see.”

So I did. I spent the first several months of my new life in Christ establishing my faith by reading the book of Luke. And I’ve been partial to this book ever since. You’ve all heard me at holiday services, baptism services, Christmas—whenever. When I’m challenging people to open their life up to the work of Christ, I say, “If you’ve made that decision, get a Bible. We’ll help you if you don’t have one.” And you’ve heard me say this for decades: “Start reading the Bible, and I suggest that you start reading in the book of Luke.”

I also challenge Christ followers who are stuck to read the book of Luke afresh. Because Luke shows Jesus in action. Luke in particular captures stories of Jesus. And the stories often are of Jesus interacting with the weak, the powerless, the tempted, the poor, the marginalized—it’s about Jesus interacting with people. Luke also contains eighteen parables that are unique from all the other Gospels, including such classic parables as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. Filled with stories. Riveting reading.

Luke pays special attention to women and the role that they played to help Jesus move His mission ahead. Luke underscores the values of worship and community more than the other Gospels. And, finally, in the book of Luke, almost every time Jesus arrives on the scene, there is a palpable sense of expectancy in the air. Something memorable is probably gonna happen. Someone’s gonna be healed or restored, redeemed or reconciled. Someone’s gonna be loved or liberated or forgiven or empowered to go into their future with a new vision. One thing is for sure: things will not stay status quo.

So when Steve organized the series. And anchored it in my favorite book of the New Testament—the book of Luke—I said, “I’m in. I’m in a 100 percent. I’ll teach as often as you want me to teach.” And I hope you’ll be in, too. All of you. For this whole series. And I really hope that all of you will recommit yourself to this chair time that Steve just talked to you about.

From our survey data from just last month, about 50 percent of you said that you, either every day or almost every day of the week, you sit down for fifteen minutes with God’s Word. Fifty percent. That was not thrilling information for me. Because it means 50 percent of you... do not integrate into your life this powerful fifteen minutes that could be so transformative. And it makes me want to ask, is it time for you, the 50 percent of you who don’t practice this, is it time for you to commit and make a decision to, fifteen minutes a day... okay?

Have a business friend of mine who lives out of state. He’s heard me talk about this forever. And just about a month or two ago, he said, “You wore me down. I decided I am going to start this fifteen-minute practice in my life.” And just last week, he emailed me, said, “Wh- Why didn’t I make this commitment years ago?” He said, “This changes how I feel throughout my day.” So I invite you into that.

Of course, small groups. I can’t imagine trying to live a life following Christ without other people in my life encouraging me and challenging me and so. So take up Steve’s challenge about a small group.

This table... I think the reason I actually am standing before you today, primarily, is because I had a father, in particular, who insisted that our family, my siblings—five kids in our family... my dad, very successful businessperson, very entrepreneurial, all the rest. Leadership-oriented. Busy guy. He said, “We’re gonna gather around this table. And before we leave the table, I’m gonna read God’s word to you. And then we’re gonna pray together as a family.”

That was my whole orientation. I can’t think of what it would’ve been like to grow up in a family without a leader in the family who was saying, “Hey, kids, listen. God’s word matters. And I’m under its authority. And your mom’s under its authority. And we’re all under its authority. So let me read it to you.” And all five of us walk with God these days.

When Lynne and I were raising Todd and Shauna, you know, lot of our peers never insisted on a, like a table time. And we just said, “You can raise your kids any way you want. We’re gonna make a special event for dinner time. We’re not gonna have dinner around the TV. We’re not gonna let the kids run around with sandwiches, stuff like that. We’re gonna sit down. And we’re gonna talk to each other. And then we’re gonna read God’s word and pray.”

And, you know, Todd and Shauna are well established in their faith and living for Christ these days. And I think maybe part of it was that table time that we had. So please, please rethink this. And September’s always a good time to say, “Hey, why don’t we... why don’t we turn a new page and start a new journey?” So I just leave that challenge with you.

I get to teach the first two installments of this series. And Steve said, “You can preach on anything you want as long as it’s from Luke.”

So I said, “Well, I wanna teach from one of my favorite passages before you teach on it.” So that’s from Luke 5.

In Luke 5, Jesus is teaching by the seaside. And there’s such an air of expectancy, hope, and power in the air, you see. The text actually says the longer Jesus was teaching, the larger the crowd was growing. The longer He preached, the greater the crowd. I don’t know if... the longer He preached. The greater the crowd.

Now, that never happens to me. If I preach too long, it all starts thinning out. I’m very well aware of that. Don’t thin out yet. I’m just starting.

A while back, I went down to visit our children’s ministry, Promiseland. And there was a veteran woman—she’s been around the church for a long time. She was in the toddler area. And she about fainted when she saw me cause I don’t get down there that much. And she put one of the kids down. And she started walking toward me with such intentionality that one of my security guys, you know, was worried.

But she stopped in the right place, and she said, “Pastor Hybels. I just want to tell you something.” I thought, oh, oh, here we go. And she said, “When you think it’s the Holy Spirit prompting you to speak longer than your allotted time, I’m telling you, it’s not. And when you don’t stick to your time, you don’t understand what goes on down here. These toddlers go bananas. And they tie us up. They start trashing the rooms and all that. So I’m telling you, stick to your times!”

I said, “Well, God bless you.”

She’s kind of in my head today, so. I’m gonna kind of keep going.

But, again, Jesus is teaching. And He’s running out of space on the beach. He has nowhere to go, and He sees a man named Peter, who’s just fished all night, dragging his nets in his boat up to the very beach that Jesus is teaching from. And an idea pops into Jesus’ head. And He says, “Maybe if I sit in a boat in shallow water, it’ll open up space on the beach for more people to come and sit and be able to see in here.” Problem solved, right?

But one day, I was reading this text from my chair. And I had the sense. And I know you’ve had this sense before—that you’re reading a portion of the Bible, and you say, “I think I’m missing something.” The obvious is going on here, but there might be a sub-story going on here that I, I’m not aware of.” And I had that sense about this text from Luke 5. And I said, “God, would You reveal to me if there’s another slant on this or meaning from this text—would You reveal that additional thing to me, whatever it is?”

And He actually revealed something to me.

What I started to understand is that, in this text, Jesus was actually attempting to solve two problems at once. High-capacity leaders do this over time. Many of you do this almost subconsciously. I do it from time to time.

Jesus has to solve the immediate problem, which is where to preach from. And He had recently decided that He needed to select some team members who would become His disciples, who would further His mission when He was gone. And He sees Peter over there. And this text actually reveals that Jesus is gonna solve His preaching problem, and He’s going to test Peter’s metal. He’s gonna run Peter through five different tests to determine if he has the right stuff to make the short list of candidates that will eventually become His disciples.

So the first test catches Peter totally off guard. After a long, frustrating night of fishing, out of nowhere, Jesus asks Peter not only if He can use his boat, but He says to Peter, “Will you man the oars? I know you’ve been up all night. I know. But will you man the oars and row me out to exactly the right spot where I can finish my sermon?”

So this is His first test, and I call it the “Bias for Action Test.”

Now, you have to understand, Jesus was no stranger to boats. He could’ve easily rowed Himself out into position. He was experienced and able bodied. But He wants to find out what Peter’s made of. What kind of person is he? How does he respond to unexpected challenges? Does he jump in quickly to help solve problems? Or does he slink back into the shadows and say, “Hey, you know what? That’s not my problem. You have a preaching location problem? You solve your problems. I’m done for the day”?

This Bias for Action Test was very important to Jesus. Jesus did not wanna surround Himself with sleepy types who turned the other way when challenges arise. He knew He only had a few short years to launch His redemptive movement that would need to spread all across the Ancient Near East, so the team He assembled would have to be action-oriented people. Get-it-done types. High-energy people. People who would spring into action when needed.

So on the beach that day, He says to Peter, in Luke 5:3, “Will you row the boat out from the shore?” Will you do this right now? Cause I have a problem to solve. Will you help me right now?

And Peter, amazingly, he says, “Yes, I will help you right now!” Pretty cool. Quick time out.

Willow, last week, you all—or the vast majority of you—passed Jesus’ Bias for Action Test with flying colors in your response to the flooding in South Texas. Last Wednesday, middle of the week, I sent an email out to everybody across the Willow family. And told you that you could help us if you had the heart to wanna help. In five short days, you filled five semis, as Heather just told you, with supplies that arrived just a couple days later to the affected areas. And someone did some work and figured out the supplies in those five semis came to a grand total of about $745,000 dollars-worth of supplies and a $100,000 gift on top of that.

What differentiates this congregation from so many other congregations that I’m aware of around the world is that we didn’t wait a month for an Elder’s meeting. The chairman of our Elder Board took a vote with our Elders and got that done in a phone call in less than an hour. We didn’t have to take three congregational votes, have a Town Hall meeting, assemble the finance committee. Our senior leaders jumped into action to figure out the best way that we could all respond quickly, and then you responded quickly. And that was awesome. You get a straight A in my book on this Bias for Action Test, and I’m so proud of you.

And Peter got a straight A on his Bias for Action Test. So Jesus proceeded with His second test, which is what I call the “Obedience Test.” The Obedience Test. When Jesus finishes His Sermon, He turns to Peter, and He says in verse 4, Hey, now I have an assignment for you. Thanks for helping me with the boat and so. My sermon’s done. But here’s what I want you to do: “Put out into deep water and let your nets down for a catch.” Straightforward, simple command from Jesus. Go do this. The right answer would be, “Certainly, I will.”

But Peter is tired and frustrated. And He knows that fishing is not Jesus’ specialty. He has no experience in this. He was a carpenter. So he vacillates, okay? He doesn’t jump right in with a yes. He vacillates. Now... I don’t know about you. I vacillate from time to time... even when I get a clear directive from the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives you or me a crystal clear prompting. Say something. Do something. Serve someone. Meet a need. Whatever. Crystal clear direction. And sometimes I—I don’t know about you—sometimes, I’ll go, “Uhh... I’m not in the mood.”

“I’m busy.”

Or: “That would take more effort than I want to expend.”

“I don’t know if this... you know, is all that wise, you see?”

And Peter’s vacillating. But, to his credit, in the nick of time, Peter says these famous words, in Luke 5:5: “Because you say I will.” Not because You’re an expert about fishing. But because of who You are. And if You tell me to, I will.

Heather mentioned this verse a few weeks ago in her fantastic sermon on this in another text. She didn’t know this, but about twenty years ago, I was vacillating between a yes and a no on a very important decision—like, life-altering decision. And God had spoken clearly to me about what I needed to do. I just simply... sat on a fence for probably too long. And I was reading in my chair time one day. And I came across this text. And that little phrase: “Because you say so I will.” ...Just penetrated my vacillating heart. And I wrote the initials: BYSSIW. Wrote it down in my journal. And said, you know what? I’m gonna start using these initials. Because I don’t wanna be a guy who vacillates when God speaks clearly to me. I wanna pass every Obedience Test that God brings my way. I wanna be a Because-You-say-so-I-will kind of Christ follower. In every area of my life, all across the board. I can’t tell you how powerful these little letters have become. I still use them. BYSSIW. Write them down somewhere. Put them as a screensaver. Journal about, with these little initials. If you live them out in your daily life, you’re gonna see the favor of God following your life.

Parenthetically, had Peter failed this Obedience Test, I’m not sure we would even know his name today. My guess is Jesus would’ve taken a pass on him that day. That’s just my opinion. He would’ve maybe drafted someone else. But whenever Jesus finds any follower of His who says, “Because You say so, I will, Lord, in any area of my life,” what He does in and through a person who has that kind of attitude about obedience is incredible. He will use your life in ways you never imagined.

Before I move on to the third test, maybe some of you, I don’t know how many... maybe some of you right now are vacillating. In some area of your life where you have heard God speak to you clearly. Or you’ve read His Word clearly. You know precisely what He’s asking you to do. And you’re vacillating, you see? In my experience, if you say no to what God’s clearly asking you to do, if you go down that path of disobedience, my experience only, that path, in my life experience, that path usually ends badly or sadly. It’s more likely a train wreck than a pot of gold.

Put another way, I don’t carry a single regret for the time in my life or the times in my life when I have obeyed God and did whatever He was asking me to do—not a single regret for obedience. And I carry truckloads of regret and remorse for the times that I thumbed my nose at God and just flagrantly disobeyed Him. Ugh. Whew.

That might be your experience, too. So maybe now would be a good time to recommit. And I’m not gonna ask you to say these words publicly. I’m just gonna ask you, for one second, to maybe say, in your heart, “God, it’s time for me to re up. I wanna be a Because-You-say-so-I-will. No fence sitting. No vacillating. Because you say so, I will. And I will trust.” And that will be music to God’s ears. Really.

 

So you all know what happens next. Peter lets his nets down in the water. And fish from all over the lake race each other to get into the net, okay? They’re crawling over, swimming over each other to get in the net. Or so it seems. Because so many fish are caught in the net that the nets and the boats are imperiled. And then comes the third test.

I call this the “Who Deserves the Credit? Test.” Who Deserves the Credit? Test. If Peter puffs out his chest when he’s transporting all these fish to the market... if Peter claims to his colleagues that it was his superior knowledge, it was his skills, his special technique that resulted in this once-in-a-lifetime catch... I think Jesus would’ve put him on waivers. Just said, “I’m not sure I need you.”

But Luke 5:8 says that Peter “fell on his knees.” Runs up to Jesus. “[Falls] on his knees and [he says] ‘go away from me Lord ... [I’m] a sinful man.’” Translated: “You’re in a whole different league, Jesus, than anyone I’ve ever met. Even the fish obey you! You have powers I didn’t know existed. And this amazing catch... I understand. Hear me well. I’m on my knees in front of You. This catch was all You! So I’m giving You all the credit.”

And when Jesus saw Peter pass that test, the Who Deserves the Credit? Test, I think Jesus figured that Peter was special. Not perfect. Peter was never perfect. But he was special. He was usable. He was honest. He was humble. And he was grateful.

Similarly, when we credit God for what He does in and through our lives... when we are quick to fall on our knees when He gives us a blessing of some sort and say, “Thank you, God! You opened that door for me that I couldn’t open for myself—that was all You!”

“You arranged that provision for me—that was all You!”

“You had my path cross his or hers—it was a miracle. It was all You.”

“You averted that disaster. That was all You.”

“You gave me the words to say in that difficult conversation—that was all You.”

Gang, heaven’s heart melts when people like us fall to our knees and are quick to give God the credit for His acts of kindness and mercy toward us. Pass the Who Deserves the Credit? Test as often as you get the opportunity. Fall on your knees from time to time.

I think I’ve told you before... and this is just a window into a practice of mine that’s probably... pegging your weird meter when you hear about it. But... I’ve tried to cultivate the practice of gratefulness. Cause I don’t wanna be a whiner or a complainer. I don’t wanna be someone who’s discontent and, you know, half-ticked at God for not doing more, giving me more, something like... I don’t wanna be that guy. I wanna be someone who watches the goodness and kindness of God all around me and when He expresses that into my life, I wanna be quick to pass that Who Deserves the Credit? Test and say, “It was all You!”

So when I’m in private... and I don’t do this in public. I’ll tell you why in a minute. But when I’m in private and aware of a kindness that’s come my way from God’s gracious hand... I often will raise my hands as high as I can, and I’ll say, “God, that was all You! And I want You to see my hands raised because I’m telling You I’m stretched out... it was all You.”

Now, you rarely see me waving my arms in public worship. Cause I’m Dutch and screwed up and stuff. But... and I love to see other people do, I love to see you guys do it. But one time, I was on the other side of the world in a Charismatic worship service. And everybody had their arms up. I mean, it was... there was a lot going on there. And the worship leader said... (and I didn’t. I was just standing there.)

Worship leader said, “There’s a few of you who don’t have your hands in the air.” And I had to speak after this, and I’m like, “Oh, jee,” you know, so. I’m like, “I hate it when someone makes me do something.” And I had my arms... so I’m like, bad attitude, arms in the air. And someone, when I had my eyes closed and could not defend myself, hugged me. And I was like, “OH!” I couldn’t fend that off. So in public worship, I always keep my arms where I can fend... someone off in case they get such a notion in their head.

 

Another thing that I do, in all seriousness. Sometimes, when a major blessing has come my way... I lay flat out on my face with my arms extended on the floor of my study at the house. It helps me... it reminds me, I say, “God, every fiber of my being... is prone before You right now. Giving You the credit for what You just did. And I want You to see how grateful I actually am.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried that before. I turn on worship music. When no one’s around. And I sing with ungodly volume levels. I write thank You notes to God. And then I read them to Him.

But if I don’t cultivate this... practice of gratitude. I can sink into a What’s in It for Me? and How Come God Isn’t Doing More? I can forget who He is and how kind He’s been to me. Well. Just wanna say... Peter passed this test. He comes running back, falls to his knees, and he goes, “That was all You!” And when you learn how to do that and practice that... heaven notices that. And you pass that test. And God just starts pouring additional amounts of favor on your life because He realizes you know who deserves the credit.

Okay. Two more quick tests, and then we’ll be done. Test four is the “Grander Vision Test.” Peter’s still shaking his head in disbelief at all the fish he’s gonna be able to sell at the market very soon. Now I’m gonna paraphrase some of the words of Jesus here a bit, quite liberally, actually. But I imagine this conversation. I’ve studied this text for years. I think Jesus said something like this to Peter:

“Wasn’t that fun, Peter? I mean, really. The catch of a lifetime. Wasn’t that a ball? And now you’re gonna get a huge payout when you take all these fish to market. This is really fun, isn’t it?” And then He says, “You know, there is actually something... believe me on this now, Peter, there’s actually something more fun than a big catch and a big paycheck. It’s partnering with me to bring about transformation in people’s lives and destinies. I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting when I’m telling it to you right now... and I want you to know there’s nothing wrong with a fishing business, Peter. Absolutely nothing wrong. But the people business! Oh, Peter, if you ever got your head around, and your heart around, the thrill of the people business! If you would partner with the Father and partner with my plan... when you see people’s lives changed as God uses you... to spread His love, and so... it’s even more fun and thrilling than a big catch and a big check. It really is.”

So then He says those famous words: “Hey, Peter, would you consider, from here on out, being a fisher of men and women?”

Peter could barely wrap his head around what Jesus was saying that day. But he started catching on as his life went on. And the people business became more central to him increasingly as his life unfolded. And most of you know, later on in his life, the only thing that mattered to Peter was the people business. And Rome, the Roman leadership, said to Peter, “If you continue to proclaim this message publicly, we’re going to kill you.”

And Peter said, “That would be just fine, because nothing can stop me from proclaiming this message that was so transformative to me. And I’m gonna be in the people business until... you take my life from me.”

And most of you know that Peter was martyred for what he did. And it doesn’t say this in Scripture, but in church history and in church tradition it says that when his time to be martyred came around, they said, “We’re gonna execute you via crucifixion.” That was the... preferred fashion in that day. Form of execution, I should say.

And, so, Peter said, “Only one request.” Remember what it was? He said, “Would you crucify me upside down. Because my leader and Redeemer was crucified right side up. And I don’t even deserve to be crucified in the manner that He was. So just flip me upside down, if you will.” And church tradition said that’s how he died.

But, man, Peter saw... he got the grander vision. A vision for people over products. People over profits. People over pleasure. People over fame. He got that right.

Before I mention the fifth and final test... one of my dreams that dates all the way back to the theater days was that someday Willow Creek Church would be filled with people who excelled in their professions. Excelled as teachers and doctors and contractors and accountants and developers and real-estate people and auto mechanics and so. Everybody excelling in their professions, giving God the glory. But beyond that, the dream that I’ve carried all these decades... has been that every Christ follower who calls Willow their home... would also have a Grander Vision. A purpose beyond their mere profession. A purpose that would involve the thrill of the people business. And introducing people to the love of Christ. And helping struggling people grow in their faith and so.

And I... I have carried that with me all these years. And at a Leadership Summit many years ago, I cast what I call the Grander-Vision vision. And there was a guy from Oklahoma who happened to be in the room that day. And we played this, his story at the recent Leadership Summit. But I want all of you to see it now. So please watch this.”

Alright, so before we get started, I just want to make sure I’ve got all this straight. You planted underground churches in China...

You traded wells to free pygmy slaves in the Congo...

And now you’re part of the biggest well project in the world.

And you did all of this out of your small pump shop in Oklahoma.

How did all this happen?

“It’s a long story.”

“My wife, Terri, and I were living pretty conventional lives.”

“We were an ordinary family. Two kids. A dog. A cat.”

“We worked at our water-pump company—Pumps of Oklahoma—for our entire life. We were the experts on water pumps in Oklahoma... We pretty much had it locked in for the next thirty years on what exactly this was gonna look like. Building the company. Have a little bit of extra money. And then just set our lives up for this easy glide path into retirement.”

“One day, one of our customers came into the shop.”

“He said, ‘Well, I just flew in from Taiwan.’

And I said, ‘What were you doing in Taiwan?’

He goes, ‘Well, I was planting churches.’

And in the most sanctimonious voice and tone that I could muster, I said, ‘Well, I’d like to go on a mission trip some time.’ Knowing that I really didn’t wanna go on a mission trip ever.

He said, ‘So, Dick, you have solar-powered pumps. We could go into mainland China, and then we could go plant churches. And we could end up getting water to these people.’

It’s scaring the heck out of me right now, cause I don’t wanna go to China and plant churches. I was just saying that, cause that’s what church people do. Four months later, I’m in Southern China, in a really remote village, we’re able to install two solar pumps where they’ve never had running water. To see what happens when people get clean water. Where little girls can go to school because there actually is sanitation facilities at their school... transforms the whole community.”

“When Dick got back, it was obvious that there was so much need in the world. God had placed us where we were in the kind of business that we were in. We knew that it wasn’t accidental.”

“From that point on, the safe, easy glide path to retirement wasn’t gonna be there... So after one of our trips, we determined that solar pumps were too high tech. We needed to invent a new type of hand pump. And so I thought of my old college roommate, Steve. And I hadn’t talked to him in probably two years. I came in Monday morning, checked my voicemail, and it’s Steve. And he goes, ‘Well, my pump went out in my granite shop.’

And I go, ‘Forget that! I’ve been to China three times. I’ve been to Sierra Leone. I need help inventing a hand pump.’

We met for lunch, and I told him it had to be able to pump water eighty to a hundred feet deep. Be built in country. Less than $100 in cost. And, oh, by the way, I needed it in three months.

And he goes, ‘Yeah, I’ll start tomorrow.’

So Steve finds a drawing from Leonardo da Vinci, from 1498. Couple days later, he finds a patent from England from 1675.  He combines the two drawings. And we end up with the Access 1.2 hand pump, which is the pump that we’re using today. And the cost is $20. At that point, we created a new manual drilling method made in country by the in-country people.”

“We started training and mentoring teams all over the world. If we could help people start their own drilling businesses, their own pump-repair businesses, as soon as they were trained, they would just take it from there and solve the water crisis in their communities.”

“We said yes to every project that we came across. And we just kept seeing God show up in every place. Over the course of ten years now, we’ve gotten water to a million people. We’ve drilled 3,200 wells. We’ve spoken at the United Nations. We’re working on the largest fresh-water project in the world. The 7,000 Well Project. We’ve been to 32 different countries. We have 350 business partners that we work with around the world every single day that get up and start drilling wells so they can feed their family, so they can be the solution to their own villages problems. Quite often, we ask ourselves, how did we get here? It all started just with saying yes to the things that were right in front of us—that are in our everyday life.”

“The only reason it works is because God makes it work. He takes... the little that you have and makes it much.”

You know, that’s Grander-Vision living. It’s a guy who had a profession and heard the Holy Spirit say, “There’ more than the pump business. There’s the people business.” All of you are in professions. And this is one of the most talented congregations on planet Earth. We have so many high-achieving... really excellent professionals all across the Willow family, all of our campuses. And some of you know... you’ve already achieved a certain amount in your profession, but there’s something that aches inside of you for more, and what that more probably is is figuring out your Grander Vision. Your part of the people business.

Now, it’s not my job to figure that out for you. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job. And He’s able. Your job is to partner with the Holy Spirit. Use your chair time, your small-group time, your table time... to say, “God, how do you, how do You want the Grander Vision to look in my life?”

And every person I know who has prayed that prayer consistently over time, the Holy Spirit has revealed a step to take, a step to take, a step to take, and, pretty soon, you understand with clarity what it is. And then you’re living that grander life. And Peter got that. And he lived a life that changed the whole... Middle East. Because of his leadership and planting churches and leading churches and so. And God will use you in some fantastic way, too, you watch.

Alright, final test. And I call this the “Will You Leave It All Behind? Test.” The Will You Leave It All Behind? Test. Luke 5:11 says, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, [and they] left everything and followed Christ.”

So I wanna be real clear about this. Sometimes. This isn’t the normal course of events. But sometimes... in the course of the journey of your walk with God... sometimes, God will ask you to make breathtaking sacrifices. Leave-it-all-behind sacrifices. Sometimes... for some of you... as He did with me in my early twenties. He will say, “Leave your profession.” I left a family business that was lucrative. It was financial suicide. And I knew it. and God was clearly saying, “Leave that behind. I want you to do something else.”

And he doesn’t do that regularly or even for most people. But, sometimes, He tells you to leave a comfortable thing and to move into the discomfort of not knowing exactly how He’s going to use you, but He says, “Trust me.” Sometimes... it’s not the normal agenda or program for everybody, but sometimes, God will say, “Leave your country... cause I need you in an under-resourced country somewhere around the world. And I need you to plant roots there and live there and do something for Me over there.” Sometimes He does that.

Sometimes, He’ll tell a college kid, “Take a semester off, and go work for an NGO. Just a year of sacrifice, or a half-a-year of sacrifice.” Sometimes God—and I’ve heard this all over our church—sometimes God will say, you know, “This family vacation that’s coming up? I know you wanna go to where it’s warm, I know you wanna lay on a beach. This family vacation, I’m gonna ask you to sacrifice your family vacation on the beach and work in a refugee camp for ten days. Take the kids. Live in a terrible hotel. And expose yourself to terrible suffering that’s going on that you would normally try to shield your eyes from—and shield your kids’ eyes from.”

And I hear about this happening more and more around Willow. Where families will come back from those kinds of vacations, and they’ll say, “Curiously, it was the most memorable family vacation of our lives. We talked more. We prayed more. We came back... different than when we left.”

For reasons I don’t completely understand... from time to time, God asks us to sacrifice something very near and dear to us because He’s trying to purify us. He’s trying to tweak something in us. He’s trying to say, “I can’t use you how I would like to use you until you pass this sacrifice test.” And every time God’s asked me to do it, I get as frightened as I did the previous time. And every time I pass this sacrifice test, I come out the other side really grateful that I obeyed and went through the sacrifice. And, inevitably, I feel more useful on the other side.

So... I don’t know what that is for you. I have no idea. But if the time should come when God would ask you to leave something very important behind so that you can do something He wants you to do instead, I would just ask you to do what Peter did. Pass that test, too. And I, on the authority of Scripture, can almost guarantee that what lies on the other side of that sacrifice is gonna be so much better than you could ever imagine.

Alright, now, we’re out of time, and that Promiseland volunteer is in my head and... you know, she might be packing heat today. So, would you stand now as we close? And what I’d like to ask you as we’re closing up here... which of these tests did you need most to hear about today? Just scroll down them real quick. And some of you go, “Oh man, I used to have a Bias for Action with my faith. I used to be... ready to go! God said for me to go, I’d jump into the fray.”

And here you are now just kind of... couching out. You’re passive now. You’re a spectator. Other people are in the game and... not you. This is a very important test to pass no matter what age, what stage of life you’re in. We need to be people who have a Bias for Action to whatever God asks us to do.

The Obedience Test. If you’re vacillating... one path of disobedience leads... to sadness. Train wrecks. The other... leads to a place of blessing and favor. Your call.

This Who Deserves the Credit? Test. Whew. Please, gang... grow in the practice of gratitude. Learn how to say, “This is all You, God. All You.” Because when God knows that you will respond to His blessings that way... He’s got a truckload of those things all ready to bestow on you. If you’ll acknowledge that He’s the Provider. He’s the one who blesses. When He sees the humility—you laying flat out on the floor just going, “I’m so grateful, God.”

He goes, “I’ll... I can bless that person. They’re not gonna get big headed. Not gonna get a big ego. They’re gonna return all of this and...”

Grander-Vision Test. Please don’t get to the end of your life and say, “I excelled at my profession. Never got involved in the people business.” Don’t just be a fisherman. Be fishers of men and women alongside with excelling at your profession.

And then, when He asks for the big sacrifice... and I don’t know what that would be, I have no idea, I’m not... you know, snooping around in any way. But... trust our good, good Father. Say, “If You ask me to sacrifice something, You have Your reasons. And something in me probably has to be changed and purified. I trust You with that, God.” On the other side of that sacrifice, God has something awesome waiting for you. You watch.

This series in Luke is gonna be amazing. And I hope you’ll be all in to every installment of it. And that you’ll get these materials as they come out next week. And you’ll use the chair time, table time, small-group time. You watch what God’ll do.

Now, God, we are so grateful for this guy named Luke who was a doctor. Who excelled at his profession in the medical field. And who used his writing skills to try to urge everyone to see Jesus clearer. And to understand a Grander Vision. God, we wanna be people who pass these five tests every day so that You can use us fully for Your glory. So work strongly in our church these next weeks and months. We pray for Christ’s sake. Everyone agreed and said? Amen. Blessings, everybody. 

Cultivate Self-Control

(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s “Cultivate Self-Control” message, our final part of the Cultivate series. The video is also available to you here.)

I’m so excited that you all are here today. We are going to continue in our Cultivate series. And we’re gonna look at this word, this concept, this idea called self-control.

Now, do you remember learning about self-control when you were a kid?

You’re sitting in the back seat. Your parents are driving, a little bit on a road trip. And you’re sitting there, and you’re trying your very best to keep your hands to yourself. But there’s a sibling right beside you. Just... you were given these hands. And they are in exact striking distance. And so you sit there and you wait. And then, all of a sudden, you just can’t hold it, and so you just slap ‘em. And they sit there like, “Ow! Why’d you do that!?”

But it’s not loud enough to get the parents to turn their backs to you. And so... you wait. Eight seconds more. Nine seconds more. Ten seconds more. You’re showing some good restraint. When, all of a sudden, you’re like, I gotta do it again. BAM! Just a little bit harder. Then, all of a sudden, they scream, and then the parents turn, and they say, “What are you doing? Knock that off. Learn some self-control.”

Right? You remember being in school. Some of you were really, really good. You never did anything inappropriate in class. But others of you... you talked. Constantly. Or you got up from class. And you just started walking around the classroom. And the teacher would say, “Hey, hey. You gotta learn self-control.”

And what self-control was that we had to learn as a kid was simply learning how to master all of the urges that were happening within you.

And it comes from a very prevalent Greek concept. And what I want to do today is I wanna break down how the Greeks and Romans understood the concept of self-control, and how that differs from what the Bible teaches us about self-control.

So let’s first jump to the word self-control; it’s the same word that’s used in the Scriptures. But this word in Greek is egkrateia. Now, it’s a word that is in conflict, because it’s two words coming together. The first word you see is krat—it’s where we get like the concept of like great or powerful or master, lordship. And then this “e-g,” it’s short for “self” or short for “ego.”

And the battle is which one is going to win? Will the self be mastered? Will the self come under control? Or will it refuse it and resist it?

And there were two primary philosophies in the Greek day. During Paul’s time. These two philosophies really unpacked what they believed this word meant. How they interact. Because the Greeks believe if you had self-control, you would be successful. To the Greek mindset, there was no virtue greater than egkrateia. And every student, every teenager, every mother, every father, every person, what they tried to do was master this. Cause they wanted to be successful.

And there was these two groups of people. The stoics—it’s the one first like philosophical group of people. And a stoic was an interesting type of person because they didn’t have any feelings. They had no emotions. They had ‘em; they just suppressed them. They didn’t believe that they were important. They thought if you actually lean into feelings or desires, it would lead you down a wrong path.

And so the stoics actually became the kind of people who just stuffed everything. They didn’t show emotion. They didn’t cry. They didn’t grieve. They didn’t mourn. There was no sense of sadness. Whenever they were... saw something lustful, they didn’t even lean into it. They almost dismissed any part of their physical and emotional parts of their body because they thought if you lean into it, it’s gonna take you down a wrong path.

Truth be told, stoics, they were moralists. What I mean by that is they did good things. And their attempt to do good things was for the benefit of being considered good. They believed that they were successful or had the right position or achieved the right amount of money or resources, they would be considered okay.

They lived their life with the whole thought like, “I gotta pull myself up by my bootstraps. It’s on me.”

And the stoics, they was a highly successful people in their day. But, you know what? They didn’t understand grace. Cause everything was in what they did. Their whole identity was on their work. And the stoics found themselves defining the concept of self-control as this:

The self controlling the self.

And, really, when you think about that little, simple definition—self controls self—who is in control? Who has all the power? Who is leading and driving the show? It’s me. It’s the self.

And so they constantly kept thinking, I’m in charge. It’s all on me. I gotta make it happen.

Now, these stoics, there was a group on the other side who just made fun of them. Most of the kids from stoic families became epicurean. And epicurean were like, “Uh, you don’t feel? You don’t lean into your desires? How fun is that? I wanna feel. I wanna experience. I wanna taste everything. I don’t wanna be controlled. If I’m in control, I wanna set myself free so that I can taste and experience.”

And truth be told, they loved alcohol. They loved sex. They did whatever they wanted to do. They were driven by their lust and by their desires.

Now, what’s amazing is this whole side dismissed it and suppressed it. This side was quite animalistic. They just went after whatever their desires wanted. And they defined self-control as the self unbridling the self. The self freeing up the self to do whatever it wants. Because if we’re in control, do it all. But they didn’t understand that this kind of life would leave to enslavement. To being found stuck, maybe in a destructive pattern of alcoholism or debauchery or pain and brokenness.

And when you look at these two types of people... it’s not just back then, is it? Aren’t there people that you know who suppress all their feelings? Who, in many ways, they’re just socially acceptable addicts. They just work harder and are more driven. But they never actually lean into the pain and brokenness. And, really, if you push them hard enough, they will say, “It’s all on me.”

And then we probably all know someone in our family or in our friendship circle... who found themselves just running after whatever they can taste, ingest, or put in their body to escape the present. And you look at this, Jesus actually interacted with this concept. In the book of Luke, He tells a story about a father who has two sons, and the one son, the younger son, comes up to him and goes, “Give me my share of the inheritance.” Basically tells the father: “You’re dead to me.”

So the father gives him the money. And he goes off to some Gentile country, the Scripture says, and spends it on wild living. He lives the epicurean way. And he finds himself just absolutely broken. He starts rehearsing the plot, the script, what he’s gonna say to his dad, cause he doesn’t understand grace. He thinks, ah, I messed up. There’s no way he’s gonna accept me.

Well, the father does accept him and says, “Let’s throw a massive party.” But the stoic brother, the older sibling, he’s done everything right. He’s been good. And when he sees what grace does, he can’t take it. And he leaves the party. And he’s so irritated and so frustrated, he doesn’t want anybody to see it, but it’s starting to bubble up, and he can’t manage it, so he gets outside. And he finds himself standing there when the father goes, “Don’t you understand... this is what grace is? This is what grace does.”

And the older brother’s like, “That’s not right. That’s not okay. He does not deserve this. I’ve done good, and you’ve never given me anything.”

Just... quick time out. Which one of these are you? Do you have a tendency to suppress and disconnect from your feelings or your pain, to not lean in? Or do you have a tendency to escape it and just run to something else so that you don’t have to deal with it? Self controls self. Self unbridles self. But those two are not the biblical definition of self-control.

Here’s what Paul means. If you have a Bible, you can turn with me to Galatians chapter 5. Verse 22. It says this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Remember, the Greeks said this was the number one virtue. Paul says, “No, it’s number... it’s the last one. It’s the ninth virtue.”

Against such things there is no law.

Verse 24:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

So here’s what Paul’s getting at. In every one of us, we have this flesh. And this word flesh is a little bit tricky to understand. But let me try and break it down. The concept of flesh means that, inherently within us all, there is this nature... to sin. There is something inside of us that is bent on choosing something other than God’s best. And sometimes, it’s socially acceptable things, and oftentimes, it’s not. But there’s something inside of us that bends us to lust. To envy. To greed. To anger. To slander. To gossip. To rage.

And this sinful nature, when we’re provoked, we find ourselves bending towards it. And Paul’s saying, “No, no, no. Do you know what has happened for those who belong to Christ Jesus? You know what they’ve done? They have the self-control, and what they’ve done is they have surrendered those passions, those desires, and they’ve actually crucified them to the cross.”

And when Paul’s talking about self-control, he’s not talking about the self controlling self, or the self unbridling the self to go do whatever it wants. What Paul is saying is the self surrendering to Christ. Surrendering all of those passions and all of those desires, anything in which we could be bent this way or that way, that takes us off from the life that God has destined for us.

Friends, I just have to ask you. Which one are you? How do you define self-control? Is it simply you just trying to control on your own... those urges within you? I just gotta do it in my own strength. That’s the stoic way. It’s not biblical. Or is it more like, you know what? Self-control to me is, you know, I’ve got freedom. I can do whatever I want. That’s epicurean way. It leads to destruction. That’s not the biblical way.

Or... do you have such a profound understanding of grace, of Jesus... that you can be honest and human with your passions, with your desires, with that part of you that wants to bend away from God—are you able to surrender that to Christ?

And truth is, I know a lot of people will say, “Yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s what I want.” But most people don’t know how to do it. And what I want to spend the remaining time is how do we live this out? How do we have this biblical understanding of self-control? How can we apply it to our life? And so I wanna take you back to the ancient Near East.

I was in my chair time, and I was reading, and I came across the book of Proverbs. I love it, because it’s leadership axioms for today. It was written by King Solomon who, at the time, was the wisest person who had ever lived. And when you read it, it’s like verse by verse, it’s pure gold, even for right now.

I was reading, and I came across Proverbs 25:28, and it just simply said this:

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.

Now, you have to think about this. A city wanted to protect itself. And Solomon says, “Man, when there’s holes... all of a sudden, enemy can get in. And they can rob the kids of their innocence; there are things that can be taken. It could be quite destructive.” And he goes... and he makes this connection to self-control. And, all of a sudden, as I read this—I don’t know if this happens with you, but when you’re in your chair time and you’re reading, God might whisper something to you. And you know what was whispered to me? The story of Nehemiah.

And remembering Nehemiah... the book before it was Ezra, and there was a whole bunch of exiles who were freed to return back to Jerusalem so that they could rebuild the temple. And they rebuild this beautiful temple. But Nehemiah shows up, in chapter 1, verse 3, and he says this:

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

Then verse 4:

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah shows up, and he sees this beautiful temple. Where the presence of the Spirit and the living God is. And he goes, “It’s just sitting out there to be taken.” And he looks at the wall, and he sees there’s all these holes in the wall, and he goes, “I know; I’ve heard the stories of how the temple had been ransacked... how it had been destroyed. We can’t have this happen.”

So, in chapter 2, early in the morning, late at night, he ends up taking a team, and they go and inspect the outer perimeter of the city. And he begins to go, “Oh, man, we gotta do something.” And hear’s this whisper from God. And he ends up saying, “We’re gonna rebuild this. We’re gonna protect this temple at all costs.”

And then I started to get curious. I don’t know if this happens with you when you’re reading the Scriptures, but I had my laptop right there. And I just said, “What does Nehemiah’s name mean in Hebrew?”

Just googled it up. And it said, “Comforter.” I thought, oh, that’s interesting. So I kinda just went and just trying to back-check and see if it was true. It was true. And then, all of a sudden, I started to think, that’s interesting. When Jesus says that He’s gonna leave, He says that this great Advocate’s gonna come. This great Counselor. And the word that He uses to describe the Holy Spirit is this Great Comforter. Comforter.

All of a sudden, I started seeing this. And then God’s like, “Oh, oh, oh, oh—think about this. What is your body?” I started to think about this and... the book of Corinthians, Paul says that our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. And I think about Nehemiah when he walked around the city, and he saw that the temple was open to the potential danger, and he wept. He cried. He got on his knees. He mourned. He fasted and said, “I gotta do something about it.”

And I wonder, if we really believe that our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit, how protected is that temple? How protected is your temple from the devil coming in and trying to choke out the Spirit that’s within you? And it was like one of those moments where you just kind of step away from the desk, and you’re like, Oh, my...

I used to be this film major before I kinda switched my major, went into pastoral studies and biblical studies. And one of the reasons I made this switch is because different people started to kind of see a teaching gift, and they started to give me opportunities.

The second sermon I ever gave, I was still a film major; a youth ministry said, “Hey, we need a Sunday teacher, would you, would you mind coming to teach?”

I said, “Sure. Is there anything that you want me to teach on?”

“Anything that you want.”

I was like, “Awesome. I’m going to teach on The Godfather.”

So I was studying it in class. I thought it was amazing. So I show up and I’ve got like this... VHS player—remember those?—and this TV; it was connected. I put it in. And I show this scene from The Godfather. Where the house just gets shot up. Right? And, like, Al Pacino’s sleeping with his wife and his kid, and the house just gets shot up, right? And so I’m like, oh, man, yeah. And so then I start talking, as I’m hitting the fast-forward button. It was like... and I’m talking over it. And all the kids are like, “This is so weird.” And it’s just going, going, going. And then I stop it at this other part. When, all of a sudden, Al Pacino—if you remember in seeing this movie—he walks up to the guy who he suspects has done this, and he goes, “In my house!? In my house, where my wife sleeps, where my kid is!? In my ho-” And he just keeps saying this, over and over.

And so I go, “Maybe God is like Al Pacino. Your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit. And do you ever think that God is going up to you going, ‘In my house!?’” And I just start screaming this over and over: “In my house!?”

Now... I’m like looking down, a girl’s like, “I’ve never seen violence before!” You know? And I’m... terrible sermon idea. But a little bit of truth. Little bit of truth. But I have this moment where I wonder, like, does God ever just go, “Man, in my house!?” And I don’t know if we think about protecting the temple. Because, you know, you don’t do this very often, but when you read through the Scriptures, you gotta understand that there is an enemy that is trying to get into your life. That is trying to strangle your soul. That is trying to bend your will so that you will choose anything but God.

There is this devil that does not want your marriage to thrive. Does not want you to live true to who you were created to be.

And I don’t think we think about the perimeter. And when I read that passage about Nehemiah, I just started to visualize the city of Jerusalem. And I started to think about that temple. And then I thought, man, we are a temple. Our bodies are a temple. And then, around this perimeter, there are holes in our wall. And maybe, for some of you, your hole in your wall has to do with lust. And it’s nothing that you’ve ever addressed.

Someone comes into your purview, and you find yourself just staring. And it’s not just admiring beauty, but it just becomes these thoughts. And leads you to go home and, and you end up, maybe, just getting on a computer. And, all of a sudden, the devil is looking for a foothold to get in, to get at your heart, to bend your will.

For some of you, it’s more socially acceptable. It’s just perfectionism. Just gotta be perfect, right? The stoic side of you. I just gotta be perfect. Everything will be okay if I’m just better than okay. I gotta work harder, and I gotta be better, and if I’m better than the last time, then, ahhh, job security. And job security means I got a title. And if I got a title, then it means I got friends. And if I got friends, then it means I got status. And if I got status, that means, ahhh, I’m okay.

And the devil’s like, “No you’re not. It always can be better.” And, all of a sudden, he just comes at you. And so you just keep working. And working.

Maybe for some of you, it’s anger. And the devil’s like, “I’m just gonna keep sending people to cut you off cause you lose it. And it’s awesome. And every time you lose it, ohhhh. You feel bad. Then shame comes in. And then you find yourself dealing with the shame. And, all of a sudden, I win.”

 

Maybe for some of you, it’s money. You don’t have a budget. Everything’s maxed out. Stressed out. And the devil’s like, “Oh, yes. Just gonna stress you out. I’m gonna break something in your house. I don’t know—just, something’s gonna go out. I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna get after your heart. And, all of a sudden, watch you just crumble.”

Maybe for some of you it’s about relationships. You find yourself just having codependent kind of tendencies. You’re like, “I just gotta, I gotta have those people.” And, all of a sudden, you just find yourself, and it’s like a foothold, and the devil just keeps taking your identity.

Maybe it has to do with other relationships that are just not helpful. Maybe... I don’t know. Maybe you’re looking at this going, “That’s not me.” Then I’ll just say, well, maybe you’ve got pride. See what I did there? It’s good. And the devil’s like, “Got you! I’m just gonna rob you.”

The problem is I think we all look at this and go, “It makes sense.” And I think, in our day, I don’t think we take our bodies as seriously as God does. I don’t think we take what we ingest, what we put in, as serious as God does. And I don’t think we protect our temples the way that the Scriptures tell us to. And here’s the interesting piece. If this is you. You come from a story and generations of people. Who all were bent and chose to actually do things that were tempted in ways.

For me, I came from an Irish-Catholic side. And they loved anger and alcohol. And I think if I don’t, if I’m not aware of that, then the devil’s like, “Just gonna provoke you, just gonna try and set you off, and just gonna take you down.”

And wisdom would say, “Be aware of that hole in your story. Because you do not want the devil to have a foothold.” I’m asking you, do you know the holes in your story? Do you know the areas where the devil can just tempt you and time and time and time again, you take the bait? And I think what you have to believe is, no, this isn’t what God wants for us.

The stoics are just gonna say, “I can manage it all on my own.”

The epicureans are like, “Let’s just have more holes. Let’s just keep having more fun.”

But the way of Jesus is the way of grace.

What I want you to do, is I want us to unpack this from a viewpoint of grace. And then I wanna give you some handles of how you can actually live a life that cultivates self-control.

We’re gonna go to the book of Titus. Which, I know all of you were there this morning. But chapter 2. Verse 11 says this: 

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.

The grace of God. This is all grace. Every breath we take. It’s grace. And it offers salvation to all of the stoics in the room. And all of the epicureans. God welcomes everyone. It says, “Offers salvation to” every single person. Verse 12:

It teaches us...

This is what grace of God does:

It teaches us to say, “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.

To say no to those moments when we feel bended to try and do something than live from grace. It teaches us...

...to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what’s good.  

Friends, this is all about grace. I’m not asking you to stuff it. I’m not asking you to just try and minimize the things that are happening in your life. And I’m not just asking you to allow your desires to run wild. I’m asking you to receive grace.

And when you understand grace, and you understand that your body, your life, is a temple, and you understand that God wants to actually protect this temple, then it forces you to go, “How am I gonna do this?”

Which leads us to the fact that we can live our lives not as a stoic or epicurean, but we can cultivate self-control by, one, choosing the way of grace. Every day. In every moment of every day. Not be driven to stuff. Not be driven to escape. But be driven to receive grace time and time again.

And then, number two, you gotta take an honest assessment of the holes in your wall. You have to take an honest assessment, in your story, your family background, your own choices that you’ve made, the ways that the devil has tried to tempt you—you’ve got to take an honest assessment to go, “Where am I susceptible to temptation?”

And, sometimes, I’m just gonna say it, Genesis 3, the devil’s crafty. He’s just sneaky.

Yesterday morning, I was up 4ish. I got changed. I came here. Was studying. 8 a.m., went home. Picked up my son. We went to the soccer game. We won. And then... went home. Changed. Drove to that small-group-leader retreat. Did this interview. Left right out of that. Came here. Changed my clothes. Put on a suit. Officiated a wedding. After the wedding, changed my clothes, put on black, got up on stage, taught God’s Scriptures... ran off the stage. Drove straight back to the small-group retreat to lead a prayer time. For about two hours. And then left that and drove straight to a going-away party for a dear friend.

And I was telling my wife my schedule the day before yesterday. And she looked at me, and she goes, “Is there a reason why you’re doing so much?”

And I was like, “Get behind me, satan!”

Um...

Well, she’s asking, she’s asking an honest question. She’s asking, “Is there more to the story? Have you taken an honest assessment of the holes...?”

And, truth be told, my family is... someone that’s really near and dear to me in my family, his health isn’t doing very well. And so, for me, I’d rather not engage with that pain. I’d rather keep myself busy. And what my wife was leaning into was just, “Do you see how this situation, how the devil just can use this, and put opportunities, and you can just keep yourself busy, and it’s socially acceptable, but you’re missing out on experiencing the grace and the presence and the peace of Christ in the moment?”

And what you have to understand is all of us do this.

And maybe for some of you right now, you’re going through a really difficult time. But I’m asking you, where is the devil trying to bend your will? Is it towards the bottle—pills or alcohol?

Is it towards just food and then sitting on the couch and just eating? Or watching Netflix—an entire season in one night? Is it towards just taking your credit card and going straight to the mall and just saying, “I just gotta buy something.” And to not sit in it, and the devil’s like, “Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.” And then the shame comes on. And the feelings come on. And you’re just like, ahhh. And you look at the temple, and you’re like, “Ugh, I did it again.”

And the healthiest thing is when you choose grace and then you take an honest assessment of your story and you’re like, I’m susceptible here, and I’m susceptible here, and I’m susceptible here. And then, once you’ve named the places where you have honestly said, “I am susceptible,” you go to this: “I gotta invite the Comforter to rebuild.” And who’s that Comforter? It’s the Holy Spirit.

Every one of the Fruit of the Spirit, you know what it’s trying to do? It’s trying to make you holy. And you know what holiness is? It’s setting you apart. All of those nine virtues coming into those areas of your story and of brokenness, trying to redeem and restore. You choose the way of grace. Honest assessment of the holes. Inviting the Comforter to come rebuild. And then, fourth, and it’s so important...

Number four. You must have a vision for the eternal that is profoundly greater than the urges of the moment. Because you’re gonna have urges in the moment. To say things. To do things. To buy things. To experience things. And if you do not have a vision of the eternal, the urges of the moment, the desires and the passions of right now, will probably, most likely, win out every time.

And the healthiest Christ followers I know are people who are able to say, “I have this vision of eternity. What really matters. And it’s loving God, and it’s loving my neighbor. And it’s loving God, and it’s loving others. And it’s loving God, and it’s about loving people.”

And when you begin to live with that mindset then, all of a sudden, all of the urges that come, you begin to put it into that line and go, “Is this grace? Is this like loving God? Is this loving my neighbor? Or is this just trying to escape?”

And you’re gonna have moments where you are gonna choose urges. And when you choose that, can I just tell you, go back to the way of grace. Then go to the assessment. Invite the Comforter. And remember the vision for the eternal.

This is the way of you surrendering before Christ and you actually living a biblical view of self-control.

Let me just ask you right now. Are you living like a stoic? And if that’s you, you’re doing good stuff. But can I just tell you, grace is so much better than good stuff.

Maybe for some of you in this room, you’re living like an epicurean. And everything’s about escaping and experiencing and experimenting and trying and letting your desires fuel you. And I’m just gonna tell you, grace is better. Grace is always better. And when you choose the way of grace, you can look at your life with an honesty going, “I need more grace. I need a Savior.” And you can surrender to the One who is willing to give Himself on your behalf so that you could be made right for all of eternity.

And I want that for you. I can’t stand the devil. I can’t stand sin. I can’t stand brokenness. But you know what I want more desperately? I want the church to be the kind of people who know themselves and know where they’re susceptible and say, “You know what? I see it. And I’m not gonna allow myself to go to those places. I’m gonna live the posture of surrender. And I’m gonna trust the Scriptures. Trust the Spirit. Trust what Jesus says. Trust what the apostles have said. And I’m gonna live into that. And I’m gonna trust that, in that, God is gonna do something that cultivates the best kind of fruit.”

And the people who do this... they have love. They have joy. They have peace. They have patience. They have kindness. They have goodness. They have gentleness. They have faithfulness. And they have self-control. But without self-control, I don’t know if you can get those other ones.

So how are you surrendering to grace?

It begins there, friends. And if you can do that, I think God will cultivate something so beautiful in you. So profound that, when people see it, when people experience it, when people taste it, they’re gonna wanna know more. And it’s in that you’re gonna be able to tell them about what grace really is. And in that... I think people’s lives will be changed.

But it begins with you choosing grace. Amen? Amen.