(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.)
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...