The last several months have been extremely painful for our church. Allegations against our founding pastor led to his early retirement in April, And in the last ten days our lead pastor, teaching pastor, and our entire elder board has resigned.
Our family has been a part of this church for twenty years. We have raised our children here. We have embraced and have been embraced by a loving community here. We have found help and support in our times of need, engaged in thriving ministry, and have felt incredibly blessed to be a part of God's work at and through Willow Creek Community Church.
And yet...it has become increasingly clear there are some gaps between what we believed to be true about our church and our pastor and some of our leaders and what has actually been true.
Over the years, thousands of us "Creekers" have done and continue to do the hard work of processing our grief, recovering from our addictions, and reconciling our broken relationships.
We have been taught to own our brokenness, to lead out of our brokenness,
to come to Jesus and come clean and keep coming week after week.
It is incredibly disheartening to learn some of our top leaders did not choose to walk those same paths of vulnerability, authenticity, accountability, and integrity.
And yet...I have hope. Many of us who are left are realizing God is not done with our church.
Our new interim pastor is stepping into a colossal mess, leading us through a dark night, pointing us all to the only one who can redeem this brokenness -- Jesus.
But we must first acknowledge our mess. We must begin with acknowledging
the gaps that exist in our church, in our families, and in each of our lives.
We must own the gap between the way things ought to be and the way they really are,
between who we want to be and who we presently are.
After we were married, Bernie and I lived in London for a couple of months.
"Mind the gap" is a famous phrase used at the London Underground.
It is an audio or visual warning alerting people who use the subway to be wary of the gap
between the train and the platform so they don't trip and hurt themselves or someone else.
It is a constant reminder to pay attention to the gap.
Be aware of the gap. Don't ignore the gap.
The health and life of our churches and our families
and our personal faith walks have everything to do with how we handle these gaps.
If we deny the discrepancies, if we cover up our sin and try to hide our brokenness, we will reap a harvest of destruction. This is playing out before our very eyes. But if we are willing to learn and grow, to live authentically in a trusted, caring community and be honest about our junk, to repent and surrender, we will find freedom. But freedom does not come easily. It demands we each do the hard work of "walking in the light as he is in the light" and calls for an all-out,
radical commitment to the process of transformation by God’s grace.
There is a family I love, a family who means the world to me and my family, who has been struggling for a long time. We just happened to be with them not long ago when the wheels came off. They didn't choose that moment when we were with them; they simply could not bear the crushing weight of their burden and pain one second longer. We surrounded them with grace and believed for them that God would make a way. They are making some right, hard choices. They are choosing to be honest about their brokenness. They are choosing to be vulnerable and not pretend things are OK when they are so obviously not.
They are choosing not to hide their mess, but rather to lift it up to God in the presence of safe, loving brothers and sisters in Christ and cry out for healing. And healing is coming.
God is making a way for them through this storm. I have hope for this family I love,
because God is a God who heals. It's who He is. He makes all things new.
I believe this and know it to be true because He has done it in my family and in my marriage and in my life. He has done it through Willow Creek Community Church over the last twenty years.
"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness,
we lie and do not live out the truth.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
(1 John 1:5-7 NIV)
As for Willow, I am choosing to stay. I have hope for this family I love,
that as we do the holy work of acknowledging our mess,
as we fix our eyes on Jesus, as we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we will be healed. Our good God will make all things new.
Categories: willow creek community church, grace, healing, brokenness, walking in the light, faith, mind the gap, authentic faith, vulnerability, 1 John 1:5, family, church, healthy family, healthy church, repentance, accountabilty, integrity, authenticity, community, redemption, legacy, forgiveness, mercy
Recently my husband overheard me talking to my friend on the phone, and he laughed out loud when I told her I was feeling anxious about an upcoming talk I am giving at an event. He laughed because after confessing my fear I told her the theme for the evening: "Be Not Afraid."
It made me laugh too. It's a funny irony that I feel scared to talk about fear. What is not funny, however, is the fact that fear has been a companion of mine for most of my life. And I know I'm not alone.
We struggle with general anxieties, phobias, catastrophic thinking (I'm especially gifted at this one), fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of the future. We fear change, and sometimes we fear that things will never change.
Fear is that voice that is always asking, "What if..."
And for all of our fears, the Bible says there is one answer. There is one force that is stronger than all our fears, and its presence is so powerful, it chases fear away.
1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."
In other words, when love moves in, fear moves out. The two are opposing forces and incompatible roommates.
Clearly, he is not talking about human love. The text says "perfect love." Human love can be wonderful, beautiful, and tender. But perfect? No way. God's love is the only love that is perfect. His love is unchanging, never-failing, limitless, unconditional, and primary. He loved us before we could do anything worthy of being loved, before we could earn it or deserve it.
I love the apostle Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:16-19:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..."
His love for you and for me is boundless, without limits, and beyond what we can grasp. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to even begin to comprehend the length and depth and expanse of his love for us. The Message says it like this:
"And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God."
When love moves in, fear moves out.
So the question for each of us is this: What is keeping me from trusting, receiving, and living securely in this love?
Is it shame? Bad theology? A jaded perception of love because we have been hurt? Sometimes we see God's love through the lens of our circumstances. If God really loved me, he wouldn't have allowed ___________ to happen. If God loves me, he will ________, or he won't allow _____________. We make his love conditional based on our flawed human experiences, and fear moves in and takes up residence in our hearts. Fear whispers to us that we will be rejected and find ourselves alone. It tells us that we will not be loved if we fail.
But God says:
"Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
"Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Prayer is my word for 2018. And this prayer from Ephesians is working its way into my mind and my heart, into my dreams and my waking moments. I am practicing the discipline, when I feel afraid, of stopping and asking myself a couple of questions: Where do I need God's love to displace my fear? What is keeping me from being rooted and established in his love?
May the perfect love of God fill our hearts and drive away all our fears. May we grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for us. And may we live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
Where do you need God's perfect love to displace your fear?