Month: January 2015

My Sunday Failure

Slow-Cooked-Chuck-Roast-Vegetables-Cooked-for-8-Hours

Each Sunday morning we chase 6 kids through the house, praying that we can somehow get all of the kids clean, dressed and ready for church in time for service.  We of course run into many obstacles such as babies pooping at the last minute, missing shoes, no clean pants, AWAL Bibles (how do you misplace something you use daily?), and any number of other issues.  If we are lucky, we can make it out of the door without having to threaten bodily harm to at least one of the children.  If it is a normal Sunday, we simply make sure everyone has their church face firmly intact before we make it to the church.  We can’t let people see how crazy we really are.

In our wakes we leave a house that looks like an explosion went off in it, dogs wondering what the heck just happened, and a poor fish that questions why God put him in a family of 8, where not a single person has the mental ability to remember to feed it.  If we ever went missing on a Sunday morning and the police were called they would expect foul play based on the fact that there was an obvious struggle in the house, and the residents left extremely quickly.

When we arrive at church we make small talk with the greeters (almost all of whom we know and love), we run what feels like miles between rooms dropping of kids on what seems like every continent before we rush into the Sunday school with moments to spare, and collapse into our seats.  If we are lucky we say hello to a few of our many church friends, or at least wave to them as we rush down the halls.  We enjoy a service with our wonderful small group and then catch up with the families of our church on our way to the sanctuary.

As service begins we continue to greet our many friends and enjoy a nice service of worshipping our Creator and Savior among people we love so much.  We sit under the convicting teaching of a pastor deeply in love with the Word of God, and we are feed and watered from the Word.  The whirlwind morning in getting here is beyond worth it.  We love this place

As the service ends we rush back to the 4 corners of the earth to pick up our children and try to find a way to exit the building before the 3 hours of built up energy of the children is released all over the church building.  We know if we don’t get out quickly the foyer will become the playground, and nobody wins then…

Our event ends as we walk into the mess that we left behind and work to pick up the pieces of our insane morning, while digging through the cupboards to determine if we are going to have our usual Sunday sandwiches, or if a magical fairy has went to Wal-Mart for us and brought something else to eat.

Sunday is an insane, wonderful day of the week, and no matter how crazy it gets, I look forward to it.

Recently I have been convicted that I am missing a key part of my Sunday morning.  Each week God brings half dozen or more families into our church that have never been there before.  Many others come who have visited previously, but have no real connection to the church.  They are simply strangers passing through.

Having been a member of this church for a decade I should easily notice when a face appears that I do not know, but I never look long enough to see.  I am so focused on my agenda to greet those familiar, I look past those who may be scratching their heads wondering which way to go inside the mob of humanity.  I miss seeing those who are looking for a familiar, or friendly face in the crowd.

Today I commit myself to the task of working to restructure my Sunday morning routine.  I comit to finding a way to have a Sunday morning where crazy is not the norm.  One where we leave the house looking as it should, and we walk into the doors fresh and ready to greet each other.  A routine where I spend time, while seeing my church family, to look for those who may be new.

I also commit to finding a way to bring back the most forgotten and neglected part of the church.  Hospitality.

Having preached and visited many churches over the years, I know the power held in that one simple question, “Would you like to come over for lunch after the service?”  I know that this warm, welcoming question opens the door to a great deal of ministry and friendship.  I know that should a seeker find our church, a simple warm, home cooked crock pot meal might mean the world.

Today I commit to bring back the notion that we as a church should warmly welcome new faces into the fold, and make them feel as ‘at home’ as possible.  I will find a way, even with 6 kids, to create a Sunday morning environment where that is possible.

Will you join me?

I know how often I fail.  I know how crazy life gets, and I know that my best intentions don’t always pan out.  I also know, that the simple act of inviting guests home for lunch could have eternal ramifications.

Would you join me on this quest?

If you see a lost face in the crowd this Sunday, or if you see a family that you have never met before.  Before you shake hands, and offer a hug to those who you know, reach out to the new family.  Make sure they know where they are going.  Show them where the secret coffee pot is at.  And maybe, if your house doesn’t look like a war between GI Joe and Barbie was waged in the living room, you could invite them home for lunch.

It is amazing the impact that such a small gesture can have.

Our first visit to Antioch was on November 21, 2004.  We were searching for a church family, and a place to worship God, but we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for.  We just knew we would know when we found it.  We were greeted at the door my David Moerer, who then introduced us to his wife Karen.  They helped us make sure that we dropped our children off in the correct places, and invited us to join them in worship.  They made us feel at home.

10+ years later this is still our home, and we are forever grateful for such a warm welcome that cold November morning.  It is time I start showing others that same hospitality.

Abusing Grace

This morning on my way to work I noticed a police car sitting alongside the road.  In a moment of panic I looked down at my odometer sure that I must be speeding and was going to find myself on the receiving end of a ticket.  I was relieved to see I was only doing 43. I was safe from the long arm of the law, although I still watched out of the rearview mirror half expecting him to come get me anyways.  I was not yet 100% certain that 43 was an appropriate speed for that section of road.  A quarter mile further along I saw a sign that confirmed that all was well.  The posted speed limit was 40 mph.  I was perfectly legal.

speed-limit-40-wallpapers_818_1280x960

As I breathed my sigh of relief it hit me.  Although I would certainly not get a ticket for going 43 in a 40, I was in fact in no way driving inside the legal limits.  I was speeding, and an officer could be justified in handing me a ticket.  The speed limit, or the upper bounds of the law, allows for a speed not in excess of 40 mph.  I was traveling at a speed of 43 mph, which is 3 mph higher than the established legal ceiling.

That is 7.5% faster than I should have been traveling, for you math geeks.

I knew that I was safe, though, because I understand that even though it is not official, there is grace built into the system for traffic violations.  We are taught from our first days behind the wheel that as long as you remain within 5 miles per hour of the speed limit you are safe from receiving a ticket.  This grace allows for instrument malfunction, imperfectly calibrated odometers, margin of error in the radar gun (which is variable because of the cosine effect) and other factors.  If the posted limit is 40 mph it is a safe bet to travel at 45 mph without worry of being pulled over (At least for speed.  I worry every officer is always going to pull me over and I never know why).

This grace is an interesting thing, though.  Although it is built to guard against many possible mechanic imperfections, and the impossibility for any driver to maintain a perfectly level speed in light of the mechanics of the car, grade of slope of the road, and weather, the grace limit becomes the speed limit.

When I get behind the wheel of the car and see a sign telling me the limit is 70 mph, I immediately set my cruise control to 75.  When I see 35, I drive 40.  When I see 15, I hover around 20.  No matter what the speed limit is, without a thought I take the grace to the furthest possible reaches and call that the legal limit.

Today it hit me, isn’t that what I do in life in general?  Isn’t that how I live my Christian life?  I know there is grace, and so I use it without thinking.

I know that profane language should not proceed from the mouth of a Christian, and I have a clean vocabulary 99% of the time, but when I do slip, or want to quote a movie line, and the kids are not around, I will let out an utterance that I shouldn’t without worry.  There is grace so I do not have to beat myself up to hard.

The same goes for my movies.  I know I shouldn’t watch pornography, but sometimes you just want to watch a movie and there happens to be a sex scene.  It is just one small scene, grace covers that.

Telling a lie is never good, but I might be tempted to tell a small one if I thought it could lead to something better.  Grace covers that, and is it really bad if it is lying for a good cause?  Besides, we all know the commandment against lying is really about giving a false witness in a legal proceeding…

Love my neighbor as myself?  All of them?  Even that one guy?  I do my best, but I can’t be expected to love everyone.  Thank God for His grace.

The list goes on and on.

Of course, I know that I will never be perfect.  I will always struggle with many things, and I thank God daily for His grace.  Given a million years I could never achieve the perfection required to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  I couldn’t live the perfect day, much less a perfect life.

Perhaps, though, it is time to stop abusing grace.  When I see even small sins in my life, instead of falling back on grace I should pray and seek ways to remove that sin.  The Lord knows I have enough areas to work on that I will never arrive, but why should I let that stop me from trying to live my life as close as I can to what he calls for.

I should seize grace with everything I have, knowing that it is by grace I have been saved, but perhaps I should not abuse that same grace by using it for a safety net for things I know beforehand I should not do.

I by no means believe in becoming legalistic, or trying to earn the favor of God by performing better, but believe that perhaps my love for God should cause me to want to be better for Him.  I will always need His grace, and am nothing without it, but through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, the Word that He has given us, and my love for Him, perhaps I should need that grace less for the little day to day things that I should be working out of my life.

Just because His grace covers a slip of the tongue does not mean that I shouldn’t try to hold my tongue a little tighter.

As for the speed limit, that is something else altogether.  If I went 70 in a 70 I would be run of the road.  Besides, I wouldn’t want to impede the flow of traffic…

J. W.  Willard

Evangelism is not my Gifting

a_waiting_harvest

Over the years I have heard countless people use some form of the line of “Evangelism is not my Gifting” when explaining why they are not involved with evangelism, or have not shared the Gospel recently (or at all).  It is used as the ultimate ‘get out of jail free’ card when the topic of evangelism is brought up and most of the time it works.  It gives immediate evidence that the topic is off limits, and the person making the claim has little wish to discuss their further involvement in evangelistic ministries.  The conversation can move on to other, more comfortable subjects, and evangelism falls away from the conversation entirely.

Does this claim line up with Scripture, though?  Can we honestly say that we have no evangelistic gifting while maintaining a Biblical view of things?

Looking to Scripture, being a Christian goes hand in hand with sharing the Gospel message.  Even in times when sharing the Gospel came with great risk evangelizing was standard practice.  In Acts 8:4 we see that scattered church “evangelizing” everywhere they went.  From the beginning we see that to be a follower of Christ is to be a “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17).  Sharing the Gospel and being a Christian go hand in hand like Kool-Aide and sugar.

It appears that our modern church has allowed evangelism to become consider a giftedness to be practiced by some as opposed to spiritual discipline for all as the Bible shows it to be.  Imagine if people made the same statements in regards to other spiritual disciplines.

“Praying is not my giftedness.  It is best that I leave prayer up to those who God has gifted to do so.”

“God didn’t gift me to read the Bible, but I can encourage those who He did.”

“I would love to tithe but sadly God has gifted me in other areas.”

Because we as a church have allowed evangelism to be considered a giftedness great numbers of laborers have never stepped foot on the field in obedience to the Great Commission.  By calling evangelism a giftedness we are actively working against the prayer in Luke 10:2.

If we correctly understand evangelism as a spiritual discipline though we can begin to take steps to better equip ourselves, and those we serve, to better pursue evangelism.  We can seek accountability with others in this area, just as we do in prayer and reading.  We can encourage each other to be faithful knowing that everyone has the same task before them.  We can work to make this a priority in our lives, just as we do for other important areas.

Understanding the role of evangelism as a spiritual discipline also helps us to better understand the gift of the Evangelist mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-12.  We know that God has raised up men in the church who He has called and gifted in this area so that the charge can be led.  Just as God gave the pastor/teacher to the church, he gave the evangelist to reach outside of the church and equip others to do the same.

J. W. Willard

Book Review: Own Your Life

A few weeks ago I received a review copy of the book Own Your Life: Living with Deep Intention, Bold Faith, and Generous Love by Sally Clarkson.  With several projects in the works I sat it to the side with barely a glance knowing I would get to it as soon as I had time.  When I got around to looking, I realized that the book was written for a female audience.  I, for obvious reasons, am not in the target audience.  This left me with a women’s book to review, and no estrogen.  Not the best plan for success…

Enter Shelby Morris.

Shelby is a member of my small group at church, who I grow to love and respect more with each passing week.  We are blessed to be able to do life with this wonderful, godly family.  When she heard that I needed help with this review, she jumped in to help.  She is a woman, a wife, and a mother which puts her dead center in the middle of the target audience.

Below is her review of this book.  Usually I would offer a link to a guest writers blog in order to draw attention to their wonderful work, but as this is Shelby’s blogging debut, that is not possible.  Instead I will offer a link to her husband John’s amazing coffee company.


Living with deep intention, bold faith and generous love can seem so daunting, leaving us wondering where to begin and how to go about doing those very things we truly desire. In Sally Clarkson’s newest book, “Own Your Life”, she looks at many aspects of a woman’s life and challenges us to own our life according to biblical standards.  She challenges the reader, right from the start, on wasting our time on things that do not matter…. things that will fade away, to take responsibility of our actions and leave a legacy that will point others to Jesus.  There is grace in her words, as she encourages us to use the gifts He has given to us and look for opportunities to invest our lives for eternity’s sake.

 
The rest of the book is broken into five parts which include:
 
Part 1: Barriers To Owning Your Life: Don’t Settle for a Mediocre Life
Part 2: Owning Your Vision: Mapping Your Life Purpose
Part 3: Owning Your Life By Giving God Control: What Only He Can Do
Part 4: Owning Your Life By Partnering With God: Attitudes and Actions Transform
Part 5: Owning Your Life By Loving Well: Creating a Lasting Legacy
 
At the end of each chapter,  Sally provides the reader with an opportunity to “Own Your Part” by way of providing convicting, thought-provoking questions to the reader along with scriptures to encourage you as you answer the questions.  Lastly, she offers a prayer for the reader, one that opens the door to talk to God about what He is stirring in your heart.
 
As I said before, there is grace in Sally’s words. She communicates how to live with deep intention, bold faith and generous love with strangers, friends, husbands and children, leaving no area in our life uncovered.  The parts we would much rather hide, keep neatly hidden, she points to God’s redeeming grace over it all.  
 
Sally Clarkson is an example of a life well lived, someone who faithfully sought after the Lord.  God has taken her story, her life and used it to bring encouragement to women who are struggling with who they are in Christ, what we can do for His glory and how God can redeem anyone….. no matter where they have been.
Morris Family

A Thousand Pounds of Wool

shrek the sheep

Recently a funny little story about a sheep named Shrek passed across my Facebook feed.  It occurred many years ago, so perhaps this is something you have heard before, but for me it was new.

According to the story a small sheep in New Zealand spent his life hiding from those who came to offer the annual shave.  Each year as the farmers passed through for the annual shave Shrek would hide in a cave until all humans left.  In doing so, he was able to remain undetected and avoid the shave.  This avoidance method was effect, and over the course of 6 years Shrek never once experienced the feeling of the shears removing his wool.

After 6 years Shrek was discovered and the gig was up.  When all was said and done, this small sheep, weighing in at roughly 20 pounds had a fleece coat weighing in at more than 60 pounds.  Enough wool to make 20 large men’s suits.

When one looks at a picture of him it is hard to believe that the poor thing could even walk while carrying such a heavy burden.  The load looks so great, and the beast beneath so small.  His plight would be the equivalent of me carrying 600 pounds on my back, all day long, every day, for years.

His fear of those who shaved him was the thing that caused his greatest and heaviest burden.

A cute story about a funny looking sheep.

How often, though, does this story apply to more than just a silly farm animal?

Last month I released a blog post regarding a hidden portion of my past.  Over the course of the many years I, like Shrek, had hidden from those who were meant to help me ease my burden.  Of course, I understand that when I placed my faith in Christ, ALL of my sins were forgiven, but by holding back and refusing to talk I put myself in a position where my burden continued to grow, and in order to avoid my fear of sharing I committed other sins increasing the speed of growth of the weight on my back.

I felt like a man with 600 pounds on his back, every day.

I would like to say that like the sheep, when I made my post I was immediately shaved and my burden is gone.  That would be a dream story.  I still have much to work through.  It is lighter though, and getting lighter by the day.  The Lord is faithful, and I have been blessed by this process, though each step along the way has been petrifying.

One of the things that caught me off guard after my post was published, though, is that I am not alone.

So many are carrying around similar weights because of fear they have in opening themselves up to fellow Christians.  Some carry weight because of past sins, such as abortions are adultery.  Others carry weight because of struggles with things such as pornography or drinking.  Others for deceit.  The list goes on and on.  Many do not have big sins to deal with, but still struggle with daily issues that they cannot talk about.

As people have shared with me, I have been shocked by the weight that we carry on our shoulders.

I now know that we as a church are not like the scenario where there are hundreds of closely shaved sheep, and one Shrek lurking in a cave with a heavy burden.  Instead there are many, many who can barely move due to the weight.

It is no wonder that we as a church are losing our effectiveness.  The weight many bear is simply too much to do anything else.  It is not shocking that so many fall into sin, when they are afraid to open up and talk about the temptations they are facing.

How many divorces could be prevented by couples opening up about their problems in small group long before divorce is on the table?  How much pornography could be avoided if people felt safe to open up about the temptation and falls?  How many suicides could be stopped if we were able to open up to each other and share our burdens?  If we as a church could not only share the weight, but also help each other to remove it perhaps the landscape around us would be quite different.

How much more effective would we be if so many were not walking around as Christian versions of Marge Simpson with a hundreds of pounds of hair on our heads?

Perhaps it is timer for the church to be authentic.  To open up about fears and struggles with those trusted brothers and sisters in Christ around us.  To stop worrying about reputations and instead focus on healing.

Yesterday morning my front yard looked great (well, at least ok) and from the outside my house looked well.  My sewer main though had collapsed causing water to back up in the house.  In order to fix the issue we had to rip up the bushes in the front yard, dig a massive hole, crush and kill half of my grass and completely change the way my house looks from the road.  Someone without knowledge might think we were just destroying our home value.

In the process of what looked like destruction, though, a foundational problem was addressed.  It might take years for our yard to recover and look well again, but when it does it will look well while sitting over a fixed issue.  The external might not look as nice, but the internal is finally as it was meant to be.

If you have an underlying issue in your life, or past, perhaps it is time to dig up your front yard.  It will be hard, and ugly, and painful, but only by doing so can you began to heal.  Only by doing so can you work the way you were designed to work.

Let us not worry so much about the white washed exterior, and begin to deal with what lies within.  Stop hiding in the cave and go meet the shears.

Proverbs 27:17 teaches, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of his friend”.  It must be said that iron cannot sharpen by way of proximity.  Two pieces of iron laying close together will remain dull regardless of how long they sit there.  In order to sharpen they must come in contact with each other.  They must rub up against each other.  Too often we as Christians simply live life in proximity to one another, but because of our fear of authenticity we never allow ourselves to rub against another, and as such, we are not sharpened.

Perhaps of all of the possible solutions being talked about in regards to fixing the church in America, the one that we need most, is to simply be authentic.

What are your thoughts?

J.W. Willard

Book Review: If God is Good

If God is Good

About a month ago I received a free copy of the book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn under the condition that I posted my review of this book on my blog.  Other than the free book I was not paid, and I was not asked to give any specific review.  I was to be honest regarding my thoughts.  This is my review.

A couple of years ago I found myself sitting on a front porch in Gladstone, Mo. sharing the Gospel with a widower.  This man pointed to the window of a bedroom right next to us and explained that he had spent years watching is wife die a slow, painful death from cancer in that very room.  He told me of the tremendous pain that she had suffered without relief for years, and of her slow painful death of suffocation as the cancer spread to her lungs and took away her ability to breath.  Through tears he told me that he could never believe in a God that would allow that.

Sadly, this story is just one of many that I could share.  I talk to people all of the time who see the evil in the world around them, or even the evil in themselves as they think upon past sins such as abortion.  They wonder how a perfect and holy God could allow such evil, and they reject Him because of it.  In evangelism, this theme is constant, and my heart breaks for people who struggle with this.

As I read through the pages of If God is Good, I began to start thinking that this book would be a great tool in order to equip the evangelist with Biblical answers to these tough conversations.  Inside the pages of this book Randy Alcorn offers in depth Biblical answers to the questions surrounding evil and suffering in the world.  He explains the nature and origins of evil.  He shows the reader the purposes of evil and how God uses it for His glory.  He explains evil in light of the sovereignty of God, and so, so, so much more.  This book is truly a complete resource for the average Christian on the subject of evil and suffering.

I highly recommend this book for all Christians.  Evil and suffering are something that so many struggle with, and we are called to reach out and share the Gospel with these people.  We will be unable to do so without having read, solid answers in regards to the subject, and this book helps equip the believer with those answers.  It also must be said, that we too may personally experience evil and suffering, and having a theological understanding will help strengthen our faith in God as we go through these times, and see it in the world.

This book should be on every Christians shelf.

J. W. Willard