(Here at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit praying for God to give me new insight to help me in leading with Operation Christmas Child. To learn more about OCC click here...)
Stay the Course
What a joy to be with you again at the Summit. I have to be honest with you all. Two months ago I started running in the park in Chicago. In my second week of running I noticed that this man passed me up and he was walking. I did what any leader would do and said, “Get behind me Satan,” and kept running.
We’ve heard some powerful topics at this Summit. I want to thank every leader for investing in your leadership potential, because I believe everyone wins when a leader gets better. If ever leadership was needed it’s now. We need men and women of God to lead in their communities.
Hebrews 2 says we must pay attention to what we have learned so we don’t drift away. We have a culture that’s drifting. No one drifts upstream. No one drifts toward holiness. We drift during boredom or tension. A believer’s heart drifts when he sees a world of violence and assumes God is not on His throne any longer. God IS alive and well and on His throne.
We see the drift and we’re concerned. Even here at the Summit you can have this discussion and get different views. Even believers in the church have different views. In a span of only a few years found that based on 15 sets of behaviors, 44% of Americans can be classified as post-Christian. Seven out of 10 Americans want political leaders to have bold standards and they believe this is more important than character. You don’t drift against the tide. When you want to get from here to there and the tide is against you, what do you do? You start swimming and you work together. You must row, row, row…your boat. And it’s not down the stream. Going upstream takes effort. You must row your faith and know your God lives.
Staying the course will get you there. You have to establish a true north. A map changes but a compass always points north. It’s a point of reference you can rely on. In Chicago, Lake Michigan is on the east side. It’s a point of reference. It doesn’t change. The word of God doesn’t change, even if culture is changing. The Word of God is the true north. A map offers many routes to get to the same destination but a compass is constant and can never change. People today are open to many different routes and believe all religions lead to the same place, but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Without God we drift and are never truly satisfied. No other route gives us the right direction. No other life is worth living.
At age 14 the Word of God became the word for my life. God planted in my heart this true north. Psalm 119:11 “I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” If you want to have the best outcome you should pay attention to your response.
Though our culture is drifting, the church is not to drift with culture. The church of Jesus Christ has always been at odds with culture. Any time you try to become relevant with culture you become irrelevant.
Four responses to cultural drift—
1. People begin to accommodate the drift and say “It’s no big deal and it’s not our right to judge.” Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them.” The problem is we’re trying to be PC so we accommodate the drift. (lose truth)
2. Oppose the change—only listen to people who reinforce their fears and fuel their anger (lose love for those around them)
3. Withdraw – assume there’s no use because they have no voice and don’t want to get in the line of fire (lose God-given opportunity to represent Him)
4. Engage culture (this is the only right response) John 17:13-16 says we are “in this world but not of this world” –we interact with truth and grace and follow the example of Jesus who cared for those who were sinning and in need.
We MUST engage our culture. Jesus stood up against injustice to religious leaders. Too many Christians value their position on issues more than God’s command to walk in love. Matthew 5 – Jesus said we are salt and light—equal commitments to love and truth. There’s a world that’s dark and deteriorating and light and salt are our responsibility. It’s not a compliment; it’s a responsibility. Jesus wants us to engage the difficult and demanding issues in our culture. It would be easy to look away but choosing to engage requires a lot.
Recently in Chicago our response to violence has been to highlight our “Love Life” campaign. We laid out 352 crosses in our parking lot representing lives lost to gun violence. We held a vigil and invited family members. It’s difficult to describe the feelings standing with them and acknowledging grief but also God’s presence. Evil has prevailed because good has been absent. Good is the Church and good must be present. We must bring good to the picture. The world must see good. This is not the time to retreat or withdraw. This is the time to engage the culture. We must be the salt and the light.
As of yesterday we have 434 crosses on the hill. In less than a month 82 more lives have been lost. And good must be present. Some of the violence in our culture is because the church has failed to be the salt and the light. We’ve gotta get out of our four walls. We must engage them with the love of Jesus. How would they know?
As I think about our culture drift, what’s missing is the salt.
1. Know who you are—we must not define ourselves as the world defines us or let Hollywood define us. Acts 20:24 Paul said the aim is to finish the course and testify to the good news of God’s grace. It was clear Paul’s identity was in Christ. I am not ashamed of the gospel. You‘ve gotta know who you are. In Burkina Faso I went into a house to see the king of a tribe. I looked at the translator and said, “Tell your king I’m an ambassador of the King of Heaven and I represent the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.” The king got up and said, “Will you pray for me in Jesus’ name.”
2. We have to watch the undercurrent—anything that goes opposite to the Word of God is an undercurrent. The American dream is to have it all but the Kingdom Dream is to LOSE it all. We must not deviate from His plan. From the time a plane is in the air the pilot is making small changes to keep the flight on plan. We will drift with culture if we don’t make corrections to stay on course. Wavering off course is normal for imperfect human beings. Even those who want to follow God need to keep making adjustments so we don’t drift. The pilots doesn’t feel shame, he just continues to make adjustments that are good and necessary. When you leave this Summit you’ll have to make adjustments so you can stay on God’s flight plan. We must admit we have strayed and thank God for forgiveness. That’s called repentance. The Bible says in Acts 3:19 “Repent and turn from your sins.” The person who doesn’t repent is a person who thinks he can never be wrong.
Reminder of the story of the Titanic: it was described as an unsinkable ship. There were four warnings and they didn’t heed the warnings until it was too late to change course. Even after warnings our culture is drifting but the church must be the church and stay the course.
D.A. Carson says, “We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”
I encourage you to stay the course. The world is scared and it needs a fearless church. Let’s keep from drifting. Let’s engage and keep on coming back if we want to get from here to there.