Stronger Together

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

So the way life works there are threads that weave us all, and life events together. Sometimes they’re more obvious, and other times we need help. It’s a time where being in community of one type or another is so important. Whether it’s a faith group, individual relationships or some other type of group it’s important to discover those ties that bind, especially when the world seems to be crumbling through change.

Personally this past weekend was one where a dear friend, mentor and peer stepped away from Willow Chicago and into something that has yet to fully take shape. Jeremy was witness to who I had been, what I had done and also who I was. I never felt judged, and always felt supported in a variety of ways as I grew into someone closer to who God sees me as. He will be greatly missed, but I know our paths will cross again because him being put in my path was no accident.

Jeremy put me into contact with another man, Ruben, who I immediately felt comfortable with in large part due to Jeremy. We developed a relationship of authenticity, intimacy, friendship and accountability. He was a brother in recovery, a friend in life’s darkest times and I’m grateful that his willingness to serve Willow Chicago brought us together, even if it was in crisis. Later I would find out that his sister and I were friends in college. Again no accident.

As I worked deeper into recovery both holly and I were reintroduced to someone we had both known casually earlier in our lives and had not thought about in years. As it would turn out, Eric had completely changed careers and was put into our lives as we navigated the destruction I had wrought. He literally walked out on the Willow Chicago stage after 10 or more years apart and into our lives. He guided us through the seemingly impossible early days and into a newer reality. Eric was a champion of champions, he continues to be someone whose wise consul I, and so many others rely on. Again no accident.

There are so many others that I can mention, whose lives have touched mine that I’m grateful for. You’re one of them. I’m blessed beyond measure for the relationships that have developed, and also remained and grown as a result of the previous 4 years.

1 Corinthians 15:33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.”

So as our group physically changes, we will continue to be a source of support for one-another. I pray you can come to us, and others, and find nonjudgemental peace and support. Our paths will cross again, and the time we’ve spent together has enriched me, inspired me and countless others. Just because I was the facilitator, I grew because of each of you and for that I am eternally grateful and also see you as a part of who I am. Wise counselors, dear friends and necessary sources of strength and encouragement. Again, not a coincidence.

Proverbs 25:11  “Timely advice is as lovely as golden apples in a silver basket.”

As I woke up this morning, I was catapulted into the day by an email from our lead pastor. My heart sank, hit bottom and bounced into my throat where it remains. Additional allegations against Bill Hybels surfaced, and as they did Lead Teaching Pastor Steve Carter stepped down from his role, not because of his tie to any wrong-doing to be clear. Both Bill and Steve have been a part of my world that goes back to when my sister and brother (in-law) called Willow home. They heaped love on me and shared their faith as they grew, as well as some of the messages on cassette tape (man that sounds funny and makes me feel old). Bill’s messages brought me some measure of peace at a time in middle-school and high-school that I needed help and consul. He came back into our lives as a married couple when we started attending Willow Chicago 9 years ago. His messages resonated with both of us and were there to prop us both up through the darkest of times. In a similar way, Steve has been there through some seemingly impossible times, and also helped me grow as a Christ follower, husband, father and friend. Those relationships came at a time that they were dearly needed. Neither were a coincidence.

It’s also no coincidence that the last message I heard from Steve was one that walked through Psalm 23. Something I need to cling to this morning.

Psalm 23 1-5 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.”

So reading the message this morning cut deeply. I began a process of grieving as I processed the loss of a great teacher and reopened the wound over the loss of an earlier teacher. I still am, and will for days to come. I pray for our church. I pray for the women who are so courageously stepping forward to share their truth, even through shame, guilt, fear and pain. I pray for the families of all those impacted, the victims as well as Bill’s, Steve’s and others within the church. I pray for the leadership of our church, that they can find calm in the storm and lean into God who uses all things. I pray for all of us, that we can remain stronger together even through dark days past and ahead.

Everyone will have a response to what is happening, we’re wired that way. Hurt, anger, worry, disgust, supportive or ready to move on you have my support whatever your decision is. They’re all valid, and I’m available to talk anytime you want to walk through where you’re at. I can’t and won’t speak on behalf of Willow Chicago, or any Willow for that matter, but I can offer you support and share where I’m at as well as my family. Our decision as a family doesn’t have to dove-tail with yours, and I won’t try to convince you that yours doesn’t matter. Where we’re at today may change, and I’ll try to never say anything that will be judgmental of your personal decision. Your opinion, your experience matters today, and always has.

If you need any additional help navigating let me know. I can make a connection for you to talk more, and I’m sure there will be family meetings in the coming days and weeks ahead. Again my perspective, my beliefs and our decision as a family should have no bearing on the decision you are guided to. That’s between you and God. I would ask you to prayerfully consider where you’re at and what you need to do, but please do lean on your community. You were never meant to do life alone, and this is no different.

Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.”

What’s happening now will impact our church and others that are a part of the Willow family, and quite possibly other churches, leadership and elder boards. There will be some that leave because of everything going on, and Willow et al has work to do to regain trust within the community and within our church even for those who stay. Our church will remain and I pray it can learn a great deal through this. Lessons need to be learned. It’s not just our church that’s walked through this, nor are we the only organization or sports team that’s dealt with something similar.They have remained through the pain, through the learning and grown. I pray we will be the same. Everyone needs to be held accountable within our church, within business or any group where there is a power/leadership dynamic. Those in a position of influence and power need to remember that they have that influence and power, and to never use that for personal gain.

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Dalberg-Acton

Durning my morning reading and meditation time, and before I read the email from Pastor Rob, my plan took me to a passage in Luke.

Luke 12:22-27Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life. Or single cubit to your heightSince you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

No coincidences. Zero. Zip. Zilch. While it hasn’t completely put me at ease, it’s been a reminder that while the storms of life come, God has us. God holds us and has plans for us. He doesn’t do things to harm us, but to prepare us and for our good. I pray that we all can find some measure of peace and growth, regardless of how strong the head-winds are.

Grace and peace be yours in abundance

 

 

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