A few days ago I recorded a program for American Family Radio called "How to be a Godly Rebel." It airs on Friday, July 4 at 11 AM CT. My message discusses the true meaning of Independence Day in the light of Romans 13. The producers interspersed some beautiful music underneath my message, including "America the Beautiful" at the end. I hope you'll tune in to this special broadcast. You can listen on one of these stations or you can listen online at AFR Live.
Someone clipped a comic strip called "One Big Happy” and left it on my desk. The first panel shows a little girl kneeling by her bed getting ready to say her prayers. It must have been a long day for her because she begins this way: "I’m so very tired tonight that I can’t even remember the words to my prayers.” In the next panel she folds her arms on the bed and adds, "But since you already know what I’m going to say ...” She then begins to say the letters of the alphabet: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z.” In the final panel she looks plaintively toward heaven and says, "Maybe you could put the letters together in the right way. Thanks and Amen.”
We all feel like that sometimes.
Prayer is easy until it isn’t.
I remember getting the phone call some years ago that my mother had died. We quickly rounded up our boys and drove to Alabama for the graveside service. The whole trip is a blur in my mind. One moment you’re home, and your life seems to be running smoothly, then suddenly you are hundreds of miles away greeting old family friends you haven’t seen for decades. It was a true "wrinkle in time” for me where the past, the present and the future all seemed to come together for a fleeting moment. Then just as suddenly, you’re back home again trying to get on with the demands of life.
I do remember that I had trouble praying during the trip to Alabama. Perhaps "trouble” isn’t precisely the right word. Perhaps I mean that for those few days I felt distracted and unable to concentrate. It was emotion plus weariness plus being somewhat under the weather plus seeing so many old friends so suddenly. But for whatever reason, prayer was difficult and came in spurts, when it came at all.
What happened to me was not uncommon. The pressures of life sometimes make prayer difficult.
It is precisely at this point that I take comfort from the little girl’s prayer. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:26 that often we do not know how to pray. We don’t know the words, we aren’t sure what to say, our minds can’t focus, and the strength simply is not there. In those moments we have the consolation that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we can’t pray for ourselves. He speaks to the Father with groans that cannot be expressed in human words. This means that we need not feel guilty when we cannot pray. When you come to the moment of complete exhaustion and can no longer frame the words, you don’t have to worry. The Holy Spirit will pray for you. In your weakness he is strong. When you cannot speak, he speaks for you.
Take heart if you feel overwhelmed today.
The Holy Spirit can "put the letters together” when you can’t find the words to say.
A friend wrote me a note last night, with a closing paragraph about the importance of kindness. He emphasized that Jesus cares about how we treat others. These were his closing lines:
"King Jesus ALWAYS follows through. He is the King of Consequences." This is good news or bad news, depending on how we've been treating others.
Something to think about on Monday morning as we start a new week.
With Lead Teaching Pastor Tim Badal
A lot can happen in six years.
That’s what I discovered when I preached at Village Bible Church in Sugar Grove, IL, a suburb on the far-western edge of the Chicago metropolitan area. It’s so far west that if you keep going, you hit farm country.
When I preached at VBC in 2008, they had about 350 people attending a single service. Today they have seven services scattered across four different locations, drawing 1500 people. When Lead Pastor Tim Badal told me the story, I was amazed to hear how they do it.
They don’t have video venues. Each location has its own pastor and its own leadership team. The elders oversee the whole operation.
But they preach on the same text each Sunday. When I asked how they pulled that off, Tim told me that the elders set the overall preaching schedule. Recently they completed a 35-week study of the Sermon on the Mount. Right now they are doing a study of Samson. Each Monday the various teaching pastors meet to study the passage for that week and come up with a "default outline” that they can use. After agreeing on the general approach, each pastor has freedom to tailor the sermon to his own location. That’s why I preached on the story of Samson and Delilah from Judges 16, a text I probably wouldn’t have thought of doing as a visiting preacher. But this way I was just fitting into what the other locations were doing.
They have developed various locations as declining congregations asked to join the VBC family. They are willing to consider it if the congregation will buy into the overall vision and if the leaders will fold themselves into the shared leadership structure. Evidently it works amazingly well. When I told Tim that I had never heard of anything like this, he said when they are looking to add staff pastors, they look at 4 Cs: Character, Courage, Competence, and Chemistry. The last C is just as important as the others, he said. if someone doesn’t buy into the vision, they won’t work out even if they are otherwise highly qualified.
He used this illustration to explain their approach. Shortly after the Second World War, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower took three weeks to drive across America. General Eisenhower noted that America had plenty of country roads but needed a system of freeways to expedite cross-country travel. Years later that insight lead to the Interstate Highway System. Tim said the non-negotiable values of the church are like I-80, the interstate highway that cuts across Illinois. The country roads stand for particular programs that a given location may develop. So there is freedom built upon the agreed-upon "interstate highway” values.
The church puts a high value on "missional” ministry in the community and around the world. Thus at the Sugar Grove campus this morning, they encouraged people to get involved in the community "corn boil” coming up soon. They have teams going out soon to Alaska and to Uganda to do short-term mission work, with many other teams coming and going during the year.
On their website they emphasize something I’ve never seen before. They promise visitors that Village Bible Church will have a "homey” feel. That’s a good word to use, especially if it’s true. I’ve been to plenty of churches I liked but would not describe as "homey.” But I think that’s a good word for the folks in Sugar Grove. Perhaps that explains their remarkable growth over the last fews. When the unchurched visit, they feel like they have come home at last.
Jess Moody remarked that people choose a church with their noses. They can smell the joy. That’s certainly true in Sugar Grove. We could sense the joy, and that’s why felt at home there this morning.