When you hear about the sex trade and child prostitution, what do you do? When you hear about human slavery, what do you do? When you hear about the AIDS pandemic, what do you do? When you hear about global poverty and starvation, what do you do? When you hear about Darfur, what do you do? When you hear about our own prisoners, what do you do?

The troubles of the world are overwhelming, and I am overwhelmed by my own crushing sense of guilt and over-identification with the “failure” of the Church to respond to these crises. (A “fact” which I think ought to be open for debate rather than used as the primary construct in the strawman-ification of the Church. But as you can see, I myself am conflicted.) I can’t possibly solve any of these problems, and I don’t have much faith that anyone else can, either. On the other hand, I can’t just twittle my thumbs, claim inability, and wait for the Lord to return and I don’t have to hear about these things anymore. (Again, I’m conflicted.)

But does knowledge necessarily demand action? Does information equal responsibility? How much can I be reasonably expected to do in these arenas? Just because I know about the sex trade, does that mean I am responsible for seeing it destroyed? Sometimes it seems that everything is the most important thing in the world, and the more I know about everything, the less I’m able to do about anything.

Honestly, how can I in good conscience say no to any of these things? And if I can’t say no to any of them, then I wind up saying no to all of them. The evil in this world is so overwhelming that it becomes very tempting to close my eyes, shut my ears, and sit in my own safe corner of the planet waiting out death or Christ’s return, whichever comes first. (There’s irony in there, to be sure.)

But what am I really saying, here? Isn’t what I’m really getting at my own insecurities, and the need I feel to cover my backside? Doesn’t my guilt come from my desire to stand before the harshest skeptic and say, “Well you can’t say those things about me. I did it all. I did more than you. I cared more. I helped more. I served more. I loved more. I’ve been to more places and done more things….” Somewhere inside of me, all of this is really about me. I may not be trying to earn the favor of God–I know I can’t do that–but I am tempted to earn the favor of the most hard-hearted Christ-hater.

That’s a sin in me that needs to die and be resurrected. I desire credibility for myself, not glory for God. The glory of God is the most important thing in the world. Ending the sex trade, freeing the slaves, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, stopping AIDS, ministering to the prisoners, and everything else like them are important because they give glory to God. They are not ends in themselves (although they are some of the best ends I can think of), and they are not the most important things in the world. The end of all of our work, small or great, is to give glory to God. And I have to trust that, if I pursue God’s glory, then he will give me, in my smallness, some small thing to do that will someday bring him great glory.

Back to Craig Groeschel’s message from the Leadership Summit.

One of the questions that a leader ought to ask him or herself, Craig claims, is, “What is God trying to show me through my limitations?” This, of course, assumes that the leader is familiar with his or her limitations. Do you know what your limitations are? Do I? I have several limitations that immediately come to mind.
I am helpless in a group of people with whom I am unfamiliar. Put me in a crowd of people that I don’t know, and, like water, I will immediately flow to the lowest point, or nearest corner/wall. Despite the biblical mandate that every good Christian leader feels most at home in a group of people he or she doesn’t know, I just can’t seem to deal with this excruciatingly uncomfortable situation. (Yes, you did detect a hint of sarcasm in that last sentence.) Now, if you put me in front of that same group of people, particularly to preach the Word of God, I am completely at home. I can say anything from the pulpit, but I can’t seem to find words before or after the service. For an aspiring pastor, this is a serious limitation.
I am naturally passive. I am not a self-starter. I am not a go-getter. I am not high-energy. In fact, I can’t think of a single hyphenated adjectival phrase that applies to me. (Maybe, stick-in-the-mud, or, finely-bearded.) I am not a man of action, a fact which shames me to my core. Again, for someone who wants to be a pastor, particularly a church-planter, this may well signal the death-knell of such dreams. Perhaps this is why I abandoned the church I felt God called me to plant.
I do not have a big heart. I do not love others well. People don’t feel great about themselves after talking to me. In fact, I have to try very hard not to ask questions about someone else’s life. I tend to be far more interested in what I’m doing than in what you’re doing–and when you talk to me, you can probably tell. Of all my limitations, this is the greatest character deficiency, and the one that most disqualifies me for the ministry.
So, what is God trying to show me through my limitations? (Believe me, there are more, but this post would have gotten insanely long had I continued–not to mention what would have happened to my emotional state.) I can’t even begin to answer that question until I have prayed and meditated. What I can say is that my gifts and sense of calling seem to qualify me for ministry, while my limitations and character deficiencies seem to disqualify me. Perhaps this is a common experience.
I believe that God has given me a mind (and heart) for Scripture and theology. I believe he has also given me the ability to preach and, primarily through preaching, to lead. But why has he given me such overwhelming limitations? Why does my character not match my gifting? And what is he trying to show me through this?
This, in a strong way, has been my core question for the past two years. Why am I so limited? Why is my character so lacking? The answer, I believe, is not simple. Which is why I continue to ask the question. Or rather, why God continues to press the question on me.

This morning Craig Groeschel gave a message at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit that really rocked me. He talked about it. He admitted that he didn’t really know what it is, but he knows when someone or some church has it. You know when it’s there, and you know when it’s not. You can just tell when someone has it.

I used to have it. I used to get it. It was all that I had at one point, before my brain was filled with knowledge. (Not that knowledge is the culprit in my losing it.) But something has happened to me in the years since I had it. My life has become mediocre. My fire has cooled. My calling has quieted. Even my mind has become dull. I’ve become, as Craig said, “a full-time [minister] and a part-time Christ-follower.” I’m not in love with Jesus like I was six years ago. I’m not in love with people like I was. I’m not passionate about anything of eternal significance.
I want it back. I can’t move forward without it–I’m only moving laterally. I’ve grown cold and hard without it, and I want my heart to melt in the flame of God’s love for me and everyone. There’s nothing special about me without it. I’m not going to make a difference in the world until God brings it back. I’m a vapor without it, because it is the substance, the backbone, of my life in God.
Oh Jesus, take me back and take me forward. Bring it back–bring me back to life in you.

For whatever reason I’ve gotten back to work on the screenplay. I’ve resolved myself to the fact that this draft will be far too long, and I’ll have a big editing job once I’m done. This revelation allows me to write with the sense of freedom I need to be creative. It’s easier to edit after it’s on the page than before.

One of the most difficult things for me to do is let my characters be unlikeable. I don’t want to create characters that can be emotionally written-off because they’re mean, awkward, or evil. That seems two-dimensional. But the alternative is just plain chaos. Not every character can have the opportunity to explain or redeem him/herself in a screenplay–there is simply not enough time. But, as in life, I’m having a difficult time being disciplined with my character development.

This is the manuscript I used at Andy’s memorial service. I know several folks who couldn’t be there wanted to read it, so here you go. Feel free to leave a comment, especially anyone from the class of ’96.

There are two ways that I’d like to remember Andy today. The first is as a member of the TCS class of 1996.

One of the benefits of going to a small, K-12 school is that you quite literally grow up with the people in your class. Some of you went to school with Andy from Pre-Kindergarten to Twelfth Grade. Andy Zell did that and even went to college with him! So there was plenty of time for us to know Andy, and I’m sure we all have a lot of wonderful stories we could, and will, tell.

Andy was everybody’s friend. To the class of ’96, I’m sure, when you found out what happened, you explained to your family and friends, “One of my good friends from high school was killed.” He was everybody’s friend. I doubt that any of us would refer to him simply as, “some guy I went to school with.” No, he was our friend. He was my friend.

Andy transcended the drama and the social cliques that come along with high school. He fit easily into everyone’s circle of friends. He was a part of everybody’s group. He was accepted by everyone, and accepting of everyone. He cared for us all.

Andy had a quality of character and integrity that you rarely find among grown men, much less in the heart of a high-school student. He dragged me along to confront a teacher once, because he knew that the way we were talking about this teacher behind his back was wrong, and he wanted to not only apologize, but to hear the teacher’s side of the story, as well.

Andy had our respect. He was so humble and unassuming, but his character and integrity could not be questioned. When he spoke, his words were so often life and light to our hearts. He was an encourager who saw the best in us. He was the best of us. He was a godly man.

We of the class of 1996 will always remember him for his smile, his kindness, his joy, his encouragement, and his love. We say, “Thank you, Andy, for being the boy and the man God made you to be, and thank you for being our friend.”

The second way I would like to remember Andy is as a fellow minister of the Lord. Andy’s life was about Jesus Christ. Everything else he did flowed out of his relationship with his savior. Andy loved Jesus, and Jesus loved Andy. And if there was one thing that he could say to all of you, I’m convinced it would be, “Jesus loves you.” Jesus loves you.

God gave Andy a vision for the Shan people in Thailand. Andy’s heart was gripped by the simple truth that Jesus loves them. This vision to reach the Shan quickly became Andy and Susanna’s dream. But as Susanna said at the funeral, “life has a way of happening.” And life happened, and the support didn’t come in, and the dream faded into the background. But Andy still loved Jesus, and he still wanted to serve him, so he decided that the best way to do that was to become a police officer.

It makes sense. When you arrest somebody, that’s a good chance to tell them, “Jesus loves you.”

I heard a story about a guy who came to Andy’s funeral. A reporter asked him, “How did you know Officer Widman?” He said, “He arrested me twice. I just had to come to pay my respects, because he was always so kind and friendly to me.”

Andy’s life was about Jesus, and Jesus shined his light through Andy’s life. Even more, Jesus shined his light through Andy’s death. All over the news, and out of the mouths of everyone who spoke of him, came a testimony of a man who loved and followed Jesus. The name of Jesus was lifted up in the life, and especially in the death, of Andy Widman. God saw fit to take this dark and evil event, and through it to bring light and goodness. What greater good can come from your life and death than for the name of Jesus Christ to be exalted?

Andy Widman loved Jesus Christ. He spent his life in service to his savior. He may have been killed as a police officer, but I believe that he died a martyr for Jesus. As he lay on that sidewalk, with open eyes and smiling face, we know that he saw Jesus, and he sped to heaven to be with his Lord.

We loved Andy. He loved us. And he would want you to know today that Jesus loves you. Toledo Christian class of 1996, let us not forget our friend and brother, and let us not forget the One for whom he lived and died.

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