Orphans and Widows

The last few weeks have been full of heartbreak and hope. I have been in contact with our partner in India more in the past month, trying to strategize and pray through their future than in the past six months combined. It has reminded me of the extreme difficulties we face in India. That has caused much frustration, but also much gratitude for the country that God has allowed me to call home. 

If you don’t know this, India is quickly becoming the next China. By that, I mean that it is a country full of people that are slowly but surely being deprived of the outside world, and sooner rather than later, will probably be a closed country to outside influence, including the Church. Our friend and pastor there has seen these changes over the last few years and is rightfully concerned for their future. 

This week, a few leaders were able to sit down with leaders of another organization that has been doing work in India for the past twenty plus years. They confirmed what we have seen in our friend, Beek, there, that there is a real paranoia right now amongst the Christian community in India. This paranoia is due to threat of the same radical Hindu group that persecuted families almost a decade ago are now in political power. This has resulted in pushing Christians to the fringes of society by depriving them of education, food, and other things we take for granted - all because of their faith. This is true “end times” persecution that is happening across the sea. Because of the political climate, our new friends informed us that we may only have 2.5 years to continue our impact in India. 

This has only confirmed our resolve to dig in deep in India for as long as we can, so that we can get our friends, brothers and sisters, and 40+ orphans closer to a place of self-sustainability. Because we are on the clock, the need in India has become even more urgent. Please join us in asking God’s Spirit how you would engage this opportunity, even if only to pray. As God faithfully answers you, please act on whatever He says to do. 

Because of your faithfulness, we are less than $3,000 away from one acre of land and a whole lot of blessing and a little under $8,000 from two acres, equipment and one month’s worth of food. Please consider giving today through our online giving portal: thegrove.churchcenteronline.com  making sure you designate your giving to International Mission/India. For whatever the Lord calls you to do, we are grateful for your willingness to pray, listen, and obey. 

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” - James 1.27

Lance Williams, Pastor of TGC

PURSUING WAITING

When I was a kid, we traveled to Colorado every December to go skiing. Our trip to the mountains was my favorite trip of the year for so many reasons. I got to learn a winter sport as a kid even though I lived in the heart of Texas, and that was a great gift that my family gave me growing up. But I also got to experience a different world. Whether it was the snow or the mountains, flying to Denver each year reminded me that something greater was beyond the flatlands of Houston. It always captured my imagination, and drew me into an upward posture, even as a lost, young boy who wasn’t a big fan of change. 

During our trips to the mountains, the worst part was the drive from Denver into the resort areas on I-70. You never knew if the weather was going to be any good to make the trip and it seemed like there was always a delay. Before there were portable TV’s, and Gameboys only had a battery life of about 2 hours, there was imagination, car games (remember punch bug!), and lots and lots of observation. One of the things I observed were random ramps off of the highway that seemingly led to no where. I never understood why they were closed or barricaded and what their purpose was. So, one day I asked my dad what these ramps were and to where they led. He then explained to me the laws of physics behind a big rig 18-wheeler, brakes, and the difficulty to stop in the mountains. Because of the nature of their weight, if the driver rides the brakes too much going through the mountains, they can melt the brakes, making it impossible for them to stop. Drivers use the runaway ramps as an emergency means to stop, keeping everyone on the road safe (here’s an example).

Advent is the runaway ramp to our big rigs of life. We have no idea how to stop, how to wait, how to go slow, or how to be deliberate. Proof of that was this last Sunday when we intentionally slowed the music down, didn’t rush, and simply invited everyone into the pain of waiting. It felt uncomfortable, awkward, and different. Even I felt the tension of my rapidly paced week pushed up against the stillness that our gathering was inviting us into. 

In a world that is fast, big, loud, and bright, God has always spoken not in the obvious, but in the subversive nature of slow, small, quiet, and dark. Because we are drowned out with merry tunes, blinded by bright lights, and full on our calendars I wonder how we’re doing through Advent as a people. I wonder if we are letting ourselves get distracted by the pace our culture is setting or if we are being reset by the stillness God is calling us towards? I wonder if we are more purposeful towards Elf on the Shelf or with Advent Devotionals with our kids? I wonder if we are longing and waiting or if we are busy and impatient? 

No matter where you are today, my prayer is that you would start to pump the brakes, downshift, or whatever is necessary so that you don’t have to use the runaway ramp. Slowing down is worth it. Though you may feel unproductive or without purpose in the beginning, God will show Himself to you, and what greater treasure is there than that, but God Himself?

Waiting along with you in the long, uncomfortable season of Advent,

Lance 

Advent

This Sunday, we begin our journey of Advent. If you missed the video on Sunday showing the short explanation of what Advent is all about, check it out at the bottom of this blog post. Advent can be a foreign concept to many of us that didn’t grow up in the church, or perhaps grew up in a church that didn’t observe the season of Advent. 

At The Grove, we have themed our Advent journey “Prepare Him Room.” That is a phrase that comes from the old Christmas Hymn, “Joy to the World.” The first few lines of the song go like this: "Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room…” (Good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day!) It is a simple song, and one that is familiar to our ears. Most of us grew up singing that song from Thanksgiving to Christmas, but I wonder if many of us have stopped to consider the implications of what it means for the King of Glory to literally come to earth in the form of a human? That song proves to be a good example of what Advent is like for most of us: it is familiar on the surface, and yet when we pause to consider what’s going on beyond what we know, there is much more to behold.

My prayer this Advent is that we would inch just a little closer to the slower, contemplative life that God beckons us to live. As the world around us speeds up, I pray we learn to slow down. As the world around lights up, I pray that we will have the courage to be light. As the world arounds us consumes more and more, I pray we will learn the value of simplicity. As the world around us become more and more noisy, I pray that we prioritize silence and solitude before our Maker. 

It is in that silent, still, slow, and simple rhythm will we find our God, who so longed to make all things new, he became sin on our behalf. The journey in joy towards gratitude starts now. And I’m honored to join you in the journey. 

What if...?

On Sunday, The Grove Church celebrated two years as a church. What started out as 17 adults and 19 kids in our living room on a Sunday evening in 2014 has blossomed into what we saw on Sunday: an average of about 90 adults, 25 students, and 35 kids. I just ran into someone at Starbucks who visited us recently who simply summed up her observation of The Grove: God has blessed The Grove tremendously. I couldn’t agree more! God has been so gracious to grow us, both numerically and spiritually. 

At the end of our lunch on Sunday, I asked two questions. First, I asked who had come to know Jesus Christ during this last year. One person raised his hand (thanks, Tim!). Though that would cause some people to get discouraged, I knew who had come to know Jesus during this last year, so I was not surprised by the result. Instead, I asked that question to setup my second question: who has taken some steps in their growth to reach out to their neighbor? Almost every hand in the room went up. Yes! We may not be this huge group of people that have all of a sudden become experts in evangelism or seen God save everyone with whom we share the Gospel. No, instead, we remain in pursuit of Jesus and pray in hope that God will reward our intentionality with our neighbors. We’ll join God in being patient, desiring all men to repent and come to faith in Jesus. 

But what if we aren’t patient? What if we simply give up? My wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage yesterday. Most people say this, but we actually mean it: this year has been the best year so far. But what if we gave up at year 8, 9, or 10? What if we simply said, “This isn’t working out like I wanted, so I’m pulling the plug.” We would have missed out on the celebration that we’ve been enjoying for months now and would have missed out on what is yet to come. 

The same can be said for our church. While Tim was the only one who raised his hand on Sunday, what most people don’t know is that I asked the same question last year and no one willingly raised their hand. Not one person. So what if we would have quit last year? Surely God would have found other ways for Tim to come to faith, but we would have missed out. We would have missed on witnessing truly the most amazing sight this side of heaven: someone cross over from death to life. Not only would we have missed out, but Tim may have had a longer route to repentance and faith in the gospel. And what a travesty that would have been. 

So, looking into year three, let us be a people that are buoyed in hope that God is working out His pleasing and perfect will, in His perfect timing, to draw all people to Himself. Let’s also lock arms not growing weary in doing good. And what is that good @ The Grove? This beautiful people that is known as The Grove Church was started to invite all people to follow Jesus in all of life. Just as Jesus invited people on the way to his destination, at the marketplace, at the local watering hole, and in various cities and neighborhoods, let’s also continue to invite people to know and see the true Jesus. Let’s pursue being people who steward our time, talent, treasure, and truth well. Let’s pursue finding and being trusted friends. Let’s continue our pursuit of being ambassadors for the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of our own comfort. Let’s find our sufficiency in Jesus as we run to Him for rest and abide in Him. And as we do these tings, living distinctive lives for the glory of Jesus, our neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends will wonder and be drawn into the grand invitation. And when they get drawn, let’s be ready not just to invite them to a church where there are other sojourners there, passing through this place and headed to a better destination, but more importantly ready to invite them to Christ Himself. 

That is a big task, and a big dream: that we would be a people that are not just willing, but ready and equipped to invite others to Jesus. But isn’t that the point? That we would have a vision that is far bigger than we could accomplish on our own? That we have something hidden in our heart so grand that only God could accomplish? And as a result, the cynics amongst us will ask, “What if you don’t succeed?” and I will respond, “What if we never try?”

Let’s see how the Lord responds to this small band of brothers and sisters in their pursuit of Jesus of Nazareth and His grand mission for the world. No matter what happens, it’s sure to be fun. 

On to year three!

Lance Williams, Lead Pastor

Sovereignty & My Will

Do you remember the song that your parents used to sing to you when you were younger? You know the one to which I am referring, don’t you? The one that should be ringing in your ears this morning as you wake up to someone you probably wouldn't have guessed would be your president. The song that has been running through my head over and over again this election season has been “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” 

While it is a children’s song, it is actually a rooted in a profound truth about God: He’s completely in control of all things at all times. There is not one iota of matter, or time, or emotion, or votes, or anything else that happens outside of His perfect will. His perfect will. It’s still perfect. It’s not flawed. He didn’t take a nap yesterday, and He didn’t hibernate during the primary season to get us to this point. No, He’s still reigning and ruling, as He always has and always will, perfectly. 

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
— Colossians 1.16-17

Did you catch that? Jesus created all things, including thrones, rulers, authorities, congresswomen, senators, and presidents. The great comfort that is found in that song, and in the verse from which it was written, is that God has not just allowed these things, but He has created them. That means He has a purpose for them. We may see it fully or never see it at all. We may agree or disagree. But it is for our good and His glory. Always has been. Always will be. And He’ll always do what is best to establish, maintain, and strengthen His kingdom.

Just when you couldn’t get enough good news, there’s more! America is not His kingdom. His kingdom is His kingdom. As we wake up to a different country today than it was yesterday, it is a needed reminder that we are not citizens of this world. Instead, we live on the earth but we are citizens of a kingdom where God gets done what He wants done. Did you notice what is missing from that? That’s right, your will and my will are nowhere near the top of His priorities in His kingdom…instead, our all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful is doing what He needs done to accomplish what He wants accomplished. Which leads me to my last thought.

There is one last truth that is found in that verse above from Colossians, and that is the reality that God holds all things together. Having the whole world in His hands is no big deal for a God that sustains, orders, and binds all things and every thing forever and all time together. As good or bad today seems for you, could you imagine the world where God didn’t hold all things together? Could you imagine the emotional instability without God holding all things together today? Could you imagine our laws and our country, without God’s sustaining power? I don’t even want to go there. 

So today, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the perspective that God is on His throne. I’m grateful that I’m not bound by this temporal world, no matter if I agree with it or not. I’m grateful that God says I am a citizen of His Kingdom, not this country. And because of these reminders, I’m grateful that my identity is not just American, but Christian…and more importantly Son of the God who reigns and rules perfectly…whether I agree or not. 

No matter how Trump rules this country over the next four years, God's still got the entire world in His hands and He'll continue to sustain all things. It's what He does. 

Lance, Pastor of The Grove Church