When we are in conflict or friends we care about make harmful choices there is a biblical plan to help and restore.
About Gary Stroope
I adore my wife Kimberly. Together, we have
raised sons who with their wives and kids love Jesus deeply. God's work through
His word and church has changed... Read more
Good morning! That's a great sound hearing you guys visiting this morning. We'll pick those conversations up again here in just a few minutes as we get ready to leave, but I'm glad to be with you guys this morning. We're in a three-part series on resolving conflict. This is part 3. Tyler Briggs kicked us off and did a great job. Garrett came around after that. This morning, I get the privilege of kind of wrapping this whole dude up.
I was watching a baseball game one afternoon, which I'm prone to do. I think it was the White Sox. This is the live shot that came on the screen. It was the Kiss Cam. For some reason, this looks smaller in this picture. I think this was maybe after a little cleanup. This guy had enough mustard to cover about five hot dogs. I mean, it was all over him. I just started dying laughing.
They didn't take the TV camera… It was a live shot. He goes, "It looks like the man has a little mustard on his face." They were doing a play-by-play of this guy's mustard. In a little bit, you see his phone ring. He reaches in and picks it up. He still didn't know it was there. You see him talking to somebody, and he goes… They tell him, "Dude, you're on the Jumbotron, and you're looking like Mustard Man."
His wife starts laughing. She hands him a napkin, but instead of going for the mustard he's wiping his lips off, and everyone is dying laughing. I mean, he is clueless. Then, of course, finally she goes in and she starts trying to help him. It becomes this yellow mess all over his face. It was crazy funny.
I literally thought to myself, "That so could have been me!" That could happen to me so easily. My wife has made a career over saying, "Your pants are unzipped, something is in your teeth, and you have food on your shirt." Sometimes after trips my shirt is kind of like the memory album of what we've eaten that day.
Nobody wants to look like a fool, but the thing worse than looking like a fool is being a fool. I tell you what, guys. I love this message today because we're going to talk about how we help each other and how a good friend leans in. I guarantee you my buddy, Mustard Man, didn't take the phone call and say, "How dare you call me and tell me I'm looking bad?" He was going, "Thanks, dude!" He brought in the reinforcements from his wife there.
We want people to help us when we're looking a fool. Sometimes we just have to get a better picture of what our foolishness does to us and what it does to others, quite frankly. It's a miracle his wife didn't get the mustard exchange, just because of where it was located. The problem is I can see your flaws. I can see your mustard, if you will, really easily; I just can't see my own.
Because of my blinds spots, I have a hard time seeing what's wrong with me or what I'm struggling with or what I've gotten accustomed to living with, quite frankly, until somebody comes and goes, "Really? You're going to live that way?" Until somebody just lovingly puts their hand around me and says, "Dude, that's beneath you. God has more for you than that. I love you and because I love you I'm going to tell you the truth."
I can see your flaws, but I have trouble with mine. I've called this message _God's Plan to Restore_. What's really wonderful, quite frankly, is that this passage lays out what you do with people who mess up, because God knows people mess up. You see, 50 percent of you in this room have had the joy of forgiving me and helping me in some way, and the other 50 percent of you will need to in the future, so I'm glad you're here so we can get ready for that.
There is a part of me that, because of my blind spot, when I read this passage I don't think I'll ever need any of these teachings because I'll be mature enough and I'll respond quickly to the social cues, the verbal cues, and the teaching of others. The fact of the matter is that's just not true. That's a lie. I have had to live in this passage. I have to live in this passage. Getting care and correction in my life is a daily…I'm not exaggerating…event. It happens in little small ways and, from time to time, it happens in big ways.
It has gotten to the point where it doesn't even offend me anymore. It's just normal. It's the way loving people… It's as normal as, "Hey! You have a little something on your shirt." I know the people who are telling me that are not because they hate me and they want to point out my shirt, but they want me to not look foolish and they don't want me to be a fool.
I love this topic. I need others who will come to me and love me enough to help me live in such a way that I don't hurt myself and hurt others. Sometimes I don't care about hurting myself, but it really stinks when you begin to hurt your kids, hurt your spouse, and hurt people you're trying to have a decent relationship with. Guys, I'm just going to tell you something. Get over the fantasy that you're not going to do that. You're going to.
It's not a matter of _if_ I'm going to hurt you but it's _when_. As human beings as followers of Christ, it's not a negative subject. It's a necessary subject. We have to get good at helping each other. Here's how it kind of goes. It's crazy to me that God's plan for resolving conflict is to give us his Word and then to give us other rule breakers to help us.
I keep thinking, "Really, pristine, together, mature people are supposed to show up and help me with my life." Then, all of a sudden, I turn over and it's Troy Bussmeir. God uses other rebels, and that confuses us a little bit. In case you can't quite figure out what I'm talking about there, every once in a while when my kids were small (they still do it) they would say, "Hey, Dad! You were a little angry."
The rebel part of me wants to go, "There's not any mustard on my face. Excuse me! You're not to be giving me instructions," but I need my little boys to say to me, "Dad, you seemed a little angry," so I can say, "It's because Dad is a little angry," and it's not the righteous and kind kind of anger that brings about change of life. That's what made me feel good at the moment, but then I have to pull away.
I'm explaining like I did this perfectly and I didn't. I have to pull away and say, "Will you forgive me? Because the things I said were true but how I said them were horrible, and it made it really hard for you to listen to them because I said it so poorly because my anger and my frustration became more important than loving you."
That's what I mean by that. We have to get really good at doing this, and it takes practice, and we do it really good sometimes, and even as we do it, we have to ask each other for forgiveness. I've made a career out of it, because I am a first-class screw-up in that regard.
Today, here's what we're going to do. First of all, we're going to look at God's redemptive plan. It's simply this. We're going to learn that, first, you have to act. Secondly, you have to include others so they can help you with this. They're going to help bear the burden in this process. Thirdly, you're going to have to respond to others' choices biblically. None of that makes any sense maybe right now but we'll dive in it together. Matthew 18:12-14 is the beginning of this whole section, and it sets it up perfectly. It says,
**"If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."**
This is the backdrop against everything that comes after this. What it says is, "You are important, and your friends are important, and your life matters." If your life doesn't matter, we just move and dispose of and keep moving. We pat people on the head and we say social niceties, but in our hearts we devalue them, we don't care about them, and we never have real conversations with them.
We just keep moving and act as if they don't matter. In fact, we believe in our hearts they don't matter. If we let our hearts do that, after a while our hearts become hardened that God loves them and gave his life for them to provide for them redemption, just like he gave it to us. Every sheep is important to the shepherd and there is no discarding of people. We don't do that. God doesn't do that.
When we are not united, it's worthy of us leaving everything else in order to restore that relationship. I'm telling you, the way I'm wired is if my wife and I have a disagreement that doesn't end well and we don't resolve it wrecks my day. I mean, I kind of do functions and I do things I have to do, but it wrecks my spirit.
If I am walking with Christ, disunity with a brother or a sister wrecks me until it's resolved. It's like this weight I carry until I can sit down and say, "Let's talk. Let's understand. Let's move together because you're the one for me right now. I have the 99, but you're the one who matters to me right now. I have to come to a point of understanding where I know you're not off by yourself. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you're hurting, too."
Maybe that isolation I've just described about the lost sheep has nothing to do with the personal conflict between me and the other person but it has to do with the person has stepped out of fellowship with God's Word and they're doing destructive things to themselves and to others. As a friend, I'm seeing that, and I go, "Whoa! That can't happen! That person matters. Left alone they'll starve to death and they'll hurt themselves. Something has to happen."
When we see someone harming themselves, moving into addiction, becoming angry, destroying relationships, and increasing isolation where it's not just recharge time (it's true isolation) and they are making decisions by themselves routinely and you can see the fallout of that, then we need to act. We need to act and do something or we are saying to them they don't matter. Every sheep matters to the Father.
When we see someone we are in relationship with harming the reputation of Christ, we must move toward them. It may be because of their careless living, by the way they don't lead themselves, or because of their self-absorption and their cluelessness about everyone else around them and the effect of their life on everybody else, but in some way you begin to say, "The cause of Jesus Christ is being affected by this Christ follower in title who has forgotten who Christ is and what he calls them to."
When that happens, if we choose to be obedient to what love means, we must act and move toward them and share what we've seen. When we see someone who we are in relationship with who is harming others, we must move toward them. We involve ourselves in the eradication of the harmful acts.
People who see people as a means to an end… In the dating world, when men begin to see women as a means to sexual gratification and attaching a love label on it as a means to get what they want, it becomes a selfish act. It becomes a destructive act. Something good and wonderful becomes something that is difficult.
When families are enslaved to fits of rage and anger by a leader or by a mom or a dad or by a spouse and we begin to see harm happening to others through the emotional abuse… When we begin to see a lack of leadership in the home or a lack of leadership in a person's life to the point where it begins to harm other people, we need to act, step up and do something about it.
Matthew 18:15 says, **"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."** Most of us don't have these conversations with people because we are more concerned about it making us uncomfortable than helping them. Did you hear what I said? Most of us don't involve ourselves in these conversations because it makes us uncomfortable.
I'm going to put a label on this because sometimes it's easy to remember that when you put a label on it. It is selfishness masked as kindness. Did you hear what I just said? To not act is selfishness. It's self-preservation. It makes me uncomfortable. We mask it as kindness. "We shouldn't say things that might make the other person feel uncomfortable."
I guarantee you Mustard Man was really glad he got that phone call, but I'm going to tell you something. There have been times in my life in little simple ways and in daily ways and in big ways that people have stepped up to me and said, "Bro, that is not healthy for you. That is unbiblical. As a matter of fact, I can show it to you in Scripture. I'm not here to condemn you, but you have to eradicate that from your life! Bud, the way you and I are communicating is not healthy. There is anger toward me. I sense it. We need to deal with it." That's a gift to me!
If we call ignoring something and just having a prayerful spirit ("It's a shame about the Smiths. It's a shame about So-and-So.") but we never act upon what we have seen and what we know to be true, it almost gets labeled as kindness, but it is anything but kind. It's anything but kind. I've told this illustration before, but it's the only one I have.
I did a Bible study years ago. I had a summer intern who was a sweet guy who ended up going to Vanderbilt. He's a consultant in Dallas now. At the end of the Bible study, he said, "You do know your pants were unzipped during the entire Bible study." I said, "Well, a little clue from you would have been helpful."
I was really frustrated with him because I know nobody was listening. They were doing _this_ going, "Please, God, help him." We need people to step up. A loving thing would have been just to reach up and let me know or give me the international-zip-your-pants sign. I'll teach you that afterward. That's what people do who love each other.
We are to go to people, it says in this passage, in private. I love that. It is possible your friend may not even realize they've done something. I can't tell you how many times someone has come up to me or a family member has come up to me and they've gone, "When you said that, do you know…?" I go, "Oh, my! I didn't! I am so sorry."
They may have done something and they don't even realize the ramifications of it or the full ramifications of it until you stop for a moment and you come to them in private and in kindness. You come to them in private because you're not trying to shame them. It removes the possibility of them even thinking there's some other agenda when you just come and put your arm around them and say, "Bro, that meeting didn't go well. It seemed like you were really angry. Are you okay?" That's a loving thing to do, to come to a person in private.
That's that, "Oh, man," moment. If their actions were deliberate and they knew what they were doing, by you approaching them in private it makes it crystal clear you have no other agenda but to help them. It also removes the greater temptation for them to become prideful. If there are others looking on, they may feel like they have to bow up and become defensive.
But if it's just the two of you, you can come in kindness and say, "It felt like at one point in that conversation you made a decision you were going to argue, and no matter what anybody else told you it felt like you didn't want to listen to us, and I love you, and I just feel like that was not your finest moment. Regardless of what we decided, the anger got in the way of us having a great discussion, and I just wanted to bring that to you because you matter to me."
If you come and say, "The behavior you are participating in right now is destroying you. I know it's not biblical, and you know that, because you're a smart guy. I just want to come to you and let you know that. Obviously, you've made the decision, but I wanted to come to you because you matter to me."
Doing that in that setting just makes the heart open and more careful. It doesn't always remove any fear of reprisal or a bad response. We never go to win but, instead, to win our brother's heart. We don't want to win but we want to win our brother's heart. We don't need to be right; we want to make things right. That's really, really important. It's for his good.
We want to restore fellowship and guard the heart against other choices that are harmful. We want to go to each other with gentleness and humility. Galatians 6:1 says, **"…if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."**
I think gentleness comes out of who we are and where we are, but we have to spell it out so we have the plumb line that says, "This is what is acceptable." We must come in gentleness. There are times when I've had a tough meeting, and I just said, "I know my heart is not in a gentle, kind spot. I need to put this off, and I need to go deal with me."
That's the passage we talked about earlier in the series about removing the beam in our own eye before we remove the splinter from somebody else's. That's when I say, "God, search my heart and see if there is anything in me that is wicked or difficult or not of you so I can come to that person and love them and not come in there…" I think the more difficult the conversation the more gentle the delivery. We say it clearly, but we say it with kindness.
Our tone and our volume need to be precise. The word in Galatians for restore is the same word for the setting of a broken bone. The word literally means to reset the bone that has been broken. That's a great word picture. It says, "When you come to restore someone, do so with precision and with kindness so you don't cause greater harm and greater pain."
There's a great outcome that is at risk here because what we want is… I tore my knee up a number of years ago cross-country skiing. I was actually standing still when I fell. I didn't want to give you the idea I was going to the Olympics. Some of you, I know, were tempted to think that, but we were standing still. Kim and I came to an intersection, and I just fell, but my foot went the wrong way. My knee bent over. I went to physical therapy, and I did the best I could. It still hurts all of the time.
If we don't deal with this stuff correctly and gently and with precision and these people can't deal with the choices and the attitudes they're carrying that are destructive, they carry them from that point on, and they become a cycle. Sometimes they're more than just a physical annoyance that from time to time bothers us. They cripple us, so it is big stuff how we do this as much as what we do.
Love comes from God. As we talk about loving people, it is a decision but it comes from God, and if you're not hanging out with the Father saying, "God, I'm here and I'm asking you to use me today. I'm asking you to make a difference in my life. I'm asking you, if I move toward my brother, that you help me to reflect who you are in a way they can understand. God, help me to do it in such a way that at the end of it I trust you that you'll be the change agent.
I don't have to manipulate. I don't have to convince. I just have to be clear and loving. God, you're what convicts. Not me. I don't have to be the Holy Spirit. God, I'm not going to be frustrated if they don't do what I've asked them to do. I'll be sad, but I won't take it as a personal offense because I've done what I need to do. I've been faithful to that person I love."
Love comes from God. That seems like a small point. Guys, it's huge! If you are not abiding, walking, and hanging out with God, you will not be carrying the DNA of love to the person. You just won't. You will not do it. What you bring to the table is zero. You act, but you act with the love he has provided for your heart to do that.
Then, it finishes up that little section by saying, "…that you might gain your brother." The outcome or the win in this is massive, that we might gain our brother. The second step is you share it with them. You come to them and you act upon it because they're hurting themselves, they're hurting others, and they're hurting the reputation of God.
For those three reasons, you come to them and say, "Friend, I just want to share it with you so you can deal with it." At the end of it, they go, "Thank you. I'll pray about it. I'll get back to you." They basically say, "Talk to the hand. I am not acting on this." Don't be offended. The Scripture gives you specifically what you need to do. It says to include others to help you bear this burden.
Matthew 18:16 says, **"But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.**" What it's saying is if, at that point, they're not responsive for the first time, you have permission to tell somebody else what's going on. Now, you're not a gossip. You're bringing trusted believers who love God's Word and are walking with him imperfectly into the situation. You say, "Will you help me with this?"
The first thing you're going to do is give them an account of the data points. You're not building a case against them. You say, "I see this in him. It feels like the drinking is something that's beginning to control his life. I see _this_ or _that_." You begin to walk through this. "We're in conflict and here's how the conflict looks." You spell it out as factually as you can without as much color commentary as you can. You begin to pray about it together with these two or three other trusted people.
In the process, sometimes what happens is they point out a gap in your thinking, which is really important, guys. It's still true. If even 3 percent of it is off kilter, that 3 percent is enough to screw up the process. It just is. Own your 3 percent. "My thinking is wrong in this," or "How I dealt with it or how I presented it was wrong." I have to own that first. That's my part. Be humble. Humility looks good on everybody. It just does. It doesn't repel us; it draws us in, as a matter of fact.
After praying, if the two or three involved are folks who say, "I think you're correct. I think this is something that would be helpful if we gave this individual a chance to respond and eradicate and gain new freedom or to restore your relationship," then you move toward that person again. It's important to note that our body at Watermark Fort Worth is full of sinners. The reason this passage is in here is because God knew we needed it. We are going to mess up, every last one of us.
We say, "Everyone makes mistakes," but we don't really believe it because we always act like we're surprised when somebody brings up that we've made one. God knew we needed this passage because we make mistakes. At Watermark Fort Worth, our body is full of sinners who are addicted to pornography, folks who struggle with insecurity, who have anger issues, who have had affairs. They're lustful. They're lazy, selfish, self-loathing, defensive, arrogant, prideful people.
That's on our new brochure, by the way! "Come be a part of the fellowship of the broken." The reason I'm bringing it up is because the problem is not that we're rule-breakers and rebellious and imperfect. The problem is, if we won't in humility deal with it… No one goes through care and correction in the church who lets people put their arm around them and says, "Let's go through this together." They just don't. If you're here and you say, "I have a lot of problems, and if people discover that they're going to throw me out," that could not be further from the truth.
If you're part of this body, the only thing we require you to do is let us love you and let us help each other and not run and pretend, because if I do that, what I have to pretend is that I don't love you and say, "It's okay for that one to go because he doesn't really matter." Once again, if you're a screw-up, you're in the right place because this is the most accepting environment on the planet to struggle, but you have to let people help you and what is not helpful is to continue to let you to destroy yourself, hurt others, or dishonor God.
We go through it together. It's a good thing. The vast majority of people come to step one and someone says, "Dude, you're really angry. Can I come alongside you and just love you and tell you that you're really angry and know that I care about you and I'm not afraid of your anger and neither is God? Let's go on Monday night together. Let's go to re:generation and find out why you're angry if you don't know." He might say, "I know why I'm angry." You say, "Great! Let's deal with it then."
Or maybe, "It feels like you're having a hard time being respectful of your wife and there are some patterns there. I know you probably have a million reasons why that's acceptable. There's a dual offense, and you might even feel like you're justified, and you might be somewhat in the world's standards, but let's go to re|engage and let's figure out that what doesn't seem possible with man is possible with God. Let's go."
Most of the people who come through there, if they'll humble themselves they find they walk away saying, "It changed my marriage, and not only are we not divorced, but we actually love each other now." Crazy! On and on and on I could go. Places and conduits for people to work on together to understand, to be in a Community Group and really be a Community Group and help each other and confess sin and rejoice and not beat up on each other but encourage the lamb to come home… What a gift we have!
The church is not a policing organization. That's not why we're in business, but while we're grazing together if you begin to stray and I don't say, "I know there are wolves out there. One less lamb… Besides, I don't know him that well." Somebody knows him and they'd better go after him if they call themselves a Christ follower.
I wrote in my journal not too long ago, "Our sin choice has placed us on an island, and it leaves us exposed, and it ensures our destruction and demise of all that we hold dear including the connection and joy with those we love the most." That's huge, guys! For us to let people drift to a place of isolation to the point where they destroy the people they love the most…
That's not ever how they intend to do. Nobody gets us and says, "I think I'll blow up my family this year. I have the yard put in. I have the pool put in. This will be the year I think I destroy my marriage." Nobody gets up doing that, but it happens. We drift. Little by little by little that drift takes us to a place that, in fact, does that.
We destroy relationships. We harm ourselves. We become addicted to things we thought would give us some measure of life and they end up taking over our life. How can you deal with this? How can you not act? Invite others to help you stand in that gap. Approach people. Compel them. Give them the resources. Partner with folks to get that done.
I talked to the community department here (my friends, John and Britt and others). I said, "Guys, help me prepare for this message. What would you say?" They said, "Tell them to call us early! It's much easier to put out a flame in the back room than it is to call out multiple departments to put out a brush fire that has taken over the city." Let's get to it early.
We call in people to help us early like Community Group members, church leaders, community coaches, the community department, and trusted friends who love God's Word and will bring his Word, and not just to agree with us, by the way. We bring trusted friends who will bring their Bible and share it with kindness.
If he responds, partner with him in his restoration. Don't just say, "Great! We're friends now. I'm glad we got that behind us. Here's a Dairy Queen coupon." Go with them to re:generation. Go with them to re|engage. Get them there and introduce them. In the community time, spend more time together. Invest.
Call and check on your friends when you've restored the relationship. "How are we doing? Am I doing well? Are we still connected? I know we've forgiven each other, but we're also rebuilding some trust here, and that takes some time. I want you to know that matters to me, and I want to check on you." Get together regularly. Then, have frequent celebrations.
Every once in a while there's an "Oh, man," moment. We get to step two. We've called it. We've gotten together. We've talked about it, and it just doesn't go well. We're sad, and we've done everything we know we can do, and we've maybe done it imperfectly but we've done it, and we brought in others. There's this huge group of people who respond to it. They're in a bad place. They've got bad things they're dealing with, but they just respond.
There's this other group of people when you come to them and say, "It's not going well." You bring in the wisdom and counsel of others. There's a huge group of people who respond here. Then, there's a little tiny group, less than 1 percent, who say, "Talk to the hand. I'm going to do what I want to do." They'll say it in a lot of different ways. I'm not condemning them as people. I'm just saying they say it in a lot of different ways, but they don't respond.
Matthew 18:17 says, **"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."** By the way, if you're like me, you go, "Gentile or tax collector? What does that mean?" It means they're not a part of the family. You treat them like they don't belong because they don't belong.
Defining this whole choice piece of this, this step is to respond to others to their choice biblically. They've made the choice. There are some outside of the town square. They'll say, "They'll throw you out of the church if this happens!" That is so not the truth. That is a lie that gets in the way of God's redemptive act he's trying to do here.
They are on an island because they've chosen to go to an island. They have refused, the Scripture says, all sound wisdom. We're not mad, and we shouldn't be mad. We're sad that they have removed themselves. We still love them, but we are not in close fellowship anymore because we're not in community together. We're not serving together. They may come and even worship with us, perhaps, but we've lost that bond because they won't let us help biblically.
However, there is another truth, and that is there's a truth that is really important. Although our mission is to restore and rescue and protect, sin that is not dealt with always spreads. Let me give you an example of that. If you let disunity become normative… It's okay to talk about people. I hope you know here that if you come to a pastor and you start talking to us about someone, we'll go, "Does he know what you're telling me? If he doesn't, I'm not trying to catch you, but let's get together and let's let you talk."
"I'll take care of this."
"Great! I'm going to bump into him in the next couple of days and I'll just want to see if y'all have gotten together and had a chance to talk about it. If you haven't, I may call you up and we'll see if we can get together, because he deserves you telling him that if it's true. If it's not true, then you need to corrected and y'all can be restored."
That gets rid of a lot of juicy tidbits, by the way. I hope that's happening. We all make mistakes, guys. We make mistakes in that area. We're all going to be patient with each other, but we're here to not shoot the wounded. We're here to help the wounded. Sometimes the wounded one day will be us. I trust you know that.
To not care means we are polite but avoid the reality and truth of the situation. We live in dishonesty with each other. We are not in fellowship. We are not obeying God's Word, but we'd rather just go, "I'll just avoid you." When you go by I'll say, "Hey, Jim! How are you doing?" I'll move over here and I'll just act like we've never even experienced this thing together.
It's crazy for informed hearts to do that. Instead, what we do is move toward you and say, "Let's just admit that I love you and the church loves you and the leaders love you." I don't get to make that decision. The decision is always made in a concert over a long… The most surprising thing to me is how much time we spend working on one life. It's crazy. I don't know how we get any work done sometimes.
That's staff and lay people. People matter to God, so they matter to us, but we must continue to lean in, so there's this last ditch or last plea for repentance from leaders and elders of the church. If rebellion or indifference continues, it's time to spell out the reality or other choices and, in fact, declare they have chosen to live on an island by themselves without the benefit of God's truth or the great plan he has for their life. I never get excited about that. Never! Never! But I must be obedient to that process because there is the possibility God can redeem it.
I want to introduce you to a new friend, Russ Robertson. When we were preparing for this series, I picked up the phone, I called John Elmore and a couple of the guys over in Dallas, and I said, "Guys, y'all have been doing this longer than we have. Tell me about someone who went all the way through restoration and came out the other side and God has done a great work in their lives."
The name Russ came to me immediately. That's so exciting. I called Elmore last night and I went, "Russ is in, and we've had the pre-visit, and I'm so excited about him telling his story." He goes, "That is so great! I cannot wait. Please tell me you're taping this!" John is in charge of our re:generation ministry, so Russ has served in the past and currently serves in the re:generation ministry. He is a trusted leader there.
This is before going through the care and correction process. You were outside of the church. You weren't a part of Watermark, and all of a sudden you had an encounter that put you in contact with the gospel and truth. Tell us about that.
**Russ Robertson:** Absolutely. I wish we had about 30 minutes, at least, to go with this because this is such a great story of God's grace in my life, but at the end of the day I was going through a season in the desert in a place of despair and depression because life was not going well.
At the time, God intervened in my life and created for me what I could only categorize as a divine appointment where for three hours a faithful servant of the Lord and Watermark member ministered to me and shared with me the gospel as well as told me all about the wonderful things going on at Watermark and, specifically, re:generation.
**Gary:** You go to re:generation and the things that were adding and contributing to your depression… You got to walk through those and do the faithful inventory. You go through that, and you're reconnecting with God's Word, not only in your head but in your heart. At the end of re:generation and after a season of faithfulness, they say, "Not only are we celebrating with you what God has done in your heart, but we want you to help other men walk through it as a leader," so you become a leader at re:generation.
At the end of that, now you're in community. You have a group of men who are around you as a single man at that time. (You're married now. Patti, thank you for being here today.) At that point, you begin to drift. Although you have truth, you begin to drift. Tell us a little bit about that drift.
**Russ:** For full transparency sake, it was just a matter of selfishness. I wanted what I wanted. What that looked like was Patti and I began dating. We found out pretty quickly it was serious. This was heading someplace, but we lived quite a distance apart, a little more than an hour or so, and where we found ourselves straying in those selfish choices that really tarnished the name of Christ was periodically spending the night at each other's homes.
**Gary:** Obviously, your guys look at that and go, "Russ, you're crazy!" If you would have been in my Community Group, I would have gone, "You're a better man than I am if you can pull that off." You begin to start dealing with that, and they start telling you truth about what it means to remove any hint of sinful actions and also protecting you from making choices that would really hurt you guys. At that point, you very kindly, as you described to me, said, "Thanks but no thanks." Cutting to step two, they asked some other faithful men to come join you guys. What happened there?
**Russ:** Sure. My guys were awesome guys. We were transparent the whole way through. I made no excuses but just always being truthful, but I met one on one, just like we talked about in Matthew 18:15, with one particular brother. He pointed out my sin. Again, it was a talk to the hand moment.
When we met the following week in community, we had that same conversation. Again, it was a talk to the hand moment. Within the matter of a couple of days, the next time we met on a Wednesday, they brought in Joe Daly from the community team as well as Robbie Rice from the community team. Again, we had that same conversation.
**Gary:** The thing I was encouraged about… I was trying to unravel Russ' story by saying, "At what point did someone lose it?" He goes, "They didn't. They were kind all the way through. They were loving me. They were gentle, but they were truthful."
We get all the way through that process, and we say, "This is a brother who right now wants to quarrel against all sound wisdom, and we're going to have to allow him his choice, because it's his choice. We're just going to declare the reality that he is living independent of wise counsel. We love him, but we no longer are in fellowship with him because that's what we're gathering around. We're gathering around that truth."
They left the church. Patti didn't at that time, because she really wasn't a part of us at that point. Russ looked at that. He left the church, and they attended another church for a while. Russ, you're out there. Y'all eventually get married and are building a life together. What were the things in your heart, regardless of the other church and all of that, that said, "I need to make this right"?
**Russ:** That's a great question. For me, what that looked like was stepping away from Watermark and being in a place where I was not being surrounded by other faithful believers, God's provision for me, and not being around sound, doctrinal teaching. I found myself in a church where I was really sitting on the sidelines. I wanted to get in the game and be in the game. I was ready to do that, but that wasn't available.
Of course, now I can see, "You're in the middle of sin here, so God's not going to open that door for you."I had gotten to the place where I was very, very critical. My heart was very critical over the change in the teaching style and stepping away from Watermark. It just built up over a period of time and it weighed heavily on me.
Patti could see that, so we simply got together and had a conversation about that. In my heart, I knew what I needed to do, and that was to go back to Watermark. I had simply said, "If you want me to be all that God has called me to be and if you want me to be the best leader of this home and of this marriage, we need to return to Watermark."
**Gary:** We're telling a two-hour story in about 15 minutes here, but what's involved in that, Russ, as I've listened to you is the temptation to believe it was consumerism. "We're going to go back because Watermark has better teaching," and that's not what this is. What I know it to be is, "God provided my needs through these men, and God provided for me through teaching. God provided all of these things and I blew it up, and I need to admit I blew it up. If I had listened, I would still have all of those things." You came back and you said to Patti, "I want to go back and I want to make this right." Tell us about the restoration process.
**Russ:** Yes. It was beautiful, and God was gracious, and God's provision for me was very gracious and loving. It was very humbling, but I've learned through re:generation the steps we take. That's precisely what I did. I humbled myself, and I went directly to the folks who played a role in that change in the relationship we had, starting with John Elmore and going to Joe Daly and each and every one of the folks who were in my Community Group.
I met with them one on one, acknowledging where I faltered and seeking forgiveness and asking to be restored. Every single one of those conversations was met with love and with grace. It was all I could ever imagine it to be, just being loved on so well on both ends of that transaction.
**Gary:** If I'm the re:generation director and I'm looking at this guy… If you spent very much time with Russ, he knows a lot of God's Word. That can get you in trouble sometimes, but he knows a lot of God's Word. I'm thinking, "I have a leader. I have groups who are waiting for a leader." That's not what happened. They took this guy and said, "You're important to us. Just come and be. Just prove your faithfulness. It's not a punitive action. We're not trying to punish you."
Patti goes through re:generation. She graduates. They ask her to be a leader and Russ is still on the sidelines. I think it had brought a lot of life to him. With great humility, he would sit out in the lobby and read a book while Patti would go to leader's meeting before they went to re:generation.
Finally, there came a time. John said, "Buddy, you haven't earned your way in. You have proven that your heart is in the right place. It's not about you anymore." This guy is now a gift to these men as he walks with them. They love him. He is trusted. When restoration happens, you're not on probation. He is restored.
They hand him a group of people whose lives are dealing with stuff because they love him and they trust him. He is saying, "Follow me as I imperfectly follow Christ." I didn't say this last hour, but when we were visiting Russ, we were talking about stuff. He was in the process. He was confessing current stuff he's dealing with and struggling with in his life, and I was going, "When there is no shame, healing is taking place."
When I called Russ, I said, "Would you come over? I want to see a person who is a real person." He goes, "I'd love to do that!" It's because, when you don't carry that burden, you're free. Would you go through it all over again? It's not what we had planned for, but can you see where God's hand was in that, bro?
**Russ:** Yeah, that is a difficult question. What I'll leave you with is it was a difficult choice to pull Patti out of the church home she was involved in and plugged into and a serious part of, but we had that conversation. We made that decision. It wasn't all that long ago (maybe just a few months ago) when we were sitting down having a conversation about all that God had done in our lives in us and through us, and the question was…_Would this have happened had we not come back to Watermark?_
It reminds me of Psalm 18:25. It says, **"To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless…"** God has just opened the floodgates and poured out blessings on us and allowed us to work in areas and be a part of things that we couldn't have imagined happening without that.
**Gary:** Bro, you're a blessing. Your humility is what makes all of this possible. I know that comes because you trust God. At some point, we have to trust him, that if we do what he says to do he's going to be there at the end of it. Bro, he has been there in spades. Let's thank Russ Robertson. Thank you, buddy. I love you.
Well, we're going to wrap this up this morning by singing a song of worship, but I will tell you it all boils down to… I wouldn't have written this plan up this way. I would have screwed it up. When I read it, I go, "What?" We have to go to people and have a conversation and love them and if it doesn't work out we have to bring somebody else with us? Finally, if it doesn't work out, we don't just go, "That didn't work out so well." We involve others and we define the relationship for the possibility that there might be a turn of heart at some point and they come home.
Russ, I sure am glad you came home. I sure am glad many of you came home. You may not have gone through a care and correction process in the official sense, but at some point, you said, "God, I need you! I'm going to let you work in me. I'll do whatever it takes to put my heart in a place where joy is restored once again, where truth is available, and where his people are available to me." What a gift that is!
I'm telling you we don't just sort of need Christ; we need him. The luckiest people in this room today are those who know they need him because they have a treasure trove at their disposal. Let's stand. Listen to the words of this song as we sing it. I'm going to pray for us before we do that.
Dear God, thank you so much for this morning. Thank you for the privilege of getting to look at your plan. God, thank you that your ways are not our ways. Your ways work. My ways don't work. God, I thank you for the testimony of our dear brother, Russ, and I thank you for his faithfulness.
God, I thank you for the hundreds of people who have received care from friends this year and they have responded to it well. They really have. They've turned and said, "God, I'm a mess. I'm still struggling with my addiction. I'm still struggling with my anger, but I'm not going to run from your people and from your Word because you're not trying to hurt me. You're trying to help me. You've given me this gift of your church." God, we need you. Help us to love enough and listen enough so we might be a blessing to each other. In your name, I pray, amen.
Let's stand and sing together.