“I kept a mask on so I would look like I had it all figured out,” said Russell Robertson. “Growing up without affirmation from my father left me feeling like I would never be good enough. I tried, putting forth a great image and never allowing people to see the real me. But inside, I was emotionally crippled and knew nothing of Jesus or God.
“Throughout my young adult years, I self-medicated with things like relationships, alcohol, pornography, and shopping. In fact, my shop-a-holic lifestyle was so bad that at one point I had $32,000 in credit card debt. Was that a wakeup call? No. I did whatever it took to make myself feel better, and no one was speaking truth to me.
“Throughout all of the highs and lows, I had overwhelming anxiety about this question: what would happen to me when I died? Fortunately, a friend invited me to go to a Christian conference and to church. I trusted Christ the first day I went to that church and realized that I had walked from death into life (John 5:24). I was thankful, but I wish that I had studied God’s Word and plugged in with other believers. I was not discipled, so nothing in my life changed.
“After my first marriage failed, I looked again to partying, shopping, and career to give me value. I had always been fascinated by motorcycles, so I went to a dealership to check one out. I struck up a conversation with a woman there, and she invited me to Watermark. Something stirred in my heart, so I visited the next day.
“I walked in the doors knowing that my life was not working well. I went to re:generation, Watermark’s biblical recovery ministry, knowing that life-change was going to hurt, yet believing it was a divine appointment. I started the recovery process, taking a close look at my sins and resentments. Later, I became a leader in that ministry and shepherded a group through the same process. I also got into an awesome community group of single guys, and I learned a lot about following Christ from them.
“In our community group, we regularly asked one another hard questions and encouraged each other toward faithfulness to the Lord. That was certainly the case when I started dating Patti, who is now my wife. My group consistently asked how we were honoring God with purity and physical boundaries in our relationship. While we had not gone down the path of impurity, I sometimes stayed at her house when it was too late for me to drive the long distance back home. Because that behavior sent a confusing message to her kids, my community group insisted that I stop staying over at her place. I heard them but, I was not willing to change.
“Over time, my heart hardened toward biblical counsel, and I refused to budge. Following the biblical model set forth in Matthew 18:15-17, my community group invited other leaders to help guide the discussion on what it means to honor God in a relationship, but I was too prideful to listen. Eventually, the ties between myself, my community group, and Watermark were severed. Looking back, I can see that my community group was trying to help me build a relationship that glorified God. But at the time, I felt a combination of anxiety and relief when I left.
“After Patti and I got married, we got involved with another local church. But, I didn’t find the high calling to follow Christ there. There was no obvious life-change in the people around me, and I became very critical of our new church, which was difficult for my wife.
“Finally, I told my wife that if she wanted me to be a man of God, I needed to go where I knew I would be challenged and held accountable. I needed to go through the steps of confession, asking for forgiveness, and reconciliation with people who really cared for me. It was humbling, but eventually I met with every single member of my community group and each Watermark leader who’d been involved in our discussions, confessing where I had fallen short and asking for their forgiveness.
“There is also great peace in being fully restored to the body here and, over time, returning to leadership at re:generation. I regularly share with others that when I refused to confess sin, repent, and listen to wise counsel, I was not a good leader at home or in God’s Kingdom. But when I confessed my sin and pursued reconciliation with others, God was ‘faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
“If I were talking to someone like me who was refusing to listen to wise, biblical counsel and walking away from his church, I’d want him to know that it won’t end well for you. When God allows you to be given over to your sinful desires, you miss out on the privilege of community, membership, and service with other faithful people. You’re choosing to miss out on a big part of God’s blessing. But the Lord is faithful to go back and look for His one lost sheep. There is a big smile on His face when we return (Luke 15).”