Todd and five couples who are in community together at Watermark talk about the benefits of managing finances in authenticity and honesty and the pitfalls of trying to go it alone.
What Stewards Should be Consumed With
How to Tell Whether You are Among the 'Consumed' and Some Practical Tips for Regaining Your Freedom
The Antidote That is Community
Consumed with Debt and What to Do About It
Why God's Love for You Compels Him to Loathe Materialism
Materialism: The Lie That 'This is All I Need'
I love the fact that we get to communicate in a lot of different mediums here at Watermark about what our heart's desire is. Doug, thank you for sharing your gift this morning. When I listen to him sing, it captures what I want my heart to be saying and what I want my heart to be like.
If you're here this morning and you feel like your life doesn't reflect the passion and the lyric that was in that song, I can relate to that, too. I can relate to the fact that we are in the middle of a struggle. All of us, every one of us… Folks on staff, folks who are visiting this morning who aren't even sure there's a God who does love them… We are just glad that we're here together to spur each other on.
I want to let you know what we try and do when we gather together on Sunday mornings is to just allow each of us, wherever we are, to take another step closer to truth. If you're here today, and some of the stuff we've been singing this morning and talking about, we want you to know that if it's missed you so far, that's okay.
We hope that as we talk about what our heart's desire is to be these kind of people who respond to the kind of God who loves us the way that Scripture talks about and history affirms that he has, nothing would delight us more then for you to begin to see what is slowly thawing out our very hard hearts. We're really glad you're here.
Let me pray for you because I know this morning there are a lot of folks in here, and there has to be stuff going on that made you not even want to get out of bed this morning. It might be related to finances, it might be related to relationships, it might be related to a diagnosis, it might be related to some hang-up or hurt in your life.
I want you to know this is not a room full of pretty people with a few stragglers who are coming in so you can be pretty like us. This is a room full of very broken, impoverished people who have found an incredible King who loves every one of the people who are in his kingdom. He wants you to know him better. Let's just pray for each other. Can we?
Lord, I pray that by your incredible grace, more and more, the song Doug just sang would be the song that the integrity, honesty, and authenticity of our hearts sing before you, that we would see you for who you really are, so that we could respond in a way that what that song says would be really true. We would say to you, "You've done everything for me. What can I do for you?"
Lord, we know that you have paid a debt of ours that is so infinite, so eternal, so huge, no matter what we do would never allow us to look you square in the eye and say, "Okay, even." No, we know that we're the ocean, as we've sung before, full of ink, and if we use it all to write before you songs of praise, it would never come close to be able to express to you the greatness of who you are and the wonder of what you've done.
Lord, in the midst of the wonder of what you've done, to deal with us in the midst of a broken and rebellious state, you've still left us in a very broken, rebellious world. Because of that, there's a ton of pain. There's a ton of pain in this room. There are even folks, Lord, who know of your love for them who have been cruel to folks who they're married to this week, who have been anxious about tomorrow, who have enslaved themselves to materialism, to sexual addiction, to chemical coping strategies, to just a myriad of things, Lord.
I thank you that you love us, and like any father wants to pull their kid out of a tough spot, you come to us again today and say, "Would you just listen to me? I don't want to scold you. I want to deliver you, and I want to help you." Father, help us get our arms around you as that kind of God, that nothing you ask us to do is to punish us, but it's to heal us and to give us hope.
Father, will you give us a special sensitivity toward each other this morning? Help us to love each other the way you would if you were here. Lord, it's always my prayer that if Christ were speaking this morning to this group of people, I could say similar things in a similar manner so that they might know you better. Lord, help me be more of your man so I can be a light to others, saying that there is hope.
We thank you for grace, for the blood of Christ, and Lord, help us understand that more so we can give you our lives as an offering. We love you, Father. In all of our hurt, in all of our brokenness, in all of our failure, we want to love you. We thank you that you loved us first through the death of your Son, Jesus Christ, amen.
We're going to start with a little competition. Are you ready? I hope you're awake enough. I'm going to show you a video clip. It's very important that you focus. Get some elbow room, and you're going to need about 30 seconds of focused attention. I'm going to show you something about yourself. In this video clip, it's very simple. There are going to be some folks in a circle, three of whom are wearing white shirts. Your job is to watch how many times somebody in a white shirt passes the basketball to somebody else in a white shirt.
That is what you're responsible for. It's a very simple task. Count the number of passes from one white shirt to another. Are you ready? Don't count out loud. Don't go, "One… There's two." That would ruin the effect. You're going to have to count to yourself. When you're done, keep your little mouth shut, and we'll work our way through it. Here we go. Lock in. Tune in. We'll see who has it.
Some of you guys I saw look at me. You guys are out. Talking to you, young lady. For those of you who did focus on the screen the whole time, how many people saw more than 20 passes? Great, nobody here is seeing double. That's excellent. How many people saw more than 18 passes? How many people saw more than 15 passes? How many people saw more than 14 passes? More. How many people saw more than 13 passes? Anybody see less than 11? How many of you saw the gorilla? Look around. What is wrong with these people? No, what is wrong with you? Watch it again. Don't count the passes; just watch the video. Same video; here we go.
There was a gorilla in that video. Is that not amazing? That is amazing! We have a room full of folks… How many of y'all when I say, "How many of you saw the gorilla," you go, "What are you talking about?" Absolutely. This guy did it with me, he did it with my wife and I, and he said, "Okay, watch." My wife and I, we're competing.
By the way, the correct answer is 15. Don't clap; you didn't see the gorilla. I guarantee you if you had 15… I'm curious, did anybody get 15 and see the gorilla? I know you saw something maybe out of the corner of your eye, but did anybody get 15 and see the gorilla? That's very, very impressive. Maybe two or three people in the entire thing…
The rest of us, we're locked in. I'm counting those passes. The gorilla doesn't just run through there. He walks through the middle. He stops, beats his chest, walks across. What is that telling you? How does this relate to what we're talking about in this series called Consumed? Here's how it relates.
It is a real possibility that as you go through life, you can be so focused on something that if somebody else with a different perspective doesn't come alongside of you, you're going to miss huge gorillas in your life. They're going to imprison you, cage you, and be a disaster to you, and you're not even going to know why because you're focused on something you think is going to be the important thing.
Others can come around you and go, "Listen, man. It's awesome that you are excelling at counting the passes from one white shirt to another, but do you know that everybody else can see this gorilla in your life? You ought to deal with it." God wants you to understand that the reason he calls you into otherness is because he has your best interest in mind.
Here's the deal. In isolation, your perception becomes the reality. The reality is that your perception is often the problem. If you don't have anybody who can come alongside of you and say, "I understand why you're thinking that way. I'm not a fool who delights only in revealing his own mind and not understanding others. I can get how you can perceive things to be this way."
The truth is that all of us have logs in our eye. All of us have systems and worldviews that we're cramming things into, past experiences and hurts. We need somebody who can come around us sometimes, and in love, help us see things from a different perspective. Otherwise, we're a victim to our own ability to assimilate and distill information.
What we are talking about this morning in this series called Consumed: Regaining Your Freedom by Realigning Your Focus is a strategic issue, a strategic source of life to you that probably even a greater percentage of us struggle to execute than the percentage of folks in here who struggle to get money right.
Money, material possessions, and things have a stranglehold on us here in the West. It's not just our problem. It's been a problem ever since God created man and man decided to try and find life somewhere other than in a relationship with him. God gave us three huge arteries to pump into our body life, the blood of life that would circulate through us.
The first of those arteries is his Word. He gave us his Word that we might understand truth, that we'd have a circulation of truth constantly before us, so that we wouldn't die and become anemic. He gave us the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in our life if we would just ask for Christ to come into our heart. He has given us his awakening, convicting, enlightening personage, who lives inside of us. God himself, who will show us things, speak to us, if we'll just listen.
There is a third component. This component is not Christ, it is not salvation, but it is a means through which God purposes to give you life. To say, "I'm going to just take God's Word, and I'm going to talk to God on my own, and I'm going to cut off this other major artery that is to circulate life through me," is frankly about as unwise a thing as you can do.
That third element that God has given us as a primary means to deliver grace into our lives is community. It's being with others who can watch us focus and say, "You're nailing it right there. You have it right, but you know something? You're missing it in a huge area. I love you, and because I care for you, not because I want to expose you, humiliate you, make myself feel better because I'm not like this, but because I care for you… Because I've come to understand that we're all part of a family under one Creator."
This is a true whether or not you've responded to the existence of that Creator or not. We're brothers and sisters. We all have one Father. There are going to be some folks who reject the existence of the Father and go their own way, but we still have a responsibility to care for each other, to speak truth into each other's lives.
All the more do we have a responsibility when we come home, when the light goes on, when we see the foolishness of our way, and we come back into relationship with the Father. This is why, in probably the primary area that our loving Father has chosen to be specific about its stranglehold on our lives, he has told us to not neglect gathering together, living with each other, and helping ourselves to be free from money, material possessions, and an improper focus.
Let me read you some very familiar verses and make some quick observations. First, Proverbs 11:14: "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory." If you're a loving father, do you want people to fall? Of course not. You say, "You have to get some others around you, or your focus will get off, and you'll fall flat on your face. It'll hurt you and it'll be a shame to me as somebody who is supposed to care for you.
Proverbs 15:22: "Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors [you will] succeed." God wants you to succeed. He has your best interests in mind. He doesn't want you to be an individual who separates himself. Proverbs 18:1: "He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom."
There are some of you out there this morning, I want to tell you… This is a meaningful verse to you because you're already going, "Oh, man. Here we go again. Watermark's elevating this call to live life in authenticity and openness with one another." We are absolutely ringing that bell loud again. Why? Because God, who loves us, has called us to live this way because if we don't, we're going to miss gorillas. It's going to hurt us, and we're going to look foolish.
Some of you guys are going to make all kinds of excuses. "Too difficult. I can't find folks I relate to. If I was with that group, then I'd do it." You're going to come up with other reasons. "Too risky, inappropriate, cultish…" I'm going to tell you, whatever the reasons are that you throw out there, the truth is the reason you're not doing is because in your arrogance, you want to do what you want to do, and you are quarreling against sound wisdom.
That's as simply as I can put it. We want to call you out of that in love. We're not better than you because we live this way, but we are living more in the context of grace than you if you're not radically pursuing this. I can assure you there are gorillas in your life that you're missing because of it.
Proverbs 24:6: "For by wise guidance you will wage war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory." Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up."
One of my favorite stories, illustrations, not true, is of a guy who lived all his life out by a little lake that some folks in a city had heard about and had started to want to develop around it. They started to buy up different pieces of property around this lake. Folks from a city would come out there.
There was this one guy who had lived a simple life out there, all his life living off the land, enjoying the lake with his family. He had this guy move next to him who built this huge spread and brought in all kinds of toys. Everything you could put on a lake to make the lake more fun… He would come down every weekend with a couple of different cars. He left cars at the lake. He had motorcycles. He had the whole thing working.
Finally, this guy moseyed over to his buddy, and he said to him, "Can I tell you something? I want to introduce myself to you. I know you're my new neighbor, and I want to say hi to you. I've been watching you, and I can tell that you must do fairly well." The guy goes, "Oh, yeah, I do really well."
He said, "I just want to offer this to you. Anytime that you come across something that you need, and you think you want, I want you to mosey on over to my place, and I'll sit you down, and I'll explain to you how you can live without it. All of those toys… I see the way you're out there waxing your boat. I see the way you're yelling at your kids. I see the way you're controlling and not enjoying what owns you. I want to tell you how you can live without being trapped by all of this stuff."
We said before in this little series that a man is wealthy in direct proportion to the number of things he can live without. Let me say this to you. We are going to offer you this morning, with a group of my friends who are doing this together… This is not a particular Community Group that I'm in the middle of, or a group of friends who have thrown in together where my wife and I are a part of this. These happen to be many of my friends who I enjoy spending more time with than others.
This group is living life together in a way that I know to be a benefit to all of us as we would talk to them about what they have learned. I'm going to let you learn from them this morning. Before we do, I'll throw out a couple of little things. I want to tell you again that we are not elevating community to an unhealthy place, where it is to replace your personal relationship with Christ.
But some of you have so exalted in your piety what your relationship with Christ could do that you've stopped being obedient to what Christ has called you to do as a result of his love for you. Meaning, you're just saying, "It's me and Jesus, me and my journal, me and God." God is saying, "If you would read that Scripture and listen to me, you would know that I have called you to be a part of others' lives."
Bottom line, I want to ask you this question. Think about this: When has isolating yourself from a wise, loving, humble, obedient, compassionate, caring community of other people created a better outcome for you? Can you think of any time in your life when saying, "I'm going to get away from these kinds of people," has made it better for you? I dare say that you can't.
I will let you know that God wants you to be in relationship with others where you can get a more full perspective, where you can minimize emotional decisions, where you can find encouragement for those things you are doing that are right, and where you can multiply the wisdom God has given you.
I'm going to come back at the end and talk about some of the challenges that are here, some steps to move in this direction. I'm also going to come back at the end and give you a warning about what this doesn't do. But let us start by talking to my friends who are right here, and I'll move over here in this direction, get out of y'all's way.
Let me introduce you real quick to Rick and Kathryn Jackson, Van and Tracy Beckwith, Scot and Michelle Buchanan, Jon and Kathy Flaming, and Jeff and Karen Riddle. This is a group of friends who have known each other, some of them, since college days. Most of them have known each other only since we started hanging out as a group of faith in the last four to five years. You guys have been meeting together as a group, Michelle, for how long?
Michelle Buchanan: About five years.
Todd Wagner: Okay, but how long have you all been living in community together?
Michelle: About two.
Todd: Okay, so something's going on where you guys met together and were in the fellowship, hanging out mode for five years, but that's not what we're talking about this morning. We're talking about what's been going on with your group the last two years. What specifically has changed the last two years with your group that has helped you guys take some new ground?
Scot Buchanan: Todd, I think the big change was diving into our finances, somebody bold enough to ask the question, "If we're really going to be authentic, then let's open up everything and let's see, in particular financially, how we're stewarding our resources."
Todd: Does that surprise you that that's one of things that this group, in this particular series we're going through, that that would be their answer? It's almost like I knew he was going to say that. Scot, one of the reasons that you guys, as you had been meeting together for five years, doing this thing that was called community, but it wasn't living life together in a way that could really be equated to the biblical community that God wants for all of us…
What was it that you guys, either somebody individually or collectively, you came to the place where you said, "We have to start not just giving ourselves the illusion that we're taking this artery of grace God has given it, but start executing it"? What are some of the things you realized you weren't doing, or some of things you wanted, or what happened that you guys began to take on that issue?
Scot: I think the questions we wrestled with early on in that conversation about finances were, "Are we giving? Are we stewarding? Do we really know the pulse of our own financial situation in our own homes?" For Michelle and me, we couldn't answer that question with, "Yeah, we know exactly how we're doing in this way." These guys, in particular, challenged me to really think through that and process.
Todd: Acts 20:8… I would love for one of you guys to comment. As you looked at the fact that your group had been purchased by the blood of Christ, with his own blood, meaning you had been set free through your relationship with Christ, but you really didn't know how free any of you were because you weren't talking about certain areas that were bringing some real bondage into each other's lives.
As individuals who were called to shepherd each other, the flock that you were among, tell me what it was that you go, "There are some areas that we know we need to do better in." You guys shared with me three or four that you guys have ticked off, that you said, "These are some areas…" Van, do you want to list through those?
Van Beckwith: Sure, I'm happy to. When I reflect on that verse, what it tells me and what it taught me about these guys who I was spending a bunch of time with, was that I really didn't know the condition of the flock that I was shepherding. They were shepherding me; I was shepherding them. I didn't know the condition of that flock. I felt like we had to dive in in the area of money. First, because I needed to have my heart pierced and to help maybe pierce their hearts in the area of finances.
Todd: If you don't do that… In fact, throw up 1 Timothy 6:9-10, where it talks about how if you don't process this, if you get to a place in your own life where the love of other things takes you to a place… "For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." What Van was saying is, "We're either going to pierce each other with true conversation in love, or we're going to get pierced with many griefs." What was another one, Van?
Van: The next one was really that we were convicted that left to our own devices, we would get ensnared in the desire to grow rich. We saw this was a top three sin area that Jesus taught about, that Jesus would reflect on a bunch of different things, but one thing was money.
Todd: More than almost any other topic in Scripture, God spoke to this. If they're not going to talk about it with each other, they're going to have a hard time saying, "We really love each other," if they're not going to go here with one another. What's another one?
Van: The next was really to try to start addressing, and I say that on purpose that way, because it was a journey, but to start addressing the desire to grow in the grace of giving, from giving to the Lord's work to recognizing that every dollar was God's. That took time.
Todd: You guys, every one of you all, when you got married, by God's grace, you came to understand his story of love and his redemptive provision through Jesus Christ. Jeff and Karen, when you guys got married, you were believers, yes? Jon and Kathy? Yep. Scot and Michelle? Yep. How many of you as couples were living biblically in response to the issue of stewardship and handling of finances?
Jeff: Hold on, let me count them. Zero.
Todd: That's right. Here is are a group of folks who were a part of a family of faith, and yet, not a single one of them was responding to the challenge of handling material possessions and money in a way that children of a King who loves them, it's said, they should. For a lot of years, they went through life this way.
You're going to find out that's one of the reasons this area was an issue that they as a group didn't want to discuss, because they had a collective vested interest in not going there because there represented some shame, some disobedience, some self-indulgence, some strategies they wanted to keep holding onto while professing a love for God and God's love for them that would set them free.
Let me ask you this. Other issues that are sometimes typical to talk about are marriage and the struggles we sometimes have in our marital relationship and some of the coldness that can grow and some of the dysfunction that can exist that way, our parenting, and other areas like that. How did money stack up in terms of difficulty to kind of break through and say, "This is on the table"? Jon, I think you were going to make some comment to this effect, about how at different times, this group has had every one of those be the main area where you go, "Let's not go here." Why is it that sometimes all of these issues could kind of be like, "That's a little awkward"?
Jon Flaming: I think at different times, just as you've said, we've struggled with different areas. I think there's one area that's consistent with all of us in terms of an area of struggle, and that's finances. I know for Kathy and I, we just simply didn't want anybody in that area. We didn't want anybody to go there.
It was something we kept to ourselves, and basically, we kept it to ourselves because we didn't know what we were doing. If we don't know what we're doing, and we throw that up in front of everybody else, and they see we don't know what we're doing, that's really going to be embarrassing. It's going to be a challenge for us, big time. We really had to wrestle through that.
Todd: Let me just say this morning, if you've ever been out there and not done something because of fear, can anybody relate to that? Because of shame; can anybody relate to that? Because of a desire to hold onto things even when you know those things aren't really good for you… Anybody out there relate to that? So can they, and so can I.
What I want you to hear this morning is that when you allow yourself to be driven by something other than fear, shame, guilt, and idolatry, when you allow yourself to be driven by light, love, and faith, there is freedom there. Go ahead, Rick.
Rick Jackson: I was going to say that one of the other areas we looked at in Scripture was the parable of the sower. It's really clear that the Word will be quenched, and it will be unfruitful. In the third soil, it says about the thorns and thistles, the worries of this world, the deceitfulness of riches. I think that was one of the other barometers or indicators. We had gone so far in our walk with Lord, but this area was beginning to purvey a lot of our thinking and what we were becoming. That was an area that, I think, another reason why we said, "We have to address this area. If Satan thinks it's an awesome way to quench the Word, then it's probably something we ought to address."
Todd: Mark 4:19 is the verse Rick just alluded to. It talks in that particular verse about that fact, that we can easily be choked out. What happened here is, by the grace of God, and Scot, I think you mentioned this, that there was an increasing desire that God was moving in your heart, and each of you wanted to become more of what God wanted you to be, to experience more of the fruit. I think you said you maybe even heard something.
Rick: I was challenged at some point three or four years ago that I couldn't look at my own life, with my family and my friends, and where was the joy and the peace and the things that Christ says are promises if you're living in the Word. It made me question, and that verse in particular came to me. As I was reading and studying, it was made very apparent that in my own pursuit of wealth and the desires and the worries it had really shut out any opportunity for me to walk a joyful life.
Todd: Have you ever asked yourself this question? Jesus says that he came that you might have life and have it abundantly. Here you are, you check every box doctrinally, right down the list. You go, "Where is the stinking joy? Where is the abundant life, this life of freedom that folks have talked about, this transformation that comes in living with Jesus? I'm beginning to wonder if this Jesus is all he's cracked up to be."
Have you ever felt that way? You bet, and it's almost always tied to us in a way. We can't see the gorilla that is a wedge between us and the Lord, who wants us to experience life. When we think abundance, our first default mode is to think many things. That's not what really any of us want, and that's not what God had in mind when he said, "You might have life abundantly."
It is the idea of eternal life, or life to the fullest, life as you were meant to enjoy it. Not necessarily in poverty, and not necessarily in wealth, but in whatever your circumstance, a heart that is satisfied, that is joyful, that is others-centered, that is at peace with itself and with the God that loves you. That's the life you want, a life of serenity, meaning, and security. God says, "That's the life I intend for you, but you have to deal with some things."
By the way, Watermark exists to call people who are unchurched, folks who have no desire to walk into a place where God is talked about… Those who are dechurched, who were around churches for awhile but found it so irrelevant and non-engaging that they just said, "As soon as I can, whether it's out of the scope of my parents or in a community where that's not so necessary for me to be a part of the community, I am long gone from church"…
And the dead-churched, folks who are in churches that don't call people to a real live relationship with Jesus Christ, understanding that his Word is our authority, conscience, and guide in all things, as a right understanding of God's Word for what it is, and the idea that full devotion to Christ is normative for a believer… If you're around a community of faith, I don't care what you do in terms of order of worship, or what it's called, or what the edifice you meet in looks like… If you're in a church that doesn't call you to a complete and radical response to who Jesus is, you're in a dead church.
The fourth group are folks who are unmoved. These dear friends were with us, I think… Today happens to be the end of our six years as a group of people who met. I think it was six years ago tomorrow that we had our first Sunday morning service. I think almost all of you guys were there. Is that right? Some of you weren't. The Riddles weren't. Flamings? No? Buchanans? The Beckwiths were. Jacksons?
Rick: No, we didn't get our invitation.
Todd: Good, you didn't get the invitation. All right, good. The Beckwiths were, and so the rest of them came out of one of those other environments. All of them, when they got here though, there was time, even when they came to Watermark, a church that we'd like to believe is not a dead church, they were really unmoved to be obedient in this area. This is why we're talking about this.
We're not saying that this church ever is going to be a church full of perfect people. There are areas of our lives where gorillas continue to own us. Because we love each other, we want to go, "Let's count the gorillas and stop encouraging ourselves for all the things we're getting right." We should.
One of the benefits of community is as they've begun to be obedient, they can tell each other, "You are a model to me. You are a source of joy to me. You are an example to me that I can find life apart from these things. I love the way you're stewarding your resources. That's spurring me on." Be a group that can encourage you in those things.
The other reason you want to be in this group is because it is a place you can go like no other to have God's Word, where somebody can challenge you and go, "You know what? We're reading this, but we're not living it. We say we have a relationship with God in our hearts, but it's not bearing much fruit. We, even in all of what we do right, can become more right still. Jeff, you said some surprising things happened in this area. You talked about why, because time and treasure are…what?
Jeff: We spent years dealing with being fully devoted followers. Bible studies, reading books, but we were leaving the practical things behind, finances. I think of time, talent, and treasure. When you start messing around with somebody's time, where they give their time, and where they give their treasure, you get really close to the heart and the true motivation in the heart. Some of us were made to look in the mirror, and we saw some things that we really didn't like. The level of authenticity was raised dramatically when we started messing around in this area. It got more challenging. It got more difficult, but it got a lot more real.
Todd: It was easier for you guys than most because you guys were all at the same socio-economic level, correct?
Todd: No, you're not. Kathryn, you're going to talk about that.
Kathryn Jackson: No. There's a wide spectrum of financial conditions up here, so the answer is no, we're not, and that's not to say we should be. There's no Scripture to support that you need to have that in order to have true community. We did kind of convince ourselves for awhile that that needed to be the case or we couldn't truly open up as to the state of our financial condition because this couple over here may not be able to relate to us. They're not struggling, or vice-versa.
Todd: Let's get real honest here for a second. Who would you guys say in your group felt like, "Gosh, we've been given so much more than the rest that it's awkward for us to talk about that because we might feel a little guilty or not know what to do with that"?
Kathryn: That's us.
Todd: That's you guys. You had what some might call a "Yahoo!" moment in your life that changed some things. You guys were blessed in a particular way through some of the relationships Rick had at work and how there were some stock options that turned into a standard of living that was a great blessing to you guys. Who felt like, "Man, we are just so under a rock that no one can relate to us here"?
Jeff Riddle: I don't know.
Kathryn: I don't either.
Van: I'm not sure.
Todd: Let me tell you. Here's what we have, just to walk you through. Rick is kind of a classic entrepreneur salesman personality. Van is a partner in a national law firm of some renown. Scot has been in pharmaceutical sales for the better part of his marriage. Jon is a graphic designer, artist, self-employed who has fluctuating income streams. Then, Jeff is involved in the management of a service company here in town where he leads a group of people and is on a very fixed income, correct?
It's all over the map up here, and one of the fallacies is if you make $52,000 that you can maybe do this with folks who make $48,000 to $55,000. You're going to wear your heinie out trying to find that group of people who have kids of similar ages, who live in similar geographies as you, who make what you make.
Is that what you guys did, by the way? Did you finally go, "Okay, let's all write down how much we make, and then we'll tell each other what we should and how we should live"? Is that how you guys attacked this?
Jeff: The answer is no.
Todd: No, it's not. But that's what a lot of folks are thinking. "Are those guys crazy? They just started talking about what they made and working their way through that." Why don't we do this? I want to ask you guys this question. What is the level of information you guys do share with each other? How did you guys get started down that road when you realized, "This is an area that God says is really affecting our hearts. If we want to love each other, we want to be no longer unmoved but fully devoted followers. Let's begin to talk about this together." Van?
Van: Let me back up and say how we started, because I think it's highly relevant. One way we started was in community, hanging out together. People would start to bring requests to the group. They would say, "Hey, I am the self-employed artist, and I have highly fluctuating income. I would love to make a financial decision."
Pretty quickly, we realized that if we were going to be authentic with each other, it would be gross negligence, to put it in the lawyer terms, it would be bad judgment, it would be poor wisdom, to give financial advice to those people with limited information. All of us, and as I look out there, all of you, make suppositions about each other. We start to reach conclusions about people. If I don't know the truth, I would be acting foolishly.
To answer your question, to avoid that foolishness, we went to giving to try to figure out what the giving looked like. We chose to do it on a percentage basis, at the start, so we could get some barometer. Not because I think in the New Testament, biblical form, there is a fixed percentage, but it was a good place to start. We even fought about how to calculate that percentage.
Todd: Talk about that because there were some folks… Rick, go ahead. This is the issue. When they went through this, they went, "Okay, we'll talk about giving." The Jacksons could go, "You guys want to compare numbers? We're happy to show you our number." Their number, though it might have been impressive to others, percentagewise, heart-wise, was significantly more or less?
Todd: It was specifically almost non-existent, right?
Rick: Yeah. This issue was one of the ones that started momentum between Kathryn and I. We were not on the same page financially. Van said, "Let's come in here and take one issue down." I was trying to create smoke and mirrors. "Is it pre-tax? Post-tax? Is that after 401(k)? With or without chocolate syrup?" The idea is that I didn't want to really address that issue. Van came in one day and said, "Everyone bring their tax forms; line 6B divided by line 37F." It was painful.
Todd: I know some of you guys are out there, and you're going, "See, now that's why, honey, we will never be in community at Watermark." You just got your permission slip, and you're saying, "Nuh-uh. It ain't happening." But the reason, Van, you did that is why? Why did you say, "Guys, look…"? Why did you say that?
Van: To break through the smoke and mirrors and to drive to intimacy, to get to the heart, to drive our group closer together.
Todd: " Are we going to love each other in this area, or not?" If so, we're playing so many games. Our hearts are so deceitful and desperately sick. Rick, let me ask you a question. You loved Christ, did you not, in the midst of that time?
Todd: You wanted to honor him, and you wanted to store up for yourself treasures in heaven? You wanted to bless your wife as you led her, yes?
Todd: And yet, there was something stuffing that ability to push through, correct?
Todd: Van saw that. These other guys saw that. By the way, you could turn around and ask the same question, Rick, to Van, Scot to Jon, and right down the line. They were all there, and they were like, "This is painful, but if God is who he says he is, then living the way God says we should live is going to be the life that we all say we want. We can't even figure out how to do it." Tracy, what were you going to say?
Tracy Beckwith: The truth is once we started this, we realized how very close to the heart it was, and it brought up a whole spectrum of issues. It was not just issues with money. Dealing with money made us realize we as husbands and wives weren't on the same page. It brought up painful issues in marriages we had to talk through. It brought up debt issues, just a lot of other issues between couples that had to be worked out before we could really come to the conclusion of where we were giving, what we were doing with our time and talents.
Rick: Like Tracy was saying, there was a spectrum from spending without even knowing where it was going, taking on debt, all the way to very focused on not spending and saving, and then all the way to hoarding, where enough is never enough, and almost fear-based, compulsive behavior around that.
Todd: Scot and Michelle, tell us your story.
Michelle: I was just going to say that this did not feel like love to me at all.
Todd: Can I hear an, "Amen"?
Michelle: I will never forget the day that I opened my front door and there was a packet on the porch. I think it was the packet that had the 6B divided by 37F in it, and it was also kind of an evaluation. It was the beginning of starting to bring out questions for the two of us to talk about on this issue and how it all started.
I said, "I am not your assistant, and if you want me to share these things I feel about this topic, you had better invite me to the conference, to the business meeting, to share this." I was really angry about it in the beginning. In my family that I grew up in, it was a private thing. Money was never talked about. I thought, "These people, this is none of their business."
Tracy: It was also at this point that the wives, when this packet showed up, realized the depths our husbands were starting to go to together, and we had to get involved. It could no longer be just our husbands talking about it, but if they were going to start sharing these heart issues that were going on between couples, we as wives had to get involved and be a part of it as well.
Todd: The truth is, Michelle, in the midst of that, you and Scot were on completely separate pages and, frankly, you two were acting like it was none of the other person's business, correct?
Scot: Yeah, and part of our story was, from my viewpoint of providing as a husband, about achieving. So getting the big house and nice car everybody wants to give their wife, and kids in the right school where people would want to be, was just part of what it meant to be a man. I strived after that and got a lot of it. Unfortunately, it was to our detriment financially. The other piece of that, as a family, is Michelle really looked at, and I'll let her speak to it, what it means to be normal.
Michelle: I just thought it was my right. I deserved to live in a certain house, to live in a certain neighborhood, to wear certain clothes. That was just normal. I was a good Christian person; that was just normal.
Scot: For us to kind of separate ourselves and let go of a lot of that would not have happened had it not been for the wise counsel and some of the hard questions.
Todd: Because even as the group was asking these questions, Michelle, Scot was working a lot, traveling a lot, to sustain the illusion of wealth, and yet there was an overwhelming mortgage with driving a car that everybody wants to drive with a significant lease that had you guys severely upside down… You were burdened with a lot of stress, and you were really doing it alone. You pretty much took it on to say, "We have to move through this and downsize," correct?
Scot: It was a change of heart, because I couldn't get away from the questions I knew were going to force me to deal with what was my own personal struggle, wanting to have material things, comfort, and security, especially in Dallas. It says, "Everybody should have that. That's part of life here."
Todd: Easy to be consumed; that's your story. Jeff, you and Karen were not really living the way Scot and Michelle were, and yet you were struggling with the frugality. What was the issue you were struggling with?
Jeff: Long-term contentment. We made a certain amount of money, and we wanted more.
Todd: You didn't live in the house everybody wanted.
Jeff: Right. We love our house, but it doesn't take long to go to a dinner and see a nicer one or see nicer cars. Dallas is tough to be content in. This long-term contentment and doing what we knew we should do, we're pretty good at it, but every now and then, we'd fall off of the wagon. Private school was a struggle for us. We started our kids in private school, and then we quickly realized, "We're not going to be able to sustain this."
Karen Riddle: We tried to figure out how private school tuition could qualify for tithing.
Todd: They did. How'd that fly?
Karen: We did have a conversation, but no.
Todd: It didn't pass? Again, left to yourself, you can find yourself doing all kinds of things. Again, the issue here is… I want you to see what happened. Folks who didn't want to be hoarders were hoarding. They need somebody to love them. Folks who didn't want to be slaves to debt and caught up and consumed by what Dallas throws at you were being caught up and consumed by debt. Folks who were living wisely and under a budget but didn't want to be slaves to a lack of contentment, which is materialism… They need somebody to come alongside them.
Do you see how diverse this group is? What is the unifying factor of this group? A desire to experience the reality of a God who loves them, who wants to rush in and let them experience the joy of surrender to him in plenty or in want. The reason we're doing this this morning is because we want to give you a picture of the life that you're wondering, "Where is this Jesus who Wagner talks about with such passion every week?"
If you're not experiencing a sense of freedom, if there's sleeplessness, worry, anxiety, and frustration, it's because there's an area of your life, I will assure you, that is outside of the revelation that God has given you to live in a such a way that you would have peace. The steadfast in heart, it says, live in perfect peace because their eyes are focused on him.
What happened is here are 10 folks who, I want to tell you, were a lot of fun to be around. Beautiful kids, beautiful families, but in all of them, they were excelling in counting passes. They were all focused on an area where God said, "This is going to steal joy. This gorilla will own you." They said, "We have to roll tape on each other's lives because we love each other and want us to not be caged in some zoo but to have the freedom God set us free for."
Here's the thing. As painful as that was some two years ago, do you realize that the very first time some folks are going to discover the disappointment with which they've managed resources is when they stand before the one who will judge them? In Hebrews 4, this passage comes up, and it talks about this specifically. This was one of the verses, as they were studying God's Word, that they realized. It says, "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
The Scripture makes it very clear that when we say, "I love these people. I am in life with these people. I am responsible for these people"… When God would come alongside Rick Jackson, or Jeff Riddle, and say, "You have to give an answer to me in the way you responded to the way I blessed you or didn't bless you," these guys realized they were accountable to that.
This is the truth: we are all accountable for each other. As you guys pushed through this, I'd love for you guys to go through and very quickly, why don't you share a little bit of where you are today, two years into having God's Word, God's Spirit, and God's people loving you in this issue that can so easily consume us. Throw in whatever you can, quick statements of where we are today.
Kathryn: I would say for us, the giving thing really pushed a lot of heart issues that got things out on the table that really started to transform our marriage. Now we just live with a joy in that giving that we never had before. It's just like those words we had on the screen when we sang "The Wondrous Cross," that he bids me to come and die that I might truly live. It was just one more thing we had to lay at his feet so we could have true joy.
Todd: You guys would say because of this friendship and the Spirit of God working through this group of friends, you've gone from a fearful, hoarding mentality to where money is really your servant, and you're moving more in that direction every day?
Todd: Van and Tracy?
Tracy: Ours is just also the joy in giving and using our time better. We have people around us that we don't need to be working all of the time to make money and to buy the things we think we needed. We could have freedom from that and use our time to serve the Lord better and give to him.
Todd: Scot and Michelle, you guys had consumer debt at what level when you guys started sharing this? I think we tried to figure this out the other night. It was over…
Todd: Yeah, it was more than tens of thousands of dollars. As you guys began to address this, there were some action steps you put into place, which included?
Scot: Getting out of debt.
Todd: Yeah. Downsizing?
Scot: I think we really focused on how to take what our income is and live according to that. In particular, first with our giving, which we've become very disciplined, which we hadn't been in our giving. Secondly, how do we move ourselves out of debt? And really, we're on the next phase of is that the right size mortgage we should have? We're still a work in progress, and we're not sure what the next step will look like for our family.
Todd: It also, for you, included a job change where you took a job that provided less financially for you family because you realized you were not providing something more important for your family.
Scot: It was really pulling off all of the covers on everything and looking and saying, "What would God have us do at this time? If that means a job change, we'll do that." That's what it led to.
Todd: Jon and Kathy, for the first time in your lives, you have a spending plan, or you're working toward one more than you ever have before, yes? Spending plan.
Kathy Flaming: We do have a budget now. It's in place. We don't always have anything to budget with, but we're working on it. We definitely are working on it, and we are very accountable to this group to try and stay on it.
Todd: And not as much of a slave to some emotional decisions, I think is what you guys shared, that that's been a freedom that has come.
Jon: Absolutely. That's what this group gives. Another thing is we're very purposeful now about giving. Giving for us now is an act of worship as opposed to something we just feel we have to do. It's a huge blessing for us.
Todd: Jeff and Karen?
Karen: One of the things I would like to say is what I said earlier, that we are now able to celebrate where we are today. James 4:13-17 talks a lot about how we think about what we're going to do tomorrow. We're going to go here and make money. We were living daily, what it would be if we got a raise, if a bonus might come through. We were constantly living like that. Today, we just live for today, where God has us. We're experiencing joy with that. There's a lot of freedom there.
Jeff: I would add it's still a struggle. It's still a struggle for all of these couples. Whatever socio-economic status they're in, there are struggles there. This is a journey, and the journey's not over.
Todd: Wonderful. Let me walk you through, because if we didn't give you some application, what to do to begin to pursue this, we'd be greatly remiss. Very quickly, here are some steps you can take if you want to move this direction.
First of all, we have somebody on staff to help us move forward in this area. His name is Michael Fleming. Michael is every week out there at that information table. Or you can take that little perforated section any week and just write, "I need to begin to have others in my life." You write that down, and we know where to go with that, and we'll begin to pursue this thing with you.
Second, get started. Know what you want and why. Because God loves you, he calls you into community in every area of your life. Be diligent about moving in that direction. Wherever you are, go deeper. Some of you guys need to get into community with other people, and just say, "I have to have this. If you don't want to go there with me, I'm going to love you enough to say that I have to find it somewhere else.
I'll still be your friend, but I'm not going to let you be deluded into thinking we are loving each other well when we're choosing not to be authentic about our brokenness, our marital failures, our parenting mistakes, our idolatries, and the way we view certain things. While we lose the joy and are in debt and imprisoned to false thinking, we're going to think we have to go somewhere other than God for real life and meaning. We know that the problem isn't with God's revelation; our problem is with our response to it.
If we can't talk about this stuff, I'm going to love you enough to move away from you in the sense that we're not going to give the illusion that we're in community, shepherding and loving each other, when we're not." It's the kindest thing you can do. Find at least one other couple. Find a couple of other guys, a couple of single gals, and get in there, and then look to build it with at least a team of three. That's a very significant number. Two doesn't do it. Three starts to get there. Much more than this is too much.
Third, you want to be a leader. You have to be the one who says, "We're going to go here. A full and radical response to Jesus Christ is a normal thing." There are folks who are all in this wonderful church who are listening to this today and going, "That is ridiculous. That is inappropriate. That is the cultural understanding; it is not biblical." It's going to take men to rise up, women to rise up, and say, "I'm going to go here. Follow me. Imitate me as I imitate Jesus Christ."
Fourth, start hanging out together. Begin to have conversations. Prove your love for one another so you can trust each other just a bit more. It doesn't take time to be obedient. It does take a willingness, faith, and trust. Fifth, when you begin, spend some time, men with men, women with women, but as Michelle said, "I'm going to go when we're talking about couple stuff and things we hold together."
Sixth, don't give up. Move purposefully. Let me ask you this. Do you guys offend each other at times? Do people here hurt you with the way you go through life? All the time. The people who I have the most trouble in my life, do you know who they are? First, my sweet, dear wife, who's birthday is today. I have more conflict with her than anybody in my life. Second, the four or five staff guys that I ask to help me think through how I lead this church. I have more conflict with them than anybody else in my life, the elders who I share life with here.
Do you know why? It's because that's who I spend my time with. I'm a broken, imperfect person, and so are they, so we have to extend each other grace. I keep reaffirming my commitment to them. I accept them just the way they are, but I love them just enough to not let them stay that way. We get in there.
Don't buy the lie that yours is the only marriage with conflict, that yours is the only group of friends that's imperfect. We're all imperfect. This is earth; we're not home yet. That's why God says, "You've been a kind recipient of grace. Extend it to others. Be committed. Resolve conflict biblically but stay in community."
Seven, stay at it. Don't quit. Eight, don't give people the illusion that they're being obedient when they're not. It's one of the most unloving things. It's been said there's no lie as much as a truth that is misunderstood. When you are meeting with couples but not sharing life together, you are misunderstanding God's call to live life together.
Do you know why we're touching this topic? Because God is consumed with you. He loves you, and he wants you to have all of the life he intends for you. You will never get there on your own. You may be acing it on how many passes went around the circle, but all of us miss the gorillas if we don't find folks who love us.
Father, I thank you for these friends in this church. We just confess, we're going to be people who hurt each other, Lord, because we're not like Jesus yet. We thank you that Jesus has dealt with that imperfection. We thank you that his Spirit lives within us. Our great desire is that we'd become more like him and that we would love each other just the way we are, but we would love each other just like you love us, so much that we wouldn't let each other stay that way, that we'd tackle tough issues with grace, with gentleness, with reverence, with a lack of judgmentalism.
Lord, when your Word says, "This is truth and this is error," that we would not be foolish people who think that speaking truth is judgmentalism. Break us free from that bondage and foolishness. Help us to really love. Help us to stay at it. Help us to take steps. Raise up leaders, single men, single women, couples, men, women in this church who are going to say, "I want to be a guy, I want to be a gal who says, 'Imitate me as I imitate Jesus Christ.'"
Lord, move us wherever we're at today to be more like your Son. We love you. We are grateful that you want to regain our freedom by helping us realign our focus. We thank you, Lord, that you are consumed with your love for us, so much that you sent your Son to die for us, even while we were still sinners. May we start to follow you so that we can experience the life that you've purchased for us with your own blood.
Would you keep us free from the one who has come to steal our joy, kill our future, and, Father, destroy our hope? We thank you for Jesus, and we seek to serve him. For his glory and our good we pray, amen.
May you have a great week of worship being consumed only with him. We'll see you.
Whether youre deep in debt or have the tendency to hoard, the Bible is clear that there is a direct correlation between our attitude toward money and our relationship with God. Through these six messages by Todd Wagner, pastor of Watermark Community Church, you will learn Gods heart on the issues of materialism, debt, and being consumed with money and possessions. Our hope is that you will take away practical tools for handling what God has entrusted to you and surrendering your finances to Gods wisdom and direction - ultimately leading you to financial freedom.