Who Needs a Dragon When You Have a Father Like This? (Introduction to 'This is the Life!')

This is the Life! Volume 1

"Whether you are a beliver in Jesus Christ or not, if you want to find a book that's going to help you make your way through life and prosper in living, it is the book of Proverbs." Todd introduces a 36-week series that will examine 36 attributes that define a life lived to the fullest.

Todd WagnerOct 15, 2006

Every now and then, I get asked the question, "What is your favorite book of the Bible?" I have an honest answer to that and then I have one that I always give. Today the two collide. The one that I always give, and it really is true, is I typically find myself most encouraged by whatever book I'm spending the most time in in the Scripture.

My favorite book of the Bible is always the one that I'm being most attentive to at that time, because I want to tell you what. Most of what is there for us in God's Word is so shallow that the youngest of children can wade through it and find something they can be encouraged by, but it's so deep you can swim in it for a lifetime and never get to the bottom.

So when I go back through again and again in different books when I'm preparing for an opportunity to communicate with some folks about what God, in his infinite wisdom, has shared with us, I can honestly say… If I'm teaching through Colossians, that has become… I just cannot believe the genius of Colossians.

If I'm doing some historical narrative of the Old Testament and finding truths that are there, I can honestly say that's my favorite place to be. If I was just thrown the opportunity to have one book that I could really give myself to and memorize from start to finish, it would be the book that we're going to begin to take a pretty good long gander at. There's a reason for that: because I'm stupid and I like simple, sharp, succinct zingers, pithy statements.

It helps me when somebody, in a creative way, can give me something that has a powerful, transforming strength. My favorite book, by far and away, is the book of Proverbs. Now if I could only give somebody one book, I'd probably give them the gospel of John because you're going to find that in the gospel of John there is a story of a guy by the name of Jesus whose life contains the benefit and the wisdom and the illustration of everything that Proverbs teaches.

In the book of John, you have the story of hope and redemption and you have the greatest presentation of wisdom lived out and reconciliation offer that you can find anywhere. Romans is probably the greatest treatise on doctrine for men to understand the basic truths that God wants us to build our lives on.

But, whether you are a believer in Jesus Christ or not, if you want to find a book that's going to help you make your way through life and prosper in living, it is the book of Proverbs. None of us will ever fully live as wisely as the teacher instructs us to in the book of Proverbs. That is why we need the book of John. That's what Romans is all about, that none of us live wisely. All of us have fallen short of a good and righteous life; therefore, all of us are separated from a great God.

That's why John comes to tell us that God, though, didn't leave us separated from him. As any loving Father does, he pursues his children who are away from him, but God loves people, and he doesn't want folks to have to live in the dark. So he has told them, "Look, this is how you do what you need to do to experience on this short journey of life more fullness, more security, more hope, and more peace than you will otherwise get if you will just leave yourself to your learnings and your 80-some-odd years."

Or even if you attended yourself to the learnings of men who have lived for 80 short years prior to you. You can read all the wisdom in the world of men who have had 80 years before you. Some men start with what men who lived 80 years before them have learned and they try and build on top of that. All of us see further today than men behind us did because we stand on their shoulders. God is going to try and tell us, "Look, you don't need to wait until somebody figures this out. I'm going to tell you everything you need to know to have the kind of life you want."

That is why Moses told folks, "Look, I know I'm leaving. I know I meant a lot to you, but let me just tell you it isn't about me. It's about what I've told you God has told me to tell you. This is no idle Word. This is your life. Because if you want life, you're going to find it right here." Idle meaning this is not a Word that you are keep unemployed, to sit idly by. You better be attentive to it so that you can experience what God your Father wants you to experience.

Moses' servant, the guy who Moses poured his life into, Joshua, this is what he said. "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth…so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success."

I have people periodically ask me, "Hey, Wagner, how come some folks who don't know Christ, don't go to church, and don't have any relationship with God so far as I can tell have better marriages than people who go to church and who say they know God?" I go, "That is a very easy question to answer." Because the best marriages in Dallas, much to our shame, are not always in churches. The best marriages in Dallas are always lived with the wisdom that people who know God should be communicating to each other and spurring each other on to.

It's a simple fact that people who live wisely will benefit from wise living. So there are some people who have ordered their lives in such a way even though they don't acknowledge God, don't call him God, don't acknowledge Jesus is who he says he is, who live the way that God says people should live, and they are blessed because of it. Now not in a salvific way, not in an eternal way, but certainly there is prosperity even in being obedient to something, even if you don't reckon and acknowledge the authority behind it.

It is like the Christian who is lazy and sits on his rear end, doesn't plow his field and tend to his vineyard. His vineyard is not going to be nearly as effective and productive as the guy over here who scoffs at God, curses God, and yet wisely tills his land, pays attention to it, sows his seed in season, and harvests it in season, and gets up early, and retires early, but tills his land.

Which of those two pieces of land do you think is going to do better? The Christian's, the professed knower of God, or the one who obeys the laws of nature that God has sovereignly put in place? I want to tell you it's a great chance to invite your friends who aren't a big fan of God or aren't a big fan of Jesus. If they are a big of themselves, and everybody is, it's a great series to invite them to.

What I'm going to do every week is simply this. I'm going to walk you through how to live a life that, as Napoleon Dynamite would say, "I got skills." The book of Proverbs is a book that is written to teach people how to live a wise life. The Hebrew word for wisdom is the same word that is used for craftsman, musicians, architects, counselors, and leaders.

If they are a wise counselor, if they are a wise craftsman, if they are a wise musician, if they are a wise singer, it means they are skilled intellectually and practically at what they do. This is the gig. This is what God is saying. Look, if you want to live a life that people go, "That dude has skills," what they're really saying is, "That guy lives a life that I wish I could live like him."

When I hear them play, when I hear them sing, when I look at the graphics and I look at the things that everybody does around here and their skill set, I just go, "They have skills. They are good at what they do." This is God's intention and purpose for us that we would live our lives in such a way that the rest of the world would go, "Man, those folks have skills!"

You know if I had to live a life, I'd live a life like that. That is why Jesus is our greatest example. Because you look at the life of Christ, even people who hate Christianity, they couldn't stand you talking about your relationship with God, but they will always listen to Jesus. You cannot find somebody who speaks poorly of Jesus. They'll go, "That brother has skills!" Do you know why? Because he is the embodiment, the Scripture says, of wisdom.

He is God's wisdom made manifold or made known in all of his greatness and glory. That is why God says, "Look, he is the firstborn among many brethren. He is my Son in whom I am well-pleased. I want you to be like him. I'm trying to conform you to his image. Here's a secret. Let me just put into you what fully dwelled in him, which is the eternal wisdom of me."

I have to tell you something. This may sound cocky and arrogant to you, but I want to tell you. I guarantee you that right now if I was able to I could go back to elementary school and I could be the biggest stud in any elementary school in the history of elementary schools. I could rock. I would be the most popular kid.

I would be the kid who every week the teacher goes, "It is such a joy to have your son in class. Not only is he studious, not only does he nail the work, it's like he's bored. It's like he's been through college and has his master's or something, even though he is only in kindergarten. The way he cares for other students… He is never petty. I have never seen him act like that's the last piece of construction paper on earth.

He doesn't kill for a Twinkie. He has a perspective that is beyond the years of a normal kindergartener: the way he is kind to others, the way he realizes that the relationships and the pettiness and the politics of the playground are not setting definitively the rest of his life. This kid is a joy. He is a boy who is wise beyond his years."

Now think about that. Do you all think I could pull that off? I guarantee you I could. Why? Because I have a good almost 40 years on everybody else that is there. I think I could do well in junior high, which is even more complicated than the social dynamics of kindergarten. I think I could do really well in high school. I really do.

I think if I went to high school right now, I would realize that the way that most of us in high school give our hearts away, do stupid things, just to have a little bit of acceptance from people who, frankly most of us look back 20 years from there and we go, "I don't even keep in touch with 99 percent of those people who I was willing to sacrifice everything that they might accept me in that moment."

Because of that wisdom, the pain I would spare myself from, the way I would pay attention to history classes in particular, and just be so blessed that my life is provided for so I could learn at that moment in my life. I think I could rock in high school. How great would it be to be able to live in a season of life like you were way ahead of that season?

Here's the question. How am I doing as a guy in his mid-40s? Am I just knocking it out of the park there? Am I a guy who goes, "Look, of all the 40-year-olds I know, that 40-year-old has something 40-year-olds aren't supposed to have." See, that's the gig. If folks aren't saying that about me, it's because I have not listened to the messages that I'm going to try and give to you over the next year.

I mean, because God wants to say, "Here's the deal, Wagner. You don't have to have all the wisdom in the world. I have it. You just have to do what you want your kids who are in elementary school to do, which is go, 'Psst, come here! Don't think. Listen. Listen to me. If you do what I tell you to do at age 6, you could be like a guy in his 40s in elementary school and you will rock!'"

I can go to my eighth-grade girl, "Psst, come here. Let me tell you something. If I only knew when I was in eighth grade what I know now, you wouldn't believe the heartache it would've spared me. So come here. I love you so much; I'm going to tell you how to make your way through eighth grade. My body has been through that thing that your body is going through. If I had known then what I know now, oh my gosh could I have spared myself and others some serious pain."

Listen to me. I am so desperate for my kids to get what I have. I have to tell you something. That is exactly what is going on in Proverbs. Do you know what God's favorite metaphor for himself is? The one that he uses more than any other? We just looked at the second favorite. We just spent four weeks on it.

It was a shepherd to a sheep, a wise creature of a completely different species that could help idiots survive. The most popular metaphor is just like it: father to a child. A wise creature, almost like a completely different species, to protect this idiot from destroying himself, starving to death, and ruining his life until he becomes what God wants him to be, which is hopefully not just an older person, but a wise, skilled person.

Now I'll tell you. Some of you had an absolute jerk for a dad. Some of you guys had an absent dad. Some of you had an abusive father. Some of your visions of a father are like, "Oh man, don't go there on the father thing, because that is so painful for me I can't even imagine that God wants to associate himself with that."

Well, God may not want to associate himself with that which was represented to you as a father, and God… Believe me, in Scripture if he makes one thing clear, he makes it very clear that is he going to deal with those who are in positions of authority who do not use that authority the way he wants that authority to be used. Your God can take care of your daddy, and he will.

We need to pray for grace for all of our parents, even as we ask for it ourselves as we imperfectly make our way through this stage of our lives. I don't care if your daddy taught you some wrong patterns. I don't care if your dad has a whole lot of judgment coming his way. I do care for your father and I'm sorry for you, but I want to tell you something. Your heavenly Father wants to re‑parent you, and he wants to shepherd you through your life in a way that you're going to go, "Unbelievable!"

People say all the time, "Why has my God, my Daddy, forgotten me? If he is there in heaven, he is my Father, and he loves me, why has he forgotten me?" He hasn't. I'm going to show you today he is screaming from the hilltops. You see, most of us have dysfunctional marriages because we grew up in homes that did not apply the principles of Proverbs, the principles of God, our eternal Father's, wisdom to our marriage.

So the way we try and treat a wife is the way we saw for 18 years in that intensive marriage discipleship program we were in how to treat a woman. We expect women to respond that way, but that woman grew up in another home where she was trained another way for how a woman responds to a man, and if those two things don't collide exactly there is major conflict. That is why God says, "Make sure you marry a woman, make sure you marry a man, who has been trained by a perfect Father."

Some of us have had an earthly father who, in his goodness and kindness has rightly reflected the eternal Father, but make sure wherever your earthly home was that you run into a heavenly Father and you both agree, "That's the way Dad says we should love each other. That's the way a man should lead a woman. That's the way a woman should respond in all of her glory and mutual greatness in her role to make that family all that God wants it to be."

The proverb says, "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." Amos says, "Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?" Paul says, "Don't be unequally yoked, man. You have to make sure that ox is going where this ox is going or you guys are going to fight the entire day and you're not going to plow at all."

So don't get yoked with somebody who doesn't want to build the way God says to build. Well, here is the deal. For you to marry somebody who is wise, you have to be wise yourself or they won't be wise to marry you, because none of us live perfectly the way that wisdom would have us live. But there is no question that there are people who would not say they are followers of Christ who take principles that God says will make relationships work and apply it to their lives more than folks who are sitting here this morning.

I had a guy come up to me at the end of the first service and he just goes, "Man, it is so hard, you know? I want that kind of marriage. What do I do? I don't have any clue what to do." I said, "Listen, man, it is so simple. It really is. Don't do anything… Sit at his feet and listen. Sit at the feet of your Father who loves you, who wants you to have a great marriage, and listen.

Don't do anything until he tells you what to do. If you're not sure what to do, ask him. God is always more anxious to reveal to you his will than you will ever be to seek it. So you really want the kind of marriage that God says you should have? Then don't do anything unless he tells you to do it. So sit there and ask yourself, 'Should I cuss my wife or communicate love to her?'

He'll answer that question. Sit there and ask yourself, 'Should I go make five more bucks or spend five more minutes with my kids?' He'll tell you the answer to that question. Sit there and ask yourself, 'Should I sit on my butt and say, "Leave me alone!" or should I get up off my tail and say, "Let's talk. Let's play. Let's make a memory together."'

You do those things and every woman in this room, every kid is going, 'Yes!' You respond rightly to that and you have it made. It'll be golden for you. So now is the time to begin to be a person who says, 'I'm going to let God tell me how to live my life. I'm going to have a life that, by the grace of God, others look at and go, 'Man, that dude has skills.' This is the life."

I'll let you in on a little secret which won't be a secret for long. That is that what I'm about to do is just walk you through what we've been walking your children through. When we started Watermark, one of the things I want to do is I thought, "You know what? I want our children's program to build wisdom attributes into our kids."

So we poured through Proverbs and we chose 36 different life wisdom skills that if a kid was wise, he would live this way. I'm not sure… I can't control whether every kid who ever passes through Watermark will trust Jesus Christ, but I can control whether or not I teach them what a wise life looks like whatever they do with Jesus.

If they're going to reject Christ and head into a Christ-less eternity, the most compassionate thing I can do is at least give them the ability to live 80 years that might suggest that there was goodness in their world. We have built a little program that we spend one month with your kids on each of these attributes in a very creative way.

What we do with them is we say, "This is what this attribute is. This is the blessing of living that way. This is the consequence of not living that way. This is how that life, that attribute, that skill is most fully embodied and exemplified in Jesus Christ." That's the secret. That's the gig. That's what we're doing with your kids ages 5 through fifth grade. They're there for six years. That means they get every attribute twice.

We just say, "This is what a good life is," because we want them to head into j.crew then on to Shoreline, off into college, having been firmly rooted in understanding the basics of true life and how Jesus is the greatest leader and illustration of that life that you could ever find. We're going to take a look. We're not going to spend a month on each one. We're going to spend one week on each one.

This week is just the basic overview. The title of this series… I'm going to tell you. I am more excited about this. I don't know if it'll be any good. I'm more excited about this series than any one I've ever done at Watermark. This Is the Life! I'm going to tell you, I was going to say this at the end, but I'm just going to tell you right now.

I have a great life. I have a great life. It is not because I live in a certain zip code. It's not because I have a certain job. It's not because of any circumstance that I'm in. I have some pretty great circumstances right now. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to apologize for that. Right now, there's a certain amount of physical, earthly, temporal blessing in my life that I just get on my knees every day and say, "Lord, the deal is not that I get this for long. The deal is when I have it; I can just thank you for it and be an effective steward with it."

I will tell you, my life is good. My life is good because I sleep really well. My life is good because I run on some rails that I wasn't smart enough to lay. Because of that, my life, by some miracle of transforming grace, is a blessing to others and I can look at myself in the mirror and just go, "Oh my gosh, how in the world did you, you idiot, ever get here? Because you aren't good enough, smart enough, wise enough to live this way."

Now look it. There's a long way for me to go still, which is what really excites me. By and large I am a blessing to my circle of friends, my community, and the folks who know me. I sleep securely. I am not burdened by things that I would be absolutely burdened by if I went my own way: by debt, by immorality, by just reckless anger unchecked. That's not my story. It isn't because I'm good. It's because I have a good Father who loves me.

I read a great book. One of the things I got to just do was spend about 20 hours alone on a plane. It was awesome. I just watched some great movies with some great illustrations. I read three books as I just flew across Northern Africa and into Europe and the Atlantic and across our country. I'll tell you more about that in a second.

One of the books I read was this book by Donald Miller called To Own a Dragon (also released as Father Fiction). This is about a guy who grew up without a daddy. He grew up without a father and how messed up his life was as a result. In this book, he talks about a relationship he has with a guy named John MacMurray. John MacMurray is an internationally recognized wildlife photographer.

You talk about a dream job. This guy is paid by the Sierra Club and the National Geographic Society to fly to the most exotic beautiful places on earth and take pictures and then go back to his home in the Pacific Northwest and sell them for huge bucks. This guy has been everywhere. He has seen everything that is cool and beautiful. He has some great pictures. Well Donald Miller was a guy without a daddy.

At one point, Donald Miller found himself in the northwest and was going to a church where he was just out of college. A guy who kind of hung out with those guys who were just out of college and in college was a guy named John MacMurray. John MacMurray saw this wayward kid who had no mores, no grounding, no hope, had never been parented well, and he just brought him into his life and said, "Let me just share with you some of the goodness of my life and help you understand a little bit more about what it means to have a good dad."

What Donald Miller discovered is even though he didn't have a dad, as a kid… The story of this book is as a kid he always dreamed what it was like to have a dragon, to own a dragon, how great that would be to get to fly on his back and have him devour his enemies with fire. He thought, "I always wanted to own a dragon. I know a dragon is a fantasy. A dragon is a myth. I'll never own a dragon."

He said, "What I really wanted was a dad, but to me a dad was a myth. A dad was a fantasy. My dad left right when I was born, and I grew up with a mom who did the best she could, but I never had a dragon who could show me how to get through life." Because of that, he talks about a lot of the pain that he went through because he never had a daddy.

Here's the deal. There is one perfect parent. One. He doesn't live where I live. He didn't live where I lived growing up, and he doesn't live where you live, and he didn't live where you lived growing up. He resides in eternity, and the heavens cannot contain him. He wants to be your Daddy. He wants to be your Father.

He wants you as a 40-year-old to go, "Do you want to get through your 40s?" Do you think God could kick some tail as a 40-year-old? Do you think he could live life as well as I think I could do kindergarten right now? In spades! He didn't do too badly as a 20-year-old. Knocked it out of the park as a 30-year-old. We never saw him live when he was 40 or 50 or 60, but we've seen men who have walked with him who were 40, 50, 60, 70, and 80. It is… Those dudes have skills! So can you. So can you.

He talks in here about a time that he and John MacMurray were having this little conversation. He specifically had come across a sunset. They were talking about what the origin of that sunset was and how you can explain it. He talks about how much he loved as a dad who had been a lot of places sharing those moments now with his young boy, Chris. John MacMurray does who was growing up. Not with Don, who he took with him to certain places, but with his young boy, Chris.

He always talked about how sunsets are God's final brushstrokes in the beauty of the day. He talks about how beauty… Darwinistic, atheistic worldviews have no explanation for beauty. He says beauty can only be explained by a God who delights in giving good things to his children. Chance doesn't create beauty. Chance creates chaos, not order. He develops that idea.

He talks about how he loves to take his young son Chris, who is about kindergarten age at the time. He is telling Don, "Let me just tell you," because Don didn't know God at the time the way God wanted Don to know him. He just said to him, "Look, God wants you to experience the beauty not just of his creation, but of life."

This is what he says, John MacMurray, talking about his kindergarten kid, Chris. "I do things for Chris because I know Chris will love it. We go on a hike, we go down a river, whatever. Showing Chris things that give him pleasure also gives me pleasure. Look, I've seen a river a thousand times; after a while, you just get bored. But when Chris and I go to the river, I live the whole thing through him. I feel his pleasure, and it gives me pleasure. So, God is like that. A Father is a fitting metaphor for God."

Do you know how I know he is telling the truth? I've had some good rides through sports and some real fun on the athletic field, but I will tell you that there is nothing that has ever filled my heart up as much as watching my sons, my daughters have success as good teammates, as good sports, as encouragers, as athletes who punch it across the line and handle it well, who learn skills and fundamentals that make them an asset and a glory to their team.

I love it. I love watching them do well, even more in life. When I get a call from a teacher who says, "I have to tell you something your son did today." When I hear a friend who has a child my kid's age, "I just have to tell you something I saw your daughter do that just stunned us." You couldn't compliment me more if you wrote me a hundred notes about how my life encouraged you when I hear that my children are walking in wisdom and people are ascribing skill to them.

That's God! He wants that for you. When Don heard that, he just didn't have any category to put it in. What John was trying to tell him was, "Look, to go through kindergarten really well is awesome, but God is frankly a little bored with kindergarten. To go through life as a 60-year-old, 80-year-old, to go through life as a 40-year-old and knock it out of the park, he has been down that river. It's a little boring, but guess what gives God greater joy than seeing a sunset for a first time? Than being out in the Great Barrier Reef and seeing some of the things he has seen?"

He said, "Look, I've seen rivers, man. I take pictures for the National Geographic, for the Sierra Club, but I can go to the simplest brook and watch my kid go in it for the first time and look for a tadpole and it's like I'm living it all over again because I love introducing him to the beauty of a creek." That's the way God is with me.

He really doesn't need the joy of being successful in Dallas in 2006. God has joys infinitely beyond that, but he gets psyched, totally thrilled, for me to do well in my 20s in Dallas. He can't imagine how great it is for you to live where you live and to knock it out of the park. It's like he is doing it himself. I will tell you I heard a great coach one time who had great success as a player.

He said, "I never thought I'd say this, but I have more satisfaction through the game of basketball right now as a coach watching these guys experience the success that I had or work toward it than I ever did lifting up championship trophies. It is crazy to me that I would rather coach people to success than experience that success myself." That is a fact.

I only know that now because I'm a dad. I have more joy watching my son have the little bit of success in sportsmanship and kindness, in being a good teammate, and in punching that ball across the goal line than I ever had. No matter what success I ever experienced on the field it is more joy for me to watch him to be successful than it is for me.

God is like that. He wants you to knock it out of the park. Do you know what pains me as a daddy more than anything is watching my kid go, "Hey old man, this isn't my dad's kindergarten. You don't know how to deal with this right now. So you just walk. I think I'll make my way through it. If I need something, I'll find you."

It kills me. It kills me when I see an eighth-grader say, "You know what, hey, I'll listen. Go ahead dad. Okay, you done? Great, I think I'll just work through eighth grade with all the wisdom of a 13-year-old." Then a lot of kids, with all the wisdom a 13-year-old informed by Viacom, informed by music, informed by culture, informed by other 13-year-olds. There's no more pain than watching a kid making even the smallest decisions not knock it out of the park.

Hey, I'm beating this metaphor hard because I want you to be encouraged wherever you come from that God is trying to say, "Life is over here and I want you to get a big old swing of it and walk in it." Right now if you had to define your life, would you say that? Would you say, "Hey man, I have skills. I have skills." Would you define your life as that which is salt, makes other people thirsty to live like that or full of light that informs others how life should be lived?

If not, you aren't listening to your Daddy. This is going to be a great series for you to go, "Okay, I'm going to get attentive on this stuff one more time and begin to go down this road and get it that way." This is what's great. Don Miller is a very funny guy in this book. He has written some other books that folks have liked. This is the first one of his I've read.

I'm going to read you another excerpt from this because he talks about growing up without a dad. He really resented people who lived their life differently, just like the world resents us when we live our lives really well. They really do. They're both really drawn to it and they somehow resent it. This is what he says.

"Because I didn't have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn't belong to. I would've never admitted at the time, but I wanted to belong." Man, that is the world that you live in, and that's what drives me crazy about these red seats that I see. Do you know how many people want a life…?

They don't want to admit they do and, frankly, maybe they don't think they can find it around groups like this, but we should know better. We should do everything we can to say, "Man, look, there was a seat open next to me last week. Come on and get a big old swig of truth, because God loves you and he wants you to knock it out of the park."

They may never admit it, but they want to belong to that kind of a Father. He said, "I desperately wanted to belong. […] I felt as though all the men in the world [all the guys who had skills] secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis, and what an easy thing it was to operate, how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was and be able to grab it and stop its flapping around, doing this without jolting their heads back or squinting their eyes.

They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick-shift truck without grinding the gears. And then I secretly believed that at the end of the meeting, they gathered around and reminded each other that under no circumstances was anybody to tell me about these things."

Is that not great? That's the way little guys who grow up without a daddy feel. "I have no idea how to operate this thing. I have no idea how to drive a stick shift without grinding the gears. A fish? I run from it. I'm scared to death. I'm going to embarrass myself, get a hook through my finger, cry out in pain." It just spirals off into all kinds of perversions and gropings for love and significance and acceptance.

What I want to tell you guys is that your Father is saying, "I want to teach you how to do more than just catch a fish and shift gears. I want to teach you how to knock it out of the park. Will you listen?" Let me tell you what will happen if you don't. I read a story recently about Woody Allen. Woody Allen has had what we would say is a great life of success in terms of worldly acclaim and having skills as a playwright, producer, businessman, and investor.

In 1992, even big Woody Allen fans had a real problem with the way Woody Allen lived his life. In 1992, that's when he left Mia Farrow, his little starlet celebrity partner and decided that the woman he had grown in his home for the last 17 years, Soon-Yi, was really who was going to make him happy. He took his own daughter to be his wife after he and Mia split. Remember she was adopted, but nonetheless, it made everybody go, "Whoa, that is sick! What is wrong with you?"

Woody Allen's defense was this. "The heart wants what it wants." Now if the world is right, then Woody Allen should be the happiest guy on the face of the planet because he has the money, the fame, the privilege, the opportunity to get what he wants when he wants it. He has what I would call an amazing bravado to get what he wants even when the whole world says, "You are sick." But he got it.

Fast forward now 14 years and Woody Allen has a new movie. Because of that, he has an opportunity to go back on the path. He was interviewed by a guy who is not a believer, a guy by the Washington Post. As far as I know, David Segal is not a believer. Segal interviewed Woody Allen and he just said after talking to this guy, "Yes, the world according to Woody is so bereft of meaning, so godless and absurd, that the only proper response is to curl up on a sofa and howl for your mommy."

Here's what he said. Early in the interview, Allen compares life to a concentration camp. It only goes downhill from there. "It's very hard to keep your spirits up. You've got to keep selling yourself a bill of goods, and some people are better at lying to themselves than others. If you face reality too much, it kills you."

What Allen is saying, let me tell you why I keep making movies. He goes on to say that life is an awful thing. Why go on? You have to answer that. Some people answer that question better than others. He says, "For me, I say that I have to go long enough to get to the next project so that I can find a little bit of hope in that next project and have life in that. But then I have to go to the next project to get a little life."

He says, "More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." This is Woody Allen. He is saying, "The heart wants what it wants." Your loving Father is saying, "Listen, son, listen to me. The heart is desperately sick. It is deceitful above all else." Your loving Father says to you, "Listen, son, there's a way that seems right to your heart. There's a way that seems right to man.

There's a way that seems right to your 13-year-old, 5-year-old, 46-year-old, 70-year-old peers. In the end, it is the way of death." That is why he says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life." Don't tell me what your heart wants. What your heart wants is death, and it doesn't even know it. Listen to me. "And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

I'm going to tell you, by the grace of God, I have a heart that wants exactly what Woody Allen wants. I don't look at him and go, "What in the world?" I am amazed that he has limited himself to one daughter. Somehow, by the grace of God, God has captured my heart. He has shown me truth and love.

I stand before you today and I don't tell you my life is bereft of meaning and that I'm looking for some significance and the next week I'm telling you God has laid some rails for me that are good. With all the credibility I have before you I just want to say, would you start running hard on these rails?

This is what the psalmist says in Psalm 84. I know we're studying Proverbs, but watch this. "How lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts!" This is a guy who gets it. "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God." I want to be where you are.

The temple to a Jew in that day and age is where God resided. It represented intimacy with him. He says, "Look man, the birds get to build their nests around your temple. They live there. The people who minister in your temple, they get to live there. I would love to be a bird just so I can live in your temple. I'm not a priest. I'd love to live there."

I want to be at "…Your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!" Do you know what God is saying to you in Proverbs? Come live here! Get in my house. Let me be your Dad. Every day I can help you. The folks who know you well, "They are ever praising you." Then he just… Selah means to stop and rest. Consider that.

Is your house known as a house of peace, a house of goodness? Do your kids' friends just go, "Man, I would give anything to be in your house. What a house! Your mom is so kind. Your dad is present. He engages with you and doesn't sit there and say, 'Shut up! Give me the remote!' He doesn't go on a business trip so he can 'provide for you.' He is there. He loves you. He is wise. He is kind. He is fun. He engages you. He teaches you how to catch a fish. He teaches you how to be a man. I want to be at your house."

What this guy is saying, "I want to be at the house of those who know you, God, because your house rocks." He goes on to say this. "How blessed is the man whose strength is in You…" who finds sustenance and meaning and purpose in life from what you've given. "…In whose heart are the highways to Zion!" In other words, in his heart all he longs to do is be with Dad, be where Dad is, live as Dad said he should live. Is that what's going on inside of you?

I can tell you with absolute integrity; this is why I love my job. I can't sell things I don't believe in. I'm telling you, I don't even have to try and sell this because, honestly, it's free and it is good. Let me give it to you. I am a beggar who has found where there is a buffet. I'm not concerned that if you come and eat here you're going to take my spot at the table or the food that I need because this dude is abundant.

There are seats all around us. It's a big old round table, and somehow the bigger the table gets, there is still room for intimacy with him so I don't have to worry about inviting you in. He just says this. He says even those folks when they walk through the valley of Baca,when their circumstances aren't just right, they still knock it out of the park.

It's like even when their circumstances are arid and dry. That word Baca, it's the word for arid, or weary or weeping. It's also where there were a bunch of balsa trees. We all know balsa wood. It's so frail and dry it can snap easily. Even in the shadow of the valley of death, they fear no evil. It's like they have a spring where there is no water. "They go from strength to strength…"

How awesome would that be to have that kind of life? "…every one of them appears before God in Zion. O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!" I want to know you. Is that your story? "Behold our shield, O God, and look upon the face of Your anointed."

He is praying for the king, just like God tells us to do in 1 Timothy chapter 2, where he says. "…I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life…" In other words, you need to pray every day for the one who is over you that he would walk as God wants him to walk so there's not chaos in your land, so it is not absolute insanity where you are.

Okay, this is where I want to cut you in on what I've been doing in my life with a couple of other guys by the grace of God because of you in ways that I couldn't even explain. When we started Watermark seven years ago, I made it my goal that we would live our lives with such skill, with such wisdom that there would be a nation that would come knocking on our door and say, "Could you help us figure this thing out?"

If I would've sat with the brightest men on the face of the earth and try to map out that story, I couldn't have made it happen. But lo and behold, six and half years after we've been running at this thing together, the president of a country in central Africa through a relationship there that we had went to him and said, "Look, my country is so war-torn, so full of chaos, so full of absolute destruction in the life of its people that we don't have a clue what to do.

How can I teach those who are sovereignly charged with the privilege now of leadership with me? How can I teach them how to lead well? How can I teach them how to get through the years of conflict and foolishness that we have given ourselves to?" The guy who was there said, "I know some men who can come and teach you how to live wisely."

So this little nation, Burundi, which is 8 million people, about the size of Maryland that is strategically located in Central Africa with all kinds of other nations around it that are war-torn and hurting and recovering, where Islamic forces of oppression are making their way down from Northern Africa to Southern Africa, it's strategically located to be a buffer against some of that oppression.

The president said, "Would you guys come and teach me and my people about leadership?" Through you all and some willing men, we got together and said, "Let's go do that." Seven days ago, five of us from this church got back after spending a week with first the president of Burundi and then with about 70 or 80 leaders in one particular province in Northern Burundi.

I'm going to tell you something. The Burundi has the third-highest rate of infant mortality in the world. The average income is $100 a year. That's 30 cents a day. It's so irrelevant to them. These people are sustenance livers. They have no mindset of tomorrow. Burundi is right there by the Congo. It's in the heart of Africa, which is one of the richest, most fertile continents on the face of the earth.

Do you know how many wild animals are in Burundi? Zero. Because there has been such terror over the last two decades that no one can live in a community. They all run and live in the bush. They come diving back in at different times to get some things. They have killed every moving thing in this entire country. There is not a zebra, a giraffe, a gazelle, a lion. There's not a squirrel. There are only a couple of turkey buzzards and some chickens that they've since brought in.

I mean, there is chaos. They killed a couple hundred thousand people about 10 years ago inside a two-week period because of the tribal conflicts that were there. They raped. They pillaged. They abused. The law of the jungle has reigned, and there is chaos in Burundi. You, through the reputation and renown of the way that you are beginning to operate in life because you have a loving Father, they have come to us and said, "Would you help us start to sort this thing out?"

We sat. One of the things that happened while I was sitting there with those guys is at one point I said to the guy, "We'll come, but we're going to teach not with our own wisdom, not with the wisdom of the West, not with the wisdom of the United States of America, because we're 200 and some-odd years into this. I am going to teach with the wisdom of eternity.

I'm going to hold up a leader there who isn't somebody who has just made his way through 30, 40, 50 years of success as a leader. I'm going to hold up a leader and I'm going to teach for these men if they want to lead well to be like this man." We go, and in this room where there were some Imams, there were a few religious leaders and largely political leaders, and we sat there and began to talk about Jesus Christ.

I'll tell you, when I got back; I was sharing with the staff some of what we did. They asked me, "Todd, what was the biggest personal takeaway from the trip?" It just stunned me. I hadn't even thought of it yet. It came to me like a ton of bricks. I said, "I'll tell you what it was. That Jesus Christ and the Bible is enough." That's my takeaway.

I didn't go over there with Toynbee's A Study of History. I didn't go over there with a PhD from Harvard. I didn't go over there with all the learnings of history. I went over there with all the wisdom of an eternal, loving Father who can even not just bring restoration to a dysfunctional, alcoholic-ridden, abandoned apartment complex in West Dallas or in Highland Park or in Plano, because I want to tell you something.

I have great hope that if God's Word and Jesus can deal with that, he can go to a war-torn country where they have had nothing but some of the worst genocide on the face of the earth, where they have ravished the land, deforested the land, they've killed every resource they have, where they live now in chaos and insecurity with one another, and Jesus and the Bible are enough. I said to the leader of Burundi with all the confidence in the world, "You want this country to have skills? This is where you're going to get them," and we gave them this.

It's enough, folks. At one point, oddly enough, somebody else stood up with a little collar on him and he said, "We think you offend our Muslim brothers. You teach too much in the Bible and too much about this Jesus. We think they are offended. You're supposed to be over here telling us how to heal our land and lead our people and not be preaching. You preach too much. What are you going to say to that?"

I'll tell you what I said. In almost an instant my mouth said, "I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. You tell me a better leader than Jesus Christ, you tell me somebody who rules over millions of people today, not because he has a stick, not because he has drawn a sword, but because he has captured their hearts by love and brought them into submission underneath him in a way that has blessed them and brought healing to their land.

You tell me a leader who has dealt with the greatest crisis and need in every individual in such a complete and final way that there is no question as to whether or not there is need for those people again because of the actions of that leader. You tell me another leader who has done that and I will never mention Jesus again and I will teach only of your leader. Before you speak, I just want to point out that the Muslim friends you think I have offended, the one they follow named Muhammad said that Jesus is the greatest prophet, which means he is the greatest truth-teller.

Jesus says he is the greatest leader, so Muhammad would have you listen to me speak about Jesus. You Burundians were colonized by the French. The greatest French leader who ever lived was a guy by the name of Napoleon, and what Napoleon said is, 'Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.'

I will tell you there are many men who claim to be leaders, but there has never been one like Jesus. You tell me the person who you want to learn from who is greater than that and I will teach of him." The room sounded like that. I said, "All right, back to Mark 10," and we dug in. I want to tell you we are fixing to dive in, and I'm not going to give you Deepak Chopra, I'm not going to give you Oprah. I'm going to give you Jesus.

I'm going to give you a loving Father who is going to tell you how to live a life that other people will look at and go, "That life has some skills, man. That life has some skills." Look, I'm going to tell you, this life at moments you're going to see me do some things that go, "Ooooh! That doesn't look like he has a perfect heavenly Father, but if he does it sure does look like he is in relationship with him." Bingo.

That's why I need friends who will extend me grace, love me, correct me, reprove me, and be for me and say, "Come on, man. Pay attention to your Daddy again because he delights in letting you see the little stream of joy of effectiveness in the 40s. Even though he is infinitely beyond that, he takes great joy in helping you." Are you ready to get some of this? Man, I am. Let's just close by declaring to one another how great this God is that we get to know personally who is our Daddy and who wants to teach you. Let's stand together.

Father, as we get ready to sing, I cannot wait to dive in. I can't wait to learn from you. I can't wait, Lord, to be reminded that you, as a loving, perfect Father, want me to know how to just do really well in the kindergarten that is the 80 years that I get to steward my life. Lord, I'm so grateful that you are a loving Dad. Even though some of us are in isolation in independent study, some of us have been expelled from certain societal circles because of the way we have done the kindergarten of our life, you still love us.

You said, "Okay, bro, you've made some bad decisions. This is where it's gotten you. Why don't we start today making a string of good decisions and get you out of jail? Not only get you out of jail but have you start to become just a paragon of effectiveness. So instead of being the school illustration of a dunce you become the world's illustration of greatness."

Man, what a great Dad we have who will do that with us. Father, if there is anyone here today who doesn't know you, I pray that they would just look at your love for them and how you have given yourself as a perfect Father does, as any dad would for the life of his kids, that they might be restored into relationship with you, that the fullness and embodiment of wisdom has been found in Jesus Christ, that we might be reconciled to you and begin to be conformed into his image.

For those of us who already know that, may we start to pay attention. For those who don't, may they come, may they hear us say, "We have a great Dad. We have a great God." Can I tell you how much sense this makes? What do little boys and little girls do all the time? They don't get on the playground and go, "My mom is better than your mom! My mom could take your mom!" What do they do? "My dad is unbelievable. My dad is the most awesome dad ever." They get to fight over it. So should we.

I have to tell you. We should be fighting over who gets to sing about who their dad is. Will you sing with me? I have to tell you, if you're an idiot, people are going to go, "I don't know who your Dad is, man, but either you don't know him or you're deluded." But if you live the way your Dad wants you to live, I'm going to tell you, not only do people want you to sing, they want you saying, "Guess what? You can come live with me, and let me tell you about my Daddy."

Will you sing with me? I'm not going to say, "Have a great week of worship" this week. I'm going to say, "Have a great week of singing about how great your Dad is." If you don't know my Daddy, the God of eternity most fully expressed and made known through Jesus Christ, I'm going to tell you about him right now, right here. Have a great week of singing. We'll see you next week.

About 'This is the Life! Volume 1'

It's the ultimate self-help book. Centuries before Drs. Laura, Phil and Benjamin came on the scene to tell us how to live, love and parent wisely, God weighed in on these matters in the Book of Proverbs. Today's "life coaches" have simply repackaged God's wisdom but the concepts are timeless and truly life-changing. In this multi-volume series, Todd Wagner combs through the book's 31 chapters and identifies principles for approaching life with wisdom and skill. Each of the attributes is perfectly embodied in the person of Jesus Christ and guaranteed to bring abundant life to those who apply them - regardless of whether they've chosen to acknowledge Christ as Lord or not. Discover the blessed life God has in store for you in Volume 1 of this practical and applicable series on Proverbs. This is The Life, Volume 1, offers advice on: the fear of God, integrity, generosity, purity, wise words, discernment, kindness, and the thirst for knowledge.