Todd speaks to the congregation at our Ft. Worth campus about what it looks like to be the Church.
At Home Worship
Christmas Eve 2015
The Greatest Invitation
Making Room, Making Disciples
The Lies We Tell Ourselves
Your Trial In Heaven
Fort Worth, Here Is What We Think of You
What the Church Who Believes Is and Does
The USA: United States of Anxiety
From Intimacy to Idols
The Standard: Old Testament, Jesus and Believers
The Path to the Good Life
Nothing Short of Miraculous
Confessions From a Bathroom Stall: Lessons Learned in a Battle With Gluttony
How We Come To God
Dealing with Disappointment
The Story That Never Gets Old the God Who Is Always Behind It and the Way We Are Told to Remember It
The "One Thing"
Baptism Celebration 2015
Believing That Leads to Life
What Should I Do With My Money?
Good morning, my friends in Fort Worth. I get to say this: hello to Dallas, if they were watching. As you guys know, right now we're doing some fun stuff. This summer there was an amazing little season we had with our student ministries (we called it DTown), where a bunch of our staff communicated some things to them this last February. I heard what everybody said, and it was so excellent I said, "We have to share that with everybody."
So as you guys know, Drew last week was one of the three guys who did that. This week it's another three guys. It has been a great chance for me, too, to get to go hang out in Plano and get to come now this weekend and be here in Fort Worth. It is really fun to be in this room. Gary goes, "This kind of reminds you of the early days." Yeah, because it's like 46 degrees in here. We would go to Lake Highlands High School where we met for seven years, and we made the Ed Sullivan Theater look like the desert, because that place was so cold.
Then there were some Sundays we'd get in there and there was no AC. It was in the summer, and there were no lights. We actually just went for it, literally. We'd keep the doors open in the back just to give a little light in and had an amazing time together in a facility, because the facility doesn't really matter, which really gets me to where I want to move. It was just last week that I was with a friend of mine who's a part of Watermark who started a business not long ago, about 10 years ago. Now it employs about 500 people.
He said, "Hey, Todd, when we started this business, one of the things I wanted to do was to make our business a business that was founded on biblical principles. I learned a lot of those from you and from the body at Watermark. So I would love now for you to come and communicate to my 500 employees why that's a good thing." Now it doesn't mean everybody who works there has to embrace the central message of the Scripture. He just said, "I want them to know why I do things based on biblical principles and why they should be excited about that."
So I went over there. Where this guy's office is is not far from the Dallas facility that we gather in when we get together. You can actually see that little piece of land that we meet in when we gather together. I just said to those 500 folks, "A lot of you guys never have met me before, but Aaron just told you I work at a place called Watermark." I said, "Watermark is a church. How many of you guys know where Watermark is if you have never met me before?"
Almost every hand in the room that didn't know me put their hand up, because, literally, they park in the same parking lot. We're right by each other. I just said, "Okay, you guys have enough spatial orientation. Can you point to where Watermark is?" They all kind of checked each other a little bit, and then they started to point to the northwest from where they were, to that corner of the room.
I waited until they were all done. I go, "Is everybody sure?" I looked where they were pointing and went, "Not a single person is correct." They looked at me and went, "Well, what are you talking about?" I kind of looked at that line of sight where they were pointing. There was nobody I knew personally who hung out with me because of a fellow overwhelming sense of the goodness of God who they were pointing to. They were all pointing to a facility that was a couple hundred yards away.
I go, "No, no, guys. Maybe it was the way I said it or maybe it's the way you think wrongly, but you all just pointed to a facility. You pointed to what we would call a campus. You pointed to an area where they built a building we could use. Nobody pointed to me. Nobody pointed to Aaron. Nobody pointed to Keith. Nobody pointed to Tom. Nobody pointed…" And I mentioned a number of other folks who work there who I knew. That's the church. The church is people; it's not a building. It's not a place.
One of the things the church does is congregate. It's not a word we use a lot anymore. Our congregation. What we mean by that is "These are the people I congregate with." It doesn't mean you're fulfilling the job description when you come together. It means you're doing one of the things we do. It is right that we come together, and the reason we come together is so we can sing words that are true and be reminded of the greatness of our God and overwhelmed at his beauty, and we're like, "Look, if that God exists, I'd be a nut not to want to know him, run after him, and ask him to engage me fully."
Before I came in here, I hung out with Drew and the students who are in that other room, and I just said, "Can I tell you something? First of all, I've heard of you." I've heard of this group, specifically, when they went to what we call the South Dallas Experience this summer, which was a place that a bunch of our students could be on a short-term deployment this summer. We're very careful with words here at a place called Watermark. I would never call that little address at 7540 LBJ, if I'm being careful, the church, because the church is people.
I don't like calling the building inside there where we congregate the worship center, because it's not the worship center. In fact, this last week I went to John Cox, who works with me, and I said, "John, whose life do I have to make miserable so that they finally take down the letters W-O-R-S-H-I-P entering into that room right there?" I know why they did it. It got away from me. I showed up one day when they were finishing that building over there, and they put "worship" right over the doors we're walking into, this gathering place where we can congregate.
The Ridglea is where we congregate in Fort Worth, but this is not our church. That's why we don't care if it gets repossessed by the feds and we're not allowed in here anymore. The feds are likely going to try and repossess our faith, but that's another conversation for another day. We'll fight a little harder on that one. But by and large, what I'm going to say is…don't call that thing inside that building the worship center. It's not. This is the worship center. That's the worship center. There's the worship center.
Every single place a believer exists is the worship center. It's why you hear me say a ton, "Have a great week of worship," because what we do when we congregate and gather together is remind ourselves of things that are true. We're not to forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, because the Scripture says, "He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom." This "just me and Jesus" thing is not only not wise; it's heretical from the Scriptures.
You can't call yourself a person who has discovered the beauty and glory of God and say that you love him and not be a part of a congregation where you practice the "one anothers." I'm going to talk about that today with you. There's no worship center that's not a person. We don't go to a worship service; we go to a place where we remind ourselves of the greatness of God, remember a right way to respond to him, and then scatter to be faithful and worship him all throughout the week.
I was telling those students just a second ago, "I've heard about the way you guys gathered." Not on a mission trip. We don't do mission trips at Watermark. Why? Because life is a long-term mission trip and every week is a short-term mission opportunity. So this week, probably a lot of you all were on a short-term mission opportunity in Fort Worth. You think about the number of people God sent on mission in Fort Worth this week.
It's why we don't let people go, "I'm going on a mission trip to Ethiopia." We say they are discipleship trips, a cross-cultural opportunity, or we say, "My short-term mission this week is…" The crazy thing is so many people think they do a mission trip one week out of the year, and they come recover 51 weeks of the year and just kind of sit there and get fat again. That's nuts. Anyway, I was telling the students… (I'm going to finish this thought. I'm committed to it.)
I just said, "Do you guys know what the Bible says about God? The Bible says that he's too great to waste on old people, and I wish I would have been smart enough to sit where you're sitting right now, because the Bible says while you're young, while you're strong, while you can pound stuff into your brain and it's not cluttered with a lifetime of other things, you should get to know everything you can about God for two reasons.
First, when you're strong and virile and able to learn, you ought to learn more about him than anything else, because he is the source of life, and secondly, because he's going to set you up for life. God is not up there to watch you reach for things you shouldn't reach for and to slap your hands. He is trying to engage your heart so that you would walk in a way that would give you life. If you guys can figure that out when you're 14 and 17 years old, it will go well with you.
You need to know something. You are the wisest people on earth, and God expects you right now to be fully deployed for him. We're not here to try to keep you from misbehaving. We're not here to try to keep you from, in some way, embarrassing us. You are here to engage fully with your culture and to lead in the high schools you're in." I said, "I've heard how some of you all are doing that. You stay at it."
Let me just tell you something else. While God is not the God of old dying men… I mean, Psalm 23. You've maybe heard me say this before. Psalm 23 is a great psalm to read at a funeral. I'm not opposed to that, but it wasn't written for guys at funerals. It's not just that the Lord is my shepherd and he can take me through the valley of the shadow of death in the sense of death actually. That psalm is not even about death. It's about David who lived as a young shepherd boy out away from any form of protection, where mountain lions and bears and wolves…
Every time I do that it's hard not to say "Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my," but there were no tigers there. There were lions and bears and wolves and other predators, and there were people who wanted to steal somebody else's flock. He said, "God is going to care for me. As I seek to be faithful, God will care for me, and I'm not really too alarmed about anything," because David, unique among men, had specifically been given a vision of God and an anointing that he was going to become something specific.
So David knew his days were numbered at least beyond the time in the shepherd's field, so he said, "I'm just not going to worry much about this thing. I'm just going to cling to God." It was not written for an old man dying. Psalm 23 was written for a young man engaging the greatest enemies a young guy could face in those days. That's the way you ought to read Psalm 23, and you have to read it this way. It's not like, "The Lord is a great shepherd." That's not what Psalm 23 says.
David said, "I'm just going to tell you something about my God, and I'm getting to know him right now when I'm a young man. He is my shepherd, and if you knew who he was you'd make him yours, and I'm going to tell you about him, because the amazing thing about my God is the more people who know him, it doesn't in any way dilute my ability to have all of him, because he's not a man with limited resources.
So you can get to know him as much as you want. You can take everything you want from him, and I know that my God will still supply all of my needs according to his riches in glory. He's going to prepare a table for me. Goodness and mercy are going to follow me all the days of my life. I'm not worried about me missing out on anything. I love you, and I'm worried about you missing out on him."
Gang, that's who we are. We're people who apparently have discovered that that's the reality of who God is. We get to sing of his lovingkindness and justice. We get to sing his praises forever. So when people point to the church… If you know Jesus… We're so glad there are some friends in this room today who are still trying to figure out if the Lord is the one they want to shepherd them through life.
Right now maybe you're following yourself. Maybe you're following some syncretistic view of some other mix of gods, but we're here to tell you what we gather to do is to remind ourselves and to declare to you the greatness of our God, and we're saying, "Come and see. Get to know him." Then when we're done with that, we say, "Let's go." Most of us this week into this city…
About a thousand people in Fort Worth God is going to deploy in a short-term mission opportunity this week so that more people can explore God, can taste and see that he is good, can run into people, that they go, "Who are you? How do you guys love that way? How does your marriage work that way? What do you mean you screwed up and you told people and you owned it? You didn't just celebrate the fun of the screwing up; you acknowledged the pain of it, you forsook it, and you are making amends and walking humbly, unafraid that the world might label you a failure. Who are you? It's like you're an alien." That's exactly what it should be.
So here's what I want to do. I talked to Gary and the rest of the team over here. (I could name every one of them, but you get the idea.) I asked all of them, "Hey, what is it that you guys want me to do when I'm there?" One of the things they said was, "It would be great for them to know how you and the other leaders and elders feel about this part of the family that, by the amazing grace of God, are going to be deployed this week in a short-term mission opportunity in Fort Worth."
I thought, "Well, what I think about you isn't nearly as important as what, obviously, the Lord thinks about you," and I started to think about how different communities of faith, leaders in areas that God had sovereignly put in different unique places, how God's people addressed them before. So if you have your Bible, we're going to hang out a ton in 1 Thessalonians today. So open up to 1 Thessalonians, and this is going to be a great opportunity for us.
Let me just tell you a little bit about 1 Thessalonians. There were about 200,000 people who lived in Thessalonica when Paul visited. It was a very important city. In fact, what Fort Worth was to the cattle drive in the heyday of cattle drives, Thessalonica was in the goods and product drive that was Rome all the way over to Asia. It was part of what's called the Ignatian Way. It was a major thoroughfare. It was a port city that brought things in and it was a through city that took things all the way to Asia to the capital city of Rome.
What you need to know about Thessalonica is there's a little debate about how much time Paul spent there. I think that when it says he spent three Sabbaths there, it meant that. Paul actually was with them three weeks. Some people who really are trying to stretch it, based on some other things, would say maybe up to six months, but most people believe that when Paul said, "I was with you for three Sabbaths" he meant "I was there for three weeks."
That's not a lot of time to start something. Just to be very honest, probably if you added up every day I've spent in Fort Worth, as we're climbing toward three years, which is about the time that he wrote this letter back, it might turn out to be a total of, in this city, 21 to 25 days, about three Sabbaths. So there's a lot we have in common here, so I thought this would be a great book for us to look at.
Now we're not going to get through the whole thing, but I'm going to read to you a lot. Let's just start with this, because one of the things that happens is when you start wanting to be a person who's going to be used by God, you might go, "Well, God can't use me. I'm just this person who, first, doesn't maybe really know God that well…" Paul didn't know God at all.
I love what Gary did when he was up here. He self-identified some of the things God delivered us from. We are not actively pornographers. We still struggle with lust. We're not actively committing adultery. Maybe you did this week, and we can deal with that. When Gary says that, what he's saying is "Such were some of us," so we can empathize with your struggles. We can empathize with the way sin easily entangles you. Paul was a murderer. He was a terrorist.
We heard this week about the leader of ISIS. That dear American little gal who was over there who was captured by them… He brutally raped her numerous times, took her himself as his own personal sex slave in order to be showing his aggression and superiority over America. The things he did to this sweet little girl are unspeakable, as a leader of this organization, this Islamic state. Paul was a leader of a terrorist group. That's who he was.
What's even more, just like this guy, this little puppet king over there hiding out in some desert… They just released a picture of him for the very first time. Our intelligence forces have had it. But I wanted to say this. I'm not talking too much about ISIS. I want to talk about Paul, because Paul is the guy… When you start to read your Bible, you kind of go, "Paul, man, that guy has it going on." Well, here's what you need to know about Paul.
It's said of Paul that his writings are weighty and heavy. In other words, he sounds like a big shot when he writes, when he tweets out there as the leader of ISIS. But in 2 Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 10, it says that Paul was unimpressive in his personal appearance, and his speech was contemptible. Paul's own words of himself in 1 Corinthians 2:3 were, "When I am with you, I am with you in much weakness, fear, and trembling."
This is the guy who wrote more of the New Testament than anybody else. This is the guy who founded more churches than anybody else. Let me just say something to you. We're not here because we worship Paul, we worship Todd Wagner, we worship Watermark, we worship John Piper, we worship anybody other than Jesus Christ, because at some level, we are all contemptible in our speech. Even though some guys are better orators and easier to listen to and all that different stuff, at the end of the day…
It's funny. When people see me… Someone said it this morning. They go, "Man, you're much taller than I thought you were." No one ever goes, "You're a lot better-looking in person than I thought you were." I never hear that. No one ever says that. They just go, "You're taller." What I would say is when you ran into Paul you would go, "Oh. I didn't expect to see that. Anyway, I loved your books." I hope you can say that.
Even Jesus… In Isaiah 53, it says he was not stately in appearance. You think about the humility of God. He can make himself whatever he wants to. It's one thing to say something like, "Hey, I don't look at the outside of man as the world does," and it's another thing when you can create yourself to go, "I don't really care what the outside looks like. Grab it from the C line, but fill it with everything glorious." That's who we are.
Before I start telling you what I think of you and what I should think of you if you're God's church, I want to show you what a great leader does look like. I'm going to jump through chapter 1 just for a second and look at chapter 2, because what you're going to see here about Paul is a few things. We can learn from Paul. If you want to be somebody who's greatly used of God… We've already established you can be the leader of ISIS and you're not subbed out of the game yet.
Gary said if you struggle with pornography that doesn't mean you're disqualified. If you've committed adultery, you're not disqualified. If you're committed to committing adultery, then you're not committed to following Jesus. If you're committed to being a slave to anything other than Jesus, then you're not committed to following Jesus.
All we want to do is say to you, "Hey, look, we get why that looks attractive. We get why you might feel like you're not able to be used by God, but you can either fill yourself up with your own opinion or you can listen to what God says," which is, "My eyes go to and fro throughout the earth looking for those whose hearts are completely mine, that I might strongly support them. That's all I want. I want you to know me." You have a chance to get to know God a little bit in here.
I'm going to stick this in here really quickly. We already sang, "Lord, I Need You," and we're going to sing it at the end. When we were with staff last week and sang that song, "Lord, I Need You," there was a moment in that song where it says "Holiness is Christ in me." Can I tell you something? It was an amazing moment. I don't know why. I've sang that song a ton, just like a lot of you guys have, but it hit me all of a sudden.
Sometimes I get really discouraged when I am confronted with awful thoughts and I feel my flesh being pulled toward anger or pleasure or control, and I'm like, "Geez, man, am I even saved?" Kind of like after all these years of me memorizing God's Word and trying to follow hard after him and declaring his excellencies, I just can't believe sometimes that my body still is like, "Hey, sin feels like a good deal. That seems like a good idea. Those emotions? You ought to follow them."
As I was singing that song… I told the staff this. Part of it was related to and around the fact that there was a conference in town last week, Exxxotica, over in Dallas. It's a porn convention with a bunch of porn stars and the whole sexual trade and all that different stuff. There were some folks who asked if I'd be interested in helping to do some things to minister to them, and my first thought was, "I'll pray about it." My second thought was, "Why pray about it, Todd? You can go down there and look spiritual and have an excuse to look back at that stuff again."
I thought to myself, "What is wrong with me?" I'm in the midst of thinking spiritually. My first thought is, "Hey, you could hide behind a spiritual excuse and get you a little dip of that honey," which is not honey at all, but it sure looks like it, and the first taste seems like it. At the same time, the Enemy, who's an accuser, started to wash over me, like, "Dude, you're such a fraud. By the way, your God… What kind of power does he have? You've been after this for 30 years, Wagner, saying you know Jesus, and that's still who you are."
It was like as soon as I heard that thought, another thought came into me, saying, "Todd, that's not who you are, because you're mine, but it's who you are apart from me. There was never a program to have your flesh be anything other than cursed. Remember, Todd, your flesh is supposed to be crucified daily. Your flesh is not supposed to all of a sudden become this good thing.
I will make you new one day, but until then, you have to die to yourself and let the Spirit of truth guide you, and you no longer have to be a slave to your flesh, because you now have someone else to follow than just your flesh. By the way, your holiness is not your preaching, your teaching, your Scripture memory, or your short-term mission faithfulness. Your holiness is Christ in you. It is nothing more and nothing less."
Do you all understand that? I think sometimes we try and act like, "Hey, what God is going to do is change my flesh." There is no program to change your flesh, folks. It is a continual offering of your flesh, a sacrifice. Your flesh is always going to want to rebel. It is broken, it is deceived, it is fallen, but you can master it, and the life which you now live in the flesh you can live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and delivered himself up for you. That's the spiritual life.
Every now and then, still, it's kind of like I think, "I don't need the spiritual life. I can just be Todd, the 30-year follower of Jesus," and he's like, "Really? Because I thought my Bible said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing.' What makes you think that all of a sudden, now that you have this script memorized, you don't need me?" Do you know what the answer is? Pride, stupidity, rebellion, a lack of abiding.
So here's what I think about you: you need what I need, and you have everything you need. The question is…Are you trafficking in truth? Here's the truth: God wants to make himself famous in Fort Worth today, and he's just looking for vessels of clay he can work in and through, who are sick and tired of being sick and tired and who want to quit trying to find life apart from him and say, "Here I am."
Then you're just going to make sure the words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart are acceptable in his sight. How do you know that? Well, you inform yourself by his Word and you get after it. That's who the church is. This is the church gathered so we can remind ourselves of these things. Now watch this. Are you ready? This is what I think of you. If God is going to use you, you need to be like this.
I'm not going to say an impressive guy who's a Pharisee's Pharisee, circumcised on the eighth day, trained by Gamaliel. I'm going to say you need to be a man or woman full of the Spirit, and you look like this. I'm going to read you chapter 2, verses 3-6, and show you four things that Paul wasn't, and then I'm going to read you verses 7-11 and show you four things he was. I don't know if I'll get any farther than that, but I'll teach you as much of 1 Thessalonians as I can.
Here's the first thing you need to see if God is going to use you and this is what I think about you: God does not use people who traffic in deceit. Let's just read it. "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit…" In other words, Paul is not saying "We're trying to seduce you here with a bunch of lies." False teachers can always be identified this way. False teachers always try and get you to come and tell you, "If you'll just come, this will be your best life now."
False teachers will tell you that you should come because of what's on the table. "Look at all that's on the table for you to get so that you can get what you want." True teachers just say, "Come and see. Don't worry about what's going to be on the table. You worry about whose table you're sitting at, and I'm inviting you to the wedding feast of the Lamb. I'm inviting you into an intimate relationship with God."
By the way, one of the things he was telling the Thessalonians they should expect was suffering. That wasn't just a Tuesday meal; that was the appetizer. That was the main course. That was the dessert. He was bidding you come and die. False teachers are going to tell you, "No, you need to come, and you'll be more successful. You'll be wealthier. Things will start to, in every way that the world wants them to, be up and to the right."
What I'm going to tell you is that it will go well with you, but that doesn't mean you won't still be sick. It doesn't mean your business is going to turn around. It doesn't mean you're going to be free. Some of us have to really deal with stuff we've done and maybe even willingly take that which is assigned to us because of choices we've made and to do it humbly and let our lives serve as a horrible warning, all the while testifying to the goodness of God that has delivered us from something far worse.
Paul said, "I'm not one of those guys who's here telling you to follow me." His message wasn't a deceitful message. Look at the second thing. "…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men…" You will not be an effective person leading this week, church, if you are a people pleaser. If your goal is to go, "I just want everybody to like me…"
By the way, when you talk to people about Jesus, people go, "Man, Jesus sounds really attractive," and he is. He's really attractive, but every now and then Jesus kind of undressed some people. He called them things like whitewashed tombs, serpents, brood of vipers. He said, "What you do is you create twice the sons of hell that you are." He says, "Woe, woe, woe." He wasn't running for mayor.
Now whenever he said things, he said things in love, but some people go, "I don't care how lovingly you say that. I don't like what you just said." Truth always sounds like hate to those who hate the truth, but Jesus also knows truth will set people free. He wasn't there to politick for office; he was there to set people free. Now listen. Proverbs 15 says, "The words of the wise make knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly."
We want to make sure our speech is seasoned with salt, as it were, in order that it might give grace to those who hear it, but there are some times you can season truth with salt and you just go, "Hey, I'm not looking to be politically correct here. I'm looking to be as loving as I can and theologically sound. I'm not here to tell you that you're okay whatever choice you make. I'm here to tell you that I'm going to love you whatever you do, but you're not going to love what you're going to get if you keep doing what you're doing." If people say that's hateful, that's okay.
One of the things you're going to do if you're a follower of Christ is admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with all men. That's 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 14. Paul said, "I'm not a people pleaser. I'm not here to make you like me. I am here to love you." One of the characteristics of love is that it never rejoices in unrighteousness. That's why I can't say it's okay, because love doesn't rejoice in things that aren't okay.
Look at what else he was. Paul was not deceitful. He was not a people pleaser. Then it says, "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed…" In other words, Paul said, "I'm not here to get rich off you. I don't want anything from you. I do want some things for you."
That's why when he was talking to the Philippians, who he had just visited with before he went to Thessalonica and later was writing back to them, he said, "It's not that I seek the gift itself but the credit that it is to your account. I've learned how to be content in every circumstance, how to be with or without food, how to be hungry or to be cold. I can do whatever I need to do through Christ who strengthens me, but thank you that when you heard I had a need you met it."
What he's saying is when you give to God's purposes and steward your life God's way, it's going to go well with you. I'm not going to tell you it's going to return to you tenfold. I'm going to tell you there are certain principles that seem to hold true. If you give somebody something and they're faithful with it, what do you typically want to do? Give them more. The privilege of faithful service is the opportunity to serve more.
So it does often happen that people who are being faithful in the things God wants them to be faithful with… He'll maybe increase their opportunity to be faithful or, if they're faithfully stewarding what he's given them, sometimes he'll give them opportunities to give more. He'll resupply them and re-resource them. I mean, I would. But you don't give so you have more to give. You just give because that's what you have. Then you keep working and doing the things you did that gave you what you did, by the grace of God, and then you keep doing what you're doing. Often that allows you to do more.
Now look. I don't know if you've noticed. We don't pass a plate here. Our goal was not, "How can we get more money? Well, let's go to another town." I don't spend time looking at our budgets and giving. There are people who do. I do, however, know that what God says is that part of how we give is a good illustration of what we love. I have been told that this is a bad business deal in Fort Worth, just to be really honest, that we're bleeding out on this particular franchise.
I go, "Well, we didn't go over there to get rich anyway, but we probably need to do a better job of equipping and discipling, and if the people think the reason we don't pass a basket here is because they're on scholarship, that is spiritual malpractice on our part, and we need to ask their forgiveness. Also we need to share with them a vision for how God uses the resources we all contribute to together."
Paul was not here like, "This is a good money-making opportunity," and neither are we. It's not that we seek the gift, but we do seek the blessing that it is to you to know, "I'm a part of that. I'm all in there. I am investing there. When I hear some of the stories Todd could share today that are happening in Fort Worth, that's me investing with my time and my treasure and my talent."
How about this? He wasn't deceitful. He wasn't a people pleaser. He wasn't greedy. He also wasn't on a power trip. He wasn't abusive. He says, "God is my witness." "…nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." I'm not here to assert my authority. I have been blessed to be a blessing, so that's what I want to do.
Can I just tell you guys something? There's part of the job description. Don't be deceitful. Tell the truth, even when it's not popular. Don't be a people pleaser, and don't go, "Wow, this guy comes and hangs out with us and gathers here. It might validate us in some way." You don't need them to validate you in some way. You don't need anything from them. You just want to share with them the Lord who is your shepherd.
The goal is not in any way to control anybody. The goal is to set them free, and the greatest among you will be your servants. The other day, we sat down as a team and just started popping names of people who aren't on staff who inspire us, who are a part of this body. We just said, "Let's just encourage each other with the work we see God doing through people." We just…boom, boom, boom. "This guy is amazing. This woman is fantastic. You wouldn't believe this guy."
Guess what was consistent with every single one of them? They served. They gave themselves away. They said, "Yes." Every single one of them. No one was trying to do that. It just happened. When we started talking about studs, no one mentioned beauty. Nobody mentioned money. Everybody mentioned, "This individual serves, and they are great." People who had followed Jesus.
That's what Jesus said. "You want to be glorious? That's great. I'm not against you being glorious. Your strategy to be glorious is just crazy. It's wrong. Here's the way to greatness. For even the Son of Man didn't come to be served but to serve and to give himself away as a ransom for many. This is the way to go."
Men are going to be judged not by how many people serve them but by how many people they served. The way you really measure the value of somebody is how they treat people who can do nothing for them, if there is such a person. That was Paul. That was Jesus. That was many of you, because many of your names were mentioned.
Do you know one of the first ones who was mentioned in Fort Worth? It was a first grader named Benjamin. He's right now over there in On Your Mark. Jason Bradshaw threw this out. He goes, "I'll tell you a great person," and he mentioned a first grader. He said, "I'm going to tell you about Benjamin." He didn't tell us who Benjamin was yet. "Benjamin came to me. He's with me over there in On Your Mark."
He said, "Benjamin is hanging out over there, and he just on his own came up and said, 'Hey, I see when we leave that you have work to do. Could I stay and clean up and could I help get ready for the next group that comes in here?'" Jason said he looked at this person who was done after the first hour… I'm still thinking it's a volunteer who was there the first hour who said, "I'll stay and get it ready." He goes, "And Benjamin is on the team now." A first grader who just said, "How can I serve?" How about that?
Then it went on from there. Do you know who the next guy was? The next guy was a guy who used to be homeless who spends his Sundays making this place feel like home. He gets here first. He makes coffee. He puts the sign up. Nobody really knew or forgot that he did that every week until one Sunday he wasn't able to be here, and guess what? The sign wasn't put up. The second name that was mentioned was Bill, who formerly didn't have a home, and now he's part of a family and serves you to make this feel like home. On and on and on it went.
The third person… I see my friends here. Oh yeah, that couple that committed adultery…they're great. Why? Because they're not trying to act like they never had a problem. They're like, "This was really a problem. We sat in church every week, and we didn't abide with Jesus. It was a problem, and it almost ruined my life and ruined my family, and I'm not going to try and manage information. I'm going to tell you God saved me." First grader, homeless, train wreck…a cute one. On and on and on it goes.
I'm just like, "Who would use those people?" Well, a God who likes to make himself famous. Amen, Fort Worth? Do you know what I think of you? I think you're ready. I think what God can do in this city is what he can do in no other city that ever existed. There ought to be a letter written to you someday called "Fort Worth-onica." I don't know what it would be called, but it ought to be a book that when people read it they go, "I want to know that God. I want to follow that God. I want him to take my brokenness and do something amazing with it." Here we go.
I'll give you now the four things that he was. We'll start in verse 7. "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." There's a very powerful metaphor there. This is what Paul was. He was really aware of the needs of those around him. By the way, I'll stick this in here right now. This is not just Paul.
Does anybody know who wrote 1 Thessalonians? Paul is only 33 percent right (45:06) which is consistent with the picture all throughout the New Testament. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, brothers who ran together and loved Jesus and loved each other. This is not a one-man show around here. It never has been and never will be. This is a team. What they were saying was, "We came and we were aware of your needs like a mama watches a baby."
I've had a mama I slept next to, and I've watched the way that nursing mom cared for six babies, and it is unbelievable the intuitiveness, the tenderness, the selflessness, the tirelessness, and the joy that God has when a young woman is nursing her baby. I watched her sacrifice everything, her body, her sleep, her schedule, just so she could be all in on that little thing. Paul says that's kind of like we should be with each other, just aware.
Have you ever been around people like that? We talk about this a lot, having what we call host mentality, where you don't walk in and start to go, "What's this place like? Does somebody have my chair? Is there enough coffee left? Is it good coffee? What kind of coffee is that? Is it like one of those trendy coffees? What kind of building is this? You guys don't even have a building? What kind of a legitimate operation is this thing?" That's not the picture in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.
The picture in 2:7 is not like a "Here I am" person. The picture in 2:7 is "There you are. How are you doing? By the way, I remember last time we talked you said this. How's that going? You look like you're tired, man." What a mom would do, that's the way you ought to see each other; that you look at each other and just go, "What do I have that can give you life? What do I need to sacrifice so you feel more loved?" That's church. That's Paul. That's Silvanus. That's Timothy.
Look at verse 8. They weren't just aware of other people's needs. This is great. In verse 8 it says, "Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us." What I would call this is affectionate. Just "Man, how are you doing? Good to see you. There you are." Just somebody who cares for you, and you're not a program, you're not a project; you're a person.
The people you're trying to share with about the love of Christ are not projects. They're not heads to scalp. They're not marks to put on your belt. We're not trying to get them to convert. It's not our job to convert anybody. It is our job to love people, and part of loving people is declaring to them the excellencies of God and to walk in his ways so that they get a little sense of that. You have to ask yourself, "Does that guy know I love him?" Because if not, that's just a nonstarter.
Do they feel like you're trying to force their round peg into your square hole because you're committed to your square or do you do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit but with humility of mind consider others as more important than yourself, not merely looking out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others, having in yourself the same attitude which is also in Christ Jesus?
If you asked people to do a little word association game and I said, "Watermark" and if they didn't go, "Oh man, those people are really aware of your needs, your brokenness, your pain, and how they, in the strength and position God has put them in, can care for you. Those people over there know how to love you…" They might not say the word affectionate, but Watermark loves. Christ followers love. The church in Fort Worth loves.
I don't care what church they're supposed to be a part of. If that's not the first thing people think of… "Greedy. Schemers. Oh, that church? They'll tell you whatever you want to hear. They'll fly whatever kind of flag is the flag of the day." But not us. Not people who know Jesus. We should be aware of other people's needs. We should be affectionate. We don't treat people as projects. We just love them.
Look at verses 9-10. "For you recall…our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers…" In other words, there wasn't a show here. It was like, "Hey, come on in, man. Get to know us." Paul is saying, "You knew me. I didn't just preach and then retreat to my own little way of doing things. What you see is what you get. It's really who I am."
We're authentic people. That's the way we say it around here. It's part of our name. Paul is just saying, "You know me. You know what's going on here. I have a sincere faith. I have a pure heart. I have a good conscience, and the goal of our instruction is love," 1 Timothy 1:5 says. One of the things Paul is saying is "Not only am I aware of your needs, not only am I affectionate and I care for you, but I'm authentic. It's really who I am."
People say this all the time. If you like a restaurant, what are you not supposed to do? Don't ever work in the kitchen, because you'll never want to eat there again. We hear it all the time. "I really like my church, and you guys have approached me about jumping on the team to serve other people, and everybody I know is telling me if I like my church I shouldn't work there, because they say as soon as I do, I'm going to see it like it really is and I'm going to be out."
I'm going to just say something, and I'm boasting in the Lord when I say this. If you like Watermark, you ought to come on staff, and you will love it because of the grace of God that's in our lives in the way that we are, on a regular basis, admonishing, encouraging, and helping each other.
The testimony of those who have jumped in and out for different reasons over the last 15 years… They've said, "I fell more in love with this community the closer I got to it." It's not The Wizard of Oz, where some dog is going to grab a curtain and pull it back and some midget is back there pulling a bunch of levers, making everybody think he's a wizard. That's not the picture, or at least it wasn't with Paul, and it shouldn't be for any church.
How about this one? Verse 11: "…just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children…" We already know how a mom works. A mom works likes, "Oh, come here. Let me pull you to my bosom. Oh yes, yes. Let me put you for a nap. Let me wake you up and give you my bosom again." That's what moms do. They're very aware of your need, and they are constantly providing for you.
What's a dad like? "You want to learn to swim? Come here. Deep end. Let's go. Come on, over here. Oh, bigger breath. No, paddle harder. All right. Come on up. Sit right here. Look, that wasn't the effort we need to stay above the water." What Paul has going on here… He's saying, "Look, there's something beautiful about the way God made us male and female, and we need both, but it can't always be…"
My kids do it sometimes. When things aren't going well, they'll say, "Dad!" If mom is here they'll go, "Dad, you can't do that!" I'm going to go, "Hey, Dad is over here. Quit looking to Mom. We're done with the breast feed/nap/burp phase. It's time to be a man. Let's go." What has to happen and some of what happens here is that we do stuff like this. We spur each other on to love and good deeds. That analogy ought to work in Fort Worth. Spur town, let's go.
You have to go, "Hey man, are we helping each other more? Because I'm here, am I more the man of God that I should be? Because I'm here with you, am I more the woman of God he designed me to be? Am I more attentive to his Word? Am I more passionate about his purposes?" Here's what I think of you. I think you have everything pertaining to life and godliness. I think that if you, like me, in all our brokenness, will radically run with Christ and abide with him there is no limit to what he will do.
What will happen is that we will send love letters back and forth from Fort Worth to Dallas and Dallas to Plano and Plano to Fort Worth, and we'll say, "We have heard of the work of your faith, of your labor of love. We have heard about your enduring hope, and it strengthens us to know that God is at work through his people."
Look at the very beginning of this whole book. Chapter 1, verse 1: "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…" Holiness is Christ in me. Paul isn't saying, "Thessalonica, now two years looking back from when we first hung out for 21 days, you guys should be really getting after it and be really holy people." He's saying, "No, your security is in Christ and Christ alone. That's the solid rock. It always has been, always will be."
Paul says, "I boast in nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified." He's saying to the church in Fort Worth, "You do the same thing." He's saying to the church in Dallas, "You do the same thing. You boast in Jesus, not in any numbers, not in any facility, not in anything other than Jesus." "…Grace to you and peace." Here's what I think of you. "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers…" I do. I want you guys to know that. I trust that you pray for me.
A guy who was an effective pastor a long time ago… His name was Charles Spurgeon. They sometimes said, "What do you attribute the success of your ministry to?" You talk about a rock star pastor. That was Charles Spurgeon. They built a building, the first megachurch in London, England, for this guy, because they couldn't have enough space anywhere for this guy to equip people, because he was the prince of preachers. He was not contemptible in speech.
In fact, he used to walk into his church of 5,000 seats in the 1800s, and this is what they would say: "If you are here and you know the Lord Jesus, would you please leave? Because there are masses outside who don't know him who are eager to come to hear the Word taught tonight." And it would empty out and it would fill back up. They went to this guy and said, "What do you attribute the success of your ministry to?" I love what Spurgeon said. He said, "It's simple. My people pray for me."
I'm going to tell you, gang. I need you to pray for me, and I need to pray for you. We need to pray for one another, because there is an enemy who is a roaring lion and he is seeking whom he might devour. I need you to pray that God would preserve me, that God would woo me, and that I would die to myself that he might live, and I need to pray the same thing for you. I do pray for you, and I need your prayers.
I really am convinced that if there's anything good happening in me it's because people are lifting me up and saying, "God, would you just preserve that guy? Would you just, by your kindness, continue to hold him?" Every week when I'm with the staff, I just go, "Lord, thank you that your kindness has held me another day." I don't think I am going on three-plus decades of faithfully walking with Jesus because I'm a good guy. I know better.
When I think of you, I pray for you. Verse 3: "…constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father…" I'll just end with this little observation. This is how the church of Jesus Christ should always be known: by their faith that works.
In other words, we're not just a group of people here with a solid doctrinal statement. We aren't just right down the line with Dallas Theological Seminary. We're not just straight up with Southwestern, which are two tremendous things to be aligned with, but being aligned in aspiration and not actually living out and doing what we say we believe is not what the world is looking for.
It is a work of faith. It is a faith that works. It's people who don't just go to congregate. It's that when they're congregating they are loving, spurring on, admonishing, helping, and they are working it out. I love the stories I hear of you guys working it out. It's love that labors. That's the thing. Paul says, "I'm thankful for your work of faith, for your labor of love."
I know what some of you guys are doing in the way that you're getting after it, and I know the way you're caring for people. I've heard about it. I've heard about the way you're starting to model what should be the distinguishing factor of the church. "By this they will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Isn't it hard? It's easy to have a spring break romance. You can fall in love on spring break like nobody's business and go, "I've never met anybody like you before." Even though it's only for four days, you're in an idyllic location, you're not working, you're spending somebody else's money, and you're drunk half the time, and you call that love.
But do you know what happens? I don't care who you meet on spring break. If you come back and really begin to live with them, eventually you're going to go, "I have to figure out if I'm going to really love this person and if I'm going to stick here and stick with it." The idea of community… We all want to be in community.
When we first get in community, we're all on our best behavior. This is great. We're holding hands. We're dancing. We finally have friends who believe what we believe. The next thing you know we're like, "I don't know. This is a beating." It's like you're introducing new people into your life, and new people require you to be affectionate toward them and aware of their needs, and it causes you to die to yourself, and that's not easy to do.
You have to sometimes say hard things to them, and they don't always respond the way you want them to. Then you have to decide if you'd rather just be liked and be fake or really charge ahead and be the people of God. I have heard about the way you guys are hanging in there and going, "Okay, man. Here we go. If we're going to be this people…" Just a hope that endures. This isn't just going to be a splash in the pan. You guys are going to run into trouble, and you guys are going to suffer.
You guys are going to go through some hard days, but you're going to say, "We're not here because it's easy. Our hope is in Jesus Christ and nothing less. Our hope is that, at the end of the day, our God, who observes everything we do, is going to say, 'Well done, good and faithful servants. You were my people in cow town. You were Christ followers in cow town, and I will not forget your kindness in having ministered to and still ministering to the saints.'"
Let's go. Let's be on mission this week. Everything we need we have, and it's the King who loves us. Don't be discouraged that you're not righteous in and of yourself; be reminded you're not righteous in and of yourself. Cling to him, and cling to each other.
Father, I thank you for a chance to be with my friends in Fort Worth. We are grateful that we get to wrap up our time today by just being reminded of our desperate need for you. So I thank you, Lord, for your Word. I thank you for the way that you, in your kindness, take a letter that was written a long time ago to a group of people in a land that we maybe never visit and we just go, "Wow, there's a lot there that's good for me."
Thank you, Father, that you used a man who was unimpressive in appearance, contemptible in speech, who had a history as a terrorist to change the world because he clung to you. Would you take us and all that's wrong and broken about us and teach us to cling to you, knowing that you can do the same thing? In fact, you tell us even greater things than you did we will do if we cling to you. So help us be your church. Thank you that you're our God. In Jesus' name, amen.