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For many, the new year is a time for making resolutions. Todd begins this new year with a message on resolve, how we can be intentional in our resolve, and the characteristics of a faithful life in Christ.
Something Sweet out of the Ingredients of Sadness
Why Good Leaders Have Always Written Letters to the Church They Love
All In With Jesus
Outrunning Your Past
Faith in Work
Following Jesus: How He Changes Your Place, People & Priorities - Luke 9:57-62
Our Purpose in Life
Healing, Hearing, and the Hope of the Gospel
Money, Stuff, and Eternity
Living the Word
An Audience of One
Mother's Day Message
A Biblical Perspective on the Value and Role of Women in Ministry
Baptism Celebration 2016
Sabbath: God's Solution to the Addiction of Busyness
Inside Out Church
Awaken the Hope of the World
An Evening with the Elders
Easter: The Greatest Evidence That God Is Real, Good, Powerful and Trustworthy
Good Friday 2016
Resolve to Be Faithful
Well, good evening. How is everyone doing in 2016? All right. Glad you're well. I'm going to make you feel absolutely terrible tonight. Are you ready? Well, maybe not. I hope not. But 2016! It's always one of those times when we all feel great; it's the start of something new. I love the Bible verses in Lamentations 3 where it says, "The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease. His mercies are new every morning. His compassions never fail."
I have fallen victim before to the idea of taking that verse too literally where I literally thought, "Hey, the sun has to set and rise again before I have another chance to make it a day God could be somehow pleased with me," or I could be, myself, leaning toward faithfulness and excitement that I was living the way God wanted.
I can remember times where I wouldn't get out of bed in the morning without already feeling like, "Dang, I blew another day," because of a lustful thought or an attitude that wasn't of Christ. I'm like, "Well, there goes today! I have to wait for the whole day to go and the sun to set and the sun to rise, then God's mercies are new. Maybe tomorrow will be a day he is pleased with."
That's nonsense. That's nonsense. That verse is just talking about the fact that anytime you want to run back to God, anytime you want to be serious about your relationship with him, he is ready for that to happen. If you're sick and tired of being sick and tired, if you don't want to live with the pigs and have the consequences of being a prodigal anymore, come on home. I don't care if that's between 5:35 and 5:40. Come on home. You don't need to wait another day.
It's January third. Some of you all maybe charged into the weekend thinking this year is going to be different. Then maybe you even gave yourself a little extra permission because, "I'll just live through the holiday weekend, but tomorrow, January fourth, I'll really get serious after it." Right? I saw a lot of heads nod like, "Yeah. That's what… Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day."
Maybe you're already just going, "Man, I did it again. I have to wait until 2017; 2016 is already just completely screwed up. I have no option but to wait until his mercies are new January 2017." Let me just remind you…God is anxious to help you. His desire is to be merciful toward you and for you to live the life you want. The Bible says that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God. That's not a verse that is condemning us. It's a verse speaking of the reality that we don't look like he wants us to look and we want ourselves to look.
What the Scriptures are doing is God is saying, "Come on back home, Son. Let me restore in you the glory that is lost because of sin. I will do that for you. Ultimately, in terms of the way I look at you, I'll make you holy and blameless in my sight, not because of what you do but because of what I've done. Let me serve you. Let me be your Redeemer, your Rescuer. Then just abide with me. As you move back toward Christ, this life will begin to look, through you, more like I intended it to look in man, in woman. Come on home. My mercies are new every moment. My lovingkindnesses indeed never cease."
Great lives don't happen by accident. They are always done as a result of a great amount of commitment. It's been well said by philosophers over the ages, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One of the things we are to do is to constantly examine our life. In fact, not just us, but to invite the Spirit of God in to say, "Search me and know me. Try me and know if there are any anxious thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way."
What I want to do tonight is talk to you about a guy name Jonathan Edwards. You may know Jonathan Edwards just because it's one of those names that just kind of pops because he was a faithful man. It wasn't by accident that Jonathan Edwards became a guy who was not just one of the greatest spiritual leaders our country ever knew, but many people think he's one of the greatest intellects this land, North America, what became the United States, ever knew.
You're going to find out it was because he was a man who purposed to become what God intended men to become. It didn't just happen. He wasn't more prone by providence to become what God made him, though certainly grace is at the heart and the core of anything in our life that is good.
I love the quote by a guy named G.K. Chesterton, who was a great British wit who wrote and observed many great things. He said this, and I agree with him. I believe in a sovereign God. Chesterton said, "I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a faith that falls on them unless they act." In other words, unless we are doers, unless we are men of action, unless we have a bias toward activity, we are going to drift toward something less glorious than God intends us to be.
Edwards didn't want that to be the case. At one point in his life, he sat down… It started in 1722, the first time he did it. He sat down, and he began to just say, "I am going to resolve, I'm going to purpose, to be this man." I want you to listen to some of these things. There are about 71 by the end of his life. He kept adding to them. Some of them almost overlap or even flat out repeat, but he wrote them down again. Edwards purposed, resolved, to say, "This will be my story. I am going to discipline myself toward this end."
The very first one he ever wrote down starts this way, "Resolved, I will do whatever I think to be most to God's glory. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general." Edwards just said, "Listen. I'm going to live for the glory of God and the good of other people. I will purpose to make that my life story." He said, "I am resolved to do this whatever difficulties I meet with, however many and great, whatsoever they are. I will be that man." He said, "Even if no other man is, I will be that man."
It's one thing to say those things. It's quite another thing to do them. Aesop, who you know for his tales, is the one who said, "When all is said and done, more is said than done." Edwards was going to be a doer of the Word, and he was going to be a guy who lived this way. He resolved, "If ever I shall fall and grow dull [from earlier resolutions] so as to neglect to keep any part of them, I will repent of all I can remember when I come to my senses again."
That's what I want to tell you. Tonight is your night. I mean, you don't need to wait until 2017. You don't even need to wait until tomorrow. You just have to say, "Right now, I'm going to come to my senses. I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. It is time to get it done. In another one Edwards said, "Resolved, to live with all my might while I do live. Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if I were in the last hour of my life." I love that.
John Wesley is another guy who is well-known. You know the name Jonathan Edwards, you know the name John Wesley, because they are exceptional men. They're men who have distinguished themselves. Proverbs says, "A man will be distinguished by his deeds if his conduct is pure and right." Again, not if his philosophies are good; if his conduct is pure and right. You will be distinguished.
Wesley is the guy who you know as the founder of Methodism. He hated that. He did not want to be a Methodist. It was really a smear term that was put on him because he was so methodical in the way he went about disciplining himself for the purpose of godliness. Now Wesley actually did that apart from grace for a long time, trying to earn God's love and earn God's acceptance and favor.
He was the most methodical…in fact, probably under bondage…person who was out there until he was set free when he came to understand that the righteous will live by faith. He rightly kept the discipline that always flows out of a right understanding of the saving kindness of God. Edwards didn't believe he needed to do these things for God to love him. Edwards believed if God loved him and was good, then he was worth doing everything he could for him.
I would not encourage you this year to purpose to do something great for God. I would encourage you to walk deeply with and abide with a God who has done something great for you because you recognize him and understand his character and nature. You're like, "All I want to do is to be near him."
The Scripture says, "The beginning of wisdom is this: acquire wisdom and in all your acquiring, acquire understanding." (Proverbs 4) Earlier, in Proverbs 1:7, "The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God." You know God is good. The source of all hope and light comes from him, so you don't want to miss any opportunity to know still more of God, this God who loved you enough to die for you, to bring you back into relationship with him so light and love and peace can be yours. You don't want to miss anything from him.
John Wesley was a guy who lived his life the way Edwards resolved to live his life. He was asked one time, "Mr. Wesley, if you knew you were going to die at midnight tomorrow, how would you spend the intervening time?" He said, "Why, Madam, just as I intend to spend it now. I would preach this evening at Gloucester. At five tomorrow morning I would preach again.
After that I would ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon, and meet the societies in the evening. I would then go to Reverend Martin's house, who expects to entertain me. I would talk and pray with the family as usual, retire to my room at ten o'clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father, lie down to rest, and wake up in glory."
In other words, "I already know what I'm going to do. I don't need to go out and change my life. I'm just going to be faithful along the way. I'm going to do what it is I have purposed to do for the glory of God, the good of man, whatsoever the cost it is to me."
Edwards said, "Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities and failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing of my own sins and misery to God." How about that?
Edwards said, "Listen, when I'm around my dysfunctional family, when I'm around my awkward relatives for a holiday season, I'm not going to see all that's wrong with them. I'm going to use that to remind me there is still much in me that is not faithful and true. I am going to purpose to repent of all those things and only use the failings of others to remind me I am not home yet, and there is more still for Christ to do in my life." Wow.
"Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same." Jonathan Edwards was joining the journey 250 years before Join the Journey was even an idea we had.
He was committing himself to go through it, to learn by it, to be instructed by it, steadily and frequently conformed into the image of one who has the mind of God. He said, "Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that Prov. 20:6, ('A faithful man who can find?') may not be partly fulfilled in me."
"Resolved, to inquire every night as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year." In other words, "I'm not just going to write these things down. Every night when I lay in bed, I'm going to evaluate my life based on the things I have purposed to do. I'm going to deal with them. I'm going to do it every day, every night, every week, every month, every year."
It goes on. There are 70-some odd of these. I'll stop reading them now, but you read this and you understand this was not just some guy who idly worked his way through life. That sets him apart a bit, doesn't it? I mean, what was yours? "I'm not going to supersize this year"? Was that your resolution?
You kind of go, "Man, I'd better up my game a little bit." You can see why this is a guy who, when he spoke, was a blessing to people, why he was a leader of universities, an educator, a man among men, because he purposed himself and disciplined himself for the purpose of godliness.
What I want to talk to you about tonight, what I want to do tonight, is just say, "Hey, listen. If we're going to resolve to do something, it can be overwhelming," especially when you start to see a guy like Edwards. This guy is either completely awesome or the earliest definition of OCD. I don't know which one sometimes when you look at him.
What you want to do is just go, "Look, there probably are some things I can learn from him, so I don't have this accidental, happenstance life." Whenever you see excellence, you can be sure it wasn't accidental. Extraordinary kids do not come, by rule, from ordinary homes. Extraordinary men don't come from having ordinary, idle, average lives. They are intentional. I believe you want this year to be one where you improve, where you don't spiral downward but you move toward Christ.
By the way, when you read the Scriptures and you see what's true of Christ, when you read the book of Revelation, he's not just described as the Alpha and the Omega, he's described as faithful and true. That's who Jesus was. If you are made in the image of God, and if you are saved by grace, you are to be conformed into the image of the Son, so faithful and true are what God wants for me and for you. So here we go.
What I want to do is to spend some time talking about what happens when we have a place where everybody says they want to be a faithful man, but we don't typically find them. In fact…this is not a good thing…David, in Psalms, chapter 12, when he is wringing his hands before God at the condition of the world he is in, just says, "Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of man."
This is not a good thing. When faithful men disappear, it is a sad day. In fact, it's a sign of judgment. In Isaiah, chapter 3, verses 1 through 5, the Bible talks about consequences of the favor of God leaving a land. In Isaiah 3, it says, "For behold, the Lord God of hosts is going to remove from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support, the whole supply of bread and the whole supply of water."
They are going to be gone. There is going to be a famine. It's a true famine when you have no bread and no water, but he says, "There's going to be something worse than just no food and no water." How do I know it's going to be worse? Well, because many of us have been around amazing meals with not-so-amazing people, and it's not a very amazing time.
Proverbs says it this way, "Better is a dish of vegetables and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife." In this case, there is going to be not even a dish of vegetables, but not only is there not a dish of vegetables… If you have a dish of vegetables but faithful people, it can be a joyous time, whereas if you have lobster and steak and discord, it is not peaceful.
Isaiah, chapter 3, verse 2: "Not only will I remove the whole supply of bread and water," he says, "The mighty man and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder…" Gone. "…The captain of fifty and the honorable man…" Gone. "…The counselor and the expert artisan, and the skillful enchanter." Gone. "And I will make mere lads their princes, and capricious children will rule over them."
I will tell you, when we start to think about a problem in a land… There's a problem in a land when the faithful are gone. Proverbs 28:12 talks about this. It says, "When the righteous triumph, there is great glory, but when the wicked men rise, men hide themselves." Proverbs 29:2 says a similar thing, "When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan."
Let me just tell you something. This is not a problem for America, that America is missing faithful men in terms of a country, this is a problem right where you live. Men, you are leaders of your home. You are a king. Your home is a castle. There are children in your house who are lying there, and they are praying for the ruler over them to be somebody who is not capricious, who is not selfish, who uses his power to bless them, who kneels by their bed and speaks to them words that are true, and who provides peace because of the way he loves the queen.
When you think about this, don't just think about, "Yeah, man, America is in a bad place because we don't have good leadership, man." You look at the candidates for president. You look at the one who people are behind. This is not a good thing. People are groaning. I want to tell you that hope does not ride on Air Force One, and especially to your children. It rides in your car and sits around your dinner table.
If you want 2016 to be a different year for those in your kingdom, in your castle, this is a fine message for you. What I want to do is talk about what is faithfulness and that you would resolve to this, that you would just say, "Okay, I'm not going to be one of those guys who says I want to live for God. I'm going to be one of those guys who will live for God." We'll spend some time tonight talking about faithfulness, because sometimes it can be overwhelming.
Let me just start with this: faithful men are not burdened with to-do lists; they simply know what to do in every situation. When you start to think about all you have to do if you are going to be faithful… I just scribbled down a few. I've got to study Scripture, memorize Scripture, meditate on Scripture, pray about myself, pray with my wife, pray with my children, pray for my children, pray for my coworkers, pray for my extended family, for my church, for my pastor, for unreached people groups who are out there.
I have to discover my gifts, develop my gifts, deploy my gifts. I have to be creative. I have to be available. I have to be in community. I have to serve my community. I have to shepherd other people. I have to be discipled. I have to find somebody to disciple. I have to meet with folks on a regular basis to encourage them day after day as long as it's still called a day. I have to steward my life wisely. I have to steward my gifts wisely. I have to work so I can make money so I have something to steward. You're kind of like, "Man. Where is the rest in that?"
Let me just boil it down for you because at the end of your life you want to hear one thing: "Well done. You were faithful. Well done, good and faithful servant." So get rid of your to-do lists. Now there are things you still need to do, but get rid of your to-do lists and just put one thing on it. The one thing is: I will be faithful. I will live for the glory of God, the good of man, and I will do it whatsoever the cost to me.
That's a full time job, and that's not a long list. It has implications for how you eat, how you exercise. It has implications for how you work, why you work, what you do with that which you get because you work. It affects everything, and that's what you need to understand. When you come into a relationship with Jesus, it affects everything.
I'll give you one more from Edwards because it's so great. He says, "Resolved, frequently to renew my dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23."
I'm going to renew my vows continually to God because when I said, "Lord, you are my King. I will deny myself. I will follow you," that wasn't just something I did in some ceremonial effect. That's what I meant. When you said to your wife that you were going to love her and cherish her and honor her that was your commitment, not at a ceremony but every day.
This week as I was doing some reading and thinking about this. I came across Jean Camille. I don't like Jean Camille. I'm glad my wife doesn't have an idea who Jean Camille is (until today). Jean Camille. I looked him up. This is a good-looking guy. He was a very good-looking guy. He happened to also be the count of Chabrol, wherever that is, but if you're the count of anything, you're just bad-to-the-bone to begin with, right?
Here's what I really thought was impressive about Jean Camille. It is reported that he proposed to his wife every day of their wedded lives, his entire life, and this he did on bended knee every day. It is said he repeated the exact same line 23,000 times on his knee. I can remember when I looked at my wife, I'm not just going, "You want to marry me?"
I got on my knee, and I said, "It would the greatest privilege in my life for you to allow me to serve you, to care for you, to cherish you, and to honor you, to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind to consider you as more important than myself, to try and seek by the power of Christ in me to love you as Christ loved the church. Would you do me the incredible honor of giving me your hand in marriage in covenant commitment one to another?"
I don't think I've said that to my wife since then, and this good-looking stud of a Frenchman, Jean Camille, said it 23,000 times. I have a hunch, because he said it every day, he did a whole lot better at loving his wife than this guy has been doing, the count of Bryn Mawr. I have to get busy. I have to up my game. I have to purpose to be faithful and true, and not just go, "I said it once. Until I tell you otherwise, isn't that good?" No.
I have to do what Edwards did every day, to go, "How am I doing on my love and commitment to my Savior?" There is not a long to-do list here. Here's what it basically comes down to… Listen, you live in a world where the wicked are all around you. "How blessed is the man who does not walk with the wicked or stand in the path of sinners or seat in the seat of scoffers."
I don't sit with scoffers. I do stand where sinners are all around me. I do walk around where people are giving wicked counsel all the time, but I'm purposing to delight myself in the law of the Lord and on that law to meditate day and night. For I know if I do that, "I will be like a tree firmly planted by a stream of water, and I will yield my fruit in season." Now watch this. Why do I say that? That is Psalm 1.
This is what a faithful man does: He yields his fruit in season. In other words, he brings forth what he is supposed to bring forth when it's time to bring it forth. That is faithfulness. That's what God wants for you and me, and the only way that's going to happen is if you make it your business to bury your roots deep. That's what a tree does.
A tree doesn't go, "What am I going to do today? What am I going to do today?" It just sinks its roots deeper and deeper. If it's smart, or by fate, it is buried next to a stream so it doesn't have to hope it gets some provision because it can reach for provision. You are like a tree, and you get to determine where you are planted. Wise men will plant themselves by the Word of God continually, to be informed by it, corrected by it, trained by it, so they might be adequately equipped for every good work that they might be faithful.
Where are you planting yourself? Don't make this long list. I'm fine with lists, but make this your list: "I will be faithful and true. I will live for the glory of God, the good of man, and whatsoever it costs me, that's what I'm going to be about. I'm not going to try to do it alone." We'll get to that in just a moment. This is what faithful men do. It's not a long list. They just know what to do when it's time to do it. Ecclesiastes, chapter 3. I love these verses (there are eight of them) because Solomon is just observing this. He says,
"There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace."
What time is it? That's what you want to know, right? Let me just tell you, a wise man knows what time it is, but a faithful man does what he needs to do in that time. My problem is not typically wisdom anymore. I typically know what time it is. At this point in my life, by my learning, by my reading, by my observing, I typically go, "This is the principle of Scripture that right now wisdom would have me execute."
This is what the Proverb says, by the way, "A man who knows the right answer, it's like a kiss on the lips." My problem, though, is sometimes instead of giving the kiss, I do what I want to do because I don't feel like kissing in that moment, which is to say I'm not faithful. Even though I read this by Jean Camille this week, it struck me as, "You know what? That makes a lot of sense."
I was talking with my family a little bit about some things we want to do this year. One of the guys around said… I've talked about this before; I've done this before. I start every day, the first thing I do is get out of bed, and I get on my knees, start my day on my knees. I stay there until I just start my day by reminding myself I am a steward. I am a servant. It's not about me. God is giving me another day to serve and honor him, for his glory, the good of other people, whatsoever it costs me.
There are days I did that, probably months, maybe years, I did that in my life. It probably wasn't new information to me. That would be a good idea for a man to do with his wife, for a man to do as a husband. To say, "This is who I am." Faithful men are not burdened with to-do lists. They simply know what to do, and they do it. Nike didn't come up with the idea, "Just do it." James did, and he stole it from Jesus.
Faithful men are not found by asking for a show of hands; they are found by watching their hands show they are faithful. When we're trying to figure out who leaders are, we don't just go, "Who is faithful?" because, "Many a man proclaims his faithfulness, but who can find a trustworthy man?"
What you want to do is watch people carefully. The thing I love about Jesus… Jesus is asked this same question. Jesus just talks straight. This is Matthew, chapter 21, verse 28. Jesus is asked the question, "What does a faithful man do? Aren't we faithful?" Jesus responds, "Well, what do you think?" That's what he says. Those are exactly the words of Christ. "Well, what do you think a faithful man is?"
He goes on to tell a story. He says, in Matthew 21:28, "A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go." Jesus, in effect, said, "Well, what do you think?"
"Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, 'The first.'" Meaning the Pharisees who were proud of some of the things they thought they were doing that God wanted them to do. "Jesus said to them, 'Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.'"
"They said to me, 'I will not do what you want. I don't believe you're good. I don't believe you have my best interests in mind, so I'm going to go and try and establish for myself glory on earth by stealing from my fellow man.' Or 'I'm going to buy a lie about myself or exploit the weakness in men by prostituting myself out there this way. I will not do what you want.'"
Then they came to the end of themselves, and they came back broken, sick and tired of being sick and tired. They said to God, "Not my will but your will be done," and they repented. Even though they said, "I will not," eventually they went and did the will of their Father. They fell at the feet of the Savior, and they said, "I will follow you."
Whereas the Pharisees said, "I'll do what God wants me to do," but they didn't. Jesus goes on to say, "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him [that there was a need for washing and repentance] …" He said, "Some of you guys even went through the motions of being baptized by John, but you are a brood of vipers, and you did not bear fruit in keeping with repentance. You said, 'I will, Sir,' and you did not."
How many of you guys know who Eddie Haskell is? Raise your hand if you don't know Eddie Haskell. This morning a bunch of my high school friends raised their hands, and several of you in this room don't know who Eddie Haskell is. Jesus is basically saying, "I am not a fan of Eddie Haskell Christianity." Eddie Haskell was Wally Cleaver's best friend, he and Lumpy. Wally Cleaver was Beaver Cleaver (Theodore's), brother.
In the show, Leave It to Beaver (which was a better day for American television), in the home of Ward and June Cleaver, Eddie Haskell would walk in. He would walk up, and he would say to Mrs. Cleaver, "Oh, Mrs. Cleaver, what a lovely apron you're wearing today. Look at that embroidery. That is beautiful. I've never seen such a lovely apron. Mrs. Cleaver, you look like you had a wonderful night of sleep last night. You just look beautiful, and you radiate. Mrs. Cleaver, what are baking? I've never smelled a kitchen that smelled this good."
Eddie Haskell was a snake. He was the cause of all moral corruption in Wally and Beaver's life. He presented himself one way to Ward and June. Though they themselves knew what they were dealing with, they never saw the full extent of it until sometimes the backside. But Jesus goes, "I know exactly who you are, Eddie, and I'm not looking for somebody to just complement my apron and the fine embroidery on it. I am looking for somebody whose heart is faithful and not who presents a certain way."
Jesus told us to beware of these kinds of people. In Matthew, chapter 7, he says in verse 15, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing…" In other words, certain people say, "We're here for you. We're just like you. We have your best interests in mind," but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
Jesus says, "You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes,** nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." Jesus says,"You will know them by their fruits."**
Let me just tell you something. Banana trees can tape on apples, but they are still bananas. Just hang around them for a while and watch what they really produce, not how they initially present. Jesus just says, "Watch them." That's how you find faithful men. I'll expound on that in just a moment. "Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." Just do it.
Faithfulness is the best defense against constant critics. It's why we want to be ultimately faithful. This kind of, like I said, is expounding on what I'm talking about. Time is a faithful man's friend. Just let time go. You'll see me bear fruit in season. Watch me over a period of time. You'll see that I produce. I don't just tape on fruit for a moment. I am who you want me to be. I am faithful and true.
You don't really even have to tell people that. There's a great story about a nineteenth century… In the 1800s, back before there was New York football Giants, there were other celebrities. They were artisans. They were great orators. They were thespians. They were actors. People weren't writing a lot of articles in the New York Herald at the time about great feats on the athletic field because there were no professional sports, so they wrote about musicians.
One of them was a very famed musician in New York. He was a violin player. He was being criticized as a guy who shouldn't have been given the first chair, and that had he, in fact, been somebody who should have been given the first chair at some point, his skills were so deteriorating they thought he shouldn't be there now to rightly represent their city.
Different critics in the New York Herald were saying a lot about this guy. The New York Herald went to him, and they said, "Listen, we know our critics are writing a lot about you in our paper. We thought it only fair to give you an opportunity to respond to them. We will give you an opportunity to write a letter, and we'll print it in our paper, defending yourself against your critics."
I love what this man said. He said, "I think it is best they write against me, and I play against them." He never wrote a word of response. What he was saying there was, "I'm not going to try and defend myself with words. I'm just going to pick up my bow, I'm going to put that violin to my shoulder, and I am going to move that bow over those strings. We'll let the world decide if your critics are wasting ink, because time is my friend, and the music I make with my life is my defense."
This is what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians, chapter 3. He said, "Do we need a letter of commendation? You're our letter of commendation, the way we have lived our lives before you, the way your life has been transformed by the gospel we brought to you. You're our letter."
Jesus said this, in effect, in Matthew, chapter 11. "Watch me, man. You don't like what I'm doing right now. You think I'm hanging out with tax gatherers and prostitutes and sinners because I like sin? No. You don't have any idea why I'm hanging out with these people. It's because I'm a doctor, and I go to sick people. I'd hang out with you, except you don't even know you're sick. In fact, when John was around, you thought John was a loon."
This is Jesus in Matthew, chapter 11. "What shall I compare this generation to? You say, 'Play this song. Play that song.' If it's a funeral dirge, you're upset it's too sad. If it's a song of celebration, you think all we want to do is dance." But watch this. In verse 18 of Matthew 11, Jesus says, "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'"
Jesus says, "Let's just watch how this plays out. Wisdom will be vindicated by her deeds." Time is a faithful man's friend. Jesus says, "We'll watch you in your life and your disciples. Watch me in my life and my disciples. We'll see who is faithful. We'll see who is true."
This is exactly Jesus' exhortation to us through his servant Peter, when Peter reminds us we are a chosen race, in fact, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2), "A holy nation, a people for God's own possession." Our job is to proclaim his excellencies so we might call people out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Then the Scripture says, "Listen. Here is what I want you to do." In verse 12, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers…" Believers in a fable or a myth, deluded. "…they may…" Eventually is what is implied. "…they may [eventually] because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."
Which is saying, "God, you didn't leave us here in a mystery. You showed us you have the power to transform and to heal and to restore glory because we saw it in those people we mocked and we scorned. There were people who gave glory to you, who lived for the good of men and did it whatsoever the cost, and I want to thank you for them." Jesus is just saying, "You just stay the course." That's what faithful men do. They stay the course, and their best defense against critics is time.
I would tell you faithfulness is never selective. Selective faithfulness is, in fact, not faithfulness at all. Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 23, verse 23, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin…" Just small little spices they would take that almost would seem to be irrelevant things. They would make sure they would tithe from that. "…and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."
I want to tell you, the church has been so guilty of this. We sometimes pride ourselves in not going to see certain kinds of movies, maybe we avoid certain kinds of sin. I think the church has been guilty of this for a long time. We would take stuff we don't struggle with and we'd make it a big deal. We'd say, "We're not like those perverts, those gays and those lesbians. Look at what they do that's an offense to God and all the immorality they're caught up in."
Make no mistake, it is immorality, but what we would do is make a big deal about homosexuality while heterosexual immorality has been rampant in our midst. We would say, "Don't let those homosexuals marry and defile the institution of marriage," while divorce is rampant in our midst in the church. Even folks who aren't divorced are more undivorced than they are pursuing the oneness God intends. That's called selective faithfulness. It's not faithfulness, and rightly have we been criticized.
Jesus always criticizes those kinds of people. He says, "Don't you pick some pet sin you don't struggle with and make that the standard of faithfulness. You apply your whole self to the text, and you apply the whole text to yourself." It is well said that if you believe what you like in the gospels and you reject what you don't like, it's not the gospel you believe in, it's yourself. Faithful men are not selective. They say, "Okay, here we go. Not my life but his. I will be attentive to every bit of my life underneath his."
Faithful men do not dread hard questions, bright lights, or loud accusers. In fact, faithful men welcome them. They expect it. They know it's necessary for their life to be what God wants their life to be. I think about my friend, Truby McDougal. Truby was a member of Watermark. I save emails like this; I have an email here from a long time ago in Truby's life.
We were talking one day about our lives being what God wants them to be. This was almost 10 years ago. I shot him an email this weekend and said, "Truby, just following up from 10 years later. I know I talked about this 10 years ago and wanted to see… Tell me the downline 10 years later." It was great to hear how the story that came out of this continues to bear fruit.
Truby heard us talking about how we ought to be able to live our lives in such a way that men see us as aliens and strangers. They know there is something informing us that is beyond just what informs normal men. We basically said, "If you had to be convicted as a Christian, could you be, in fact, convicted as a Christian by those whom you work with?" Truby took that question, and he goes, "You know what? I'm going to ask."
He worked with 600 people. He was in a position where he could do this, so he sent an email to 600 people. He said, "Someone just recently asked me this question. I want to ask it to you. You guys work with me. You work for me. You work around me. Would you guys convict me of being a Christian if you had to give testimony to what you know in my life?"
He said he got all kinds of responses. He said most of them were basically superficial, complementary, pleasing, worldly-focused responses like, "You're a nice person," or "You seem to like people. You genuinely seem to be a moral person." He goes, "It made me in their eyes, I guess, a good Christian, but I knew that's not what a good Christian was, somebody who just presents themselves as generally nice."
He said, "I got one response that said, 'Well, I don't think I could I deny or confirm that you're a Christian. I've never really heard you speak about your convictions or why they're there, what you really stand for. There are really no overt signs or clues as to what you believe.'" So Truby realized he had some work to do.
What he did is he didn't just process this alone. He put himself out there. He told the world, "Hey, look. I want to be a guy who is known as somebody whose life has been radically changed by Jesus Christ. I welcome your feedback. I want you to speak into my life. If you see me do something that seems to be inconsistent with or contrary to what a man of God should do, I want you to go, 'Hey! That seems to be inconsistent with who you say you are.'"
Faithful men are not individuals who dread hard questions, bright lights, or loud accusers. As it says in 1 Peter 3, verse 16, "They keep a good conscience so that, if they are in fact slandered, those who eventually revile their good behavior will be put to shame when they watch your life." Let them be your critics, and you just play your life out before them.
We talk a lot about community here. Let me just tell you something. When I hear people say stuff like, "Well, you guys take community way too seriously here. I'm not going to do that." There are guys who come to Watermark, and they go, "I'll be around Watermark, but we're not going to go and get involved with community. It's like a cult over there. It's just way too invasive." They'll tell their wife, "I like Todd. I'll go listen to Todd talk. I'll listen to him speak, but I'm not going to really get in there where other people know my life. I mean, come on!"
Let me tell you why men are like that. The guys who do that, it's not because they think if they get involved with biblical community their lives are going to degenerate and they're going to become worse. The reason they say that stuff is because they are bullies. They have intimidated their wives and their children so that there are certain areas they're not going to be approached in or confronted in. They've learned to suppress the kingdom with their own intimidations. They like it that way.
They don't want somebody to upset their offense, so they don't want to get strong men around them or godly women (if you're a lady) around you who can lovingly speak the truth and expose that there is a profession to be faithful without actually being faithful. They give the appearance of godliness, but they deny its power. They don't invite conversation. I'm going to tell you, it's not because they think if they did they would get worse. It's because they know the worst of them would be shown. They don't like bright lights because they are not who they present to be.
It is a fact that you need to be somebody who learns to lead yourself in every way you can, but it is also a fact that if you try and lead yourself alone you will not be the fullness of what God intends you to be. "The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion."
The righteous say, "Come on in, not because I think you're going to like everything you see, but because if there's stuff that is not to be liked, I want it to be dealt with. I need your help being faithful and true. I need your encouragement day after day, as long as it's called today." That's what faithful men do. They don't go at it alone.
I was talking to my friends after the service, some of them who have been in the military for a long time, many of whom are in Special Forces. They say, "Todd, let me just tell you something. Within the Special Forces community, the more you are trained, the more privileges you are given, the more accountability is increased. There are certain things typical seamen can do that SEALs can't even think about. They watch our every move." Because to whom much is given, much is expected. If you want to be great, if you want to advance, you'd better invite people in.
Faithful men don't need to know when they are going to be observed because they have already decided whom it is they are going to obey. And it's not just the public opinion. There are all kinds of stories about this I could share with you that Jesus shares with us as we work through the Gospels. There's a story in Luke 12 where he just said, "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into."
There's the story in Matthew 24 of the faithful and sensible slave who was assigned something by his master. He lived faithfully all the time as if his master was there, even though the master went away for a long time, because he didn't know when the master was coming home. He pleased and lived for the master.
He didn't just use his privilege and his being isolated from his master for a time to do what he wanted to do because he didn't know when his master was coming back. He had committed to obeying his master, so he didn't care when his master observed him.
I love the story of 20th Century Fox. They were looking for a sales lead in a major new initiative they were having, so they put in the New York papers at the time (this was before the days of monster.com and other ways for folks to apply for a job) that they were looking for a salesman. They got over 1500 responses at the particular time, but there was one response that stood out.
The response said, "I am at present selling furniture at the address below. You may judge my ability as a salesman if you will stop in to see me at any time, pretending only that you are interested in buying furniture. When you come in, you may identify me by my red hair, and I will have no way of identifying you.
The professional salesmanship I exhibit during your visit will be no more than my usual work-a-day approach to my responsibilities and not an effort to impress a prospective employer." In other words, "You don't have to see through my interview face. I just invite you to watch my life."
One of the things about standing before thousands of people every week is everywhere I go there are folks who watch me, and I don't even know they're watching me. Over the holidays, my wife and I were in a store, and this guy is helping me. I'm tired. I really don't like to shop; it's not the first thing I look to do, especially at the end of a long day.
I'm with my wife. We're looking at different stuff for the kids. I was there talking to my wife, doing different things, and kind of waiting and involved. Eventually, I was getting ready to check out, and I started to engage the guy, intentionally. I just leaned forward, and I said, "Hey, man. Let me ask you a question. Are you from around Dallas?" "Yeah, I'm from around Dallas."
I said, "Well, look. It's coming up on Christmas. I don't know if you have any place to go Christmas Eve…" He goes, "I go to Watermark. I've been there for two years. I know who you are." I thought right then, How did I just treat my wife? How have I been treating him, just as some hourly salesman or with dignity and honor these last few minutes? It's a good thing. He was encouraged.
He goes, "I'm really glad you invited me, man. I'm glad to see you do what you tell us we should do. It was great to meet you and your wife." I go, "Well, how come you didn't introduce yourself to me?" He goes, "Well, I figured you get bothered all the time." I go, "It's not a bother when I meet friends." We just had a chance to encourage each other.
But this isn't just some interview. This is an invitation into my life when I stand up here. I'm not going to tell you I'm going to be perfect, but I will tell you I think the direction of my life is toward Jesus. When it's not, I want you to go, "Hey, man. That confused me," because I want to be more of what Jesus wants me to be. I'm letting you in. It gets me to one more I want to make sure we share, because it's important.
That is simply that faithful friends don't focus on how you will feel when they love you today, really speak the truth to you; they focus on how you will feel on the day when you are forced to give an account. That's what faithful people do. Let me say that to you again. Faithful friends don't just focus on how you feel as they seek to be a faithful friend to you; they focus on how they know you're going to feel on the day you are forced to give an account to your life.
They are willing to lean in and faithfully wound you as a friend because they know you are going to give an account to your life. They want to help you do that exceedingly well. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." We're a community here where we try and help each other. We spur each other on to love and good deeds in every way God intends.
It's a community of grace. Nobody thinks we're going to be perfect here. That's why we worship our Savior. We're not trying to be something great for God. We're trying to respond to the God who has done something great for us. On the days we don't do it well, we need somebody in the spirit of gentleness to come alongside of us and go, "Hey, I believe you want to honor God. I believe you want to be resolved to live for his glory and others' good. Let me ask you about what I just saw."
Faithful men will love other people like that. I am concerned about the account I am going to give for your life. Do you know the Scripture says I'm going to give an account for your life? I've got news for you. We're a kingdom of priests. I know I have a unique role here at Watermark, but we are a kingdom of priests. You're going to give an account for my life.
You are especially going to give an account for those whom you raise your hand and say, "These are the people at Watermark (and it's a very large place) who I'm going to be involved with in a smaller way, who I'm going to really care for and shepherd and practice and live out the one‑anothers of Scripture with."
By the way, if you're having trouble in that little small community, invite other people in. Say, "Will you come help me shepherd this person because I know they love Jesus. They're not responding to my voice. Maybe it's my voice. Would you come in?" That's what we do. We resolve to help each other in that way. Faithful friends don't focus on how you feel; they focus on how you're going to feel when you stand before the Lord and give an account for how faithful you've been.
I'll wrap it up by just telling you faithful men are guys who God is always looking for. Faithful people. When I say men, you guys do know I'm talking about humanity? It says, "So God created man in His own image…male and female He created them." All this time when I'm saying faithful men, I'm talking about faithful humanity. Humanity is made up of male and female.
God wants faithful kings and queens, faithful singles and marrieds. Don't get lost in a pronoun that isn't even a pronoun. It's describing the human species. God loves faithful humans. He's always looking for them to strongly support them, so we should always be looking for faithful men to shepherd and train. Second Chronicles 16:9, "The eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the earth, looking for those whose hearts are completely his, that he might strongly support them."
Let me just encourage you with this… Guys sometimes ask me, "Hey, Todd. What can I do so that I can just move forward in my ability to serve Christ?" Just be faithful. You can be sure of this, God is more anxious to find you than you are ever going to be to seek him. Pharaoh never misses his Joseph. If you're assigned right now to some bathroom in Pharaoh's household, make it the finest bathroom in the kingdom. If you get promoted to the entire household, run the house with grace and excellence. If you're in jail, make the jail sing.
When Jesse was told the prophet Samuel was coming to his house to select the new king, Jesse didn't even think to invite David. Six other brothers were called into the room. David just stayed out with the sheep, with the Lord as his Shepherd, doing what he was called to do. Jesse forgot David. Samuel didn't even know David existed. But God did, and because David was faithful, he supported him.
Let me encourage you right now. You may think no one notices your faithfulness. I'm going to tell you, the only One who really matters notices your faithfulness. He is not asleep. I don't know when it's going to turn for you, but you just keep on keeping on. You resolve to be God's man. This year, 2016… There's no way this entire room is going to live through 2016. We don't even all have the same amount of time in 2016.
We certainly don't have the same amount of talent. There are all kinds of varying talent in this room, educational levels, intellectual levels. Spiritual gifts distributed wildly in this room. Natural abilities distributed wildly in this room. Talents are all across the board. Huge variance in treasure in this room. Time, talent, and treasure, all unequal around here, but guess what? Every single one of us has the exact same opportunity to be faithful.
God is watching you. You might be a little shepherd boy. You might be in a jail cell like Joseph. You might be 10. You might be 80. The question is…Will you be faithful? Do you know who it is whom you obey? Are you resolved to do it? Are you are going to invite people in to help you? Are you going to run to his mercy tonight for the first time?
Father, I pray for my friends, that they would be resolved to live for the glory of God, the good of others, and whatsoever comes their way that they would not relent. I pray we wouldn't just sit in here and talk about our desire to be faithful. I pray we'd be faithful men and women.
Lord, faithfulness for some of us starts tonight by just saying, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I want to come. I want to ask you to deal with my sin. I know I need a Savior, and I believe Jesus is that Savior. I need his righteousness, his faithfulness for my unfaithfulness. I need, and I do believe, that the faithful and true One came.
He suffered for unfaithful men on a cross, was crucified, dead, and buried, and because he was faithful, he was raised from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he could offer life to those who know they needed it. So today, I say, 'I need to come and faithfully declare to you I am not a faithful man, and I need a Savior.'
I bow my knee before you. I say, 'Make me like him.'" Grow roots by that living water that is Jesus Christ and his Word. I pray there would be some in this room that tonight would start 2016 by saying, "I'm coming home. I will say, 'Yes, Sir,' to the good God who gave me his Son."
Then there are others in this room who have said, "Yes, Sir," for a long time, who have not been about our Father's business. Tonight we need to come back and say, "It is time we daily get on our knee, moment by moment, remember we are servants and stewards, and we need to resolve to live as we said we would live when we understood you died for us."
Father, you don't want to hear a bunch of platitudes from us tonight about how things are going to change. You just want us to sink our roots deeply in, know what time it is, and to be faithful today, to love our family on the way home, to seek forgiveness where we need to seek forgiveness, and to live on bended knee with yielded hearts, surrendered lives, as wise men who execute.
Help us as we yield to your Spirit, which mightily works within us to be faithful and true. We pray this for the glory of you, our God, for the good of our fellow man, and for the joy of our souls. In Jesus' name, amen.
All right, friends. Let me know how I can help you. You worship him. God bless you. We'll see you.