Why Good Leaders Have Always Written Letters to the Church They Love

2016 Messages

In this day, we hear true love means do "what you want,” not “what is right.” God’s Word warns of this kind of love — a love divorced from God’s truth — which isn’t love at all, but is a deceitful kiss. God gives us His Word, His Spirit, and His people to help us live in His love and truth. Todd walks through Matthew 18:15-17 and describes the process of care and correction within our shepherded body. He explains a letter is a period at the end of a conversation. It is never a surprise, never impulsive, never without community and elder agreement, never without a path back towards restoration, never lacks specificity, never separates truth and grace, never the desire, and always with love and friendship. A friend speaks the truth in love, faithfully wounds, and cares personally. Jesus Christ is filled with grace and truth, and His love calls us to repentance and calls us — as ambassadors of Christ — to call others to the same.

Todd WagnerOct 16, 2016John 16:7-8; Jeremiah 1:17-18; 1 Timothy 01:05; 2 Corinthians 5:20-7:10; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 3:16

Good morning to our friends in Dallas, Plano, and Fort Worth and other folks online. We are glad you are here. We are taking a little step outside the book of Acts this morning to talk about a few things that will help us understand why we operate the way we do as a church, as a gathering of people who have come to understand the kindness of God through Jesus Christ.

Why we relate to each other the way we do is because we're an extension of this group of people who have come to know Christ in this book of Acts. Acts is the historical record of the beginning of the gathering of Christ followers. It's such a great place for us to study, because we see what God intends to do, which is to continue to be a means of grace to others through his people.

As we have said repeatedly the first several weeks we've been in the book of Acts, the question is…Will the work of God continue through the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, his church, the way it worked through Jesus himself? When Jesus was here, he welcomed all men to come, but he called all men to come, and he was full of grace and truth.

He wasn't 50 percent grace and 50 percent truth. Jesus was always full of both. This morning we're going to talk about what being full of both looks like and how sometimes the world doesn't understand that one of the most graceful things you can do is speak truth to others. Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for your kindness in our lives. Thank you that you have told us the truth that there are things that separate us from you and that that separation from you is the only thing that really causes problems in our lives, and it manifests itself in a lot of different ways. We thank you, Lord, that you've done something about that separation, that you demonstrated your love to us in that while we were yet sinners, separated from God, without hope, without Christ in this world, you came to us and drew us back.

You told us our need, and you became the provision for it. Lord, as your people, would you allow us to stay faithful in the exact same way that you in your kindness through Jesus were faithful to us? Teach us now. Remind us of truth. Help us to live in it. In Christ's name, amen.

We do this crazy thing when we come to know Christ called baptism. It's kind of a funny act. You stand before friends and, clothed, you jump in water and tell people, "Hey, I want you to know what I'm about to do is a symbolic picture of what I have done in my heart. This is an outward expression of my inward faith. I want you to know that the life I'm about to live I want to live completely in response to the truth I'm about to model for you.

I believe there's a guy named Jesus, and I believe he loved me, and I believe Jesus died and was dead and buried, but I believe that because there was no sin found in him, the wages of sin were met and death has lost its sting. God raised him from the dead because the debt had been paid, and he lives in newness of life to offer to me life. So I want you to know that I want to live my life in response to that kindness that God gave his life for me." You do that before your friends and say to them, "I want you to help me now."

Whenever I get into the water to baptize somebody, I always ask them three simple questions. I say, "Do you believe God has forgiven you for your sins?" They just say, "Yes. I don't have anything left to do. It's been done. Jesus on the cross said, 'It is finished.' Yeah, I believe God has forgiven me for my sins." I say, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ alone is the means through which God has forgiven you?" They say, "Yes, I do. I don't believe I'm saved by any works that I'll do. I'm saved by what Christ has done."

That, by the way, is what separates Christianity from every other faith system in the history of the world. It is not a works-based system. It is a faith-based system in the work that has been done. Religion is men working their way to God, thinking it will live and exist in a way that will be pleasing enough to God that God would go, "Okay, you pass the grade. You can come in."

That's why Jesus said, "Hey, listen. Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees [the most holy people of the day], you're not going to get into the kingdom of heaven." People are like, "What? That is crazy. All these guys do is obsess about keeping the law." Jesus says, "Here's the deal. The law was to show you the standard of God, and nobody keeps all the law. The standard is you have to be perfect at keeping the law."

A little bit later, the half-brother of Jesus said it this way: "If you keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, you're a lawbreaker." God in his kindness made provision by fulfilling the law and offering his Son as a substitute for your sin.

"Do you believe God has forgiven you?"


"Do you believe Jesus Christ alone is the means through which you're forgiven?"

"Oh, you bet I do, Todd. I've been saved by grace through faith, not as a result of works. I can't boast about anything except what Jesus has done for me."

"In light of that, do you purpose to honor, love, and serve him, as God's grace enables you, the rest of your days?"

"Oh yes, I do, and I am asking all who watch me to spur me on and help me and encourage me toward that end."

"Awesome. Then in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior."

Down you go. Up you come. People celebrate. Other brothers and sisters, part of that faith family, say, "Welcome. You already were here. You were already married to Jesus, but now you've gone through the public ceremony to say, 'Spur me on. Help me. Love me. Let me be all that God wants me to be.'"

What's so crazy is you would never think that somebody who said those things would ever come out of the water and go, "Hey, by the way, I just want you guys to know I'm not going to read my Bible, and I'm never going to pray." You might go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! We maybe should have talked about that before you said you loved God, because the Bible is God's love letter to you."

This is what the Scripture says about the Bible. It's from the very breath of God. Things which eye has not seen and ear hasn't heard, things which haven't even entered into the hearts of men… All these things have been freely given to you by God. The primary way God lets you know his heart is to share with you what's on his heart and mind, and the way you know what's on somebody's heart and mind is you listen to their words. God is going to say, "I love you. Here's my heart for you."

The Scripture says that all of God's Word is inspired. It comes from the very breath of God, and what's heavily implied in 2 Timothy 3:16 is it alone is profitable in your life. Nothing else can do what this can do. This is the omniscient, perfect Word of God, and it will teach you. It'll tell you what's right. It'll reprove you. It'll tell you what isn't right. It'll correct you. It'll tell you how to make it right so that it can train you in righteousness, so that you might live rightly and be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Do you see what the Word of God does? It's crazy to say you're serious about following Jesus but say, "I don't want anybody, including him, the one I say I want to live for, to tell me what's right and what isn't right and how to make it right so I can live rightly and be ready for everything as a source of glory to him." We would all go, "Hey, guys, that's not good thinking."

"In addition to not reading God's Word, I am not going to pray. I'm not going to meditate. I'm not going to listen. I'm not just talking about not going through a prayer list, where I talk about what I want other folks to be blessed by God with. I'm not going to meditate on the Word of God and go, 'Okay, God, illumine that. Grow that truth in my heart.'"

When you read the Bible, you ought to read it through, and you ought to pray it. Prayer is not so much jerking heaven onto your agenda. It's not telling God what you want done. The purpose of prayer is to say, "Lord, I want you to align my heart to yours. Search me, O God, and know me. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there's any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way."

If that guy came up and said, "Just so you know, I want to live for Jesus, but I'm not going to read his Word and I'm not going to pray. The Holy Spirit and I will be distant friends. I'll talk about him, but he's called a ghost, and I'm freaked out by ghosts, so by and large, we're not going to go deep there." You might go, "I'm not really sure you understood the whole Christian thing."

By the way, remember what I told you about the Word of God? It's there to teach you, reprove you, correct you, and train you. Let me show you what the Spirit of God does when you have fellowship with him. This is what it says in John 16:7. This is Jesus talking. "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you…"

In other words, you're separated from God. If you're separated from God, you're separated from the heart and relationship you can have with God, so you can't speak to him. He doesn't speak to you, because you don't want to listen to him. You have a spirit of disobedience in you, because you think God is a cosmic killjoy, that he's up there to expose you and rail on you and tell you how awful you are. "I'm not going to listen to that God."

Jesus came to show you that God is full of grace and truth. He's not here to rip you off. He's here to set you free. He has come that you might have life indeed, and when all of a sudden you see that God isn't somebody to be managed, feared, or appeased and that God has done something to bring you near when your sin has driven you far from him, you all of a sudden go, "I don't want to avoid God; I want to be near God."

Jesus says, "Well, you can't be near him unless I go away, and when I go away to the cross for you, I'll go to the Father and present myself as a sacrifice for your sins. And guess what? That will be the means through which you can come back into relationship with the Father. So when I go, the Spirit of God will come." This is verse 8: "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin [what isn't right] and righteousness [how to make it right] and judgment [the consequences of not living rightly] …"

Do you see what the Spirit of God does? The Spirit of God does the same thing the Word of God does. For somebody to say, "I don't really need you, Jesus, to teach me, correct me, reprove me, and train me. I don't need any instruction about what is good and what is evil. I don't need to know about how to live. I don't need to know about the consequences of not living rightly," we would say, "I'm not sure that person knows Jesus."

The book of Acts is God's explanation of how he's going to primarily continue to allow the Word of God… Jesus was the Word made flesh. The Spirit of God dwelled in Jesus. People who know Jesus are called people of the Word, and the Spirit of God dwells in them. So what do you think if somebody came up from being baptized and said, "I don't want to walk with God's people anymore. I don't need community. I don't need to connect. I don't need to belong. I'll be fine on my own. This whole baptism thing was to check a box. Y'all leave me be," and backed away?

You might go, "I'm not sure that's a good idea. Maybe we should explain to you what it means to live for him. Jesus who loves you doesn't want to leave you as an orphan, so he gives you his Word, he gives you his Spirit, and guess what else he gives you? He gives you his people." What should his people do? Well, if his people are people of the Word and filled with the Spirit, don't you think it might show up in the same way it showed up in 2 Timothy 3 and John 16? It does.

This is what God says he wants the church to do. "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone." When you say, "I don't need the means of grace God has given me," what you're saying is, "I don't really believe God knows what he's talking about when he tells me what is good for me."

It means that when the body of Christ doesn't do what it's supposed to do, one of the primary arteries God circulates his kindness through has been clogged, and that is what we commonly call a widow-maker. It means even if somebody wants that and churches don't do this thing called care, correction, admonishment, encouragement, and help, the body of Christ will never be what it's supposed to be, and it's a real problem.

One of the things I've done for a long time is whenever I hear somebody say something exceedingly well… I used to write it down and drop it in manila folders and put it in filing cabinets, and then they invented this thing called the personal computer. That's right. I was born and lived for a long time before there was this thing called a personal computer. I've since stopped doing that, and now I type and cut and paste and put it in a document.

This week, I went and looked at the last five things I had put in this document that is now close to 100 pages of little one-liners that communicate to my heart, so I think they might be useful to others when I communicate. These were the last five things I had cut and pasted into this document that I go to and read over to see how men in a powerful, pithy way communicate truth.

Here's the first one. It's a quote by a guy named George Orwell. You know George Orwell because you didn't read his book when you were in high school. He has this quote that says, "The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." That's Orwell. I thought, "Man, that's a really true statement." We just need to be aware of that. The further society moves away from truth, the more it's going to hate those who speak it.

I've said it this way for a long time: "Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth." I've also reminded us in here repeatedly that love without truth is not loving, but truth that's not spoken in love will not be heard. The next thing that was literally right there below it was this little quote by a guy named Billy Graham. You've heard of Billy before. He's a guy our country has been largely encouraged by for a long time. He said, "Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened."

We've seen that, haven't we? We've seen entire revolutions happen because somebody is willing to stand in front of a tank. We've seen entire countries change over their church-supported racism in the South because they were willing to lock arms and get sprayed by hoses and attacked by dogs and just say, "This isn't right, and we're going to let people see wrong done to innocent people until they go, 'We can't watch this anymore.'" When somebody is courageous, others' hearts are stiffened.

How about this? This is a quote by a guy named William Booth. You know William Booth because he's the founder of Salvation Army. Every Christmas we watch men who are trying to gather support. This is the third quote down. It's on the very top right now of almost 100 pages of different things I've collected. This one was there for me as I went and looked at it. This was written almost 100 years ago.

William Booth said, "The chief danger that confronts the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration…[or the idea of] heaven without hell." Boy, is that ever a fact. Those things can't be separated. A man I had the privilege of getting to know the last decade of his life, a guy named Chuck Colson, said this. It's the next one down on my little sheet I had written down and found again lately in a reading I was doing.

He said, "This nation cannot be saved unless the church is first revived. Renewing the church is the key to saving America." I could not agree any more. I don't believe the problem with America is the LGBTQ community. I don't think that's America's problem. I don't think America's problem, believe it or not, is Hillary or Donald. I don't think America's problem is our government system. I don't believe America's problem is the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood. I believe America's problem is the church.

The church is the conscience, the caregiver, the truth teller, the disciple maker of a nation, and when the church stops doing what the church is supposed to be doing, the people underneath it are confused and don't know what truth is. Somebody sent me a question this week, and the question was simply, "What is the purpose of church discipline?"

That word discipline is a word that sometimes fires our minds to being 8 years old or 4 years old and our britches dropped and Daddy holding the paddle, or at least it used to. Now it's time-outs and withholding sippy cups. I don't know. Whatever comes into your mind with discipline, you're kind of like, "Hey man, what are you going to do? Paddle me?"

What's the purpose of this caring for one another? I just responded with Jeremiah 1:17. This is God speaking to Jeremiah who is his prophet. He is called the Weeping Prophet because he wasn't really excited with what he was going to be tasked to do. He was going to be asked to speak to people. He was going to be asked to share with them truth that he knew they wouldn't like, and he was like, "Is there anybody else? I'm not really up for this."

God said, "Now, gird up your loins and arise…" The idea is the men would wear robes, and he's saying, "You're about to have to run, boy. So get your little skirt and tie it into a knot and get ready to go to war." He says to him, "…speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them."

"Because you're my boy. I love those people, and they are floundering. They are without prophet and priest in the land, because the church…" In that sense it was the leaders of Israel, which is not the church. They were a separate, distinct group of people, but my point is that the means through which God had meant to be an expression of grace to the world was choking it out, so he raised up a deliverer.

Whenever God wants to deliver a people he raises up a deliverer. It's just what he does. When all the deliverers had failed, he finally sent himself. We killed him, and hell applauded. God laughed at their celebration, because what they intended for evil he was going to use for good. Fret not, church. That's what he always does. While folks laugh and see shaming being attributed to God's people, know that your God is at work, establishing his glory in the heavens.

Our job is to not be dismayed before them, lest he dismay us. There are a lot of places called churches that are rightly being dismayed in this country today because they're not his church at all. It continues in verse 18 of Jeremiah 1. I just want to explain this to you. After he said, "Don't be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you. I'm going to come after you. You're going to have a problem with me if you don't do what I ask you to do, because you're my prophet…"

"Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city…" Don't you love that analogy? "'…as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,' declares the Lord."

You just need to know something. There is going to be conflict. It's inevitable. It happened to Jesus when he was here. He warned us it would happen to us, but he said there is defeat that is impossible, because there is an alliance that is inseparable. Church, don't be dismayed. Do your job. When you do your job, make sure you don't do it in a way that creates problems and stupidity.

When we were earlier in the book of Acts and I talked about persecution that came on the early church, I made mention of the fact that sometimes some of the reason the church is being criticized is because it doesn't live wisely. I had this statement. It was an application when we were in Acts, chapter 4. I said, "Make sure you are persecuted for the good you are doing in Jesus' name and not for the foolishness you are capable of doing when you don't walk with Jesus."

Sometimes you get a consequence in your life because you were not living the way God wants you to live. The Bible says when you live foolishly and are receiving consequence for that, if you bear underneath that well, it's not any credit and glory to you. It's just what you ought to do. He says, "But if you are persecuted for my name's sake and endure it with faith, I've got you. It's okay. Don't be surprised."

A number of years ago, I gave a message. It was when Bill Clinton was president. When he was president, there was this conversation going on with our Congress to establish something called the Defense of Marriage Act. It was 2004 when there was almost an effort to make a constitutional amendment that marriage was going to be between a man and a woman. They didn't think they had to make it a constitutional statement, so they just passed in Congress this Defense of Marriage Act, and there was a lot of debate about how we should decide on that issue.

In 2004, I gave a message called Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage: An Apology, an Answer, and an Assignment. The reason I bring that up right now (it's available to you to go back and listen to) is because I started this thing by saying that the "big C" church, the larger church out there, has really messed this issue up the way they talk about homosexuality. They've made it a sin that is separate from other sins and have ostracized a group of people.

Most folks then, at least in the church, never talked about or acted like that was an area most of them struggled with, and even today in society a very small percentage of folks would say, "That's where my flesh defaults to. When I live separate and apart from God, if I was going to try to find life where I wanted to find life, I would do it this direction." A smaller percentage of folks do that, so it's one of the favorite sins to pick on, because it doesn't affect most of us.

I said that's the way the church has largely done it. By the grace of God, ever since we've existed, that has never happened. In fact, we've gone strong the other way against that. That's why when I gave this message I said, "A lot of the church needs to ask for forgiveness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, because they've acted like this is some special issue."

In fact, I don't know if you guys know. We do this thing here on Monday nights called re:generation. We used to do a thing called Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is written by my friends out there at Saddleback Church, who I love and am grateful for, but when we started doing Celebrate Recovery, we told them, "Guys, as we help people deal with the hopes, hurts, and hang-ups in their lives, we're not going to do two things you ask us to do." They go, "Then you can't do Celebrate Recovery."

Yet by the time we realized this was what they were asking us to do, it had started and become one of the largest Celebrate Recovery programs in the country. In fact, it later became the largest Celebrate Recovery in the country, even larger than the one at Saddleback. They were like, "Hey, guys, we love what God is doing. Clearly he's using you. We're going to let you do it differently than everybody else."

The problem is when things are going well and lives are being changed, the world knocks on your door and says, "Hey, can you train us? We don't want to go all the way to California. Can you teach us how to do Celebrate Recovery and disciple people and bring them out of darkness and into light and create an authentic culture?" We said, "Sure, but you have to ask Saddleback if we can do that." Saddleback called us and said, "Guys, you have to stop. We can't let you train people, because you're doing it in a way we don't want other folks to do it."

You're like, "Todd, why are you saying all this?" Well, here's why. One of the reasons we told Saddleback we couldn't do it the way they wanted us to do it is because in Celebrate Recovery (and God uses it) they want you to have sin-specific groups. When you show up, they go, "Hi, welcome. What's your struggle? Oh, you're an alcoholic. Good. This is the alcoholics' room. Hi, welcome. What's your struggle? Oh, you're an anorexic. Go in there with all these people who think they're overweight.

Oh, hi. What's your struggle? Oh really? You're a people pleaser. You go over here with the people pleasers. Hi, what's your struggle? You're a homosexual. Oh, okay, there's the homosexual room over there. Hi, what's your struggle?" "Oh, I'm a sex addict. I want to have sex with all the girls I can," if I'm a guy. "I want to have sex with all the guys I can," if I'm a girl. "Oh great. You go in that room with heterosexual strugglers."

We just said, "Guys, what's that about? All of us need the cross and forgiveness, and every single one of us has different expressions of where our life goes apart from God. We're not going to send people into sin-specific rooms." There's one specific thing that affects all of us, and that's that we're broken. The Bible calls that brokenness sin. I don't care whether you struggle with homosexuality or people pleasing. Come find Jesus.

The other thing we said is, "Look, you guys have this thing, the way you define confidence, which is that when somebody says something you have to say, 'No matter what, it's never going to come out of this room.'" We just go, "Guys, we don't think that makes sense." Confidence is con (with) fideo (faith) in the Latin. Put those into English (a transliteration, a word brought across), confidence, it means with faith.

What we're going to tell people is, "When you come here and share what's going on with your life, you're going to tell us with faith, and you're going to have faith that we're going to handle it with grace and truth as people of God and love you and care for you." We're never going to take that conversation and use it as a conversation starter at a party, like, "Did you know…?" People of faith don't ever do that. It's called gossip.

But we're also not going to say, "Hey, man, you can come in here and tell us you're currently involved with a person that is destructive, maybe a leader in the church or a minor…" We're not going to say, "Until you're ready to deal with this out there, you can just keep processing it in here." We had that conversation.

Anyway, all that to say, our good friends at Saddleback, whom we love, and Celebrate Recovery, which we celebrate… We have written our entire own curriculum called re:generation, and we don't have sin-specific groups. We never did. We also help people understand, "Come, let us reason together about how people of faith love one another in the midst of their struggles." That's what we've always done.

We don't just do it on Monday nights at re:generation. If Monday nights are the only place that people can come and be honest about their brokenness and need for Jesus, then let's shut down everything else and only do Monday nights, because, my friends, that is the church. It's why I've said the healthiest people at Watermark go to re:generation. Not the only healthy people.

This is what Jesus said. After 400 years of silence, he started his entire message with, "Do you want to be happy? Do you want to know who's going to really be blessed? Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who know that separate and apart from God their life is unmanageable." By the way, that's why I tell folks, "You want a fast track to biblical community? You want a fast track to being discipled? You want a fast track to getting well? Go to re:generation, because those people understand it. The rest of us are trying to catch up with them."

It's why I believe that ABC and ESPN got it right in 2015 when they gave Bruce Jenner the Arthur Ashe Award for being courageous. I think what Bruce Jenner did in 2015 is one of the most courageous things I have ever seen. You need to know this about Bruce Jenner. I idolized him. I was 13 when I sat and ate Swanson's frozen dinners on a TV tray (you don't even know what either of those things are), watching Sugar Ray Leonard box and watching all of the other great American athletes in the Olympics.

There was one we watched for two days named Bruce Jenner who was our decathlete. I was so smitten by what Bruce Jenner did I wanted to be like him. After that, I cut back on the Quisp. Remember those? I cut back on the Lucky Charms. I said, "Mom, give me Wheaties." This is what my breakfast looked like for about the next five years while they put that guy on the box. He was what every young American boy wanted to be.

I don't know all of the details of what went on in Bruce Jenner's life, but something went on in his life where, for whatever reason, in his brokenness, he started to have gender dysphoria. For millennia, we have understood gender dysphoria to be exactly what it is: a mental illness, wrong thinking. Bruce Jenner's problem was not that he had wrong thinking. We all have wrong thinking. I have wrong thinking that needs to constantly be taught, reproved, corrected, and trained.

We say it here all the time. You don't follow your heart; you inform your heart. You're not conformed to the world or to your own flesh; you're conformed to the will of a loving Father who made you male and female. But look, dude. If you have an issue in your life where you go, "This is the craziest thing. I like to dress like a woman. I like to identify like a woman. I think God made a mistake when he made me a man," I want to tell you that takes a ton of courage.

This is what ESPN said about Bruce Jenner in 2015. The reason they gave him the award… Maura Mandt, who was the executive producer of the ESPY, said, "[Jenner] has shown the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years…" That takes a lot of courage. "…and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces."

We need to understand how hard it is to live in a culture when your struggle is not the same struggle as most people, when you tell people, "Hey, man, 98 percent of you guys have a desire to inappropriately associate with people of opposite sex. Well, I have that same desire to improperly associate with people of the same sex, but because I'm such a minority, you think something about me is extra broken." Well, no. We're all broken.

Bruce Jenner was courageous. Bruce Jenner's problem was not that he came forward. In fact, that's what makes you well, when you raise your hand and say, "Can I tell you guys what…" Quote from ESPN. "…I have hidden for years?" Here's the deal. Some of your lives are really dysfunctional in this room. You don't struggle with gender dysphoria. You don't struggle with other things, but there is stuff in your life that has been hidden for years, and you're not as courageous as Bruce Jenner.

The Scripture says in 1 Timothy 1:5, "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." I'm not putting on airs. One of the core attributes of God's people is that we live authentically. I trust that you're going to love me, and I'm going to tell you con-fideo about that which wages war against my soul. Bruce Jenner's problem was not his gender dysphoria. Bruce Jenner's problem was his church.

Bruce Jenner's problem is that when he said, "I think this is what's going to make me happy," people went, "Well, then you go do that, girl," instead of saying, "Hey, Bruce, we all have stuff. Let's talk about that. Let me explain. Where does that come from? How long have you been feeling that way? Hey, I have stuff in my life that haunts me in the exact same way. I love you, Bruce. I'm not scared of that, and neither is Jesus. He cares for you. Let's go to war together against these fleshly lusts that wage war against our souls."

Bruce Jenner's problem was the church of America said, "You're awesome! Guys should be able to be girls. You're awesome! Girls should be able to marry girls. You're awesome! If you have a life in you and you don't want it, get rid of it." What are we doing? When you have a church, when you have a defining truth, ethic, and morality in a culture that starts to do things that haven't been done for millennia (they've been done but haven't been embraced and called normative and acceptable and celebrated), it's not going to go well with you.

Somebody has to not be dismayed by the overwhelming rebuke that's going to come if you say, "No, I really believe God knew what he was doing when he made men, and he knew what he was doing when he made women. They're both beautiful in his sight, equal in dignity and value, but they are distinct and not the same. If you're a guy, you're a guy. If you're a guy who struggles with attraction to other guys, okay. There are a lot of guys who struggle with an unhealthy infatuation with women. We're all broken. We all need Jesus."

When you start to go, "You know what? I think I'll just march along, because I don't want to be dismayed by the prevailing idea of culture. I don't want Bruce to go, 'Don't tell me I'm wrong because of how I feel.'" This is not mine to decide anyway, but I'm a servant of Christ and a steward of the mystery of God. I've come to know that God is good, and I understand a lot of people don't think he's even there. I don't get mad at them and hate them.

I don't think I'm better than them, but it is not my job to do anything but say to them, "I believe God is there, I believe there is a thing called sin, I believe there is a right and a wrong, and I think there's this thing called judgment. I think, frankly, you're living in it, Bruce, and you know it when you give yourself away to something you know isn't right. I think it's going to be a form of judgment right now in your life. I think there's going to be a lack of joy.

You're going to find out that those dresses and this celebration of men is not going to satisfy you, because you're designed to be intimately acquainted to your Creator. I love you, man, and I'm not going to drive you away from me as a friend unless you don't want to be around me, because in the context of our friendship there are going to be conversations we have." That's what the church does if it's the church.

The one I just added last night to my list that wasn't on there until I was doing some other reading was this one. It's a comment by a guy named Charles Spurgeon. He says, "When those who profess to know God's Word endorse what is contrary to the truth of God, error is kept in power." Let me tell you what's going on with our country. Do you know why you have the candidates you have for president? Because error has been kept in power here for too long.

Somebody has to step up and, in a loving way, maybe be dismayed by the world, but go ahead and be a fortified city, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze, and be God's servants and say, "Hey, guys, I love you enough to tell you the truth." They may plug their ears and distort in their anger, but we entrust ourselves to the one who judges rightly and say, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do."

Now we're back in Acts where we were. Do you see how this works together, church? Here's the deal. I'm going to read you a lot of Scripture right now. If you have your Bible, turn to 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. This is great stuff. There has been some conversation this week as to whether or not we should write letters, and I'm going to show you the church has always written letters. I'm going to explain to you what kind of letters you write and why you do it. I'm going to tell you what letters aren't. I'm going to tell you what they are.

Second Corinthians 5:20-21: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." He loves you, and he's not asking you to change. You can't change. We're asking you to trust him. Be reconciled to God.

We're not going to ask you to stop being anorexic before you come to Jesus. We're not going to ask you to stop being a people pleaser before you come to Jesus. We're not going to ask you to stop being a heterosexual philanderer before you come to Jesus. We're not going to ask you to stop having gender dysphoria before you come to Jesus. Come to Jesus.

When you come to Jesus, let him go to work in your life, and do everything you can through the teaching of the Word and the Spirit and his people to be admonished, encouraged, and helped toward all that Jesus wants for you. This is what it says in the next verse. "And working together with Him…" This is Paul saying, "This is what we do." "…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain…" Not just say, "I love Jesus. He died for me. I'm risen again."

For he says, "Now is the time." The abundant life, the life God wants for you could happen right now. The day of salvation should be a help to you. "Behold, now is the time, now is the day." Verse 3: "…giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited…" In other words, if our lives aren't being sanctified, if our lives aren't being changed, people are going to go, "Your Jesus is just some illusion."

That's why there ought to be this process of increasingly dealing with that which haunts us. "Before, we were free to do whatever we wanted," we say. No, we weren't. We were slaves to sin, and Jesus came and set us free and showed us… "Oh, I now know why my life wants to always do these things that end up being destructive to me, have moments of satisfaction, have the world's applause at our back, but they leave me empty, and I can't stop doing these things I don't want to do." Until you meet Jesus, and then the desire to do them is still there.

Can I just tell you guys this? I think I trusted Christ 10 times the first month after I trusted Christ, because after I genuinely came to faith in Christ, I found myself still prideful, arrogant, lustful, and insecure. I'd go, "It must not have bitten. I really meant it. I'm really a sinner. I really believe in Jesus. Amen. Whoa! Look at that." I'd just go, "What in the world?"

Here's the deal. Salvation is what God does in our lives, and there are three parts to salvation. There's justification, which is when we are justified, declared righteous by God. It is freedom from the penalty of sin. The moment you trust Jesus Christ you are justified. It is finished. But there is another part of salvation next to justification called sanctification. It is when the power of God is working in you to bring you into the image of Jesus Christ.

It's when you're being delivered from the power of sin. We're now free, if we submit ourselves to God, to allow his righteousness and resurrection power to inform our hearts so that we don't follow our flesh, because we know God is good and not to be avoided, managed, and hidden from, but to be followed, so we increasingly have the power to say "no" to what seems right to us, and we realize that is a mental problem.

It is a problem that needs to be fixed and conformed to the will of God. We're being delivered from the power of sin, and there's going to be a day I will be glorified when I am delivered from the presence of sin. Oh glorious day. But until then, I need the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God to admonish, encourage, and help me. Paul is saying, "Let's make sure we're tracking that way, because if we don't love and don't live lives differently, people are going to say, 'Your Jesus is a joke. He doesn't do anything.'"

Isn't it really interesting? One of the things the world says they don't like about the church is it's filled with hypocrites. Hypocrites, by the way, are not people who sin. Hypocrites are people who when they sin go, "That's not a sin." When you sin you're not a hypocrite. When you sin, you go, "Gosh, I just sinned." The Bible says, "Don't deny that. Call it sin." That's called confession. The word means agreement.

Nobody ever said the church doesn't have people who aren't glorified yet. We are being glorified, so we admonish each other when we get off task and we move back toward Jesus. Paul is saying, "Just make sure we move back toward Jesus. It's okay." It's not okay because it brings pain to you and discourages people, but it's okay in the sense that I understand you're not home yet.

Paul is going to now in verse 4 down through verse 13 basically say, "Hey, Corinthians, you're following the wrong kind of leaders. You're following leaders who are commended through education and self-aggrandizement and endorsement from a broader public." Paul says, "Those kinds of commendations are not what you should look for."

Basically, what he says in this section is, "You want to know what kind of shepherds and leaders you should look for? People who suffer for you and love you, who stay out in the cold and the dark and pursue you even when they're criticized and attacked by wolves. That," Paul says, "is my letter of commendation. I love you, and even though I'm not lettered from some great rabbinical school, I have been lettered by my lashes, and I have not relented in loving you." He says in verse 14, "Don't follow these false teachers."

"Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?" Don't follow people who say sin is not sin. I don't care what kind of PhD they have or what seminary they graduated from.

"Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them ; **** and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. **** Therefore, **** come out from their midst and be separate ***,' says the Lord.* 'And do not touch what is unclean ; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' says the Lord Almighty."**

Second Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 1: "Therefore, having these promises [that God will be in our midst], beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." What's Paul doing with this letter? He's admonishing the Corinthians who aren't living as if Jesus is able to make them more like the people God intended people to be. He already loves you. Paul is saying, "I love you, but I'm not going to let you act like you can say you love God when you don't pay any attention to him."

"Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you…" I believe in you. "…great is my boasting on your behalf." I know God was there. I know you really met him. "I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side…"

Paul is just talking about how he was telling other people about Jesus, and he said, "I had conflicts without, fears within, but God comforts the depressed, and he comforted me, as I was wondering if he was at work, by bringing Titus who had just been with you to me, and Titus in his coming comforted me that you had, in fact, responded to an earlier letter I had written and that you were zealous to listen to me and not false teachers who said, 'You can do whatever you want' or 'Live contrary to the Word of God, and you're okay.'"

Paul says in verse 8, "For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; although I did regret it when I wrote it, for I saw that the letter caused you sorrow, and I don't live to make you sad, although I don't mind making you sad for a while, that that sadness will lead you to repentance. Not worldly sorrow. I rejoice not that you were made sorrowful in a worldly sense but that you were made sorrowful to the point of changing, repentance.

For you were made sorrowful according to the will of God. That's why you were admonished, corrected, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us as your shepherds. For the sorrow that is in accordance to the will of God produces repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death." Paul says, "I don't want you to have a worldly sorrow that leads to death."

The church has always written letters. Let me share something with you about letters we write, because there has been a letter that has been published recently that we have written to a friend. It was over a year ago. The reason most of you guys did not know about this letter is because the Scripture says in Matthew 18:15-17 that when you see somebody who is struggling, you should go… If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.

I don't come to you and say, "Hey, I know this guy in my Community Group. You won't believe what he just did." No, I go to my brother and go, "Hey, I think that might be out of step with the will of God," and that guy goes, "Well, you don't know me. You don't know how I'm made, so I disagree with you." The Bible tells us what to do.

If you go to your brother, by the way, and he goes, "You're right. Thank you. This is a struggle of mine. Thank you for identifying it. Man, would you pray with me and help me appropriate the goodness and kindness of God, that I may not be a slave to this sin?" If that happens, you have won your brother. Secondly, if he doesn't listen to you, you're not done. Take one or two more with you. You get other folks in your close community of network of friends and you go to them, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.

"That isn't just Todd's opinion. He's not just a legalist. This isn't just a gray issue about whether or not you're going to have a glass of wine with a meal or beer with pizza. This isn't whether or not you should go see Braveheart because it's an R-rated movie and Christians shouldn't watch R-rated movies. This is something that is clear in Scripture believers should not do." Two or three witnesses are confirming, "Yeah, this isn't a gray area where there's freedom. This is, in fact, contrary to the will of God."

If that person then says, "I don't really care what all three of you think," it says then you expand it to the church. Who's the church? Well, if the whole church knows me… You can be sure of this. If there's some area of my life that's out of step with the will of God and folks come to me two or three and I still say, "I don't really care what the will of God is; I'm going to do what I want to do in this one area," you will hear about it here, because you all know me in this church.

But about 15,000 of you didn't know our friend until he posted what he posted on his social media. This letter that had been out there for a year you now know about. We're fine that you know we love each other the way Jesus wants us to love each other, but you need to know this. When we finally get to this place, the letter is just the period at the end of a conversation. It is not the conversation. It is just us saying, "We've had this conversation. We understand each other. Let's just formally say what we've already said."

Here's what you need to know. Whenever a letter is sent here, it is never a surprise. Secondly, it is never impulsive. It's not like, "You did what? You're out. Here's a letter." Never happens. We wouldn't have anybody who could come. You wouldn't have anybody who could teach. It's never a surprise. It's never impulsive. It's never without community and elder agreement.

If you want to go look at the letter, you'll see there's major redaction there. Do you see the black? Do you want to know what the black is? The black are the names of the people who loved this friend so well for so long. How well, you say? Well, so well that as he finally had the courage that all godly men have to say, "You need to know this is where my flesh goes," they go, "Bro, we're not going anywhere. We're right here for you."

He has stood on this stage, the person who posted that letter, and shared about the kindness of God. He said, "This is the first church I ever went to where I was sure I had the unforgivable sin. Guess what? I ran into people here at Watermark who told me, 'That's not the unforgivable sin. It's just sin, bro. Come find Jesus with us.' I was loved here like nobody was loved here." There are people on our staff who have been evangelized by the person who posted that letter.

Do you know that when he was struggling because of his living arrangement, one of the people in his Community Group said, "Hey, guess what, bro? Come on. I just sold my king-sized bed, and guess what I did? I ordered a pair of bunk beds from Walmart. They're now in my apartment. Come live with me. We love you."

And he did, and he prospered, and he abided. Then he stopped committing himself to the things of God, and his flesh got stronger, and he said, "I don't want to have this conversation anymore," and with great grief of heart, there was a conversation that led to a period.

The redaction was all of the names of people here who knew him and loved him and prayed for him and went to him. They don't ever do it in isolation. They come to us and go, "Guys, are we doing this right? Is this what Jesus would have us do?" We had the conversation as a team with him in every way we should with leaders, and we said, "Yeah, that's where we're at. Period. And we love you."

The letter, like anything you do, never exists without a path back toward restoration. It never is just some vague, "We're done with you." It never lacks specificity. It always explains that, and it never separates truth from grace. The bottom line is you need to know this is never our desire. Do you want to know what my desire is? My desire is that he'd be restored to us. He's hurting right now. He's really hurting, and I know that he's, in fact, not hurting because he goes, "Look at the way I'm being loved by this community. I didn't feel that kind of love for you."

He defined love as "You stop telling me that what I want to do is wrong." People who love you don't make that covenant with you, because love without truth is not loving. It's a deceitful kiss. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Folks, I want to tell you something. If you're here and you're not reading your Bible, you're out of step…

You need to know something. There are people at Watermark who have received the same letter this friend posted online for spiritual apathy and indifference, because somebody said to their community, "I'm not reading my Bible. I'm not pursuing my wife. I don't really care to listen to what God wants." No affair to our knowledge. Nothing except, "I don't really want the Bible, God's Word, or the conversation." Just spiritually indifferent. We said, "Fine. We love you. Please come home. This is your specific issue. Here's the period. Come."

By the way, this is what the Scripture says at the very end of Matthew, chapter 18, verse 17. It says, "Treat them as a tax gatherer and a Gentile." That's how we're treating our friend. How do you treat tax gatherers and Gentiles? Well, if we're Jesus' followers, we ought to treat them like him. How was Jesus known? He was known as a friend of tax gatherers and Gentiles.

Was Jesus a companion? In other words, did he lock arms and do business with them? No, he didn't. Jesus was not a companion with tax gatherers and Gentiles, folks who were dishonoring God, didn't know God, stole, and did things that were inappropriate. He was a friend to them. What kind of friend? Well, a friend does these three things. A friend speaks the truth in love, faithfully wounds, and cares for you personally. So that's how we treat our buddy.

When we're reviled, we don't revile in return, and when we suffer we don't utter threats, but we keep entrusting ourselves to the one who judges rightly. If you're here and you're not taking in God's Word and are not listening to the Spirit when you take in God's Word and you are not a member… Listen to me. Do you know what's even worse about some of you than it is about our friend who posted this letter? You never even associated to the point where you could get a letter, and you call yourself serious about your faith with Jesus.

You are wrong, because you are clotting a major artery, and that, my friends, makes no sense. You are not a regular attender. You are an irregular believer. You're out of sync with God, and you should find fellowship with his people under godly leaders who love his Word and will love you, admonish you, and help you. That is why my life has anything in it which is a glory to God. It's the only reason, because I say, "Jesus, I need you. Lord, I need you. Every hour I need you."

Friends, are you in community? If you're in community, do you know what's going on? Are you creating a culture where Bruce or Caitlyn can say, "I have to let you know this is where my heart goes when it doesn't walk with Jesus"? Do you love them, spur them on, encourage them, and help them? Are you willing to call things that are damaging damaging because you love them, or are you so needy that you won't admonish? Then you need to repent.

So let's go, church. Do not be dismayed or he will dismay us. You are a fortified city. You are pillars of iron. You are walls of bronze. They will fight against you. They will not overcome you, for he is with you to deliver you. Because he is with us, we abide with him. Do you need Jesus? I do. Because I need Jesus, I read his Word, I pray, and I live the "one anothers" of Scripture underneath spiritual authority.

I am put through spiritual discipline constantly. My wife is usually the one who does it. She comes to me in private and says, "Hey, this isn't right." I explain to her where it was, she asks my forgiveness, and then we move forward, and it's wonderful. No, that's not what happens. She comes to me and says, "Todd, I believe you're God's man. I believe you want to love me as Christ loved the church. Here's something that's going on right now. This is the way I feel."

If I don't respond well, she loves me enough to go get others, and she comes to me with them. By the kindness of God, every time this is happening I'm repenting, and our marriage is prospering, our family is thriving, and I am being sanctified. Amen? Come on, church.

Father, we need you. Every hour we need you. Lord, I pray that we would be attentive to your Word, humble before God, loving one another. Lord, if there are people here who need to repent, who say they love you but have never fellowshipped with your people, never humbled themselves under your direction and been a part of a thriving, biblical community, I pray they'd find one. I pray we could help them find one.

I pray you would give them permission to do that here or that we could tell them other places around where there are thriving biblical communities who love your Word, who love people, who admonish, encourage, and help. O Jesus, help us not to be people who have faux relationships but don't do what you ask people of the Word full of the Spirit to do.

Help us, Lord, to love one another with a spirit of gentleness. Lord, would it be true that if we see any brother in any spiritual trespass, we who are spiritual would restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, first looking to ourselves, lest we too be tempted, that we would bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ. Oh, we need you.

Father, as we sing this song, would we repent where we're not abiding in your Word, would we repent where we're not spiritual people, would we repent if we're not in community or not in a community that is full of the Word and Spirit and truth. Give us your grace. Be with our friend. Lord, we know he's hurting. I know he's being encouraged by deceitful kisses. Help us to not revile when we're reviled. Let us be your people. In Jesus' name, amen.

I need Jesus, and because I need Jesus he has given me you. You need to know this about me. For me, it's not gender dysphoria. For me, it's an unhealthy desire to please my flesh sexually. I've been married for 26 years, and I'm constantly thinking that it would be better to have lived in the Old Testament when apparently they got away with concubines. It's crazy. The idea of pornography still is elusive to my not wanting it.

I am so broken apart from Christ. I would destroy my family and destroy my life, but because of the Word of God and the Spirit of God and because of the encouragement of my wife and my community and the Spirit's work in me, I can stand before you and say by the grace of God I am walking in obedience to him, and when I don't, I'm confessing it, rejecting it. I have not done my breaking from God in such spectacular ways that it would remove me from the privilege of serving you, discrediting the ministry.

If you don't know the Jesus who loves you and wants to help you experience the power over your flesh and sin, would you come? Would you just check that box in that perforated section? If you're here and are not in community, would you repent? If you're here and are a member and are not reading your Word daily, would you repent? If you're here and are in community with other people and are not admonishing them, encouraging them, and helping them, would you repent?

Let's go, church. The world needs you. Do not be dismayed before them. When you suffer, don't utter threats. When you are reviled, don't revile them in return. Keep entrusting yourself to the one who judges rightly. The world needs you, and you need Jesus if you're going to be his people. We need each other. Amen? Have a great week of worship. I love you guys.