Todd speaks from Acts 20 about the mindset that should reform the church and our individual hearts. Discuss these together with your community group. Pick a series of questions that best fits where your group is currently.
Notes From the First Ever Pastor’s Conference
The Relevance of the Word and the Danger of Being Indifferent To It
How Christians Win or Lose
Marriage on Mission
Good morning. How's everybody doing? It's always great to be with my friends who are here, in Plano and Fort Worth and online, that ever-growing number of you. We are glad to be together, and we have encouraged each other through song. We're going to dive in and encourage each other through the Word. This is a seminal and key text. We're about to look in this amazing history of God at work in the world at the only message in the book of Acts that was given to the church.
Every other message we have recorded in history in the book of Acts was given to nonbelievers, individuals who either needed to understand how God had been working through history and fulfilling the Scriptures in the person of Christ or to a pagan world that didn't even know there was a Scripture, there was a God who had revealed himself by delivering a nation and setting them free from bondage and leading them in the way of righteousness and just revealing who God was through general revelation of creation and pulling people from vain idolatries.
It's the only message that was not given either in an evangelistic sense or in some defense before authorities. This is a message given to the church. You may know, for the third year in a row now, next April we're going to have thousands of leaders from churches all across the world who are going to come here.
We're going to do a pastors' conference. We encourage you, if you have friends anywhere who are not experiencing the fullness of all that God intends for them to experience as they gather together and serve faithfully in their city… If you wish they could experience the utility, the fruitfulness, the joy, the sense of awe we're experiencing here in Dallas where they are (because that's our goal: that the church would prosper everywhere), invite them to come.
We're not going to teach them how to do what Watermark does. We're going to teach them and remind them of what God wants them to do. So partner with us. If we can help you reach out, let us know how. Put that book in their hands that describes some of those things. They can come and talk about this with us and come and see what's happening here.
So that's next April, but let me tell you a dirty little secret. I believe and I treat and I prayerfully am mindful of what we do here every single week as a pastors' conference. That's really what's happening right here. We always welcome individuals here who need to hear about the greatness of God. We love to sing about how great our God is, that you might be curious about him. We love to live our lives throughout the week in such a way that we can proclaim to you his excellencies and tell you about the darkness we've been called out of, but every single week when we meet here, in my mind's eye this is a pastors' conference.
We are conferring together about things that are true. We're reminding ourselves about God and his kindness, and we are seeking to live in a way that remembers him all week long. We come out of here with a "hagwow" every week, that little phrase: "Have a great week of worship." I saw a bunch of folks start to put the hashtag on some different messages: #hagwow. I go, "What's #hagwow?" They go, "Bro, have a great week of worship." I go, "I'm down with that. Hagwow."
That's how we roll out of here. We may come and sing together November 17, but we worship all the time. To worship well, pastors need to confer. This is a pastors' conference that we're about to have this morning, and this is the perfect text. If there is one place in the Bible we ought to study and be expert on it's this one, because it is where the man God chose to begin his church… If you guys go back with me to Acts 1:8, God told his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…"
We taught about this. The reason we're studying Acts… It is a historical narrative. It is a description of God revealing how he's going to continue his work in this world. He said, "You guys aren't going to do it because you're fired up and got a pep talk. You're going to do it," Jesus said, "by the sacrifice I made, where I do for you what you can't do for yourself, where I bring you back into relationship with God. You then are one with him. His Spirit dwells in you."
Jesus said, "The power of God, which was manifest in me in the works and the words I shared, will dwell in you, and these things that I've done, even greater works than these will you do. You're going to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in the broader region Judea, eventually in Acts 8 up to Samaria, and then, starting with Acts 13 and on, the uttermost parts of the world." We've watched the gospel go up to Syria, sweep through Asia, down through some little islands in the Mediterranean Sea.
It made its way over to Europe so far as the Slavic nations. It went down to Greece. Paul purposes to one day get farther west all the way to Spain. We know the church already exists in Rome because he's writing to it. It has gone to the uttermost parts of the world. When you get to Acts 20, that expansion is largely over, and there's a huge question that needs to be answered. "What's going to happen now that this group that first came into relationship with the Spirit…?"
Remember? He said, "You're going to have power when the Spirit comes on you." We taught through this. In Acts there is not prescription for how you get intimate with the Spirit by waiting. In Acts 2, Acts 8, Acts 10, and Acts 19, you see the church expanding, and the same Spirit Jesus gave to his disciples he gives to not just the Jewish believer but to the Samaritan believer, the half Jew and half Gentile.
He gives to Gentiles completely in Acts 10, and he gives to people who had an Old Testament understanding about the coming Messiah. When they come to understand who the Messiah is, Jesus, they are one with God. There are certain men who take the book of Acts and confuse it, and they tell you that after you have a relationship with Christ you have to do what the early believers did, which is to wait for the Holy Spirit and seek for the Holy Spirit to come on you, like it's a separate entity. No.
The Bible says if the Spirit of God is not in you and on you, you don't know Jesus. When you were baptized into Christ you were baptized into the Spirit. There is error in the church, because people don't study God's Word correctly, that tells you, separate from trusting Christ, you must earnestly seek a baptism of the Spirit, and it's going to be manifest through some ecstatic speaking in tongues. No.
The evidence that the Spirit of God is on you is that it changes the tongue you have. Instead of cursing men, you bless men. Instead of furthering the will of darkness, you are increasing the light of the Word of God. You speak to one another now with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and thanksgiving toward God in all things, because you understand he is sovereign, he's good, and he's in control. That's all the book of Acts.
Now here's the deal. Those guys, Peter, John, and Paul… They're about to check out. Paul says, "I know my time is about over." So here's the question…What's going to happen to the church now that those initial followers of Jesus, the ones Christ himself brought to the faith…? Will the church continue? What Paul does in Acts 20:17 is he summons leaders from Ephesus, which is the church he spent the most time with.
He has with him leaders from the church in Corinth and Thessalonica and Berea and Derbe and Lystra. They're all there with him, because they've been traveling with him. He calls the elders from Ephesus down and says, "You need to know this." It is a pastors' conference. If you could go to one little time in church history where you would be exhorted as to what you are supposed to do, you kingdom of priests, you who are members of and leaders of the church…
We say all the time here at Watermark, "We are one church right now with three campuses, and we are meeting all week long in thousands of locations." My heart, which you need to hear, is that every little mini-community that's a part of the larger Watermark family, a part of the larger true church of Jesus Christ, what the Bible calls the holy catholic church…
Those of you guys who grew up in certain more mainline denominations would cite the Apostles' Creed. It says, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth." Then it goes on, and you read through it and get to the very end. "I believe in the communion of saints, the holy catholic church." Sometimes you read that and go, "Wait a minute. I'm in a Presbyterian church or a Methodist church or a Lutheran church. Why am I saying I believe in the holy catholic church?" Because catholic means universal.
We don't believe the true church is the holy Roman Catholic Church. All that is is one church with a lot of different campuses. If you haven't been paying attention, about 500 years ago there was a guy who was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. When you hear Roman Catholic, you ought to think Watermark. It is a local expression of a group of people who are trying to be faithful to what the Bible says the church of Jesus should be. That's what the Roman Catholic Church was.
Over about 1,500 years it became the most influential church in the world, because it was so aligned with power politically and so well resourced its message could get out, and it put little campuses all over. But guess what? It got a little wonky. Like, a lot wonky. It got jacked up, and it needed reformation, and a Roman Catholic member did the right thing. He stood up and said, "Hey, we're out of line with the Word of God. We need reformation here."
He wasn't trying to start anything new. He was just trying to let the church be what it should be, and that church said, "No. We like what we're doing. We like the way we're building these buildings in Rome and making the Vatican this city, so we're going to continue to have these indulgences. We're going to continue to tell people they have to have a right relationship with the church to be saved," which, like all error that's really deceptive, has a little bit of truth in it.
You cannot have God as a Father if you don't have the church as a mother, but not just that little local expression of it that had become powerful in the world. Every church needs to constantly be reformed if it's going to be aligned with the true catholic church. Not Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church needs reformation to be a part of the true church of Jesus Christ, and so do we every week.
As Paul gets ready to take off, this is a chance for us to reform again and to go, "All right. Are we going to be part of the holy, true church of Jesus Christ?" Watermark is only as useful as it is similar to what God intends. You're a smaller community. You're thousands of locations. You guys are a kingdom of priests. You are shepherds to one another. By the way, if you've been a believer for more than three years, you have all the revelation that these guys who are called to this conference have.
In fact, I don't care how long you've been a believer. You have more than these guys had. These guys didn't have their own copy of the Bible. These guys didn't have the ability to podcast Paul. You can learn quickly. There was no Equipped Disciple. There was no Training Day, unless they went and sought it out in their own little smaller communities in unique ways. You have an opportunity right now to get it done.
Paul is talking to people who have been around him for sometimes a few years, and he's saying, "The future of the church depends on you." Here's the question…Will the gates of hell stand against this thing? Will God bring about to completion this thing he has begun? Will every one of our locations, your smaller community, be a part (as it should be) of a thriving, local, true church? It's good that we're together.
Here's the very first point I want to give you this morning: the church is always one generation away from extinction and one bad shepherd away from corruption. Anytime somebody starts to pervert the Word of God and twist it, anytime you take them away from green pastures and still waters and take them over toward not that which will cause sheep to be well but over toward arrowgrass, which is poisonous, or ragwort, which is poisonous, and gives them milkweed instead of the true Word of God, you're going to get sick, poisoned sheep.
If you don't have individuals who do the work of an evangelist, then the church is just one generation away from extinction. So we need this message, because God wants this work to go forward. I pray that there will not be one bad shepherd here but that we will be more aligned, that there's a reformation that happens today in each of our hearts so we become what God wants us to be. Here we go.
"From Miletus he sent to Ephesus…" That's 30 miles north. "…and called to him the elders of the church." They gathered with him, just like us. "And when they had come to him, he said to them, 'You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time…'" Are you ready? This is how you read your Bible.
When you read your Bible, you want to stop and meditate on it, not just plow through it, and ask yourself, "Is there something about God for me to learn, something about Christ for me to imitate? Is there a sin to confess? Is there a promise to hold on to? Is there an example to follow? Is there a timeless principle I should embrace? Is there a question I should pursue more information about?"
What I'm going to do is I'm going to be like I'm listening with you to Paul and I've been gathered together, and I'm going to take notes and give you the principles I pulled from his message. Here's the very first one from his message: the key to effective ministry is life together. Do you see what he said? He gathered them and said, "When I was there ministering, I was with you the whole time."
In Mark, chapter 3, when Jesus was praying and he went up to the mountain and asked, "God, who are the men and women I should pour my life into?" it says he summoned, he called to himself, those he wanted, and God wants all of you. God wants every single one of us to be participating with him in gospel ministry. He summoned them, just like Paul did. He said, "Come on. Let's hang out," and they came to him.
He appointed the Twelve so that (this is key) they would be with him, and that being with him they would learn to love as he loved and do as he did and speak as he spoke and declare the hope of God. This is the key. This is the best definition of discipleship I've ever heard. You need to be with other people you love while you have on your heart what is on the heart of God. That is how you make disciples.
There is no question that you ought to teach the Word of God, go over doctrine, show them how to walk in spiritual disciplines, but let me tell you something, gang. When the Scripture exhorts us to not forsake our own assembling together, he's not just talking about at pastors' conferences. If all you do is gather here like this and you won't have another conferring, you are not going to be walking as God wants you to walk.
The Scripture says we should encourage each other day after day. So in those thousands of locations, those smaller communities, how are you all doing? Again, we are called to do life together, to practice the "one anothers" of Scripture. Community is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. He ultimately is going to convict you and guide you and teach you, but the Spirit of God dwells in his church.
The Spirit of God gives you the Word, dwells in your heart, but he lives in his people, and if you don't have his people around you… You can lie to people. You can be inauthentic with people. You can't be inauthentic to the Holy Spirit. You are called to take the means of grace God wants you to have by being together, by being companions, bread fellows. That's literally what the word companion means: with bread.
Guys and gals you're with all the time who you're breaking bread with, reminding yourself of the love of Christ and saying, "How are you doing? Are you nourishing yourself with the Word? Tell me how God has been working in your life today. Have you been living missionally?" If you just get this "one to many" once a week… It's appropriate that we're gathered like this. They came from 30 miles. You came from 30 minutes, and here we are. But when we go back, Paul is saying, "Do life together."
This is why I say if you're here and you're not a part of a smaller community that has over it a coach, if you don't even know who your community coach is who's a more experienced believer or your staff person over your community who you can call and say, "We're a little stuck…" If not, we have to get that figured out. If you're not breaking bread with people, if your community meets once every other week, that's not good. You have to be with each other.
We don't live in small little communities like they used to. It's a much busier metropolitan world, so reaching out through phone and text day by day. Gang, if you're just a one-to-many person and you are not locking arms with breadfellows, doing business with smaller communities, you're not doing what God exhorts you to do, and the church needs some reformation. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, "Having such a fond affection for you, I was well pleased not just to impart to you the gospel of God but also our very lives."
Can you say that? Are your lives imparted to other people? And when your lives are imparted, is what is on your heart the heart of God? If the only time you're getting the Word of God is in large gatherings like this, by Sunday evening when your Cowboys lose again, you're disgusted and on to vain things and you're trying to figure out how to keep your heart on eternal things. You need to be encouraged all the time. Have we hit that point hard? I hope so.
He goes on and says, " [I was] serving the Lord…""That's what you saw me do." "…with all humility and with tears and with trials…" Here's the next point: effective ministry is why you are here. You and I are not here to become more comfortable. We're not here to build a nest. We are not here to accomplish worldly acclaim. We're not here to play Fantasy Football or have a great playlist. We are here to do effective ministry.
There are probably not very many of us who didn't come to Christ because somebody was a part of the true church as God wants it to be. What I mean by that is simply this. One guy said, "God works in all sorts of ways, but above all he works on us through each other. Men are mirrors, or carriers of Christ to other men. Usually it is those who know him who bring Jesus to others." That's what Jesus intended.
I know God is reaching people through dreams and visions. I know he does that, but by and large… Honestly, raise your hand if the reason you have a faith with Jesus Christ is because somebody, at some point in their life, was involved in effective ministry and loved you and eventually communicated clearly to you the Word of God. Raise your hand if another human was the reason you know Jesus. Look at that.
Some of you guys go, "No, it was TV. I was watching Billy Graham." Well, that was an effective human, and he put himself on ABC one night, and that effective human shared the gospel with you. All I'm telling you is that's why you're here. Sometimes in Ephesus… I've been in Ephesus. It was a "get it done" city with amazing houses. Paul was saying, "You're not there to be in that little row of the rich in Ephesus. You guys are there to carry on the gospel and to be effective."
I say this statement a lot. It's a great one. It's not so much that Jesus has a mission for his church in the world; Jesus has his church in the world for his mission. Do you see the difference? Sometimes we're like, "God, what do you want us to do?" He goes, "No, wait a minute. I am doing what I'm doing because of you. It's not like you have to figure out this little task. My work is going to be done through you."
God can and will, and if he has to he'll get it done, but he is going to hold us accountable if we're not the men and women who partner with him the way he wants. That's all right here. "With all humility." This is not my life; it's yours. Christ died for me. I live for him. Do you guys have that mindset? What do you carry into this week, pastors? "I am here for effective ministry." Do you have that sense or do you go, "No, I'm here to attend a service once a week"? No, you're not.
You are here to tend to God's business, not attend service. If you tend to God's business, you will be with other sheep, and if you're with other sheep you ought to smell like them, go through the hardship that shepherds go through. God's progression is that you would not be this rabid dog that's a nuisance to the community but would be transformed to be a blessing sheep, and that sheep have even a more radical transformation, that even while they live in community they become shepherds themselves. That's why you're here. We want to help.
Look at this. In verse 20 he said, "…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable…" That's where I listen to Paul. He's telling us this. I have two points. Here's the third: it's okay when you're together with your community to talk about perfunctory things, but it's not okay to ignore what is ultimately profitable. What do I mean by that? Perfunctory means dismissive things, stuff that is fleeting.
I'm fine if you guys want to wring your hands about Congress. I'm great… I was going to say "if you keep up with the Kardashians," but I'm really not great with that. I don't care if you like Entertainment Tonight, but if all you do is talk about the latest Bieber song or how the music today is not as good as when Fogelberg and Croce were writing it or if all you do is talk about your Fantasy Football team or if all you do is talk about stock markets…
There's nothing wrong with talking about perfunctory things, but if when you're together the conversation doesn't move to some profit, it's not as it should be. Have you ever done that? The church gathers, you're with other believers, and the entire time you're sitting there, and you kind of leave and go, "I could have done that with anybody." There was no real edification. It was just catching up. "How's your mom? I heard about that." Pray about your sicknesses. That's fine. That's perfunctory, though. Make sure you talk about what you're going to do with your health.
This, gang, is where so many of us miss it. I love my buddy Dean who's up here. Whenever we have dinner together, we laugh, we catch up, we tell stories, but we always at least… Even when we're just getting together socially, there's a question he throws out. He'll say something like, "Hey, at lunch today, in the midst of all other conversations, let's talk about what spiritual discipline has been most meaningful in your life lately. What spiritual discipline do you believe you need to ramp up a little bit again for you to experience more of God's grace?"
We're going to laugh. We're together maybe for an hour or an hour and 15, but I guarantee those 10 minutes when we're talking about Bible intake or solitude or fasting or giving sacrificially is a time that my soul is reformed. You have to make sure in the midst of being together… Paul said, "I did not waste your time. Being with me was profitable." Remember the first one? Effective ministry is done together.
Iron sharpens iron when it's together, and when it's together it ought to sharpen each other, not wrap itself in cotton and talk about soft things. There ought to be a moment when you go, "Let's take away TMZ chatter for a second, and let's make each other more like Jesus was." Here we go. Paul said, "…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house…" See that? Smaller communities. "I was with you."
"…solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." I think this is a good point. I'm going to stop and take a note. Paul just reminded us what real ministry is. Real ministry is not just calling people to turn from vain idols. We don't just say, "Quit spending so much time on Fantasy Football" or "Quit working out so much" or "Quit talking about business so much. Quit making money your god." That's appropriate that we don't make those things our gods.
That's repentance, when we say, "You know what? I'm no longer going to find life in all the ways that the world does. I'm going to declare that life is found in intimacy with God." Repentance is saying, "I'm no longer to do what seems right to me, but I want to do what seems right to God." Repentance is saying, "I'm not going to lean on my own understanding," but faith is saying, "Now in all my ways I'm going to acknowledge him." True faith involves turning from and turning to.
This is why you don't just get together and say, "Hey, gang. Did everybody not look at porn this week? Good job." That's only half the deal. We're not just people who don't do things. This is 2 Timothy 2:22: "Flee immorality…" That's repentance. That means, "I'm going to turn around." But it doesn't say, "Stand there." It says, "…and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on God with a pure heart."
I love this statement from a guy named A.W. Tozer. He essentially said, "The purpose of God is not to just save men from hell; the purpose of God is to save them unto Christlikeness." I think sometimes we, as a church, get so caught up in "You're not going to go see Fifty Shades of Grey are you?" and we're a church that's known for what we don't do and what we slap hands for instead of being people who are known for what we love and what we're about.
I want to remind you of this. Faith is not just what we repent of; it's what we turn to. It's right there. Paul just said that to us. He says, "I want you to repent and come back to God, and I want you to turn to, have faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Look at verse 22. "And now, behold, bound by the Spirit…" Purpose to never let your heart be bound by anything but that. Don't be bound by debt, by previous obligations, by slavery to sin, by commitments you made in haste. Just be bound to one covenant commitment.
Whenever I do a wedding, this comes fresh to my mind. I always use that phrase "Don't ever marry somebody who's not already well married." Somebody who comes to a place in your life where you recognize Jesus as the beautiful bridegroom and you want to be his bride, so you say, "I'm going to leave," which means to adjust or refocus, "any relationship or activity that will interfere with my commitment to him, and I'm going to cleave to him, and we're going to become one."
Cleaving means I'm going to make choices about every new opportunity, behavior, or activity in my life by asking myself, "Will this draw me closer to Jesus or pull me from him?" You want to find somebody that that has been the manner of their life, because if you find somebody who says, "I love Jesus; I'm in a covenant relationship with him," and yet they don't adjust the way they're living or they don't evaluate future decisions because of their love for Jesus, who is the perfect bridegroom, what do you think they're going to do when they marry you, somebody who's impetuous and imperfect?
The goal is oneness. Let me remind you of that in marriage. The goal of marriage is not that you wouldn't get divorced. The goal in marriage is oneness, a symbiotic commitment of communal love and self-sacrifice, of mutual exaltation and care. What you're saying when you marry somebody is, "I'm going to change everything in my life so I can be close to you. You're not going to be my roommate. We're not going to covenant that we won't divorce and then do things that tear apart the relationship. Our goal is oneness."
Paul says here, "I'm bound by the Spirit. I am committed to oneness with Christ." He says, "…I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me." Are you ready, pastors? You may not like this point that's coming up at our conference this morning, but here it is: the only certainty in ministry that I can really offer you is that you will suffer.
If you do ministry well, you're going to suffer. It's going to be hard. Augustine, who went to a pastors' conference about three centuries after this one and got saved, said, "God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering." Isn't that good? If there's nothing in your life that is some taking up of a cross because of your love for Jesus, something is not as it should be. Do you know there are only two places in the Bible where specifically it says…?
One time Jesus says, "I did this as an example for you." It was in John, chapter 13:13-15. He said, "You call me Lord and Master, and you're right, for so I am. But then if I am your Lord and your Teacher and I washed your feet, then you also ought to wash one another's feet." It says he took up the towel. He said, "I gave you an example that you should do as I did. You should follow in my steps and be a servant."
Jesus said, "This is an example. Great shepherds serve each other. They serve the sheep." Peter says in 1 Peter 2:21, "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…" This idea that when you trust Christ it's always going to make you healthier and wealthier and more comfortable is heresy. This is why it's so damning too. This is just a fact.
If you start to live the way God wants you to live, there is going to be a prospering of life, but even in the midst of persecution you're not going to freak out, because you know that God said, "You have hardships and toils. Don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you. In this world you're going to have trouble, but take heart; I've overcome the world. Don't worry about persecutions. Don't worry about the one who can destroy the body. You worry about me, the one who can destroy the body and cast the soul into hell forever."
The idea that your life is going to get materially better, not filled with more hope and joy and purpose and meaning. If you do and live as God wants you to live…you live with diligence, self-discipline, kindness, and integrity…there is often going to be a blessing in your life that didn't used to be there. This is why sometimes when you go into certain impoverished communities you see people who fleece the flock. Basically, they tell poor people, "Look, man. Do you see how well I'm doing?"
The pastor takes from the church and makes his life look good and says, "I'm the holy man around here. You live as holy as I am, you bless and serve God with your life the way I do, then blessing will come your way. So you give money to the Lord right now. You give a faith deposit and you put down a love offering right now, and I'm going to tell you a story about how God is going to multiply that back in your life."
That's nonsense. God is not an investment banker who promises a 100 percent return on what you give to him. He promises that he will never leave you or forsake you and that he is not so unkind as to forget your love in having ministered to and in ministering to the saints, but that doesn't mean it's going to always show up right here. The only thing you can be certain of that's going to show up is suffering.
I went and saw Same Kind of Different as Me. Has anybody seen that? Do you guys know what that movie is? My wife lived with Ron and Debbie before we got married. They were good friends of ours, if you don't know that story. I finally went and saw the movie, and there's a line in there… It's a movie about a couple, Deborah Hall, this dear woman of God who began to work with some of the underprivileged folks in a soup kitchen, in effect, Union Gospel Mission, which we do work with.
They befriended one guy specifically whose name was Denver, and there's a line in the movie where Denver, this homeless guy who had come from a very hard background, says to Ron… He kind of has this mystical way about him. He says, "Mr. Ron, Ms. Debbie is becoming very precious to God." Then he says, "And people who are precious to God are important to Satan." It wasn't long after that that Deborah got cancer, and it wasn't long after that that she made her way home.
People who don't want to suffer, who don't want to live selfless lives, who don't want to be all about the gospel, are not precious shepherds to God. They're precious people. He loves you, but he's trying to call you to be everything he wants you to be, and you're not a bother to Satan. Christians who live lives of comfort and self-infatuation who aren't on mission… If I was Satan, that wouldn't bother me. I'd put them on TBN. I'd make them more famous.
Verse 24: "But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God." This is what Paul said. "I don't consider my life of any account as dear to myself." This is kind of striking that same note, but I would make another note there in my pastors' conference notebook. The key to successful ministry is understanding that success is not defined by keeping myself safe but by solemnly testifying of the gospel of the grace of God.
That's what I'm doing. There are times I've had opportunities to go places… Paul was about to go back to Jerusalem. Paul was zealous. The reason he didn't go to Ephesus… He had a lot of friends there, but he called the leaders together and said, "I want you to be effective." The reason he didn't want to get stuck in Ephesus is that Paul wanted to make it (we know from the Scripture) back to Jerusalem, which is quite a little sailing trip away, by Passover. Why? Because there were three times a year, if you were a devout Jew, that you went to Jerusalem.
First was Passover. Fifty days later is Pentecost, and we're coming up on Pentecost. Paul knew if he hightailed it after this message he could make it to Jerusalem at Pentecost, where there would be a large gathering of Jewish believers. The other one is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles in the fall. We're talking spring here. Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem one more time when all devout Jews showed up. Do you know why? Because he loved his people.
Even though his people had been chasing him around trying to shut down his ministry, folks who didn't want to see the fulfillment of the Old Testament in the Messiah being manifest in Jesus… They were trying to kill Paul, and people said, "Paul, if you go back there to Jerusalem, they're going to take you out. Hells Angels have been following you all around Asia and Europe. What do you want to go back into Hell's Kitchen for?" He said, "Because I love those people, and my life is of no account to me."
I would sometimes go and speak somewhere, and folks would go, "Wagner, there is a state warning you shouldn't go there." I go, "I know, but a door has opened up to me as an opportunity for the gospel. There are people who know of me and who believe I have a word and a competency that I can take a message there to train elders in that community. If all I'm going to do is just speak to an interpreter who shares the gospel, I don't need to go, but I have equipping I can do to the local church right there."
I wrote my kids different notes when I would leave sometimes. I'd go, "Listen, guys. I'm immortal until the Lord is done with me, so I'm going to go. I'm not going to be stupid." You saw Paul left certain areas when it got kind of crazy and stirred up, but he never shied away from an opportunity. Some of us shy away from a conversation at work because it's going to set us back. Paul said, "I am of no account. I don't ask myself, 'How will this affect me politically? Will this get me not invited back to the club?'"
Some of us won't even take that step. "It's awkward for me." I was with my 14-year-old son a week ago, and we were talking. It was his birthday, and I just said, "Hey, buddy. I want you to love on this gal with me, our waitress." He goes, "Dad, I'm not good at it." I go, "I know you're not good at it, but that's how you get good at it. Just give it a shot. I'm here. I've got your back."
So he just takes a little stab, and he's awkward. A 14-year-old talking to a 21-year-old gal. He just looks and goes, "Hey, I've got a riddle for you. You know it's my birthday," because we had been talking about that. He said, "But I actually have two birthdays." She goes, "Oh man. I am not good on riddles." He goes, "Well, think about it." She goes, "Well, I don't know." She said crazy things like, "You're a twin" or this or that.
Eventually he goes, "No, here's the thing. I was born 14 years ago, but about 10 years ago was the first time I came to understand that God was good and that I needed to know him, so I was kind of born again to where real life was, and I've been learning." I looked at her and said, "Has anybody…?" Before I got the words in my mouth…just tears, because she couldn't believe this little guy leaned into the awkwardness of having a conversation with her.
She goes, "My life is so crazy. My car was just wrecked. I was hit by a deer. I lost my insurance. My boyfriend just broke up with me. I'm working. I'm going to school." I was grabbing every napkin I had. I've never seen somebody when I did that, a waitress like this… Just immediately waterworks. We had a chance to love on her because that little 14-year-old got a little uncomfortable.
Look at these two guys. Do you recognize them both? One of them is renowned and loved. We made a movie about him: Chesley Sullenberger. The other one is not so renowned or loved. He's a guy we're not real fond of. His name is Francesco Schettino. Here's the reason why. They both captained these two ships. There's Francesco. That was his vessel. January 2012, I believe, the Costa Concordia.
He took off its path, deviated a little bit, hit a rock mass underwater. It turned over. Do you know what Schettino did? He got off the ship. He wasn't going to suffer. He abandoned his post. Thirty-two people died. The other one, Sully… That was his vessel, and we know what he did thanks to Tom Hanks. He landed that bad boy safely, and he said, "I'm the last man off," and we love him because it's not about him.
That's what Jesus says. You want to be a good shepherd, you be like Sully. You don't be no Schettino. Get after it. (Yeah, I was careful there. You'd better stop that Schettino. This is a pastors' conference.) Verse 25: "And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men."
I made a note as I was at that pastors' conference this week, and I wrote down, guilt before God can be just as easily established by what we didn't do as what we did do. This isn't the standard. "Hey, pastors, did you look at porn this week? All right, thataway." No. If we are not about doing what God wants us to do, we are just as guilty.
Paul said, "I have been about the business of evangelism and discipleship. I have not neglected the gift of missional leadership. I have worked hard that I might give to you. I have disciplined and ordered my life that I might be available to you." You can be guilty before God. Not feel guilt. I'm talking about being guilty before God not just because you did things you shouldn't have done as his people but because you don't do what faithful people do.
Ezekiel 33:1-6, where God tells Ezekiel, "You go tell them. You're a watchman. Your job is to declare to them things that are true. If you tell them that trouble is coming and they don't respond to it, then their blood will be on their own hands, but if you are the watchman, if you know the Word and you don't tell them the truth and they perish, you will be accountable." We are going to give an account for one another's souls, so let us not be guilty for what we didn't do.
He said, "I didn't shrink back from declaring to you the whole purposes of God." Here's an observation, a note: faithful men teach the full counsel of God, not just the parts that are fun to hear. My friends in the LGBTQ community rightly have been frustrated with the church, because we talk about the importance of marriage and why we can't have marriage between anybody except a man and a woman as God designed… It'll lead to the breakdown of society and suffering to children. It'll hurt man and it'll hurt woman.
They go, "You guys act like marriage is a big deal, that we shouldn't have a man marry a man or a woman marry a woman, but you don't really care if you guys divorce each other and remarry somebody else." Every time I teach about God's view of marriage here, I almost always get somebody say, "Todd, that's hard for me. I've been hurt. I know I took a vow till death do us part, but I've been really hurt by my spouse. There are irreconcilable differences. There may be real betrayal. I want to move on, and you're making me feel like I'm doing something God hates."
I go, "Well, God does hate divorce, but God doesn't hate divorcees." Just like God hates homosexuality, but God doesn't hate homosexuals. Sometimes we find our little pet sins that most of us don't struggle with. See the church in the South that would love to talk about all of these evils, but you want to bring up racism as an evil? That wasn't preached, because it wasn't comfortable. It wasn't fun if you came from a heritage of the Confederate flag, baby.
"We don't really want to tamper with that stuff. Let's just talk about all of the evils that are out there." Well, that's evil in your heart. If you're a pastor, if you're in each other's lives, don't just find pet sins that nobody struggles with that you guys talk about. You make sure you teach the full counsel of God. You lovingly meddle. You deal with gossip and pride, infatuation with body image, the love of comfort, gossip.
How about this? He says, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…" Shepherds who don't prayerfully stay alert are easy prey for the Enemy of God. Folks, we have to devote ourselves daily. We have to realize that we have an Enemy seeking whom he might devour, and we have to cover ourselves with others who are brothers at arms with us to encourage us. We have to make sure we don't become individuals who don't ourselves stay affixed to grace.
Verse 29: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…" There is nothing more dangerous to sheep than wolves in shepherd's clothing. There is nothing more dangerous than for you to be in community with people who aren't going to counsel you biblically. The companion, the bread fellows of fools will suffer harm.
If you have members in your Community Group whose first counsel is, "Oh, well, God wouldn't want you to do that. He wants you to be happy," or "That makes sense to me" and that sense to them is not informed by the Word of God, that is a wolf in shepherd's clothing. They may not mean to be, but they are.
There is nothing as dangerous to sheep as people who do not speak as shepherds from the Father's voice. It happens in the church. There are going to be people who tell you, "Do you want to be really spiritual? Here's a quick fast track to it." There are going to be people who tell you all kinds of different little heresies, and it is our job to tamper them out and constantly reform the church. Let me read the rest of this text.
Verse 31: "Therefore be on the alert…" Second time in three verses. "…remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified." I just put a note. Confidence in God's love for his flock is the best comfort for faithful shepherds.
There are thousands of communities that are part of this community of which I'm a part. I won't visit them all, but I pray for them all. I've spent hours this week praying for you. I have just said, "Lord, you who began this good work in them will perfect it in Christ Jesus," but part of the way he's going to perfect it is that you're going to be faithful pastors now this week. You're going to go and get after it, and we're going to have a reformation that happens in every one of those little communities.
We realize the future of the church depends on how we love and live on mission this week. So it is so right that we get together. I'm glad. By God's grace, I probably don't have to say what Paul says at the end. "I know that I'll never see you again." I'm kind of counting on being here next week, but I don't know. I know that when I'm done, all I want to make sure is that I can say the things Paul said. Make sure you can say this. My prayer is that you'll be able to say it next week at the end of this week.
Father, thank you for this pastors' conference. Thank you that we have loved each other and that we can love each other better now because we have gathered here together today. Would you help us, as we walk out of here with a deep sense of our responsibility and the privilege you have given us, to be faithful in mission and in service, and would you help us to go over this message and the rest of it? Let us not covet each other's things. Like Paul said, "I haven't sought your silver or your gold. I've just sought that you would know the goodness and the gold of the way of God."
So, Lord, help us to reform this week. Make Watermark, make every individual community, more part of your true catholic church. Help us to be the shepherds you want us to be. Help us to grow, that we could be more effective. Help us to smell more like sheep, to be breadfellows all week long. Help us to be on the alert. Help us to do the work of an evangelist. May we be bound by the Spirit and filled with your joy as a result. In Christ's name, amen.