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The Gift of Authenticity: The Freedom to Show Our Scars

Although Jesus condemned hypocrisy during His ministry on earth, the church has long been seen as a place where believers must project a positive, even perfect image, where sin struggles are best kept in the dark. Certainly not a welcoming environment for acknowledging our need for God's grace. And yet unless we face our struggles and can find and offer grace, how will we experience the healing He offers?

Todd WagnerOct 28, 2007

Messages In This Series (11)
A God-Sized Dream, a Servant's Heart and a Warrior's Passion: The Pursuit of a Heroic and Humble Life
Todd WagnerDec 2, 2007
The Grateful Heart: A Real Simple Way to Avoid Being Seduced
Todd WagnerNov 25, 2007
The Gift of Community: An Artery of Grace that Must Never Get Clogged
Todd WagnerNov 18, 2007
Serving all Men without Shorting any Truth: The Gift of Relevance
Todd WagnerNov 11, 2007
A Passion for Prayer: It's Not What You Think
Todd WagnerNov 4, 2007
The Gift of Authenticity: The Freedom to Show Our Scars
Todd WagnerOct 28, 2007
The Gift of Grace: Believe it, Receive it, Respond to it, and Pass it On
Todd WagnerOct 21, 2007
We Must Work it Out: Learning to Deal with Conflict
Todd WagnerOct 14, 2007
A Love for Those Who do not Love God: Commitment to the Uncommitted
Todd WagnerSep 30, 2007
God's Authoritative Word: A Product That Can't be Beat
Todd WagnerSep 23, 2007
Living a Life of Full Devotion to Christ: Out of the "Limbo Line" and into the Party
Todd WagnerSep 16, 2007

All right. Welcome. It is great to have everybody in here. I love singing with this group. I love people who know the truth of who Jesus is to get in here to just remind each other. This is who our God is. It seems strange to you. So it did to me at one point. Then by the grace of God, the Lord allowed me to stop hiding behind what I thought he thought about himself and what I was supposed to do and started to let God speak for himself, and his grace rushed in and changed my life.

We've been working our way through a little series called Gifts I'd Give My Children, and every week I cannot wait to get in here and talk about each of these different things. These are areas that if I'm saying there are 10 things I want to give to my kids that I ought to be pretty passionate about them. If there are 10 things that I'm saying as a gentleman who's been asked to lead this church as a pastor that I want this body to incorporate, I'd better be passionate about them.

Every one of these things is easy for me to say, "I want to give everything I have to communicate to you the value of this because I know without each of these things present in your life, your life is going to be less than your life was intended to be. This week, I am especially excited that we get to talk about it because I'm desperate for my kids, I'm desperate for my friends, to live this way and to have this characteristic uniquely entwined with their life.

I'm going to talk today about authenticity. There's an entire class of people that are called PKs. In other words, folk who are raised in homes like my kids are being raised in. These PKs, these preacher's kids, these pastor's kids, have had a lot of talk and writing done about them because of certain characteristics which are true of them. In the same way that we're a family and because of the some of the roles I'm asked to play, in many ways, in every church, every member is a pastor's kid. Every member is a preacher's kid.

I will tell you what is true of PKs in the literal sense, I think is also true of individuals who grew up in inauthentic churches. There was a recent study that was done by a guy within the Baptist General Convention right here in Texas. They went, and they looked at kids who grew up in that particular denomination's leadership. They found that 80 percent of pastors' kids are no longer connected to the church. Unbelievable.

As a guy who knows what the church has done right, let me say it this way. A group of people who are rightly in relationship with God and living in relationship with each other knows the value of that and the life that comes through that. I don't want my kids to be part of that 80 percent that is not going to be connected to those kinds of folks. Why are 80 percent of kids who grow up in those kinds of homes no longer connected with the church?

Why are there so many de-churched, demotivated folks, who have been in churches growing up who are like, "As soon as I'm free out of the oppression of where my dad dragged me on Sunday or out of the oppression of where I need to go because I have to get fed and I have to get clothed from 0 to 18, as soon as I'm out of this household, I am not going to be here." What's going on there?

It was interesting. This guy asked a group of people and someone said it's because of the way they see their parents get treated. Others say because they see the anger and conflict that arise in bodies who call themselves followers of Christ. Some say it was because they feel a lot of pressure that if they don't live perfectly, they're going to disgrace the church because they can't live up to everybody's expectation, because their church is stealing their dad's time from them. They go through all this litany of reasons.

I really believe the reason most kids aren't connected anymore, the reason most people who around a church for a while and then leave the dead church (the inauthentic church) is for that very reason. It is dead and inauthentic. They go, "I have to go somewhere I can be me. I have to go somewhere where I'm seeing real life change. I have to go somewhere where I see real people with real hope who love me the way that I really am and don't ask me to fall in line to play a certain game."

I think it will drive you away, drive me away, if we were told that we had to fit a mold, and we didn't ever really get a chance to wrestle through the issues that are there. Let me just say this morning. If you are here and you hate fake people, if you're here and you don't like hypocrites, then Jesus is your man. There's nobody who is more offended by than hypocrites, there's nobody who he is less enthralled by than people who will not be honest about who they are.

One guy said a long time ago that you have to learn to be who you are because if you aren't who you are, then you are who you aren't. That's not a good thing. We don't want to be who we aren't. I wrote down this. "The reason God is desperate for you to be authentic and real about who you are is because if you have to pretend to be somebody else, if you're afraid to expose who you are, then God can't meet you where you're at." That's all God wants to do: meet you where you're at and deal with your need.

There's a reason I'm doing authenticity the week behind grace. A community that is not defined by grace, aware of its need for grace, will never extend the grace that is needed to promote and welcome authenticity in others. One of the reasons I love this community, one of the reasons I've said, "I have to find this kind of people to go do life with," is I was not going to let people make me somebody I wasn't.

In other words, sometimes people who do what I do for a living, they feel a lot of pressure to act like they don't have any issues in their life. They feel a lot of pressure to act like their life has it all going on. There are so many folks who have said to me, "Who wouldn't love God if my life was like yours? You have your beautiful wife and six beautiful kids. You have a job that you're fully engaged with and people who talk highly of you. What else would you want?"

I want to say, "Listen, that may be what you see from a distance, but I have scars. I have issues in my life just like you do." They say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Your issues are… Issues-smissues. Not like me." There are a lot of guys who start to live up to that pressure. I've said from the very beginning here, "I'm not going to let you make me be somebody who I'm not." Just because I'm a pastor doesn't mean I can't be a Christian, somebody who desperately needs grace, somebody whose life isn't perfect, somebody who is singing about the Savior who loves them the way that he is.

A buddy of mine a long time ago said this. It fits right here. I'll say it again. He said, "If you knew the truth about me, you wouldn't be here this morning. But if I knew the truth about you, we wouldn't have let you in. So we're even." But here's the deal. What God wants is for us to live in the light.

I started talking about this and thinking about this. I started to say, "What is the opposite of living in the light? Of course, it's living in darkness. What's the opposite of authenticity? There are a lot of different things that are the opposite of authenticity, but primarily what inauthenticity promotes is isolation, and death is what comes with isolation.

I started asking myself, "What grows in the darkness?" Here was my list: mold, fungus, mushrooms. I mean, I like mushrooms, but not those kinds of mushrooms that are poisonous. That's what grows in the dark. But this is what else grows in the dark: insecurity, fear, shame, guilt, addictions, perversions, despair. I don't want my kids to live in the dark. I don't want despair to grow in their life. I don't want loneliness to grow. That's what grows in the dark.

I was watching this little deal on TV this week about guys who have been in prison for a long time. One of the things they said is this. "We are desperate to feel the warmth of the sun around us. I wish I could get out of this jail and live in the light." Do you know how many of us aren't at San Quentin, aren't in Huntsville, and wish we could live in the light, but because of this crazy world and because of this false idea that so many of us have bought into, we think we have to be in this jail where the light, really, could never be ours. That isn't the way it was meant to be.

I got an email a while back from a guy, and this is what he said in this email. He said, "I was deeply moved and humbled by your response yesterday…" He was writing this to a group of us, "…when I came and shared with you what was going on. I want to thank each of you for your support, your care, your love, your prayers. Amazingly, I have been somebody who said they've known God and Christ for most of their life, and I've never experienced genuine affection in times of trouble."

Listen to this sentence. "Maybe it was due to the fact that I've been programmed and conditioned to not cry out and seek help in the church." Wow. Programmed and conditioned to not cry out and seek help in the church. Can you imagine anything else less Christlike than a community where you are programmed and conditioned to not cry out in your hurting?

I can't, but I understand where that guy gets that. He grew up in an inauthentic, dead church where you were told, "Show up, shut up, don't embarrass us, and throw some cash in. Keep the lights on and smile and get along with your wife. At least on Sunday, show up together. Come on, we have to look good because you're God's people."

God's people are not pretty people. God's people are redeemed, saved people who have been brought out of darkness into light and who wrestle to stay in the light even though so much of us is bent towards darkness. Can I tell you something? I love Jesus. I really do, by the grace of God, but I also love me.

Because of that, when I don't live in the light of who God is and what he has told me about where I can find true life, I keep buying the lie that I can find life when I indulge my flesh, I can find life when I run with my emotions, and when I trust my feelings. I am conditioned to believe that doing what I want to do will lead me to life. But I have shown myself, I would just go back and look again and again. It's the way of death.

God is saying, I want people who know who they are to come to me. This is what he says in Matthew 5. Jesus says, "Do you want to be happy?" That's what the word blessed means. Do you want to really be happy? "Blessed are the poor in spirit…"People who know that, left to themselves, fungus and death and mold and isolation and loneliness and shame and guilt and addictions are going to grow.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, who know left to themselves this thing is getting worse, not better, for they're on the road to life. Blessed are those who are so overwhelmed by their brokenness, that when they're being real and authentic, they go, "Oh man, this life that I'm leading is not a good life," and they are broken to the point of weeping, and God says, "When you're ready to come to the end of yourself, when you know that you don't like what you're doing, so you're ready to evaluate something else…"

People who study these things will tell you that until it hurts more to stay the same than it does to change, most people never change. All that is is a rip off of Matthew 5:4. When you come to the end of yourself, and you're finally broken, you can then find comfort. That's why God says, "Do you want to be happy? You have to figure out that you can't map this thing out well for yourself."

Do you know what we do? So many of us try and live lives where we act like we have it all together so we can impress each other. Yet, we're scared to death. We might get a date, like that song online says when you have my kind of stats, it's hard to get a date, much less a real girlfriend, but I put on some airs, and I'm a good actor, and I make you believe I'm a certain way.

The problem with that is I know one of these days, you're going to figure out who you're online with, and then I'm going to go, "You're not going to love me." God says, "How about this? Why don't you all race to the foot of the cross together, acknowledge your sin, celebrate your Savior, and love each other as his grace has received and loved you. Why don't you freely extend what you've been freely given? Why don't you spur each other on to love and good deeds, and why don't you quit pretending I'm looking for people who are pretty?"

One of the things that drives me nuts is when I hear people say, "Watermark is the pretty people's church." Really? I want to say, "You don't know us very well." Maybe we are folks who buy clothes that fit us well, or maybe we are provided by grace for ourselves enough that we can eat well and exercise. Some of us are clearly too obsessed with it.

But bottom line, just because you see something on the external that looks good, doesn't mean we're the pretty people's church. In fact, the most obsessed you are sometimes with how you look, the more evidence you are that it's not a very pretty life because you're a slave to what others might think about you. This is not a pretty people's church. If it is, it's not Jesus' church.

Can I show you something? This is is the people who followed God's men along the way. In 1 Samuel 22, David, who is a type of Christ, a guy who represents in Scripture who Jesus is, is beginning to minister and love and lead in a way that God wants leaders to love and lead. This what it says about him.

"So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's household heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him…" That's not a bad description of folks who come to Christ. I mean, really come to Christ. God is saying, "Are you weary?"

Matthew 11:28-20. This is what Jesus unpacks right there. Are you at the end of yourself and whipped? "Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

God is saying, "Are you at the end of yourself or you going to still act like you have all you want on your back? You can take it. You're a man. Here you go. That's not the people who come into relationship with me."

Let me give you an amazing list of people. This is a list of folks, just a scattering of people. Vincent Van Gogh, Fredrich Nietzche, Carl Jung, Alice Cooper, Denzel Washington, Condoleezza Rice, Marvin Gaye, the Wright Brothers, Malcolm X, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ingrid Bergman, Tori Amos, Nikola Tesla, Nat King Cole, Marilyn Manson. Do you know what is true about all of these people? They're PKs. You think about the influence they've had on society because they go, "I can't find life here because I can't be me."

Watch this. I want to show you a picture of somebody. If you're into fashion and whatnot, you might have seen this gal hanging around. Her name is Padma Lakshmi. I don't know. It's something I didn't know until last night. She was married to Salman Rushdie. This gal was one of the most sought after fashion models of the day. In fact, now she's a rather famous chef. But that thing on her right arm is a seven-inch scar.

What Padma talks about is for a long she lived to cover up that scar. She felt like she wasn't even in the same universe as some other women. When people started to push her toward modeling she said she always wore long clothes and things that covered her arm. Then she was asked and had opportunities to start providing for her family by doing this, but she always wanted to take her pictures like this. She always wanted to cover herself up.

What she found out when people saw that scar on her arm is that they started booking her because of that scar. What happened is that guys seem to love it because it makes her feel fleshy and rugged and human to them, and girls like the scar because it showed that everything in her life wasn't perfect. How many of us are these people, who spend our entire life trying to guard our scars so we think we can model what a beautiful life we have? When we show each other our scars all of a sudden, people go, "All right. I have scars."

There's a great little poem by a gal named Amy Carmichael, who is this awesome majestic gal who gave this life in taking the truth of who Jesus is to people riddled with scars. She wrote a poem called "No Scar?" This is what Amy Carmichael says in this poem.

Hast thou no scar?

No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;

I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.

Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?

Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,

Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.

Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?

Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,

And pierc'd are the feet that follow Me.

But thine are whole; can he have followed far

Who hast no wound or scar?

What Amy is saying in that poem is, first of all, if you're going to follow Christ, it's going to cost you something, but when people are looking for folks to identify with, people have scars. I want to give you three questions that I think the world is asking that we better be ready to answer. Only an authentic community, a community that has freely received grace, can offer that to others.

A dad who isn't concerned about how others perceive him, but a dad who is concerned with responding as fully as he can to the love of God despite who he is, can extend the grace to the kids, who will allow them to be who they are in an environment where they can be free to ask questions and wrestle and grow and find love.

That I can then tell them, "In this home, I'm not asking to act perfect. I'm asking you to acknowledge that left to yourself, you're going to ruin the relationships in this home and relationships out there, just like your daddy does. But your dad has found grace, and the love and the grace I'm extending to you should harken to you and remind you of the grace available in a relationship with God. You are welcome to struggle here, Wagner children."

You are welcome to be imperfect, Watermark family because that's why you need a Savior. Here are the questions. I think people want to know this. Are you real?Is your life anything like mine? Are you somebody who is complicated like me. I'm a complicated person. Do you have a scar? I have scars. So many people think that we don't have scars here. So many people think our lives are perfect here. I want to tell you something. That is just not true.

In fact, I want to introduce you right now to our staff. I'm going to tell you a little bit later why these folks on staff are the ones who are up here on this little video. I want you to see these are the fact that together we're doing the best we can to run hard after God. Watch this. Meet your staff.

[Video]

Abby: Hey, I'm Abby Shelby, and I am a follower of Christ, who struggles with people-pleasing and the approval of man.

Bob: Hi, I'm Bob Rudy. I'm a believer who continues to battle with giving and receiving unconditional love.

Braun: Hi, my name is Braun Brown. I'm a follower of Christ, who struggles with fear and anger.

Todd: Hi, my name is Todd Wagner, and I love Jesus, but I also love me. Because of that, I mess with the anger and lust and control issues that a lot of people struggle with, but I also hurt deeply people who I love a lot.

David: My name is David Penuel, and I like to be in control. I get really anxious when I face things I cannot handle alone.

Linda: I'm Linda, and I struggle with understanding and accepting God's grace, that it truly reaches me where I am.

Gary: My name is Gary Stroope, and performance and control have ruled my life for a lot of years. Because of Christ, I'm beginning to experience a lot of freedom.

Danny: My name is Danny. I'm a believer in Jesus Christ, who just struggles. Especially loving Christ daily. But God, who is rich in mercy, allows me to make it through every day.

Erin: Hi, my name is Erin, and I struggle with control, which shows itself in my fear of the unknown.

Rob: Hey, I'm Rob Barry, and I struggle with detachment. I really feel like the Lord has been redeeming my mind from past sexual images.

Melissa: Hi, I'm Melissa, and even though I know God chose me, I often struggle with believing I'm loveable.

Jim: My name is Jim, and I struggle with anger. When I rely on the Lord, he helps me keep it under control, which is most of the time.

Patrick: My name is Patrick, and I am currently struggling through anxiety and depression.

Scott: Hi, I'm Scott Miller, and I'm a believer who wrestles with perfectionism and the impact that has on my family.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim, and I'm a believer who struggles with pride and control, which has caused some recent anxiety.

Josh: My name's Josh Carr, and I'm a believer who struggles with self-doubt.

Female 1: I struggle with contentment and body image.

Male 1: I struggle with pride, which shows itself in passivity in my marriage.

Female 2: It's wrestling with God for what he believes in best for me.

Male 2: Control.

Male 3: My deep-seated struggle with pride.

Male 4: Controlled by food.

Male 5: Issues of anger and self-control.

Female 3: Laziness.

Male 6: Lust, depression, and doubt.

Male 7: Addiction to pornography and pride.

Female 4: Selfishness. Just wanting the things of this world.

Male 8: Control.

Male 9: Trusting God.

Male 10: Anger.

Male 11: People-pleasing and control.

Female 5: Fear and insecurity.

Male 12: Lust and selfishness.

Male 13: Self-condemnation of guilt and with shame.

Female 6: Finding my identity in things I do and work, so that kind of develops into workaholism.

Female 7: I struggle with pride, procrastination, purity, and people-pleasing.

Ryan: Hi, I'm Ryan Howell, and I'm a control freak who struggles with pride but have found peace by experiencing the grace offered by Jesus Christ.

Veronica: I'm Veronica Netzer, and the Lord has really been working in my life in the area of forgiveness and realizing how vital it is in my walk with him to forgive past hurts.

[End of video]

Let me tell you something. Don't tell me that we don't have scars. We're not having some vulnerability contest here. But we're a group of people who are just trying to tell you, "Meet me at the foot of the cross. The ground is very level there. These are issues we're trying to grow through. You want to know if we're real? Come on in. We're living in the light.

This is not a community of perfect people. This is a community of people who have found a perfect Savior. We love him, and we sing about him, and we do the best we can to serve him, and when we screw it up, we look at each other and go, "That wasn't of Christ, was it? That was of me. I need to ask your forgiveness."

"Freely received. Freely extended. Thanks for acknowledging that. Let me spur you on to love and good deeds." How great to be a part of that. Do you know what? Because we live that way, we have others in us and around us that even though we say, "I'm addicted to pornography. I'm addicted to me. I'm addicted to eating and purging. I'm addicted to a screwed-up sexual identity…"

Because I share that with other people, other people can say, "I'm going to help you. I'm going to put around you the things which will keep you from running in isolation towards further addiction and death." Live in the light around a group of others who know where life is, who can spur you that way, who you don't have figure it out on your own because where your struggles are, are owned by others. That's life.

You want to know if we're real? Do you know who we are? We're ex-prostitutes who have bumped into Christ. We're women with issues of blood who have touched Jesus. We're lame people who have learned to walk. We're blind folks who have learned to see. Do you know what know who we are? We're people who have been in bondage who have been set free and are trying to stay out there in the light.

They want to know, "Are you real?" They also want to know, "Do you love me? I mean, are you going to love me? I heard you through your little list, but you've never heard a list like mine." Do you know what happens with so many of us? We go, "Okay, fine. That's your list, baby. I didn't hear abortion. I didn't hear rapist. I didn't hear child molester. Throw in your little list." When people say certain things in rooms like this, it's appropriate to share certain ways.

Let me just tell you something. Don't tell me that your unique struggle is so unique that God can't meet it. This is what the Scripture says. "There is no sin which is not common to man." All of our different expressions of sin are different symptoms of the same problem. All of us go different directions to find coping strategies and grabbing onto life somewhere, but there's a way which seems right to man.

Okay, so maybe your way is different than my way, but it is the exact same way, which is to rebel and to believe that on my own I can find life apart from Jesus. I can identify with that, and I have found grace for my rebellion, and I will tell you my King has said that he wants to offer grace to yours. If you like what you have, keep doing what you're doing. I'm just going to tell you if you keep doing what you're doing, you're not going to like what you have.

You're not too complicated. Your sin doesn't scare us. Your rebellion doesn't offend God any more than my rebellion offends God. Do you know what offends God? When you act like all he wants is you to show up and to attend and go through the motions. I'm just going to let you into a little bit of the kind of people that the Lord loves.

The Lord loves those who come and say, "I am unlovable." He goes, "Bingo. I've known that for a long time. I demonstrate my love towards sinners in that while they were yet sinners, I died for them. But the people who don't think they need help, the people who God speaks the most against, are the people who honor me with their lips but their life is far from me. The people who are the most offensive to me are hypocrites."

Hypocrite is a word that we draw out of the Greek language, hypokrites, which is the word for an actor, somebody who put on a mask to play another role. It wasn't who they really were. That's what a hypocrite is. Let me just say this. All sin is not because of hypocrisy. I don't sin because I'm a hypocrite. I sin because I am in process.

I am heading towards a life of change and Christlikeness. I am progressing towards what God wants me to be as a man, but I am not done yet. It's not hypocritical to say that, at times, I don't do what I want to do, which is to honor God with my life, but I have to acknowledge that wasn't of Christ.

See, we are not sinless people. We sin less. Because we are in community, we say, "If you let me off the leash, I'm going to run this way, so spur me on to love and good deeds. Remind me of the greatness of my God and the light that is there and run with me towards him." All sin is not hypocrisy, but all hypocrisy is sin. God is asking us to reach out to those who are looking to be loved truly.

This is what God says about those who want to go through an act. Amos 5:21-24. Get a load of this. Do you hate hypocrites? Jesus is your man. "I hate, I reject your festivals…" Look at that. " …n or do I delight in your solemn assemblies." When you get together on Sundays. To the people he was writing it to, it was the tenth day of the seventh month and all this other stuff. But for us, our solemn assemblies are Sunday mornings. Do you know what God said to the dead church? "I hate it. It offends me."

"Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings…" Even though you move from 10 percent to 15 percent, even though you're a reverse tither. He doesn't care. He hates it. Why? "…I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings." Why? Because you are individuals, who don't walk really with me." "Take away from Me the noise of your songs."

He doesn't want your choir. He doesn't want your pipe organ. He doesn't want your praise choruses. He doesn't want your band. He doesn't want your singing. He wants your heart. "I will not even listen to the sound of your harps." Instead, respond to the grace that has been given to you and offer it to others. Do you want to know what God requires of you? To do justice, to practice kindness, to walk humble with the Lord. "That is what the Lord requires of thee," it says in Micah 6:8.

People want to know, "Are you going to love me?" I'm going to say, "I'm going to love you. I'm going to love you enough to tell you the truth that what you're doing is going to lead to death. I'm going to love you enough to call you to Christ. I'm going to love you enough to acknowledge that left to yourself, your life isn't going to get better, and it's going to bring pain to others. But I'm going to extend you the grace that I've received.

People want to know, "Are you going to love me, even though I'm a difficult person?" It's ours to show them that. You can't just bring people in here, and you want their butts in your seat, but you don't want their butts outside on the ground. We have to say, "That's not respectful. I don't care whether you love God or not. Don't just throw your stuff down. I'll pick it up for you. Yeah, you smell like smoke, which isn't my favorite thing, but okay. Right now, that's where you're going," or whatever it might be.

Do you love them, really love them? They want to know this. Does it work? Is God who he says he is? Does he really make the lame walk again? Does he really let the blind see? Are you ready to tell your story about what Jesus has done in your life? I can tell you this. I love Jesus, but I still love me. Because of that, that shows up in anger. It shows up in lust. It shows up in hurting people I love.

But I can tell you, and people who know me well will tell you, I've seen some real progress in Wagner's life. Since we started this church seven years ago, I'd seen them change. It used to offend me when people said, "I have to tell you. There's been a radical change in your life." I go, "Well, since when?" "It's been since last year." I go, "What was wrong with me last year?"

The day I stop having people who know me well saying, "Todd, you've taken some real significant ground," is the day I'm in trouble. God is taking some ground in my life. I want to hear my wife say, "You've loved me better this year than you've ever loved me before." I want to hear that. I want to hear people say, "Todd, kindness is more consistently evident in your life this year than ever before. Gentleness. Todd, that's growing in your life. I see it. The gift of mercy. I see it. Your ability to rightly handle God's Word. I see that growing." Does it work? It works.

Let me just show you something. I'm going to take time right here. I'm going to show you another video. This little video is about a group of people who are going to share with you that God is at work. He's at work, and he wants to be at work in you. Before I do, I want to lay out just five things that are true of us as a body. Are you ready? These are five things that are true, and I'm going to show you a video. What we celebrate here is life change because Jesus is working. There's a sense of awe. Here's the deal: five different things that are true about us.

  1. We are all wounded, but we have a wonderful Healer. Could you imagine? What would you do if your life was really hurting, and all of a sudden, God started to bring grace and healing into it? I'll tell you what you'd do, you'd sing. That's why we sing. That's why we go through our life and say, "We have some scars, but God is healing us of the hurt, the loss, the anger, the frustration. He's healing that slowly."

  2. We all have stuff we're struggling to overcome, but we are struggling with hope. Do you want to know who we are? This is who we are. We are all struggling to overcome stuff, but we are overcoming some things, and we're struggling with hope.

  3. We aren't perfect. Do you want to know who we are? We're not perfect, but we serve a perfect God. In fact, in 1 John 1:8 and then again it shows up a little bit in verse 10, it says, " If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…" And then in verse 10, it says, "…we make [God] out to be a liar…"

  4. We are aware of how much we need grace, and we would be glad to share with you the grace that we are receiving.

  5. We believe real community celebrates recovery, both the need for it and the possibility of it. That's why we tell stories. That's why every week in your Watermark News there's a story of somebody who's recovering from a life addicted to self and the peace that passes understanding. Peace, not as the world gives when you can pass by looking impressive enough for the world to love you, but you're always afraid somebody is going to find out what's behind and what's online, but real deep peace when you're free to say, "This is who I was. This is what Christ has done to meet me where I'm at, and this is the chance that he's brought."

That little last phrase…We believe real community celebrates recovery…harkens to something we do here on Monday nights. It's called Celebrate Recovery. It's the first place that a lot of folks go to say, "I'm coming to the end of myself. I am poor in Spirit. I am broken over my sin, and I want somebody to begin to walk with me through this.

Let me just tell you something. The reason Celebrate Recovery is happening here is because it's not just happening on Monday nights. It's happening Sundays. It's happening Tuesday through Saturday. If it's only happening on Monday nights, then we ought to shut down everything but Monday nights.

The reason I'm excited about Monday nights is because it is a very clear place that people feel like they can go. It is the fast track towards biblical community. If your community is not living the way the folks on Monday night are living, and you have to go to Monday night to find it, go, but tell us so we can help you get it wherever you are.

If you came here, though, on Monday night, the very first thing you'd see is a little video. It's a video of people who sit right here amongst you today. Some who have been on staff, some haven't. The reason the folks who were on staff were in that video is because they've been through Celebrate Recovery,and God was working on their life and issues there.

I said to about half our staff, "You guys went through Celebrate Recovery. You get out of here. Those who haven't found life through working the steps on Monday night but have found life through living with principles of truth, walking in the light according to the Scriptures six other days out of the week, you stay here and let's celebrate that."

The staff that you just saw that is struggling well and overcoming, that's the staff who has just celebrated the recovery that has come through a relationship with Jesus Christ, biblical community, and his Word. That's what's going on on Monday night. But if you come on Monday night, let me debunk this. This is what you'll see on Monday night the very first time you come, and here are stories. Do you want to know if it works? Do you want to know if Jesus works? Watch this.

[Video]

Todd: Hi, my name's Todd Wagner, and I have the incredible privilege of welcoming you to Celebrate Recovery at Watermark. I also have the great privilege of serving as Watermark's pastor, and as part of the leadership and, frankly, representing the heart of the entire body, I want to tell you how grateful we are that you've entrusted us with the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that you might be facing.

The truth is, you're stepping into a community full of people with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We hear all the time that folks don't want to come to something like this because they think in doing so, they're admitting that something is really wrong with their life. Well, just the opposite, I think, is true. By stepping into this room tonight, you for the first time, maybe for the first time in a long time, have something very right about you.

The very first step in finding the life that God wants for us is to acknowledge that we're not God, and when we go on our own way, it often leads to death and not life. You're looking at somebody who has found principles of truth that lead them to the freedom that I believe a loving Father wants me to experience.

In recovery vernacular, walking in the light and principles of truth are called working the steps, so we can't wait to share with you not what we think but what God thinks about how you can find freedom. Freedom from the Enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy all that he meant for you. Welcome to a community of friends who are healing together and finding hope, not through steps, but through a person named Jesus who has died for us and who is ready to share with us the truth of an eternal Father who cares for you and for me.

We're glad that you're here, and I hope you brace yourself for transformation and hope that can only be found in doing the very right thing that you've done tonight. We're grateful that you're here. We're excited for what God's about to introduce to you in the person of his Son and this community that we believe will set you free. Welcome.

Alex: Hi, my name is Alex, and I have found victory through Christ in the midst of depression.

Chris: Hi, my name is Chris, and by God's wonderful and perfect grace, I struggle well with lust and pornography.

Audrey: Hi, my name is Audrey, and I'm a believer in Christ who struggles with sexual addiction.

Barb: Hi, my name is Barb, and I'm experiencing forgiveness and restoration for my past infidelities.

Lindsey: My name is Lindsey, and I'm a believer who struggles with alcoholism, guilt, shame and smoking. Prior to becoming a believer, I found my significance in men and work. I went from one long-term relationship to another, and I drank a lot in order to escape from my problems and my fears. But what I found was this just served to compound one problem on top of another.

When I became a believer at that age of 28, I continued to drink. What this brought on was a lot of conviction and a lot more problems. As I continued to drink for the next two years, I also began to spin out. I hit my rock bottom and went to the church and asked them for help. I couldn't handle it anymore. I knew I could go one of two ways: the way of my old life or the way I knew the Lord wanted me to go.

The church suggested I go to the ministry of Celebrate Recovery the following Monday night, and I did. Jesus Christ met me at the door, and he said, "You are going to find love and healing here, and he was right. Every promise that Jesus made to me has been fulfilled. I found freedom, I found love, and I found grace at Celebrate Recovery.

Brandon: I'm Brandon, and I find freedom in knowing that my decision to have an abortion was not greater than my decision to accept Christ as my Savior.

Kim: Hi, I'm Kim, and I am learning to tell you the truth.

Leonard: My name is Leonard, and I'm a believer that struggles with homosexuality, and even introducing myself that way sounds awkward, and it bugs me sometimes, but I'll tell you one thing that it helps me hear myself say that is that I can be a believer and I can struggle. If you asked me five years ago if I had hope, I would've told you I was hopeless.

CR provides a safe place where you can find hope when you're hopeless. For me, it helped me with level-setting my sin. It wasn't worse than anybody else's, and I could sit around with other men who have the same struggles. When I said something, they would be waiting for me to be finished so they could share their struggle. There was no condemnation. That's Jesus right here. That's a glimpse of his work on the cross, the forgiveness, the mercy, and the grace that you can find for whatever you're dealing with.

Jenny: I'm Jenny, and I'm free from the bondage of drugs in my life.

Joy: Hi, I'm Joy, and in Christ, one day at a time, I'm finding victory over alcohol.

Eric: My name is Eric. I'm a believer who has been bound by guilt and shame, but I found confidence through faith in Christ.

Leigh: Hi, my name is Leigh, and I'm a believer in Christ who struggles with an eating disorder. For most of my life, food was everything to me. It was my best friend, and at the same time, it was my worst enemy. My love for food controlled me. I would use food as a way to meet my need for community or companionship, as a means of dealing with emotions like anxiety or fear or insecurity or feelings of unworthiness. I was completely consumed with my love for food.

I came to CR and was weary of this battle. I felt like I had lived every day of my life fighting this, and I was just tired of it. Through CR, the Lord has done more than I could've asked for or imagined. He has transformed parts of my heart and my life that I couldn't have even asked for him to change. He's equipped me with the tools of prayer, of believing and meditating on his Word and, of being honest about my struggle with other people. I've seen him restore hope and healing that I never even dreamed of.

Laura: Hey, I'm Laura, and I'm a believer who is learning how to find my significance in Christ versus finding my significance in the way other people perceive me.

Pam: I'm Pam, and my confidence in Christ helped me overcome my fear of rejection.

Merritt: Hi, my name is Merritt, and I have an addiction to people and a fear of what they think of me. In recovery circles, we call it codependency. I came to Celebrate Recoveryafter hurt from a previous relationship. I was crying all the time, I didn't know how to fix myself, and I all I really wanted to do was feel better.

Working through the steps at CR, I learned that it's really not about me. It's not about what I can do to fix myself or actually even feel better. It's about Christ and what he can do in my life and how his power works through me to change my struggles and the way that I have operated for more than 30 years.

Susan: I am Susan, and I am a believer in Jesus Christ who is struggling well with pride.

Carlos: I'm Carlos. By accepting God's grace, I'm able to forgive today.

Todd: My name is Todd, and I'm a believer who struggles with shame, fear, and pornography. I had my first exposure to porn when I was about 10 year old, and my exposure continued up and through my adult years. I kept it somewhat under control, or so I felt, for a while, until a series of circumstances in my adult life pushed me, really, to the brink of where I was considering suicide.

In the process of trying to recover from this, I went to some counselors. One of those counselors suggested Celebrate Recovery. When I came to CR, I was intrigued by what I saw, but frankly, I wasn't impressed because I was pretty impressed with my own intellect. I thought I knew a lot, and I wasn't hearing anything I hadn't heard before. So I quit coming after a few months.

About six months later, after floundering, I found a testimony on the Watermark website of another guy who also struggled with pornography. I remember being impressed by God telling me, "He's getting some recovery, and you're not. So, would you rather walk around feeling like you're the smartest guy in the room, or would you like to maybe try this out and swallow your pride?"

So I did that and came back. It was a much different experience the second time. I've learned to be vulnerable and to talk about my struggles even when I've blown it. So I come out the other side of that being thankful, frankly, for how I've been made.

[End of video]

What else do you want to do with your life except celebrate what God has done in yours and share that with others? Jesus asked a really amazing question to a guy who was lame, who was begging for the people to help him cope with his lameness. Jesus didn't do that. He looked at him and says, "Do you want to get well? Then come. Get up. Pick up your mat. Follow me."

Do you want to get well, or do you want to pretend you have it all worked out? We're a group of people who have gotten up, picked up our mat, and we've followed the divine Healer. We're not afraid of what got you on the mat. We don't care because we know the one who can get you up off it. His name is Jesus, and we're ready for the hard stuff because we know where to take it. Right to our King.

We're a group of folks here, no matter how we look on the outside, who are being healed and have found healing on the inside. We welcome you to our King. We don't invite you to Monday nights other than the fact that Jesus is there. We don't invite you to Watermark other than the fact that Jesus is here. We don't invite you in our community other than the fact that Jesus is there. We're going to show you that we're a people, not that we've attained to ourselves… This is what Paul says.

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

That's a pretty church. That's what we want to be. I love it when my kids come to me and say, "Dad, I have something that I'm really hurting on. Will you help me?" I go, "Yeah. I've been there. Let me love you, extend you grace. Let me encourage you. Let me give you wisdom. Here's forgiveness. Let's go."

I love it when I go to my Father, and he says, "I have a son who has been tempted in every way that you've been, yet without sin. So come boldly. Receive grace and mercy to help you in your time of need. Will you come?"

If you've received that grace, will you go tell others where that grace is that you've received and where you're receiving it? Will you run them to Jesus? Will you be ministers of reconciliation? Will you live authentic lives where you'll tell people, "I'm not ashamed of where I was before I met Christ." Where are you? Where've you been? But let me tell you where I'm going. To life and to hope. Do you want some? It can be found here in Christ.

There are folks who want to hang with you here, hang with you on either side of the room, and just hang with you in life. With a great deal of privilege, I say, "Come. Come to my King. Come to Jesus, and we'll tell you how he can take care of your burdens, how he can heal your sin. How he can forgive your rebellion and lead you to life. Then you'll sing with us, and we'll spur each other on to love and good deeds, and we'll have a great life of worship." Amen? God bless you.


About 'Gifts I'd Give My Children'

What?s the best gift you?ve ever received? What present is so special that you?ll never forget the moment or the person who shared it with you?In this series, Todd Wagner overviews 11 gifts that the Lord desires for us to have. This collection of gifts forms the foundation that any pastor would want for a church and any parent would want for their child. In short, these gifts represent 11 non-negotiables in a life that is committed to full devotion to Christ.