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The Gift of Community: An Artery of Grace that Must Never Get Clogged

The notion of "love" has been dumbed down by our culture to mean nothing more than a feeling. Similarly, the concept of community in the church has come to mean a box we check centered around superficial gatherings or forced harmony. God gave us biblical community, however, as a gift - a way to encourage each other in the faith and a means by which we might show the world a picture of His love and grace.

Todd WagnerNov 18, 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

Father, thank you for a chance to gather in here, and Lord, I am really, really grateful that you are a God who knows where each of us are. Even those of us who have not humbled ourselves before you yet, you love us. You strive to reach our hearts and to connect us deeply with you. Being here this morning maybe for somebody is like that, God, and I'm thankful they trusted a friend, or you softened their heart enough to stumble into here.

I pray as they hear us communicate, talk, and sing, greet, love, and wave goodbye that they would be drawn to you, and they would find the God who is life. I thank you for those of us who have been here and reconnected with you by faith, but maybe whose hearts are a little bit beat up this week, maybe discouraged, maybe feel like you're incompetent in the way you haven't dealt with some emotional needs they have, some physical or financial or health needs they have.

You're not angry at us because we feel that way, but you want to speak to us and comfort us and remind us of truth that we might not turn away from you and create idols that won't ever satisfy. I thank you for those of us this week who have really been blessed, whose lives are full, whose hearts are happy, who have been free from the shame and guilt that comes from being controlled by sin in our own way, who have been refreshed by your Word, who have been in some tangible way experiencing your grace that makes our hearts overwhelmed with the goodness of who you are.

We realize there are wars around the world and people fighting those wars for us. There are people whose parents beat them, abuse them, neglect them, and there's hunger in bellies. We can often feel guilty that that's not our experience when we know it's others. For those of us who've been well cared for and blessed and right now are provided for, I pray, Lord, that we wouldn't use this provision to thicken our bed of comfort but would use our strength to serve the downtrodden and depressed in this world. That we'd be people who would act like you would act. That would share over our cups that are overflowing and spill them into some needy mouths in other places. That's who we want to be.

Father, thank you that you can take each of us where we're at and do something better with it. That's why we're here. That's why we sing to you. We're so glad that you live. We're not worshiping an idea, a dead god, or a well-spoken prophet. But we're worshiping the living God who is near to every one of us and yet is so far beyond us and so great that the only word we can use to describe you is holy. You are wholly different and altogether separate from us and yet intimate and near. We are a blessed people. Help us to love each other consistent with that understanding. Amen.

Yeah, it's good to pray. Isn't it? It really is. We're in the middle of a little series called Gifts I'd Give My Children, where what I'm really doing is I'm unpacking my heart of what I really want to be about as a dad just giving these things to my kids. I get frustrated every week when I don't perfectly shepherd my family. I'm so thankful for another day to start again or another moment to ask their forgiveness and begin over that day.

I really want to impart to my kids some things that I believe that if they embrace these ideas, these concepts, these virtues it'll change everything about their experience in this broken and fallen world. I'm also very passionate for us as a community to get to experience these things. As a guy who gets to lead this community and be a part of others that are shepherding and being shepherded here. I want us to embrace these things, because I know as we embrace them we'll experience as a body what God wants us to experience as a body.

The reason I can say this with integrity, that these are things that we ought to talk about, is because our loving heavenly Father has said, "These are the things I want you guys to embrace." Let's walk back over them. He says, "I want you to have Christ. I want you to know my Son because he is the visible image of me, the invisible God. To know him and to see him and to love him is to know me and to see him and love me. He's the means through which you can be restored into relationship with me.

If you leave him, you are leaving life. If you come back into him, you're going to begin life in a way that's going to give you a peace that passes understanding. Peace not as the world gives, but a peace that goes beyond the circumstances of today. I want you to have that. I don't want you, as you through this world today, to do it out of a great heart to respond to me. I want you to be near to me. I want you to be able to sit with me and hear my heart. I want you to be able to think with the mind of God and the mind of truth and perfection.

Here's my Word. Have on your heart and your mind what's on my heart and my mind. So a deep devotion to God's Word. You need to realize, as you go through this life, you won't always be deeply devoted to my Word, you won't always yield to the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of Christ. So at times, you're going to hurt each other. So this thing I've brought together, I want you to be diligent to preserve that unity. I want to teach you how to maintain oneness and not isolate from each other and so how to work through conflict.

It's a gift that we all need because we're imperfect people in an imperfect world waiting for our perfect Savior to come and make it right. I want you to have the freedom when you go through this life to just be who you are, not to pretend, but to live authentically. I want you to live authentically in the midst of a community of grace that has been overwhelmed with the kindness of God, overwhelmed with the long-suffering of Christ.

Having been amongst those people who have received that great gift of forgiveness and grace, that they would then extend it to other people so you would be a person who's received grace and extends that to others. That you wouldn't be a community that just does things because they've always done them or does things because they look pious or religious, that you wouldn't love wineskins. That you would love wine. That you'd be relevant and innovative and flexible.

I wish you would have that so you could be all things to all people who don't compromise who I am so that by all means, everybody can get their arms around who I am." What a gift. We've talked about some others, but those are some of the ones that we've been wrestling with recently. Today, I will tell you, as I talk about this one. Other than God's Word and Jesus himself, this specific gift that I'm talking about today has been the greatest blessing in my life. It is one of the primary vessels of grace that God offers all of us.

I will tell you, most of us would agree it's insane for somebody to say, "I want to live in relationship with God. I want to thrive on this earth as a person who has, by the grace of God, come to understand who he is, but I'm not going to pray." We'd go, "You're not going to what?" "Well, I'm not going to talk to God. I'm not going to listen to God. I'm not going to let him conform my heart." We'd go, "You can't do that. That's crazy. Why would you have a relationship with God restored and say you're not going to pray?"

Likewise, if somebody said, "I'm going to say I have a relationship with God, but I'm never going to read his Word, I'm never going to let him speak to me through this gift of revelation that is God's Word," we'd go, "That's nuts." Well, there is a third major vessel of grace that circulates a life through us that we're not quite as zealous to tell each other we're crazy if we neglect this thing.

Apart from the overwhelming presence of God in my life and the work of God who lives and the person of his Spirit who convicts me of sin, righteousness, and judgment and who leads me, the number one thing (other than God speaking through his Word and speaking to my heart) that has brought me to where I am today with a smile on my face, with joy in my heart, with a sense of it's worth continuing on and with a better result that others can see is this specific gift that we're going to focus on.

It shouldn't surprise you that it's one of the very first gifts that the Enemy went after. In fact, you could almost make a case that, because we reject the very first gift that God wants us to have which is relationship with him which has been restored through who Jesus is, so we can walk with God again, so we can understand the mind of God and know good and evil (not based on what seems right to us but based on what God has said is right and wrong), the very first thing to go, other than intimacy with God and the ability to communicate and have the word of God shepherd our lives, was this next gift.

What is it? It is a deep connection and commitment to one another. It was jettisoned right there in the garden. The very first time man said, "I don't need God. I don't care what God said is right and wrong. I'll go my own way. I'll worship me. I'll do what I say is right," then all of a sudden, where there was oneness and solidarity became hostility and isolation.

Instead of having an attitude of being for each other, we began to look out for our own personal interests. We became insecure around each other. We began to blame each other instead of building each other up. Then we went from this wonderful relationship where there was mutual submissive love in the context of very specific roles.

Male had his role, female had her role, but there was mutual submission and love in the midst of that. The subject was so loved by the ruler that she delighted that this was her provision and protector and head because he did nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. He provided for her, and he cared for her. He didn't merely look out for his own interests but for the interest of her. So she was like, "Give me more of that leadership. Lead me."

We went from this mutually submissive relationship where roles were clearly defined to this ruler-subject relationship where the ruler was sometimes an absolute jerk who operated out of his own moods and whims, out of what he felt was right. The subject didn't always feel like that was right. So the subject began to resent the ruler, and the ruler began to try and manipulate and punish and dominate the subject, to lead her out of fear and manipulation, and we became less of what God intended us to be when we came apart.

What God has called us back to is the ability to love each other the way he loves us when we restore our relationship with him. What I want to talk to you about today is a deep commitment. If I could give you a gift, I would give you a deep commitment to one another. An absolute passion for connectedness and community. When the world sees that done well, it is an irresistible draw to them. This is why Jesus said this in John 13:34-35.

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another…" You go, "Well, that's not very new. It's been around for a long time. Ever since God started speaking to man, he tells us to love one another." But he says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…"

Not in a way that seems right to man, not tolerable, not as long as it feels good, but sacrificially, unconditionally, initiating, informed by grace. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you [have learned from me how to live] …" Jesus says the word disciple.

When you learn to love this way, the world goes, "Who is your Daddy? Who is your God? How do you have that kind of familiar relationship? Ours is filled with dysfunction, insecurity, and resentment. It takes a national holiday and three days off of work for us to share a dead bird together, and then we're just glad the football game started, so we can go isolate in front of the tv. But yours is a different kind of family."

Here's the deal. I don't even know if it's true or not. This story has been around for a long time. I wish it was. I wish somebody filmed it. But the story, anecdotally, goes that there was up in Seattle, Washington, a number of years ago, a Special Olympics event where all these different athletes were competing in the way that they were able. Specifically, during the 100-yard dash, eight little Special Olympics athletes started off together, and down the track, they went. They were hauling down the track.

One of them about halfway down (a little boy) just tripped and fell. The other seven kept running until they heard the thud and the rolling and the cries, and then one of them stopped and another one stopped. They looked, and they walked back, the story goes, and they picked him up, they kissed his boo-boos, they locked arms together, and they walked the remaining yards to the finish line, crossing the line together to a standing ovation.

The crowd stood there on their feet, celebrating what they just saw. More than one overtaking another and showing their greatness. They go, "That is amazing." Why? Why did that create a sense of awe like people who break the world record and become the fastest man in the world hardly create?

Because there's something that happens in that moment that we recognize as we really all want to be a part of. When you see a loving community come together and care for one another and not try and exalt itself over each other based on physical strength and the ability to dominate, it is worthy of a celebration. There's something in us that goes, "I want to be a part of that." Who doesn't?

This is what Christ is telling us when he says, "You have to be that kind of community. You have to care for each other that way. If some of you have something that somebody else needs, then give it to him, by all means. That means time. That means treasure. That means if you have a gift that can come alongside them in the form of a talent to help them, give it to them. Love each other that way. Don't dominate because you can run faster, make more money, and leave them behind. Care for them in the context of running the race together. When the world sees it, they're going to go, "I want some of that. I don't see that very often."

In fact, when you look at the New Testament, there is this little phrase that shows up again and again and again throughout that part of the Bible. That phrase is one another. If we would just live out the "one anothers" of Scripture, the world would never be able to stopapplauding what they see happening in our midst. What I did is I just compressed all the one one anothers of Scripture into one little section. I want you to see this is what God intends for his people to live like. If you saw this, wouldn't you go, "Give me some of that." Here it goes. This is what God wants his people to be.

A group of people who love one another, care for one another, serve one another, admonish one another, show forbearance to and forgive one another, where we keep fervent in our love for one another, are hospitable towards one another, where we employ our gifts in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God, where we greet one another, are of the same mind toward one another, are kind to each other, and speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

We talk about things of ultimate importance, reminding ourselves all day long about how good God is and the truths that we ought to guide our lives by. Where we build up, comfort, pray for, encourage, live in peace with, and seek after that which is good for one another. It's where we cloth ourselves in humility towards one another, where we live in subjection to one another, stimulate one another onto love and good deeds, confess sins to one another, live in peace with one another, and give preference to one another in honor, where we encourage one another day after day lest any of us become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin or the stupidity of this world.

This community that God intends is where we love one another just as he commanded us. If we did that, the world would never stop going, "I want some of that." He reminds us, "You're not going to be able to do that perfectly. That's why you need to extend grace to each other, show forbearance to one another, but be diligent to preserve this community I've called you to, to seek it out, to yield yourself to it, to be informed by it, and sharpened by it."

Here's the reason why most of us don't. When you hear the word community, some of you guys immediately go to enforced potlucks. You go to bi-weekly meetings with small talk, conversational catch-up, and people looking at their clocks to get back their very, very busy world. You think of Super Bowl parties without alcohol. That's Christian community.

You're like, "Okay. It's nice, but frankly, I like a good beer every now and then with a slice of pizza or handful of peanuts. So I'll go to that because I'm a part of this church, and we always have a Super Bowl party, but there has to be more to community than this." Well, there is.

There's a great little book by a guy named C.S. Lewis. If you've been around places like this for very long, you always see this guy, C.S. Lewis, referred to because this guy really was a great thinker, a great philosopher, and he loved God. He wrote a great book called The Screwtape Letters which was a letter from one demon to a younger demon who was charged with this one specific soul that he was supposed to keep away from God and, once he came to God, to keep him from being effective for God.

So these letters back and forth were letters to help the young demon make this person ineffective, make his life devoid of joy, empty, and angry at God. This is what he said at one particular point. This is Screwtape writing to Wormwood, his young nephew. He said to make this guy resent God and to not love the virtues that God said would lead him to life…really, in effect, to keep him from the gifts that God wants to give his children…there are a lot of different ways to do it. But he said one of the most effective ways is to discredit the virtue by ruining the word.

"…introduce associations [with words] that subtly alter our feelings and perceptions so that the word no longer works the way it was intended [to work]." Here's what he means. He wants to dumb down a word, so you no longer pursue it the way God wants you to pursue it. Therefore, you get less than the life God wants you to have.

One of the greatest examples is the word love. The word love in our language is always associated with a feeling. It's associated with, "As long as it's good for me, then I love it. But when I'm sick of it, I don't love it anymore." God goes, "No. Love is so much greater than that. Love is unconditional. Love is not thinking about how it feels. Love is always committed to a certain action."

That's the love we always want. But we all, at times, opt out and settle for this feeling. That's why we're always so confused. We thought we married this person we loved, but then we find somebody a little bit later who we feel more strongly towards, especially when we're not feeling so in love with that person.

God goes, "You've missed what I intended from you for the very beginning when I told you to love each other. I didn't feel like dying on a cross for you. I didn't feel like pursuing you when you spit on me. I didn't feel like being gracious to you when you mocked my name, but I'm a God who loves. So I came."

Another word would be a word like spouse. If you're single, when you think spouse, you're, "Somebody one day I can love," and you mean, "Somebody who one day I can feel with them like I've never felt before." Too many of us, though, instead of when we hear the word spouse go, "A gift from God. God's mean through which I can become more of the man that God wants me to be. God's protection and provision for me. God's tangible expression of his care for me…"

If we're doing a word association game, is that what you're saying? Or do you go, "Oh, man. Spouse? Curse. Problem. Burden. Enemy"? When the Enemy can take what God says is a gift and make you believe it's your biggest problem, he has more than 90 percent of the fight done. Remember this.

Your spouse is never your enemy. Your spouse is God's gift to you. The enemy is the Enemy. Sometimes you might go, "Well, then he's doing a heck of a job of actually possessing that individual at this moment, because they look a lot alike." Maybe, but the problem is with the one who has possessed them. Your spouse is not your enemy.

Another word that has been completely dumbed down is disciple. A disciple is somebody who's in a class, in a book, and then you're done. No, disciple really means learner. You can be a disciple of Christ, meaning you're constantly learning more of him. You never graduate from being a disciple.

How about the word community? Like I said, some of the things I threw out earlier. Too many of us have this wrong word of community, and it keeps us away from this incredible provision that God's offered for us. We made this little parody of what for too many people is a view of what community really is. Watch Joe's community. Take a look.

[Video]

Joe's wife: Hey, guys.

Joe: Hey.

Brad: Hey, guys.

Frank's wife: Oh, hey.

Joe's wife: We're a little bit late.

Joe: We're here.

Frank: Good to see you.

Brad's wife: Wow.

Joe: We've been attending the church for six years now. I've always wanted to be in a Community Group, and I finally, finally talked my wife into it.

Joe's wife: Joe never really wanted to be in a Community Group. Then a guy he does business with invited him. Now, he's all in.

Brad: I hope you've had a great week. Talk to me about some of your struggles this week.

Joe: I love these guys. This is the kind of group I've always wanted to be in. This is the kind of group anybody would love to be in. They don't ask me the kind of questions that might feel uncomfortable later if I saw them.

Brad: All right, guys. Let's just talk about our spiritual walk this week. Joe, how about you?

Joe: My spiritual walk?

Brad: Yeah.

Joe: It's good.

Joe's wife: I like that we rely on Scripture.

Frank's wife: I was reading in the Bible, Philippians 2, and it talked about considering others more important than…

Joe: [Making fart noises] Oh. Do you smell that? I mean, come on.

Joe's wife: Come on. That is so embarrassing. I'm sorry.

Joe: You guys have to smell that.

Joe's wife: Behave.

Joe: Good one. Good one.

Joe's wife: We've been having problems in our marriage since…well…the honeymoon. But Joe tells everybody we're doing fantastic.

Joe: Fantastic.

Frank: Hey, guys. I was thinking maybe we ought to talk about our marriages tonight.

Joe: Boring. I can tell these guys really look up to me. They just haven't gotten the courage to ask me for advice yet.

Brad's wife: Brad and I are going through a rather difficult time right now in our marriage, and I would like to talk about it tonight if we could. I just have a problem.

Joe: My neighbor is a counselor. I will have him call you. I really love prayer time. That's when everybody gets deep, raw.

Brad: All right. Let's just wrap it up. How can we pray for you?

Joe: I'd like you guys to pray for me. I haven't been sleeping well at night. It's the neighbor's dog. He's barking. He's crazy. This dog is just barking all night. And my boss may have some slight tennis elbow. Really, his backhand will never be the same.

Joe's wife: I do get the sense that some of the other people in the group are really trying.

Frank's wife: It just hurts me because these so-called friends are really not listening to me. I feel like they don't even understand.

Joe: Bean dip! I feel so close to these guys. Like they could tell me anything.

Brad: All right. Would one of you guys like to lead out tonight?

Joe: I would. Frank, who was your first kiss, and if your wife died, who would you marry? Yeah, I feel like these guys are finally starting to take some ground.

Brad: Frank, I know you've had a hard time parenting your kids, but I've been watching you. You're doing a great job with Bobby.

Frank: Aww, thanks Brad.

Joe: Yeah, Frank. I don't see how you do it because that boy is a demon from hell. Before we were in community, my wife and I, our marriage was great. Now that we've been meeting with these people, she's all confused. If you asked me, this community stuff just doesn't work. Seriously, you smell that?

[End of Video]

Oh man. There are so many things wrong with that. Obviously, what I'm trying to show you is if that's your view of community, I understand why you want no part of it. Not because there might be a guy like Joe in it, but also because it's going to be really sterile questions where you have to be all serious, and it's not authentic and what not. I don't know. The bottom line is, don't let your misconception of what God is calling you to take you away from this provision and this gift.

I want to walk you through what God says about real biblical authentic community. I want to offer to you what it will provide when you avail yourself to it. I want to testify personally for what it does in my life, what it allows me to become, what it produces in those who I'm leading because I, by the grace of God, am making this vessel of grace available to me.

So many people try and say, "I don't need that. I don't need to go there." There's a reason for that, I believe. It's because they don't want to humble themselves and truly follow God the way God wants them to follow him. "So just leave me alone with my Bible, leave me alone with the Holy Spirit, but everything else after that is really just my business. Don't interact with me," and they make this statement. "It's very personal. My spiritual life is a very personal thing."

I'm going to go, "You know what? You're right. It is a personal thing, but it was never meant to be private."Share it in the context of a relationship because that's what God has called you into. You are a member of a body. We don't want you just to come to attend some large corporate service. We want you to be deeply connected to others.

Folks ask all the time, "How big is Watermark going to get?" I don't care. How big is the body of Christ going to get? But the bigger we get, the smaller we need to get and committed to relationships of four to ten different folks who really get and share life together and know each other and love each other and care for each other. This is what God says. "It is not good for the man to be alone."

Why is that? Why is it not good for man to be alone? Because left to ourselves, we do not gravitate toward excellence. When men get alone, believe me, the common denominator drops. When community is not there to spur us on, we become less kind, less sociable, less clean, more foul, more consumed with our own ideas of what is right without being sharpened. God says, "You need each other. You need my Spirit. You need my Word, and you need my people who will speak into you that you can measure in accordance with what the Holy Spirit is confirming and what my Word is saying specifically in your life."

I have a deal a while back from a guy who had just submitted a prayer request. He shot this prayer request. It came to all us here at Click and Pray. He said, "Please pray for the restoration of God's marriage covenants between…" And he mentions some friends, and then he mentions his and his wife's marriage.

He says, "That God will let loose LOVE into our hearts towards each other and our marriages and most of all our God. That God will bind against any wrong attitudes and actions that are coming against the will and knowledge of our God in all of us, especially selfishness and pride. We need a miracle, and we know that God can restore. We ask if you will petition with us against this vast problem that is attacking our families." He's saying, "We believe God will provide. Please pray for us."

I happened to respond to this one, and I said, "Mike, where are you emailing from (state/city)?" He said, "I am from [a town in Midwest]. How about you?" I said, "We are in Dallas...the reason I ask is we like to connect people with a local body of believers who can minister to them as they look to the Lord to provide all their needs.

Are you connected and sharing your requests/burdens/needs with others in your community? Check out http://www.watermark.org/media/orderform.asp..." and I gave him the links to a couple of messages we did where we talked about a means of grace that comes by being connected with a body of believers. This is his response.

"Yes, I am really trying to grow a prayer chain and have as many people as possible to petition with me against this vast burden that has come against my family. I need a Miracle, and I am doing everything that I can possibly do, prayer, fasting, and pleading [so God will heal] my family. I do not want to see God's marriage covenant and his Glory get stolen from the enemy who is in charge of stealing, killing, and destroying God's marriage covenants, namely what God himself says, 'I hate divorce.'

So I know this is not the will of our God, and I am standing in the gap for restoring what is rightful Gods. I love God and want, need, and desire to see his will carried out in my life. Please, I ask if you will petition with me. thank you and God Bless." So I responded.

I said, "Mike, you mentioned everything you are availing yourself to EXCEPT the one thing I asked you about specifically...that is a local [group of friends] who know the details and who are loving you and shepherding you [and your wife] through this time with their prayers, COUNSEL, AND WISDOM.

Many of us are willing to pray but don't want anyone to know the details of our struggles...especially those close to us who we have to see on a regular basis, develop accountability with and humble ourselves before. I am not saying that is what you are doing [meaning isolating yourself]...but as I pray for you I am asking the Lord to drive you in that direction as part of His provision, even as He Himself has called you to that as part of His means of grace for you and your wife/family."

Then Mike went dark on me, and I didn't hear anything else back from him. Mike wanted everybody to pray out there, but he didn't want anybody to sit with him and walk through issues in his life that might be driving his wife away from him. They'll maybe go even pay somebody in isolation that they'll talk about it with, but they'll leave it there. They're not going to bring it out into a community of believers who will spur them on in the way that God says, "This is what I want for you. People who love you, who exhort you, and who encourage you."

Here's the deal. When you're not in community, idiosyncrasies grow. What are idiosyncrasies? Idiosyncrasy is really a transliteration. It's a word we bring across from another language. Idiosynkrasia. It's a compound word. Idios is the Greek word for "to own."

When you have somebody you call an idiot, you're saying, "You must think you're the only person in the world. You must think that only your feelings, your desires, your passions, and your thoughts matter, because nobody thinks the way that you're acting, the way you're behaving, the way that you're thinking is right except you. You must believe that, or you wouldn't act that way. You are an idiot." That's literally what the word means. You're so consumed with self, you'll do something. You don't care what it does to other people.

In the Greek, syn means with, and krasis is the word which means mixture or temperature. So idiosyncrasy is somebody who is, own their own, coming up with a concoction that becomes their life. Now watch this. Do you know some people with some serious concoctions that you're like, "That's an interesting idiosyncrasy." What we're really saying, "That is a very annoying character habit. That is a very annoying personality trait. That is a problem."

God says, "Don't just call it an idiosyncrasy and move on. Love them. Say to them, "I care so much about… I want to be near you, and because I want to be near you, I have to lovingly let you know these are things that drive others away from you. I'm not telling you that you have five minutes, five weeks, five months to get rid of it. I'm telling you I'm going to love you just the way you are. But I will not pretend that this is not consistently coming out of you in a way that's driving people away from you. I love you. I am committed to being here, but I am not committing to pretend that everything is okay in the way that you're relating to me when it's not."

Women, listen to me on this. There has been such a perversion on the role of the wife, especially within Christendom. This idea of a sweet, submissive wife, and if you love God, you'll just shut up and endure and just pray for your husband, and, "I guess this is the way it is. I'm a submissive wife."

The word that God calls you to in Scripture is to be a completer. You are not being a submissive wife when you don't submit to being a completer for that man, which means when that guy is behaving in a way that is inconsistent with his professed desire to cherish and honor you, you are not to wait until you are so filled with vile and bitterness and hate to shoot out at him in anger.

You're not to wait until you can't stand the thought of him touching you, much less being sexually intimate with you that you pull away. You're not to wait until you're ready to lock the doors and drive them away. The Scripture says you're to be diligent to preserve that oneness.

One of the reasons there is a shadow of Christ in me is because I married a girl who understood her role in my life. The most intimate community I have is with my wife, and she is committed to oneness with me. When there are times that I am not cherishing her and honoring her and leading her the way he wants, she'll come to me and tell me, "Todd, can I tell you who I think you are. You're a man who loves God and wants to honor God.

In this moment, you're missing it. This is how I feel. I'm not telling you so I can start to document this thing for an eternity to argue that I get the kids, and you don't. I'm telling you this because I want to be near you, and this hurts us. I am submissive to your desire to be the man that God wants you to be. I want to help you."

I've told her, "Sweetie, if you come to me that way, and I talk you down, if I A

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you into a hole, so that you'll know the problem is just your logic and not my reality, then you have permission to widen the circle in community." These are the folks who will help me be the man that I want to be. It's what drives me through the issues in my life that I want to become comfortable with, the idiosyncrasies of self, idiosyncrasies of frustration and anger and control that make it difficult to be my friend.

My wife loves me. My community loves me. They say, "Todd, we're here, and we love you just the way we are. But we love you so much, we're not going to let you stay that way. You're not on the clock. You just didn't care, and I'm for you." Here's the thing I'll tell you about community. When there's community, security and hope grows.

Why? Because people around you know they're not stuck with where you're at. They go, "Hey, this is good news. There are people who are for my dad, for my husband, to help him be more of the man that he wants to be." Even though it's not perfect today, we know that the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God are going to move him forward, or we're going to all agree and declare together this man, no matter what he says, doesn't want to be that man. This woman, no matter what she says, doesn't want to be that woman.

Do we still love them? Yes, but we love them and call them to repentance, and we don't let them somehow be deluded into thinking they're loving God when, in fact, their practices are inconsistent with him. Here's the deal. Community gives you the chance to break through your limited perspective.

Here's a funny little deal. The Far Side, one of my favorite cartoons. Gary Larson sometimes has these little simple pictures that communicate to us truths that we all know are there. Here's one about a guy who goes in to see a doctor. He says, "Doc, I think I have some kidney stones. I have this pain behind me that's causing me a problem." The doctor looks around and says, "Maybe it isn't kidney stones after all." He's saying, "Maybe it's this rhinoceros stuck up your rump. Maybe that's the problem."

Here's the thing. You go, "That's kind of funny," but how many folks watch people who say they're a part of a loving community of Christ followers who are for each other, who are going to spur each other on to love and good deeds, who are part of community where iron will sharpen iron, part of a community where they're going to encourage each other day after day lest any of you become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and idiosyncrasies, yet we don't talk about the rhinoceros attached to a guy's life because maybe I don't want that guy to not like me.

Or it's going to be awkward. Maybe he's going to misunderstand it. Maybe he's going to talk about rhinoceroses in my life, and I love my rhinoceroses. So we walk around as a bunch of awkward people. The world goes, "You say you have friends? They must love rhinoceroses because I can see this thing the first day I meet you. You say you're part of a caring community? No one has ever talked to you about this?

No one has ever asked you as a woman if you dress that way because of some insecurity? No one has ever asked you if you talk over people all the time because of this issue? Do you think maybe one of the reasons you're always cutting people off with some anger issues in my life? I love you. I'm not trying to get rid of you. I'm trying to make it possible for us to be close to one another."

That's biblical community. Community, when you're in it, minimizes the chance for emotional decisions. Why? Because other people can come around you. I've used this illustration before, and it's a powerful one. Here's the deal. We all have these little things into our life, these little habits, these little sins, these little patterns of coping and these behaviors. When we adopt them, they're just small cute little cubs.

As a kid, I always wanted a lion cub. I always wanted a tiger cub. Some people ask for horses for Christmas or motorcycles. I said, "Give me an exotic animal. Give me a tiger cub. That's what I want." My parents go, "That's probably not a good idea. It might be a great Christmas morning, but here's the problem with tiger cubs. They grow up to be tigers, and they eat people."

Here's the deal. If I got that tiger cub, and I named it, and I loved him, and we played together and was on a little chain, and I took him out, and girls liked me because I had a tiger cub, I'm going to grow to love that tiger cub. At some point, very early in that tiger's life, something is going to change, and it's no longer me taking care of that tiger. It's that tiger deciding, "I don't think I will eat you today," but I can't kill it. I don't care that it's gotten bigger. I don't care that I can't control it anymore. It's my tiger. I've named it. I love Stripes. He's mine.

The truth is, he owns me. One day, if I don't have somebody walk up to me and say, "Todd, I know you've raised this little habit of yours. I know you've raised this little practice of yours since it was a cub, but you have to know something. You're not controlling it anymore. It controls you. If you can't put a bullet through its head, I will put a bullet through its head.

So I love you enough to say, 'You have to lose that. I know it's where you went when your dad abused you. I know it's where you went when you were neglected as a child. I know it's where you went when you made that choice, but that thing is controlling you, and it's killing you.'" Most of us, it's eating us a moment at a time, and it scares people who are around us. Having a community says, "I'm not attached to that like you are. Let me help you put that thing to death. Let's name it, and let's kill it."

When you're in community, it makes encouragement possible. This is what Jesus wants for us in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Watch. Who wouldn't want this? "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly…" When my life gets out of control, I want somebody to say, "Let me help you be more of the man God wants you to be."

Encourage the faint-hearted. "I know you're getting ready to bail out. I know you're weary of doing good, but don't grow weary. There is a God. There will be a day. I know you want to feather your bed some more but don't. Invest it in heaven where moth and thief and rust don't destroy. Help the weak. I know you're tired. I know you're beat up. I know you're alone. Put your arm around me. Walk with me for a while. Let me be your friend."

Be patient with everyone. If I told you I would give you a friend who would help you be more of the man/woman God wanted you to be, who would encourage you when you want to quit and would help you when you have no more strength, who's in for that? That's what Jesus calls us to. Can I tell you some amazing stuff?

Our body last year sat down together like we always do in January (we'll do it again this year), where we self-evaluate how are we doing with Christ. "How am I doing with Jesus in the way I am committed to his Word, his purposes, and his people? How am I doing in the way that I flesh out life and understand his truths? How am I doing in the way that I use my gifts, my talents, my time, and my resources? How am I doing in connecting and giving my life away to others? How am I doing in yielding myself to Christ and, in a creative way, making myself available to him?"

Those are questions we ask ourselves every year. Last year, people who were a part of our body, who have listened to us talk about this before and who have taken the step to boldly seek being authentically involved in the lives of others… Listen to the difference in the way they experience life from everybody else in the same church.

People who were in authentic relationships, loving each other in a 1 Thessalonians 5:14 kind of way, were 30 percent more likely to be in the Bible every day listening to God because friends were encouraging them. "What did you read in the Journey this week? What did you learn today that God showed you that's fresh and new?" Watch these other things.

They were 78 percent more likely to face struggles and pains in a biblical way. They were 95 more likely to honor their spouse. In other words, 2 to 1, they were individuals whose spouses would say, "This is a blessing to me. This ruler rules me with love. This subject follows me with respect." They were 40 percent more likely to say, "I'm doing a good job with my kids in raising them to be God-fearers and make good choices."

They were 156 percent more likely to share the gospel with friends who didn't know God because they were experiencing the grace and the means and the life that God wanted for them through something more than isolation. They had friends who were loving them the way we've always longed to be loved. They said, "You have to get in this race with me." They were 100 percent more likely to steward the resources in a God-honoring fashion. That's unbelievable. That's your feedback when you embrace this gift. Who wouldn't want some of that?

I want to warn you. Be aware. Community does not absolve you from your own personal responsibility. We must each give our own personal account before God on that day. But I will tell you what's going to happen. I really believe that when I stand before the Lord, if by the grace of God I walk with him, I'm going to hear, "Todd, well done good and faithful servant. Just excuse me for a second. You guys? You guys were friends of Wagner who shared life with him. I know some of you guys in much, much more intimate circles than others.

But you guys knew Todd personally and were around him? Way to go. I remember the way you prayed for him. I remember you admonished him. I remember the times he wanted to quit, and you encouraged him to persevere, the times he was really weak, and you helped him. I remember the times you loved him. You reminded him of my Word.

I remember the times that you said, 'There's a rhinoceros starting to grow. Todd, there's a tiger cub that's growing that starting to eat away at your life and scaring people. I'll help you kill it, and I'll love you until it's dead.' Way to go, because this man would not have been the man who he became to serve me unless you loved him the way that he did. Thank you, faithful friends. Todd, back to you. Receive your joy in full because you've been a faithful man."

I believe that's going to happen. I have friends who have resources that God hasn't entrusted to me. They said, "Come here. These are not just my resources. These are God's resources. You're sharing life with me. What would you do? What do you think I should do with these resources?" They, like you, would say, "I'm 100 percent more likely to resources the kingdom of God and eternal things and things that matter. I'm 100 percent more likely to steward my life and my talents and my treasures wisely because I have friends who are helping me push through my desire to keep feathering my bed and add to my list of possessions."

You know what? There might be some of us in this community who have said, "I like this community because nobody talks about that. Everybody has two or three houses, everybody has this kind of car, everybody dresses this way, everybody doesn't help the poor and the oppressed and the needy that way here." We're in trouble if we're the kind of community that reinforces things that God says, "I want you to consider."

I really believe my friends are going to stand before the Lord, and he's going to say, "I have been so looking forward to this day because you've been so faithful with what I've given you. Let me just tell you. Way to go. This guy was on his way. He was listening to my Word, but you really came around him and his wife, and you spurred them on.

Because of that, people were blessed, my name was honored. People I cared for until the day I make all this junk go away were provided for in a way that made my grace a little bit more available to them. This guy has riches that will never fade now. Way to go. Back to him." How great is that? This is a gift that you have to embrace.

But community is not foolproof. This is what it says in Proverbs 13:20. "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." That means if you're community is a bunch of folks who go, "No, it's all about you. You earned it. You're the man. You spend it the way you want. All right, cut God a little bit just in case he is there, so he doesn't smack you dead, but keep it up." If your community is a community of fools, you'd better leave them, or you're not going to discern the words of knowledge.

I have to tell you this about community. Community requires commitment. This is why so many of us don't like it. There's a guy named John Ortberg wrote a great little paragraph. This is what he says. "We tend to devote massive amounts of time to making money, running errands, and succeeding at our jobs, but we neglect giving our most valuable possession—time—to the experience for which we were created: community…

We try to create first-century community on a twenty-first century timetable—and it doesn't work. Maybe the biggest single barrier to deep connectedness for most of us is simply the pace of our lives. How often do you hear (or say) things like, 'We've got to get together soon' or 'Let's do lunch in a few weeks when things settle down?' The requirement for true intimacy is chunks of unhurried time.

If you think you can fit deep community into the cracks of an overloaded schedule—think again. Wise people do not try to microwave friendship, parenting, or marriage. You can't do community in a hurry: You can't listen in a hurry. You can't mourn in a hurry with those who mourn or rejoice in a hurry with those who rejoice. Many people lack great friends for the simple reason that they have never made pursuing community a high priority."

Wow. We're calling you to it. We're telling you to ratchet up where it stands in your life for a multitude of reasons. When you're in community, it requires grace because you're going to be around some people who aren't perfect yet, and you get to model the love of God. God gets on them, and you go, "Who are you people that you love that way?"

I want to warn you. Community requires grace. Community, I'm going to warn you, requires boldness. It takes real courage and real selfless love to say to somebody, "I love you enough to tell you there's a rhinoceros there. That pet you think is cute is not cute, that you think you're feeding, you're not feeding. It's eating you."

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." It takes some real courage to do community the way God wants you to do community. I just want to say this. For those of you who are concerned that we're getting you into some cultic forum where you won't do anything unless your community says it's okay, no.

You ought to be guided by God's Word and God's Spirit. Community is a supplement and a means of grace that reinforces God's Word; that tells you're deluded into thinking you're applying God's Word to your life. See if the Spirit confirms this or tells you to run away from me, but I'm going to love you enough to say, "I'm going to speak this prophetic Word of encouragement into you," but community doesn't mean you ask permission. It means you seek wisdom.

For most of us, the reason we do not surround ourselves like that is because we are so wise in our own eyes we don't need anybody to help us. The Bible says in Proverbs 26:12, "There is more hope for a fool than for him." The reason most of us don't listen to the community of Christ around us or pursue it is because we are sluggards. "I like my life. It's easy and comfortable, and I don't want anybody to kick me out of the bed of practice that I'm lying in." The Scripture says, "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer." Whoa to you.

Let me close with modeling why this works. There is a friend who I got to know because his son played on one of the teams I coached. After a series of time of me loving him… He wasn't part of my biblical community, but he was a guy who I was in life with. So when I'd bump up against him, I'd love him every way I could. I kept telling him, "There's life over here."

One day he came into my office, and he said, "I want to come, Todd, and talk to you." I said, "Here's the deal. I'm going to do you something better. I'm not going to have you just come to talk to me, but I have a couple of friends I'm going to invite in, and you can talk to all of us." He said, "Well, this very personal stuff."

"These are very personal friends. You trust me, you'll trust them." Then he came, and he poured out that his life was a wreck. Debt was mounting. His kids were making some choices that were devastating his heart, and his wife was cold towards him. He had everything look good on the outside, but he was dying.

So we sat and we talked and we reminded him of what God said. We invited him back into relationship with God. We told him who Jesus was. We said, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness." He sat there, and he said, "Okay. I want to do that. I want to do that," and then he took off. I said, "Here's the deal. This was not about feeling good now because you came to see a group of counselors." So this is the email I shot him later in that afternoon. I call him Joe.

"Joe…

Great meeting with you this morning. I was totally encouraged by your humility and honest self-assessment. Now for the good part...application. Couple of thoughts as I lay this down…

1 . Figuring out what it means to 'Seek God first' is the easy part. Seeking/trusting/yielding/following faithfully is the transforming part.

2 . This is a journey for all of us. None of these things alone is a 'silver bullet,' but together they become His way for us to experience His goodness grace and 'abundant life.' Everyone wants a life free from the burdens of isolation, coldness in relationships, freedom from debt and the concern for many things, etc...but too few of us take the grace available to us in Christ.

(Proverbs 13:4: The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat.) We go our own way and it is the way of 'death' (Proverbs 14:12: There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it is the way of death)...albeit a sometimes very slow seeming happy/successful/got it all together death...but death.

3 . As we all agreed today, going at this alone is not going to get it done. God in His goodness has given us each other. (Proverbs 18:1, 27:5-6, Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:1-2). The folks to contact to help you get started connecting here…" I gave him those addresses. "Veronica is ready to help you and your wife with the membership process. Michael Fleming is ready to help get y'all connected with other couples in your area that are beginning to pursue life together and love one another in the ways we spoke of this morning.

John McGee is ready to hook up with you and your wife as y'all continue to develop a strategy to deepen in your commitment to love and honor one another. Patrick Blocker is ready to hear from you about your desire to throw in with some guys at 'the Summit'. Jen Holt is ready to hear from you about your desire to meet with the 'Money Wise' team.

4 . Chuck, Ben and I will serve as your 'surrogate' community until we can get you some traction with others. That means we will be praying for you and checking in to see how you are doing at having the soul of the diligent not the soul of a sluggard (again Proverbs 13:4).

5 . You were going to email us some of your answers to the questions you were going to go over with your wife...so we can spur you on as you show her you are stepping up in your pursuit of her and leadership in shepherding your children."

I love you just the way you are, but I want you to be the man who has a wife who says, "This man blesses me." I want you to have kids who go, "I want you to follow my daddy." I want you to have a bank statement that you look at, and you don't wilt. Who wouldn't want that? We're calling you to it here. Not because we figured anything out, but because we're calling the body of Christ back to be the body of Christ.

People say to me, "How big is Watermark going to get?" I can't remember if I said this this hour or not already. I don't care. How many people on this earth can love Jesus? Let's keep going. But the bigger we get, the smaller we have to get in little communities of friends who love each other when your ship goes down you're surrounded by an armada of friends who can be right there.

It blesses my heart when I go sometimes to visit people who have been hit by tragedy here who, because of their obedience, have surrounded themselves in a biblical community where people love them and know them. I show up, and they go, "What are you doing here?" I go, "I'm here because I play a role in their life as pastor."

"Well, yeah. You're Todd. We know you teach at Watermark, but you're not their pastor. We're their pastor. We know them. We love them. We're here. We have it covered. If our resources run out, we know we can get ahold of you, anybody else at Watermark who's filled with wise counsel or maybe more resources to help them in this time of need. We have it covered. Go in peace."

Do you know how that blesses and honors Christ? The church is not an institution. The church is the people of God. When you connect yourself deeply with the people of God, you will experience the life you're looking for. Come and get it.

Father, I thank you for these friends. I thank you for the many ways they are pursuing life together for many of them. I thank you because of that that we're causing some other people to go, "I want to be in the race like that. I want other folks to love me. I want other people to stop and to run with me as I limp across the finish line of my day."

I thank you for the way there are many people here who are spurring each other on, who are carrying each other's burdens, who are mourning with those who mourn, weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice. In the midst of this, Father, we know there are others still who are going through faux community or who have none, and so rhinoceroses and tigers are still all around their life. Marriages are growing cold, kids are growing distant, and you're being mocked, and they think the problem is with Jesus.

Father, we thank you that we're not telling people community is the answer. We're telling them that Jesus is the answer. His Word, his Spirit, and the other means of grace that you give us to evaluate how the Word is doing in our life. The people of God who love us, who have received grace and who extend grace others.

Father, I thank you that because of that, the likelihood I will stand before you and hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant," has increased for me. So I thank you that I can stand and remind them of what you have said to them is a means of life. May they seize it, and may you show up in it. In Christ's name, amen.

If you're here, and we can introduce you to Jesus Christ, nothing would please us more. If you know Jesus, or even if you don't and you want to start to get around some people who do, who can love you the way I've talked about today, come and let us help you. You can take that little perforated section and say, "Help me begin to find a group of folks who will extend me grace and love me that way in the name of God so that his way, Word, and will can begin to take root in my life," under, "How can we serve you?" Let us know how we can serve you in that way. You have a great week of worship. We'll see 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.