As we wrap up our series, “How to Be Rich,” Todd teaches us that who you run with is the number one determinant in how you will do in your walk with Jesus. It’s impossible to be truly rich in life and live your life alone.
Rich in Relationships: Avoiding the Poverty of Isolation
How to be Rich: So Rich You Can Add to the Wealth of Your King
How to be Rich: What's Your Story?
How to be Rich
Good morning. How are we all doing? We are in the last week of our series How to Be Rich. Not how to get rich. God is not here to show you how to get rich but how to be rich, how to experience life indeed. We're going to talk about one way to do that, specifically, this week. In fact, without it I can assure you that no matter how temporally rich you are life will not be what God intends for you to experience.
Have you all ever been on a cruise? Anybody here been on a cruise? I have spared myself that experience. I don't know. Maybe some of you all really like it. Most folks go on a cruise and come back with a sunburn, some semi-adventure, and about five more pounds. I'm not looking to do that.
There's a guy I came across in an article last month in the New York Times. His name is Mario Salcedo. They call him "Super Mario" on the Royal Caribbean cruise line. He's kind of an unofficial ambassador. The article in the op-ed the New York Times wrote was called "The Happiest Guy in the World." So Mario is the happiest guy in the world, apparently.
What they did is they followed Mario. Mario for 21 years was the chief financial officer of an international business firm, and he said he traveled all the time, using suitcases all the time. Finally, about two decades ago he said, "I'm done with that," so he packed a bigger suitcase and went on a cruise, which he has been on now for 20.7 years.
That's right. Mario is cruising the world continually. His life is a continual cruise. He actually takes one week off a year where he goes back and checks on some things in his apartment in Miami, but the rest of the time he's out there. Mario is always telling everybody how great his life is. He said, "Everybody needs a goal in life. Everybody needs something to live for."
I watched a little video on Mario's life, which I would encourage you to watch. I tweeted it out. Go to @wordsfromwags on Twitter and watch this little 10-minute video, and you tell me if he's the happiest guy in the world. At one point in that little video he's talking about how happy he is and convincing people that what he's doing…
They say, "Mario, what are you doing right now? Are you going to book another cruise?" He goes, "No. No, I'm not going to book another cruise." They go, "Why not?" He goes, "Well, because I already have them all booked through May of 2019." He said, "The only thing I really have left to live for, I guess, is waiting for another boat."
This is this guy. He's kind of living the dream. He's out there. He's on cruises. He's having a big time, but the guy who went and studied him and spent time with him said he found that Mario lives a far different life from the one portrayed by himself as an unofficial public ambassador for the Royal Caribbean. This is in the New York Times.
"The Mario we followed was not living the fantastical dream life of a 'cruising king,' as I'd seen him described. The Mario we found lives a life full of paradoxes: while he proclaims his independence from others [and the freedom to do whatever he wants, we see him constantly seeking to surround] himself with throngs of anonymous tourists, shaking hands and selling his lifestyle." Here's a picture of Mario at one of his meals on the cruise. Happiest guy alive? You get to make your own choice.
I'm going to make a case today that the God who created you knows how to give you joy in life, and I'm going to tell you it's impossible to be truly rich and live your life alone. This is for a couple of reasons. First, you're made in the image of God, and God has eternally dwelled in the context of community. Community isn't an idea God had. Community is what God always lives in. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live together in community.
Love, mutual submission, companionship, and completion aren't the highest ideals of men. They've eternally existed in the very nature of who God is, and you're made in his image. You are not made to live alone. When you live alone, when you don't bond with others, you're going to find yourself trying to bond with anything, and when you bond to that which is not life giving it's not going to lead to life; it's going to lead to death.
Ultimately, God is the one we need to bond with, and the reason we need to bond with God is because when we bond with God he heals our ability to relate to one another. Any relationship is only as healthy as the least healthy person in it, and when you're in relationship with somebody who hasn't had their own heart healed it's going to not just be hard for you to be in relationship with them; everything about that life is going to sabotage that relationship at some level.
It's why community that believers share with one another is one of the greatest testimonies about who God is. Not that we don't make mistakes and make decisions sometimes that are hard-hearted and, therefore, make relationships hard but because when we do we come to our senses, we reconcile with one another, we seek forgiveness, we extend forgiveness, and live in the context of grace, constantly sharpening one another and spurring each other on to love and good deeds.
It's the highest ideal of men. The dream of the United Nations is that one day… This is Isaiah, chapter 2. It is inscribed in marble on the walls of the United Nations that one day we'll get along. One day we'll beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. All we'll have to do is experience the bountiful harvest of life together when we figure out how to make peace.
Well, peace is never going to be made until the whole world understands that the peace humans need can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Community is what we were created to live in. It's part of being an image bearer. Community is what we are commanded to pursue. Community is what God provides for our good to pry our fingers off of things that look life‑giving but won't be, that will sharpen us, and community is how God is glorified in our midst.
When the world sees us get along in our different nationalities, our different life experiences, our different economies and sees us live out of concern for one another, modeling our King who did nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind considered others as more important than himself, the world goes, "Who are you people? How do your marriages work? How do your relationships work? I want to know the source of that kind of human community." The source is the God who created us.
When sin entered into the world, the very first casualty of sin was relationships. That was the first thing to go after community. Adam and Eve, after sin entered into the world where we left God and were left to ourselves, didn't recognize each other as they had before. He still knew that was Eve, but he did not regard her or recognize her now as a helpmate. They saw each other as some kind of threat, and they hid from one another.
Solidarity and oneness were gone, and they began accusing each other and became hostile toward one another. Instead of being different but equal, the relationship changed from mutual submission and love with roles to ruler and subject or to abuser/oppressor versus manipulative challenger. God says, "I can restore that," and the whole message of the Scripture is God trying to restore what has been lost as a result of sin.
You see, when we don't bond with God, when we don't reconcile with God, we cannot bond with or reconcile with one another, and our lives, no matter how much we have, don't become very rich. Did you ever see the movie All the Money in the World? There's a picture of a guy who had all the money in the world and yet lived an isolated, alone life.
Here's a picture of J. Paul Getty from the movie. All his art, all his wealth, and his dog, man's best friend. No. Dogs are a fine substitute, if you will, and supplement to the life God wants you to have, but they are not life indeed. You cannot be truly rich if you live your life alone. There was a study I came across this week that reminded me of what happens when we live alone.
In fact, in the 80s there was an ad that was on TV. I'm going to let you watch it. I'm going to tell you the origin of this ad. It came from experiments they used to run with rats, where they would put a rat in a cage and put two bottles of water, one that was laced with cocaine or heroin and one that was just a regular bottle of water. That rat living alone… Well, this is what would happen to it. Check it out.
Male: Only one drug is so addictive nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it and use it and use it until dead. It's called cocaine, and it can do the same thing to you.
[End of video]
Apparently that was before PETA influenced our advertising strategy. That rat gave its life for you that you might know giving yourself over to an addictive behavior that is not life giving is not life indeed. Now what's interesting about that particular commercial… Again, they just showed the addictive qualities of these drugs, that they form obviously strong chemical hooks that make you want to go back to them. The fact is if most of us were put on those drugs for a long period of time our bodies would have to go through some form of detox.
Let me tell you an interesting fact. There's a guy named Bruce Alexander who is a professor of psychology in Vancouver. He went back and looked at those experiments they ran on those rats, and he said, "But do you know what's interesting? They always put the rats in the cage alone. I wonder if there's not something else that's making them go back to this drug than just the drug itself." So what he decided to do was create a perfect rat park.
He put a lot of colorful balls and little rat trails and other happy rats in the cage with them and put one bottle of water that was still laced with cocaine and another bottle of water over here that was just a regular bottle of water. Now you can imagine that all of the rats in this rat park still tried both bottles of water, but what they found out was that while all of the rats tasted both bottles of water it was the rats that were isolated and did not commune with the other rats that kept going back and hitting the cocaine-laced bottle.
The other rats stayed away from that particular polluted bottle of water and just enjoyed the rat world. What he said was what's happening here is that addiction is adaptation. It's your cage you put yourself in when you don't like the cage you're living in, when you isolate yourself from others. Let me just tell you this. Pornography that most guys are involved in (and girls as well)…
Pornography is not your problem; pornography is your medicine. It's what you're hitting in order to find some comfort or some escape or some moment you get to where you live in a world that helps you not deal with the pain that's really in your world, that keeps you from forming natural, healthy relationships. It's true of all addiction, really.
There's actually an experiment that was run not on rats but on humans. It has been well documented that 20 percent of our soldiers who were in Vietnam became addicted to heroin while they were over there, but what they found out was pretty amazing. They said when these guys got back, 95 percent of those folks who were addicted to heroin who assimilated into a better rat cage or, if you will, a community of folks who supported and loved them almost immediately stopped the heroin use.
Others came back who weren't involved with heroin over there, and because they came back to a community that wasn't there to love and support them, they, at an increasingly alarming rate, used the heroin. Think Lieutenant Dan, for you Forrest Gumpers out there. Somebody reminded me of him. What happened to Lieutenant Dan? He became strung out on opiates and heroin until community came back in his life, and then he got titanium legs and got married again.
There's a picture there that his addiction was his cage because he wasn't experiencing what God said he should experience. The truth is none of us are going to experience anything without God. Our relationships will not work the way God wants them to work without him being in the center of them. That's why he calls us back into relationship with him, and when we get back in relationship with him he calls us into relationship with one another.
Now look. You still have to spend time alone. Wise men seek solitude. It's a fact. Fools, though, seek isolation. The very first thing you need to do to be successful in human relationships is devote yourself to the one you've been restored in relationship with through the kindness of Jesus Christ and the grace God has offered you that way.
When you're called back into relationship with God by grace through faith and devote yourself to learn of his ways and ask him to sanctify you and you spend time in his Word and in relationship with his Spirit and then alongside other believers who will spur you on and encourage you and admonish you and help you, relationships begin to work in the way God intended. Let me give you seven reasons people end up bonding to other things or seven reasons that exist that keep people from biblical community or why people aren't in it.
1._ They're willingly or unwittingly ignorant of Scriptures_. They don't know that God has called us to this means of grace that is community. I'm going to tell you guys there is nothing in my life that God has given me, apart from his Word, that has been as meaningful in the grace I have received from God as other believers who are filled with the Spirit.
What's this? This is the Word of God that was God-breathed. The Spirit of God gave us his Word. What is the church? By the "church" I mean what are people who have been reconciled by the story of grace back into relationship with God? They are temples of the Holy Spirit. They're a place that now the Spirit of God dwells and should be sovereignly reigning in, and when those people are controlled by the Spirit and walk in the Spirit, God can use them in my life.
Community is never sovereign over me, but it is a means through which I can be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. God uses his Spirit in other people to help me see things I couldn't otherwise see and do things I wouldn't otherwise do so I might experience what he wants me to experience. "This book of the law should not depart from your mouth," the Scripture says, "so that you might be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will find success."
"You should not forsake your own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but you should encourage each other, and that all the more as the day of judgment draws near." You should encourage each other. Don't forsake the encouragement day by day that God wants you to have, the Scripture says. Why? So that you might not be deceived by sin so you might experience life indeed.
There are people who maybe are unwittingly ignorant of what Scripture says, but so many of us have heard the admonition of Scripture that tells us God's provision for us is to get together. The reason we gather and the reason we sing is we're reminding each other of the greatness of our God, what he has done for us, his love for us, his care for us. We want to push ourselves toward him. This isn't a lecture for you to get notes and more information. It's not a motivational speech for you to go out here and will to do better.
Hopefully what happens on Sunday is you go, "I need to know my God more who cares for me and wants it to go well with me, and I'm going to pursue the means of grace he offers me. I'm going to devote myself daily to God's Word, and I'm going to pursue others relationally who can admonish me faithfully as I live authentically with them, as they counsel me biblically so we can engage missionally and experience life indeed."
Those are the core values of community. We're not going to make the mistake today of not having heard of God's call for community. It's there. One of the reasons people don't experience it or go for it is they willfully disobey Scripture or they've never really understood how God wants to use his people as a means of grace.
2._ In our arrogance, we think we can discern our own hearts and sort through our own issues without bias or rationalization_. Proverbs 16:2 says, "All the ways of a man are [right] in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives." We think we can discern our own hearts and sort out our own issues without bias, and the Scripture warns us against that. The heart is desperately sick, Jeremiah says, and deceitful above all else.
Watch this. This is a really interesting little section of Scripture. In Deuteronomy, chapter 17, when the king was named over Israel… All of us are kings in our own way, but your sin never just affects you. That's certainly true when you're a national leader, but you are a leader of your family. You're a leader of your community. You're a leader of your own life, so there's application for us here.
In Deuteronomy 17, this is what was said that the king should do. The king should have his own copy of God's Word. He's to make note of it and to read it daily, but it says, "I want to warn a king that he doesn't do this." In verse 16, "Make sure the king doesn't multiply horses for himself." The next line right after that says, "Or return to Egypt to multiply horses."
The reason it says that is because Israel would often go and make alliances with other nations that would have a powerful army, because the tanks and the nuclear warheads of the day were horses that would pull chariots. What God is saying is, "I don't want the king to ultimately put his hope or trust in anything but me. Israel's security, your security has to be in me and not in your own ability to fight, no matter how vile you become."
God is saying, "Make sure you don't put your trust in other nations' ability to cover for you or your own ability to fight off your enemies." No. "When a man's ways are pleasing to the Lord, even his enemies are at peace with him." That's the principle God said he was going to uniquely and sovereignly ensure for Israel.
There's nothing wrong with nations today having armies at all, but with the king of Israel he said, "Listen. I'm going to be your strong tower. I'm going to be your protector. Don't amass a great army and think you don't need me. Secondly, king, make sure you don't take your power and your position to engage in the lusts of your flesh. Don't multiply wives for yourself. Thirdly, don't multiply and increase silver and gold for yourself," which is what we have a tendency to do. There's nothing wrong with making money, but if you make money, put it to good work.
Most people in power use power to maintain power. Great men use power to serve others. What he's saying is, "If you become wealthy, don't increase your own wealth. Make sure you don't pursue that, because it's not going to be your comfort." What God was going to say, basically, to the kings then was, "You need help. You need to know I'm going to be your security. Don't put your security and trust in anything else. I'm your life. Don't try and find life in wealth. Don't try and life in pursuing pleasure and the lusts of your flesh. Trust in me."
By the way, can't we all relate to that? Aren't we all a little tempted to pursue power and pleasure and position and possessions as sources of life? God wants you to be rich. Watch what he says in verse 18. "It shall come about that when he sits on the throne the king shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll." The king should have a personal copy of the Scripture. Every single one of us has access to that today: a personal copy of not just that Scripture but the continuing story of God's grace in our lives.
The king should write it down. But what does it say right after that? He should write it down in the presence of the priests. Why? Because all of us at times have a tendency to go, "I don't think I'm going to write down that exhortation. I don't think I want to do that one." Or if we're not so bold as to rip those pages out of our Bibles, we are so often prone to say, "I just don't think I'll apply that to me right now in this way."
What God wants for you, what he has always wanted for kings is a kingdom of priests (Does that sound familiar?) that will help you rightly apply this Word to your life. One of the reasons people don't have community is they don't think they need it. They don't know how desperately sick their heart is and how prone we are to wander from the words of life.
3._ They want to live with as little accountability or conviction as possible_. That's just a fact. Proverbs 18:1 says people separate themselves so they can seek their own desires. A person who does that quarrels against all sound wisdom. That separation, when you don't live with Levitical priests around you, is going to lead you to rip things out of your life that shouldn't be ripped out of your life, and you're going to introduce things into your life in your isolation that are going to lead to death.
Scripture says it's good to have two men… This is Ecclesiastes 4:9. "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor." Not only that. "For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion." You need accountability. You need friends who can spur you on when you fall.
4._ They're ruled by fear_. They're unable to trust others. You've been hurt before. Can I just offer this to you? You're going to be hurt again. This is earth. There is no such thing as a perfect community, but perfect love casts out fear. We have to trust our God and lean in. Part of how God grows us is he puts us in relationships where we have to put his Word to work and be bold and lean into things that aren't as they should be in one another's lives, and we have to receive that from other people. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
If you're afraid of being sharpened, you're not going to be in community, but if you don't want to be sharpened you're going to be dull, and there are going to be things in your life that never change the way God wants to change them. We've said here for a long time that there are probably going to be people in your life, if you covenant to pursue what's best with them, who are going to hurt you, maybe betray you, maybe speak irresponsibly, maybe use information you shared in vulnerability in a casual way that wasn't informed by wisdom.
You should just count on it, but you should do it anyway. Now, don't walk with fools. Don't stay with scoffers, but you need to know there's no such thing as perfect people. It's worth it, because God calls us to it.
5._ They say it takes too much time and effort to pull everyone together_. And it does. It takes a lot of work. You have to prioritize your life differently when you say, "I'm going to share life with other people." This is what it says in Proverbs 14:4: "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean…" But that's not the purpose of a manger. There is much increase that comes from the strength of an ox.
It's going to get messy. It's going to get hard. You have to make decisions. There are all kinds of excuses you can make about why you don't want community, but community is God's provision for you, and it's worth the mess. It does take effort to keep it clean, but it's worth it.
6._ We think we're the compendium of all human wisdom_. "I don't need community because I think I know enough." Proverbs, chapter 26, talks about fools and how dangerous it is to share a life with a fool, and then it ends all of these warnings about being a fool that there's somebody worse than a fool, and it's somebody who is wise in their own eyes, the Scripture says.
The fool will eventually come to the end of himself, but a person who thinks they know everything on their own will always explain it away. It's somebody else's fault, God's fault, my community's fault, fate's fault, and they'll never look to themselves. None of us are the compendium of all wisdom. This is what God says in 1 Peter 5:5-8:
"You younger men…be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you."
The verse that follows right after that is, "Don't fight alone." Verse 8 says, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." You don't want to go at this alone. You're not the compendium of all wisdom. Humble yourself. Acknowledge that God created you for community and that community is there to help you, and you do it right.
7._ They confuse getting together periodically with what it really means to do biblical community and share life with one another_. I want to invite my friends up here, and I'm going to tell you about what we try and do. These are some guys I've been doing community with. Their wives won't be up here with us for the sake of time, but we're going to talk about our wives' impact on our lives. These are the men who are the means of grace God has given me.
The number-one determinate in your life about how you're going to walk with Christ is who you run with. Let me say it to you this way. Who you run with is the number-one determinate in how you will walk with Christ. Proverbs 13:20: "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." First Corinthians 15:33: "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'"
You can't just be with wise men once every two weeks. We are herd animals. God calls us… "Hey, you're created for community." If you live alone for 13 days and 22 or 23 hours every two weeks and get together for one or two hours with a community once every two weeks you're not a herd animal.
You're hurting yourself, because you're under the illusion that you're really in biblical community when all you do is get together and catch up and cover surface things for about an hour and a half once every two weeks. Life together takes devotion. Why don't you share with them some of the ways we pursue life together?
Beau Fournet: Sure, I'd be happy to. I'll start by speaking to our members here about what we've all committed to, and that's in our membership covenant, a simple, one-page list of things we all know to be true. One of those is we commit to belong to his body by being part of a Community Group that seeks to know me and help me as I try to love God, love believers, and love nonbelievers. That's what we're talking about here: something we've already committed to.
An important thing, as Todd noted, is rhythms. You need to have a rhythm that is healthy to know and be known. I'll just share what it looks like for our group. On the guys' side, we get together, if there's nothing else scheduled, two times a week. We're really doing two things. One is we're engaging missionally with the privilege of leading and serving this body, and then we're trying to pursue one another relationally. For a lot of really healthy groups that's one meeting. For us it's two because of some of the additional responsibilities.
In there we're trying to make sure we know one another, we're praying for one another, we're confessing. Even this past Friday, somebody wanted to confess that they were exposing themselves in a way where they were increasing the likelihood of temptation and just wanted to confess that and for us to pray for him and pray for one another. It was a great opportunity for us to all go around and ask how we're doing in that area.
Outside of those meetings (our wives meet every week as well), then we get together with our wives every other week, at a minimum, to spend time together.
Todd: As a group, we're together once every two weeks, and then individually we're with our couples… You and Natalie and Alex and I will get together or we'll do something with the Thompsons or the Macfarlans and us will have dinner or, likewise, in different smaller groups. So we get together as a group every two weeks, but we're together for large chunks several times a week. Not everybody can do that. There are certain life stages that that's hard, but there are other things to do if you can't get physically together. Talk about that.
Beau: Absolutely. There are two parts. One is just looking for those impromptu opportunities, just communicating through text and email as much as you can so you're up to speed with one another and know when you need help. We're doing that as much as we can. Then when there are impromptu opportunities to do things, layering those in, such as we're going to try to get together for lunch a couple of times. Our rhythm has been a little challenged with the summer with one off, one person missing here and there.
What I want to make sure I'm not doing is discouraging people where the rhythm may not be at the same pace we have. The analogy I'll use is our pulse or our heart rate. Some people might have an 80 pulse, and some people might have a 50 pulse. Both of those are healthy. I speak to our young families with young kids, where you try to get all of the husbands and wives together, and invariably every week one kid across the 20 kids in the group is sick and one of the parents needs to miss. There I would just encourage you…that's a season.
Some of those seasons are longer for our single moms, where it's very difficult to get together and have someone care for kids to free you up. That could be hard, but the challenge I really want to share is with those where the pulse isn't 50 or 80; the pulse is 1 or 2 because you're not spending time together or you have one person in your group who always finds something more appealing than getting together with the group.
It's the person who hasn't been with your group in a month or two months, and that's a regular pattern. I just want to encourage you to sit down with that person, have the membership covenant we've all committed to, and ask them whether or not they're still committed to what they asked you to hold them accountable to and committed to serve you with. If you need to, widen the circle.
We have leaders on our staff and our lay leaders who work with every Community Group to help deal with these kinds of challenges. It might be that the most loving thing we could do is redefine the relationship with someone in your Community Group from a member of our church to somebody we need to share our hope in Christ with, not as a member of your group or a member of our body.
Todd: Beau, we talk about membership. We talk about being a member of a body, which is what God wants us to be. Because we're members of the same body, it means we have the same head. If we have the same head, we're to be of the same mind, which is why the membership covenant is there. One of the best things you can do… You have to make sure you're in community with people who go, "I want to serve what God says is going to lead to life."
So bring your membership covenant, which everybody in every community has signed, and say, "Guys, look at the things we're supposed to do. How are we doing on those things?" The first one is we're having an individual, abiding relationship with God that we're sharing with each other. You want to make sure the people who are close to you are close to God, because that's going to be the way they love you.
If they're close to God, they're going to be committed to the things we covenant to one another that we want to aspire to. If you have somebody who says, "I don't have time to get together and sharpen and encourage and admonish and help and share with one another," then it's appropriate to raise your hand and say, "I'm not saying you're going to hell, but it's clear you're not pursuing heaven with me."
So widen that circle. In this very large community we call Watermark, there are probably two degrees of separation from any one guy in this chair and anybody who is sitting out there. Every Community Group has over them a mature and godly leader in this body who is connected… Either they are staff or they are connected with a staff person who's connected with us.
There is no resource we will not get to you…physically, spiritually, or otherwise…if it's disconnected from you but a part of this body. It's one or two phone calls away. Widen that circle to that initial group. I know sometimes people look up and go, "Hey, Todd, it's great you're in community with Beau and Kyle and Dean, but that would be easy. Who wouldn't want to share life with them?"
Everybody always thinks everybody else's marriage is better or easier than theirs. "It would be so much easier if I was married to somebody like that. I wouldn't have to work at my marriage." I think sometimes people think that's true of our Community Group. Well, we're here to burst that little bubble and tell you it's not always easy. Dean, why don't you talk about that aspect of our work?
Dean Macfarlan: Yeah, I would love to. Before I start, let me just give you a couple of principles I'm going to think about, and then maybe one quick story. The thing I want you to know is highlighted in a recent thing that has occurred. We've been on vacation for 10 days with my family who are some of my favorite people, just a really great time away, but my heart ached to get home, to be with these men and their wives and what has been created over 20-plus years. I'm going to try and cram 20 years into a minute and a half or two minutes.
The theme is that when you practice everything Todd has just articulated over the last 20 minutes or so and these become part of your rhythm, part of your theme…confessing, repenting, pursuing, building relationships… The principles inside our community core values are pursuing relationally and admonishing faithfully, and those are the things I'm going to talk about for a second. If you do those things, I can promise you one thing: you're going to create conflict.
We're actually pretty good at that. Specifically, the two guys on the end. The refining fire happens most often with the two of us in terms of bumping heads on certain things. I will just highlight a key story. This is probably 12 or 15 years old now. It could be longer. Honestly, my issue was I was just exasperated with him. I was tired. I was frustrated. I wasn't thinking the best of him, and I needed to tell him.
It had just been building up, like it does for all of us. It had kind of spilled out, and it spilled out over an hour-long conversation at Starbucks one afternoon quite some time ago. I just explained to him, "Man, it is really hard to be your friend right now. The things you're doing or in this case not doing are not creating the kind of oneness we say we both want." Right as I'm kind of laying all this out for him, right in the middle…
He interrupted a sentence and said, "Are you breaking up with me?" I said, "Well, that has occurred to me, but no, I'm not doing that. I'm really trying to do what we're instructed to do with all grace and truth." How often? Whenever is necessary. That's what I was attempting to do. He might argue it was a little more truth than grace, but my attempt was to restore the relationship I knew we both wanted. So what was your perspective on that day?
Todd: Well, I felt loved. I go, "Here's a guy who wants to be my friend, and he's going to tell me some things…" Like you said, it wasn't what I was doing; it was some things I wasn't doing. You cared about me enough to go, "Todd, I believe you want to be a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I believe you want to be God's provision in my life. Here are some ways that you're hurting me." I took that conversation and shared it with my wife, and we talked about it with Tawney and with the rest of the guys, and it was a good sharpening for me. I needed it.
So how did I feel? I felt loved that this guy wasn't just going to move on and have excuses for why we couldn't do this anymore, but he said, "I want to do this with you, and to do it right here's an area you can grow in." So I felt cared for. You're going to see a theme here. Kyle, why don't you share a little bit about things we've learned in life together?
Kyle Thompson: One of the things that makes relationship difficult that you all know is the fact that God wired us and made us all different. You see that all through Scripture, but one of the places he highlights the benefit of that is in 1 Corinthians 12, starting at verse 14. Again, it's the picture of the body of Christ, just like our body, how we're all radically different.
We know there's a richness to that, and in the midst of that God exposes and grows and refines us, but because we're so different it can make relationship really hard. Not to pile on to what Dean said, but Todd and I are just very, very different. A number of years ago, I sat down with him and just shared, "Hey, one of the hard things I'm just going to acknowledge is you and I see the world radically differently."
Todd is an extrovert, and I'm an introvert. Todd leads from the front, and I'm most comfortable in the back. If someone has a new idea, Todd's first reaction is, "Why not do that?" and my first reaction is, "Why would we do that?" Todd is a verbal processor, and I'm an internal processor. I want to think through exactly what I feel and want to communicate before I talk, and that's usually 10 or 15 minutes after the topic we were talking about.
Todd speaks up very quickly, and appropriately so, and I'm really slow to speak. Todd is a late night person, and I'm an early morning person. Sometimes I think he goes to bed about the time I'm getting up. As a result, I have to always assume the best about Todd. I know he loves me, and I know he's God's provision for me. It's so easy for me to revert to sin patterns that defined my life for a lot of years, of isolation and withdrawal and negative interpretation.
What I've learned is I have to always assume the best. When I hear Todd say something or do something that kind of makes me bow up, just to be reminded, "Hey, he and I are different." I've learned to ask questions and listen, and I'm so thankful. I look back at how radically God has changed me over the last 20 years and continues to do so through these men and some of the sparks that have flown through our interaction. I cherish the depth of our friendship and just see the richness that has come out of that.
Todd: Again, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." If iron had nerves and vocal cords, when it came up against one another it would scream and there would be chunks of flesh that fell to the ground. That's never pleasant, but it's how you keep from being dull. These men have been that provision in my life and, by God's grace, allowed me to be that in their lives.
The number-one rule to having a successful marriage… Do you know what it is? It's to stay married. I will just tell you the number-one rule of successful community is to stay in community. You assume the best, but you address the worst, and you do it in the way Dean talked about: with a spirit of gentleness, first looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. You're not doing it out of selfishness or exasperation.
Here's the other thing community is to do. It's to help you stay on alert so your life can be as fruitful and useful to the Lord as possible. These guys help me steward my life, my speaking, where I spend my time, where I don't. They help me steward my resources.
Beau, why don't you talk a little bit about how even though we're all resourced a little differently financially we are all culpable for the resources we have, both in terms of our earnings, which is very different for the four of us, as well as just our families of origin. There are guys who have massive amounts of opportunity to steward resources or store it up for themselves. So talk about how we do that with one another.
Beau: Absolutely. Once again, I think this is important for every follower of Christ, which is why it's part of the membership covenant we've all committed to with one another. We've said we're going to be strong in a life of ministry by giving graciously as God has given graciously to us. It's the concept of stewardship.
I look at some of the warnings in Scripture around stewardship that are sobering, three that come to mind. One is "The debtor is the slave to the lender," and I do not want to be a slave. Then we talk about the love of money being the root of all sorts of evil, and I do not want to succumb to all sorts of evil. Then the parable of the rich fool who built the barns and that very day his life was taken from him, and I do not want to build barns.
So my wife Natalie and I need to be transparent with these guys as we work through these issues. I think this is an area where a lot of our Community Groups want their Community Group to tell them they're being good stewards of finances but don't want to be completely transparent with their Community Group. They want to manage information. The analogy I'll use is for those who are married, I think we're committed to doing all we can to have good relational intimacy with our spouse.
If I told these guys, "Hey, I want to make sure my intimacy is with my wife and that my mind is not fleeing to other places, and I want you to hold me accountable on that, but there should be a few things that are off the table. We're not going to talk about lust. You can't ask me about pornography, you can't ask me about masturbation, and you can't talk to my wife. But if we have those limits, I'm willing to answer any questions, and I need you to affirm that I'm doing well."
People are doing that with money. "I'll tell you how much I give, but I'm not going to tell you what my balance sheet looks like or how much money I've earned or where I've given or why I've given."
Todd: Or this aspect of my life. "But I have a financial adviser who counsels me, and he says I'm doing the prudent and wise thing." What would you say to people who go, "Yeah, well, I have somebody who counsels me in that area of my life so I can be a good steward"?
Beau: I think it's always an opportunity to have people jump in with you with your community. I think getting counsel in a lot of areas of life is helpful, but we want to make sure we're fully devoted followers of Christ. I don't know if your financial adviser is committed to our membership covenant, and I don't know if they're committed for you for the things that are important as a fully devoted follower of Christ.
So, for us, we're being completely transparent in this area. These men know the income Natalie and I make and what our balance sheet looks like and how we're thinking about stewarding that, and I'm not just giving them information. I'm inviting them into stewarding and making those decisions with us. We talked last week about some Community Groups have an opportunity to help other Community Groups.
As Natalie and I seek to steward resources, we have eight sets of eyes that are looking for opportunities that we could steward together. As I think about giving to organizations and partnering with organizations, it's very tempting to jump in with a ministry and give money simply because somebody asked and we're conflict avoiders and don't want to say no. Or we gave last year, so we'll give this year, and we don't rethink those things.
These men and their wives are helping us look at ministries and ask, "Are they committed to the gospel? Do they have a healthy theology? Are they raising up the local church? And how could you invest your time and your prayers and not just your money in those ministries?" Then when it comes to saving, really talking about why we are saving. What are we saving for? What's the heart behind that? Are we seeking security? How are we investing money? Are we advancing causes the way we're investing our money that's consistent with the gospel?
I feel like at the end of life, when I look back, if there is something to celebrate I'm going to celebrate that with my friends, and if there's something to grieve I would expect my friends would be grieving with me, because they're co-laborers with us in all we do in life, including our finances.
Todd: When you stand before the Lord and give an account, I don't think it's just going to be you who gives an account for what God has given you, because there is a Levitical priesthood around you that is saying, "Hey, Beau and Natalie, we think the way you've stewarded your resources, both your corpus, the amount you have earned in the past or from a business you've sold or from a family you've inherited, Kyle or Dean, we believe you're living wisely."
I think the Lord is going to hold me as accountable for that as he is you, because you're inviting us in. You need to know we're resourced very differently up here. Listen to this statement all the way through. I don't think you should be in community with people you're resourced differently than. Meaning, every single person you're in community with ought to be resourced with a love for God's Word and a commitment to yield to his Spirit.
In fact, one of the things that happens is in the midst of us being resourced differently we see how God is going to use our provision for one another in ways that will allow us each to be faithful and allow each of us to be able to live in a way that's appropriate. We care for one another that way, and that is true all the way through the body, as we said last week.
You need to make sure you're in community with people who love God's Word and love God's purposes and who want you to stand before him and hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful steward of your life who lived as a servant of the King." Kyle, talk about how this community helps you with that. Again, all of us share the same information Beau just described he does, but let's talk about that.
Kyle: When we started in community with these couples, we'd never done this before. Lucina and I felt like we were very generous. We were trying to be generous, and at the same time, probably even more so, I was very intentional to build sufficient resources for our future. As these couples lovingly asked us questions and better understood what our priorities and game plan was, God really started specifically to convict me that I was more concerned about placing my hope in the uncertainty of riches and protecting us from things that might happen in the future.
God started peeling layers back for me, and I started to realize, "Hey, a lot of these resource we've set aside for the future are resources that are provisions for needs God is bringing across our path now." So Lucina and I started down the track of trying to be faithful with the needs God brought across our path today. As we did that, we got to start to experience the joy but also got to experience just trusting him differently. It was so exhilarating for us we started to look around and just ask, "Hey, what other resources has God given us that we're not stewarding well?"
As our kids graduated and started to move out of the home, we realized, "Hey, we have empty bedrooms that are just gathering dust that we clean once a week, and that is God's provision for people he has put in our lives who need a place to live." So we started having people live with us. There are times where I come home and I'm like, "What are these people doing in my house?" Just a selfishness that wells up in me, but there has been a joy and a richness we've had, and I'm so thankful for the way these guys have loved us and asked us questions.
Beau: I hope you hear in that that all of us have an abundance of something. For some people it might be an abundance of money to steward. For some people it might be an abundance of an empty bedroom in your home.
Todd: Or time.
Beau: Or time. You could have time. We talked about there are groups, like single moms, who would love to get together.
Todd: Widows who need their kids shepherded by a male.
Beau: If you have time, that's a place to steward it. If you have a healthy Community Group and you're hearing this and saying, "Hey, these are the things we're committed to doing in our Community Group," then that's something you could steward. We are always looking for more people to help us shepherd other Community Groups. Send us a note. Tear it off in the Watermark News and just say, "Hey, we have a Community Group that could help other Community Groups in modeling this." We'd love to give you the opportunity to lead with us in that area.
Todd: Just to be clear, when Kyle says he shares his home, what he means is by 9 to 12 months at a time he's inviting people in to disciple, four and five at a time. He and his wife pour into them. It's not just folks who are in for a weekend or have a housing need. It's people that he's saying, "Hey, we're going to invest in you this way," which is how we encouraged him to use his time and that seminary he has at his address to pour into them and share his life with them.
One of the things that happens when folks aren't in community is you get yourself in a crisis that folks, frankly, because they don't know if you've been living wisely don't know how to respond to. There were two people who came up after last week's message. One came up and said, "I just lost my job. Would you pray for me?" which I was glad to do. He said, "I'm a member here. I'm in community. I'm meeting with my guys tonight." He met with them. He told them what was going on. They prayed for him.
The next morning he got up and called the bank. "I can't make my car payment this month because I've just lost my job. Can I defer it?" They said, "No, you can't defer it. We'll come get your car." The Community Group heard what was happening and said, "Look, we know you're living a responsible life. We know you're devoting to the Lord. We know you're being faithful. We're going to take care of your car payment for a month, because we're not going to be enabling an irresponsible life." That was, by the way, the right thing to do.
Then another person came up who said, "I've been around Watermark for four years." Never got connected, never been known, financially at a crisis, can't feed their children. "Would you help me?" We have no idea what you've been doing the last four years. We don't know if we're going to be sustaining an irresponsible lifestyle or not. You say you love Jesus and you've been here and have never pursued his people? I don't think you understand what it means to love Jesus and walk in his kindness.
Now we made provision for those children to eat, but we called them to repentance and said, "Come assimilate. Come be with us." When we say there will never be a homeless person or a hungry person or a person who lacks the basic needs at Watermark, what we mean is those are people who are committed to being here with us, who walk with the Lord and are living lives of wisdom.
We're not just going to throw money at people who say, "I have a need. If you're God's people you'll help me." Helping people means walking with them day by day, not just letting them run their offense and tell you what they need. So let us run with you. The number-one determinate in your walk with Christ is going to be who you run with, and God calls you to run with his people. Dean, would you pray for us?
Dean: Father, thank you so much for the opportunity just to share the hope we have in you, first and foremost. Thank you, Lord, that you work in and through authentic, transparent relationships. The whole goal is that we would be transformed people, that we would develop spiritually all of the character qualities you desire: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Lord, we want you to have your way in us.
Lord, I just pray folks have heard one thing. We want to give them a picture of what it means to have deep relational trust with one another, have relationships in their lives that will help them flourish, spur them on to love and good deeds so, one goal, we might be increasingly conformed to your image. We love you, Christ. Thank you for the reminder that community is a specific gift from you to us. I pray we make use of it. We love you, Lord. We pray this in your name, amen.