Nearly 20 years ago, those who started Watermark often prayed, “God, you are going to do something today to make your name more famous…if you’re willing, Lord, why not with us?” As we continue to pray that same prayer today, Todd walks us through how we—God’s church—are the visible image of the invisible Jesus, and what is normal in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.
Authenticity and Repentance
Focused on Ministry and Service
Speak the Truth in Love
Relentless Pursuit of Oneness
Committed To The Uncommitted
Discipling the Next Generation
Love Is a Verb
Biblical Not Big: A Commitment to Measure Our Success by Our Ability to Be and Make Disciples
Why Not Us? A Confidence That the Lord Wanted to Glorify His Name
The Foundation, Fabric, Mortar and Maintenance Program of Everything
Nearly 20 years ago, those who started Watermark often prayed, “God, You are going to do something today to make Your name more famous…if You’re willing, Lord, why not with us?” As we continue to pray that same prayer today, Todd walks us through how we—God’s church—are the visible image of the invisible Jesus, and what is normal in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.
What it means to have a heart that is fully God’s:
How is everybody doing? It's awesome to be together. My friends in Plano, Frisco, Fort Worth, right here in Dallas, and online, we're glad we are together. We are talking about How He Built This, how God got us to where we are in 2019. We are entering our twentieth year of ministry together. We did not always have over 50 acres of property with over $100 million worth of facilities and over 20,000 people physically present with us every week and tens of thousands more all over the world who gather with us through different media stuff we have available to encourage people.
It has not always been like this. We want you to know how we got here, because we realize that a lot of people are stepping in here for the first time, and we want you to know who we are and what is happening and why we think it's happening, how he (the he is God) is the one who is worthy of all honor and glory and power and praise, how he built this.
I'm reminded of a story of a kid who was sitting there doodling, and his teacher walked up behind him and looked over his shoulder and asked, "What are you doing?" He said, "Well, I'm drawing a picture." She said, "What are you drawing a picture of?" He said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." She goes, "Nobody knows what God looks like," and he goes, "They will in a minute."
Let me tell you what's going on right here. About 25 years ago, a group of friends and I were running around Dallas, and we were having a blast. We were walking with Jesus in our early 20s, late 20s, and even early 30s, and we would gather friends. We would meet waiters and waitresses. We would meet people we competed against in sports and folks we worked with in business, individuals we would collide with in every aspect of life, and we would often invite them to come and hang with us.
It was not at The Porch; it was literally on our porch, on our front porch. We would intentionally bring them in together and just let them be around us. Sometimes we'd go away for a weekend to a lake and intentionally invite people who had no concept of the goodness of God to be with us. As we did that, we heard individuals say to us again and again and again, "We had no idea that people who loved God, Christians, acted like this and had a life like this and friendship like this." It began to allow us to be on mission.
Dallas was where we lived at the time. It was a city filled with a lot of churches, but we didn't find one… Even though we went and were invested in different ways in different ones, there was not one that we felt like we could unreservedly meet anybody, and it didn't matter who they were, literally, whether they were homeless people, whether they were gals working the streets, whether they were at a gym we met, a gal who worked and stripped for a living and danced for a living…
It didn't matter where we were when we met somebody. We didn't feel like there was a place we could invite them to come and see the goodness of God. So after a while, what we started to do was talk about this more and more, and we just said, "You know what? Instead of complaining about what we're underneath, the way America has done church and the way we see church done in Dallas, why don't we undertake what God wants for us? What if we, instead of cursing the darkness, lit a candle? What if we said, 'All right, big boy. Let's see what you want to do. Let's see how you want to gather together in a community of friends in this city.'"
That's really what happened. A group of friends and I just started to dream about what it would look like to commit to deeply doing life together. We were already devoting daily. We said, "We're already pursuing each other relationally. We're already living authentically. We're admonishing each other faithfully. We're counseling each other biblically. Let's just be on mission together. Let's find spiritual leaders. Let's put ourselves as individuals who are subject to them. Let's all clothe ourselves in humility with one another, and let's be on mission together, because that's the church."
So we began to not sketch out a church that we could say, "They will in a minute know what church looks like." We began to look at this book and read the New Testament and to see what it was like to hang with Jesus. We saw that every night, when people who hung out with Jesus got together around a campfire, they were blown away. They were like, "Can you believe what happened today? Did you see that? We're professional fishermen. We live on the Sea of Galilee, and that storm was like one we've never seen, and he stood up and said, 'Hush! Be still.'
Did you see what he did today? When we got to the other side, there was a guy who was a terror to himself and others, living among the dead, breaking chains, a demoniac. Did you see him clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus? Did you see what he did today? That dude who had been blind from birth could see. Did you see what he did today? He spoke truth to those Pharisees who are just wearing us out about how righteous they are and how we can never be righteous enough and silenced them. Did you see what he did today?"
We started to say to ourselves, "We wish we could run with Jesus," and as we read the New Testament, Jesus was saying, "I wish you'd run with me, because I'm not dead. In fact, the things I did, if you guys just believed in me, even greater works than these would you do." So we started to say, "What if we believed in him? What if we were his church?" We were just a bunch of punks. We didn't have very much.
In fact, when we finally started to do this in our mid-30s formally, one of the things we did was we all sat around in a circle and said, "How much do you have? I don't want to know. Don't tell me. Let's just all write down on a slip of paper how much we could right now, if we took everything we had in discretionary money and stuff we had saved and said, 'We're going to invest it in starting a kingdom work…'"
We wrote down that number and threw it in a little pile, and then we said, "Okay, let's write down another number. If God lets us all keep our jobs and do what we're supposed to do over the next 12 months, how much do you think we could continue to give every month so we could invest together and do things for others to create a place where folks could know what the body of Christ looks like?"
So we had a lump sum of money, and then we saw what we all thought we could do if God tarried and kept things going as they were, and we said, "Okay, let's use this for his glory." We just started out together. We said, "Lord, we don't care how much resource we have. We know if we don't abide with you deeply we can't do anything." We read this one verse in 2 Chronicles 16:9, and we believed our God was the same yesterday, today, and forever. That's what the Bible says.
We saw the way God worked through a people in the Old Testament by strongly supporting them, and he told them why he worked through them. This is what it says in 2 Chronicles 16:9. In fact, it was the very first Scripture we ever taught in our first public gathering as a church that we would tell the world about that we just wanted to try to be God's people. It says, "The eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the earth…" We believed his eyes were still doing that. "…in order that he might strongly support those whose hearts are completely his."
So we went, "God, we believe you're going to do something today in this world to make your name great, and if you're willing, why not with us?" We found our answer right there in 2 Chronicles 16:9. He was willing to do something with us if our hearts were completely his. So we just doubled down. We continued to spur each other on and to admonish each other and encourage each other.
We talked about what it would mean if our hearts were completely his, because we knew we still lived in a world that was wracked by sin. We knew our flesh still longed for the things of this world. We knew we weren't glorified yet, even though we were being sanctified because God had justified us. We knew we had work to do to make our hearts completely his, and we got busy seeking him. We just kept reading his Word and seeing what he wanted us to do.
One of the things we did was we read what the church was like when it began. When Jesus was gone, he had a group of people who were plucked out of darkness of legalism and Judaism and dead ritualism and had seen the fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets pointed to. The law was never there to tell people what to do. The law was always there to show people they couldn't be good enough for God.
Then Jesus came, and he said, "I didn't come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. I came to do everything the law requires so that the wages of sin wouldn't be due to me. Then I'm going to pay a sinner's debt. Since I don't have one myself, I'll pay yours. I'll go to the Father, and I'll make peace with the Father. If you'll just acknowledge that you need a Savior, I'll be your Savior. I'll reconnect you with the Father, and then you can walk with the Father the way the Father and I, who are one, are walking together on earth right now."
When Jesus walked on earth, everybody who met him… It says again and again and again in Scripture there was a sense of awe. There was power, and there were signs that God was in their midst. We thought, "How amazing would that be if we could do that?" Lo and behold, in Acts 2:42-47, we saw some Scripture that talked about the very first group of people who got together as God's church, God's called-out ones. That's literarily what the church means: people called out of darkness to be the living light of God.
This is what it says about those people. It says in Acts 2, "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching…" The word apostle means sent forth. These guys were sent forth from Jesus. They had learned from God, and God said, "I'm going to send you my Spirit, and he's going to allow you to remember things you otherwise wouldn't remember and teach you things you otherwise wouldn't know."
Those people were going to record those things, and God was going to uniquely preserve those things so we could literally hear the mind of God. We could hear the story of Jesus. God would preserve what he had done with Israel and now what he had done with these people who trusted in the promise God gave the world through Israel, which is the Messiah who would reconcile themselves to him.
So they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching. "…and to fellowship…" The word fellowship doesn't mean just polite conversation. It's literally the word koinonia, which means to do business together. These people were doing life together. They were saying, "We're going to be one, and we're going to intermingle our souls. We're going to be about what God wants us to be about."
"…to the breaking of bread…" Which is probably a reminder and celebrating what Christ had done for them, but also sharing meals, you'll see in a minute. "…and to prayer." Prayer was not them telling God what they wanted him to do. Prayer, as we said last week, is not us ringing a bell in heaven, saying, "Hey! It's not so easy down here. Won't you do something up there that would make us happy here?" No. Prayer is meditating on the Word of God and the will of God so that the will of heaven can be done on earth.
They were praying continually, "God, remind us why we're here. Remind us that you're going to take us home. Remind us that you're worthy of all glory and honor and praise and that you have made us a kingdom and priests to one day reign with your Son forever, so let us be about it right now." That's what they did. As they did it, it says, "Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe…" Because God was with them, he was strongly supporting them, and there were many signs and wonders taking place through them.
It says that all those who believed held all things in common. That doesn't mean they were communist. It doesn't mean they were even socialists, but what happened is they followed the example of their servant leader, who though he was rich, for their sake became poor, that through his poverty they might become rich. So when they had more than they needed and saw a member of the family of God who had less than they needed… Not less than they wanted; less than they needed…food, shelter, clothing, whatever it took for them to continue to stay on mission.
"…they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." They were one together. "Day by day continuing with one mind…" They were about being on mission. "…and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together…" Because they were friends. They didn't meet up once a week; they were just living life together.
"…with gladness and sincerity of heart…" Not showing up out of some obligation, paying some spiritual tax, but with sincerity of heart, praising God that he was allowing them to do the only thing that mattered. They had meaning. They had purpose. They were forgiven. They were filled with power, and they were his witnesses, and they had favor with all of the people. Even with the ones who didn't like what they were saying, there was a sense of favor that was there. "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved."
That's the first church. I'm like, "Man, give me some of that! Let me be a part of that." We just looked at it and went, "We don't really see that happening." Now I'm sure it was some places, but all of us felt like, "Let's just be that. Let's not complain about what we're underneath that others have done before us; let's undertake what God says he wants his people to be."
Now when you ask folks what church is like today, people will typically say things like this: "Well, I don't know. Church is irrelevant" or "It's boring" or "It's legalistic" or "It's against things," or when they hear the word church they think denomination. Maybe they think a personality, a podcast. Maybe they think of a location or a building. What they don't typically think of is the kinds of things that if you just stumbled up against that group of people you would think about.
In order to illustrate this, when we first started getting together and praying that God would make our will his will and that God would allow us to do what he said we should do… We were giving attention to the Word, and we said to people as we gathered together and shared the vision for what God wanted a group of his Christ followers in this city, which is where we lived, to be about…
We would have them read this text, and then I would say, "Hey, I want you to imagine that I'm a news editor for the Jerusalem Times and I've sent you to this new growing organization of people. I want you to go in there and observe them. I want you to write an article in the 'Living' section about this new group of Christ followers. They're called people of the Way." That's what the church was originally called. It wasn't later until they were in Antioch that they were called Christians, which was a term of…
Frankly, it was a criticism of them, like, "Oh, you little Christs, you little Jesuses." But when you got around these little Jesuses and they ran together, what were they like? I said, "Imagine you're that reporter and you stumble up against Acts 2:42-47. What words would you use to describe them?" I said, "Just write down adjectives, descriptive words of Acts 2 communities." This is what we came up with. I want you to imagine that today someone asks you, "Hey, what have you been up to this weekend?"
"I don't know. I hung out with a bunch of folks. I got some chores done and ran some errands on Saturday, and then we started to slowly unwind. We caught the end of the Chiefs game and we grabbed a meal. Then some buddies and I watched the Cowboys get punched out in the playoffs. It was kind of a bummer. Then Sunday I hung out with a group of my friends to remind myself of the goodness of God and his kindness to me, and we then went and grabbed some lunch."
The person goes, "Whoa, what do you mean you got together with some buddies and they reminded you about…?"
"Well, I went to Watermark."
"It's a church."
"Oh, a church. What's Watermark like? What kind of church do you go to?"
What are you going to say? Are you going to say, "That building on 635 when you drive by," or if you're in Fort Worth, "Off I-30 there at Cherry Lane," or in Frisco, "Right there by the high school, or "Up there by Legacy Road" if you're in Plano? Is that what you're going to say? "Maybe you've heard that we do this thing called Real Truth. Real Quick. I don't know. Maybe you've heard of re:generation."
No, what are you going to say? Do you know what you should say? You should say what the person who stumbled into that church in Acts 2 in Jerusalem said if they worked for the Jerusalem Times. Imagine if you could say this when they go, "What kind of church is the church you go to?"
You go, "Well, they're an alive, awe-inspiring, attractive, authentic, aligned, action-oriented, biblical, blessed, bonded, caring, Christ-exalting, committed community of friends who are compassionate, connected, consistent, creative, dedicated, devoted, diligent, discerning, disciplined, driven, effective, encouraging, energized, engaging, evangelistic, exciting. It's a faithful family. We're friends with one another. We're focused on what God wants.
We're fun, fired up, godly, generous, growing, humble, hungry, hospitable, inspiring, intentional, intimate, intense, joyful, like-minded, loving, magnetic, miraculously motivated and neighborly people who are obedient, ordained, open, others-minded, passionate, powerful, praising, prayerful, proactive, productive, pure, purposeful, real, radical, redeemed, relationally-minded, relevant, respected, sacrificial, saved, selfless, Scripture-loving, servant-hearted, single-minded, sold-out, Spirit-led, sincere, submissive, tenacious, teachable, transformed, trustworthy, thankful, unified, unselfish, unspoiled, unwavering, unstoppable, wholehearted, wonderful, wise, worshipful people. Man, you ought to come with me and check it out."
Imagine if you could say that. People would go, "What? First of all, bro, way too much coffee." Secondly, they would say, "I have no desire to ever go to this thing called church," because what they've seen is a building, a denomination, a bunch of rules, things people are against. They've never seen what Acts 2 was. But what if they did? I think they would say, "Bro, you're crazy. There's not a community of people on earth who are like that, but if there was, I'd come, because even though I don't believe there's a God, everything in my heart resonates toward those adjectives you just described."
We just looked at God's Word and said, "That's what should describe God's community. Let's be about it. Lord, we know you'll be about it if we will just give you our hearts." In fact, honestly, everybody said, "The last thing Dallas needs is another church." We kind of agreed with them, so the first thing we did was we looked at English-speaking places in the world where there were folks who didn't know who God was.
We looked at Australia. We looked at England and New Zealand. We looked at Canada. We looked all around the world to see where the densest population of people who didn't know God who spoke English was, because we didn't feel like we were really good at linguistics, and we didn't want to go learn a language and then be about it. We looked, and lo and behold, on earth the largest number of English-speaking people who did not know Jesus and who thought they did, maybe, and did not walk with him was right here in the United States of America.
We just said, "Okay, Lord. If you're willing to do something great in this country, why not with us?" We began asking that God would make our hearts his and use the resources he had given us so we could get after it. You won't believe what God has done. We're looking now, coming up on 20 years… Let me show you and walk you through a few simple things. In Dallas on our campus we have this little alcove, and in this alcove we have some stories in there.
You're going to see pictures of people. Here's my friend Holly. Holly's picture is out there. When you go and look at these pictures, what you don't know is they're not just pictures; they're made of wood, and you can open them. There's a hinge, and behind each of those hinges is a story. Holly is just one of the many stories around here that bumped into us over the years. Holly was a gal… You can see she's pretty, but that pretty wasn't necessarily a blessing; it became a curse because so much of her identity was wrapped around that.
She began to have a lot of attention from guys and had a hole in her heart that she thought maybe those guys could meet. As she spent more and more time with guys, the relationships got more and more unhealthy until eventually there was a very healthy life inside of her and she wasn't married. She was scared to death and didn't want to lose the perception people had that she had her life together. What kind of person has a child out of wedlock?
So Holly went and terminated the life of that child, but what she didn't realize is when she did that she killed another life that was inside of her that she didn't feel like she could tell anybody about. Holly carried the pain of an abortion with her for years, and then she ran into a group of people who said, "Come and see. Come and hang out with us. We're a bunch of broken people who have found the grace of God, that he loves us. If you've made a decision…"
She happened to be here one week when I was talking about how God obviously is not for us terminating life, but he loves people who have made the mistake of taking life from their womb. She said she had never heard the words love, forgiveness, and abortion in the same sentence. It changed Holly's life. She found out God wasn't mad at her; he wanted to set her free. Then her life was restored and she found healing, and now she leads an abortion recovery ministry with us.
This is a picture of Jose. Jose grew up in New Mexico. Jose grew up in a home where there weren't a lot of things. He got sucked into gangs and became a drug dealer. His life was so broken in New Mexico they had to basically flee New Mexico, if you will, and Jose and his wife moved to Dallas. His wife saw the chaos creeping back into their life here in Dallas, so she ran into some people who said, "Are you new to this town? Why don't you come hang out with my friends? We'd love to get to know you and share life with you."
God doesn't want church to be a place where it's "Come and listen." He doesn't even want this to be a place where you're mentored, where you come and learn from somebody who's wiser than you. This is a place that, like Jesus did, will say, "Follow me. Live with me." It's not, "Learn from me." It's not, "Listen to me." It's, "Live with me. Come on, let's go."
Jose's wife came here, and eventually he came with the whole family. When he was here, he heard about the gospel that he had been around in some dead forms but had never, ever heard us and others talk about Jesus this way. He gave his life to Christ. He jumped into membership, made a profession of faith, got involved in community with people who never sold drugs, were never part of a gang.
He didn't know if he could ever tell them, but he decided to live authentically, and slowly but surely, Jose found out these guys love him not because he looks like he's from Dallas but because, like them, he found grace in Christ. Jose's life was radically transformed, and now he's walking with Jesus, leading ministries with us.
This is my friend Amy Merritt. Amy also was struck with the curse of beauty. One relationship led to another to where she thought her only value was in her appearance. Even though she was a successful student and went on to be a successful nurse, she was also in the sex industry. Amy would sell her body to men. In fact, she was really good at it. She was beautiful and would sometimes get up to $10,000 and more to fly around the world with wealthy men who would say, "You're going to be mine for this weekend, and we're going to do this together."
Then she bumped into another nurse who worked with her who saw something going on in Amy's life and heard enough and just said, "Would you come and know that God loves people who are trapped like you? He's not mad at you. He wants to set you free." Amy came, and she heard about Jesus and began to live with Jesus' people, and her life got radically changed. Amy is now on staff with us. She works at the Watermark Urgent Care clinic in Plano. She's married with a wonderful family.
This is my buddy Freddie Jenkins. Friends in Fort Worth know Freddie. Freddie was a pimp. Freddie was a drug dealer. Freddie loved money and didn't care what he did to anybody else to get more of it. Freddie had a gym where he trafficked and where he exploited and where people who love Jesus loved Freddie and said, "Freddie, come and see. Come and live with me."
What's interesting about all this is during a lot of this time, Freddie would go sometimes to churches, and he felt like he was more righteous than other people in things they did, in many ways, but he came around these people who sought righteousness and humility and walked with God and saw the testimonies that were happening there, and he realized he wasn't righteous at all, and it changed Freddie's life. That's Freddie's story. Now Freddie is leading with us in Fort Worth.
This is my friend Carmen Hobbs. Carmen was here in Dallas. She was a woman who had so much pain in her life she numbed it with alcohol, which led to multiple arrests in terms of the way she drove and the way she operated. Eventually, the police showed up at her house one day and arrested her, took her to jail, separated her from her children. While she was in jail, she saw a group of women in jail who were doing better than other women because it was a faith-based cell.
She asked if she could get in it. When she was in there, she met a woman who loved Jesus and walked with Jesus and began to offer to Carmen an opportunity to put her life back together. She said, "Carmen, when you get out, come live with me. Come do life with me." Carmen came and got involved with re:gen at Watermark when she got out from this friend who was ministering to her in jail. Carmen's life was slowly changed to where she felt like she could say to her kids, "I want you to go to church with me."
The kids said, "We're not going to church with you, Mom, because while you were in prison we started going to another church. We don't want to go to that church. We found some people who are loving us too," and they had a little argument. Finally the kids prevailed and they went, and lo and behold, the kids went to the same church on the weekends while she was in jail that she was invited to when she got out and was slowly having her life changed on Monday nights through re:gen and discipleship that was there.
As soon as they got on this campus, in fact, her kids ran away from her because they saw a woman across the Town Center, and they went up and hugged her. Carmen looked closely, and it was the woman who had been coming and visiting her while she was in prison. It was the same woman who had been discipling her children when they would come to our children's ministry. This is what God does. These stories around our campfire are myriad.
This is Hope Harris. Hope watched her mom be murdered when she was 4. She was thrown into the foster care system. She was physically and sexually abused. She hated men. In fact, she became a lesbian. She didn't just become a lesbian. She spoke out angrily as an atheist against God and his church. She was an activist and a leader in the LGBTQ community. Then she met somebody who knew Jesus and loved Jesus and loved Hope, and it radically changed Hope's life.
Hope is a member of our church and a leader in our church who right now helps people who are confused about God and sexual orientation and gender dysphoria. There is a God, and that God has a plan, and his plan is the church, and that church is made up individual Christians who love Holly and love Jose and love Amy and love Freddie and love Carmen and love Hope, and he loves so much more.
There's a myriad of stories out there in that little alcove if you just go open them up and read them, and they're just a small picture of the stories that are out there in general. In fact, we took a bunch of those pictures and put them together in this little mosaic, and literally, we were able to make that mosaic look like this. These are just story after story of what he has been doing in this town with us over the last 20 years. It's what he has been doing because we have tried to live on mission and be his people.
True story. Remember when I told you that my friends and I used to meet people from all different walks of life and hang out with them and invite them? One time a guy I was hanging out with and I met three girls. They were fun. They were cute. We had a good conversation with them. In fact, we just said, "You ought to come hang out with us some." So we invited them to come over to our house. They probably thought we were going to hook up. They didn't know what we were going to do, but we invited them to come over to our house.
I invited them on the night that a bunch of my other friends I'd been running with in life and were faithfully following Jesus and weren't exploiting each other and using each other were coming over. They came a little bit early, so these three girls walk into my house, and one of these girls walks up… This is called Hook's Jesus. It's the Kenny Loggins, Dan Fogelberg, good-looking, Westernized Jesus. That's what this painting is. It wasn't the one with the mosaic of different pictures of life change around here. It was a copy of the original.
This girl walks into my house. She's walking around. We're talking. She walks into my little dining area, and she goes, "Dude, who's that? He's hot." I go, "What?" She goes, "Who is that? Do you know him? He is hot." I go, "It is Jesus." She goes, "Well, Jesus is hot." That's what she said. I go, "You have no idea." So we hung out all night, and a bunch of friends came in. About 80 percent of us knew Jesus and loved each other; 20 percent were different other friends.
At the end of the night, those three girls left, and they said, "Listen, man." She didn't use these words, but in effect, she goes, "Christians are hot. I had no idea you guys loved each other. I had no idea you guys had this much fun. I had no idea that a guy wasn't going to try to get me drunk and get in my pants. I had no idea life could be like this."
We just saw God doing this stuff, and it's why we said, "Let's do it some more. We want our lives to matter for him." These stories are everywhere. This is a picture of my friend Raul. When I was in El Salvador, we were going down there and around, and Raul was selling. He wanted me to know how much God was at work in that country.
He just took me around his little community in one of the most dangerous parts of the world, literally one of the most dangerous parts of El Salvador that the El Salvadorians who were in there were like, "We've got to get out of here. We're not allowed to be in here without permission from the gang." But Raul was in there, and he would tell me story after story about kids who were sexually abused, whose parents were shot, whose brothers were killed, who were in gangs.
This is Israel. Israel is handicapped because of a tragedy that happened to him when he was a kid, so he couldn't make money. He didn't have a mom who could educate him, so he was headed for gang violence and distribution and all kinds of problems. But Raul said this about six different times. He'd tell the story, and then he would stop and go, "But there was a God, and there was a church, and there was a people who loved Raul, who loved Israel," and then he would tell the story of life change.
He would go into another room and tell this tragic story, and he'd say, "But there was a God, and there was a church, and there was a Christian, and there was a sponsor who invested in us and allowed us to do this." We kept hearing that, and I just thought, "Man, Raul, I've been living that story for 19 years, bro." It has made this incredible, beautiful mosaic that brings honor and glory to Jesus, and the world is looking and going, "Man, that's not what I thought would happen."
What has happened traditionally inside seminary settings is that when you read Acts 2:42-47, what you hear people say is, "This is the church, Acts 2:42-47, and the church is the bride of Christ, and if you'll look, these four things are the things the church always does. The church is the wife of God, so the church worships, the church instructs, the church fellowships, and the church evangelizes." Here's the problem. I don't mean to say it that way, pejoratively, because they're absolutely right, but let me just say it to you this way.
Unfortunately, over the years, the church made worship something you do for about an hour a week. Instruction is when you would listen. Fellowship is basically being superficially polite with one another and largely respecting each other's privacy and not mingling in each other's world, getting in each other's business, and not really doing life together but being socially acceptably polite. Evangelism was not something anybody did; it was something they gave to periodically.
We'd put some pictures up on a wall and say, "Oh, these are the people who are doing what we should do as the church who invest in evangelists, and they're a missionary in some third-world country," and the country that church lived in, the wife of God, was making no difference. There was no beautiful mosaic, and the world didn't think it was hot. The church had gone cold. How he built this was a group of us said, "We're going to run hot. We're going to be on mission. We're not going to call people and ask them to validate us with their presence on Sunday."
I don't want you to come to Watermark. I want you to be people who live with me in this city; who worship not for an hour but with our lives ("Have a great week of worship"); who instruct one another and are daily in the Word, reminding each other of what is true; who do business and community together in life, sharpening one another, encouraging one another day after day, as long as it's called "Today."
As a kingdom of priests, as evangelists, we are about meeting Amy and Hope and Holly and Jose and waiters and waitresses who don't know who Jesus is and telling them who he is and what he has done in our lives. This is a mission. If you are here and are not on mission, you are a mission field. One of the verses that marked us from the very beginning was John 14:12. I've already quoted it to you, but this is what it says.
This is Jesus talking. He's at the very end of his life. He has described everything he's going to do for his people, and then he says, "Listen to me. Truly, truly, listen to me. This is big. I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also. Strike that. Greater works than these will he do, because I'm going to go to the Father, make provision for your sin, and allow you, as a sinner, to be reconciled to God. He's going to restore the glory. You're going to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and just like I did things that led people to understand the goodness and kindness of God, you're going to do even greater things than these."
When Jesus said this, there had already been some pretty crazy stuff that had gone down. Already he had turned water into wine. Already he had read the mind, basically, of some chick by a water well. Already he had healed an official's son, just by the spoken word and from a distance. Already he healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Already he had fed over 15,000 people with just five loaves and two fish. Already he walked on water. Already he healed a man who had been born blind from his mother's womb. Already he raised Lazarus from the dead.
I have to tell you, I read John 14:12 just like you the first time and went, "How in the world are we going to do that?" Can I just let you know something? I've been doing this now for a couple of decades, and I've never seen anybody raised from the physical dead. I've never seen a man born blind able to see. Can God do that? Certainly, but that has not been what's happening, so I wonder if Jesus doesn't mean something else by John 14:12. Lo and behold, he does, and we've seen it here.
I'm going to say something that's a bit shocking. I'm going to tell you (this is true) that more miracles have been done at Watermark, just here with my community of friends who are radically following Jesus, in the last six months than all of the miracles in the Gospels combined. It's a miracle that God is allowing us to sit around our campfire every night and go, "Did you hear the story about Amy and Jose?"
They're just placeholders. I didn't tell you the story about Jason. I met Jason three weeks ago when I was up in Frisco. When I wasn't teaching here, I went up to Frisco to be with Connor as he taught and be with that part of the body. I was loading and unloading the stuff, like we do when we start gathering together, and I'm next to my buddy Jason. Jason and I started talking. I go, "Jason, what's your story?"
He goes, "Bro, I'll tell you my story. In 2016, Christmas, the girl I'd been living with for six years and fathered a son with who was never my wife and I broke up because we were not living in a healthy relationship and weren't acting faithfully to one another. I was devastated. I called a buddy who I remembered worked at a church in Florida. He told me I need to go to a Christian counselor. I went to a Christian counselor one time and thought, 'This ain't going to do it.'
I called him back and said, 'That ain't going to do it.' He said, 'Well, you know what? I heard there was a church in Dallas called Watermark. Go there.'" God allowed your faithful reputation that there were signs and wonders happening in your midst to have some guy in Florida hear about it and have Jason literally walk up and ask, "Hey, do you guys recommend Christian counselors?" We said, "No, but we do want to share life with you. Come on."
Wes Butler, who made the announcements in Dallas today, invited Jason… Right then he came downstairs and said, "Jason, let's go sit." They had a cup of coffee. Jason told me Wes asked him one or two questions, and about an hour and a half later, when Jason told his story about anxiety and depression and abuse, Wes started to talk to him about what it meant to walk with Jesus and shared his story. A little bit later, Wes said, "Come with me on Monday night to re:gen, and then come with me Sunday morning to Watermark," and he did.
He finished re:gen. He jumped into Watermark. He made a profession of faith. He got involved with a Community Group of guys. He wanted to begin to learn more, so he applied for our Residency program. We said, "Jason, we love you, bro. You're just not ready to be able to serve in that particular way, but I'll tell you what you can do. We can equip you some more. Come and do life with us." He went through Equipped Disciple 1, 2, and 3.
He began to go to an Unashamed weekend where he could learn to share his faith, and he dove into our community. He got associated with Brother Bill's, one of our partners. He took his son Becker and said, "Becker, here's what I'm learning at DadU. Here's what I'm learning at the single parent ministry here." He asked Becker's forgiveness. He went back to the girl he had fathered Becker with and told her why their relationship was so dysfunctional and began to restore a relationship with her.
He was a natural evangelist, because everybody who knew him said, "Bro, what happened to your life?" His whole family is being discipled because they're watching Jason's life radically change. I just got away with my staff for three days this week. I didn't even know Jason was hired on our staff. He was hired because he has been working in our tech art as a volunteer, and we needed some help there. He was just the guy who was there in love with Jesus, faithfully doing the work, and we said, "Jason, will you dive in with us?"
We have stories everywhere, because Jesus is still alive and still doing the things he did when he was alive, just like he said he did. "What do you mean, 'greater works,' Todd?" Let me explain greater works to you one more time. Right before John 14:12 when he said, "Greater works than these will you do," he uses the same word works in 14:11. This is what Jesus says: "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me…"
What he's trying to say is, "I'm God. I'm right here in your midst. Believe me." A lot of people didn't believe him, so he said, "Okay. If you don't believe me, believe the signs." John uses the word signs very specifically in the book of John. It's the word for miracles or power or works of wonder. He uses the word signs because John wants you to know why Jesus did miracles. Interesting. When Jesus did miracles, there was not a single miracle he did that was anything other than delivering people from situational evil.
Jesus never did a miracle to deliver people from moral evil. He went to a cross to deliver people from moral evil. Jesus did things to deliver people from the situations on this earth that are the effects of sin. Sin brought death and corruption into the world. Blindness; death, period; storms, violent storms that threaten and kill people; lameness; deafness are all effects of sin. Not everybody who has those issues has them because they are sinners in the fact that they're worse than somebody else, but all of us are dealing with physical infirmity because sin is in the world.
Jesus every now and then would do things like this. He would say to somebody who came to him who believed in him, "Your sins are forgiven, because you're going to believe in God's Messiah." People go, "You can't forgive sins! No one can forgive sins except God alone." Jesus goes, "Good point. So that you might know that the Son of God is in the Father and the Father is in him and that he has authority to forgive sins, I'm going to do what only God can do. Take up your pallet and walk."
What Jesus would typically do was do signs to show that he was God's man. These signs were significant things that pointed to the wonderful provision of God. Jesus says, "You're going to do wonderful things, even more wonderful things than I did, that are going to point people to God if you just believe in me." That's what we've been doing. That's how he built this. First dozens and then hundreds and then thousands of people worship him, not for an hour a week but with their lives, living in holy sacrifices.
They instruct one another continually. They're in the Word, devoting daily. They do business with one another. We mess with each other. We mingle with each other. We go, "You say you want this, but you're not doing that. We love you enough to tell you. You say you want to honor Christ in your marriage, but we don't see it. We love you enough to tell you. Hey, Jesus is marked by gentleness. We see a lack of that in your life. How can we help you grow in that?"
We do life together, and as God is transforming us, we tell other people the power of the transformation that's doing it. We give glory to Christ, and our lives and our love for one another are a sign, and it points to Jesus. It's changing our city, and it's changing the world. Do you guys want to know something amazing? I could show you a video right now that shows all of the countries we're at work in because we were faithful in our Jerusalem. It went to Judea. It went to Samaria. It's in the uttermost parts of the world. It's amazing.
Can I tell you something else? God has brought the world to us. Dallas is one of the largest settlement cities in the country. Guess what happens when people start to worship God all the time, instructed by his Word, and do life together and share the story of grace all the time. They meet people from all over the world in the city they live in, and they become members.
This is a map and a picture of all of the countries on earth where people who are now members of this local body were born. It's over half the nations on earth, because guys like Jason are meeting Jesus and are worshipfully living in obedience to him and, as a kingdom of priests, God is at work, and it's amazing.
The greater works we're doing right here are everything the church should be doing. Not gathering for a little and getting a little message from somebody who's funny and insightful and then being polite and then supporting missionaries. We are the missionaries. That has been the plan from day one. We are a kingdom of priests. Of our budget, 100 percent is a mission budget. The church is a mission agency.
I want to let you know something. I hope it rattles you to your core. If you are not a part of the "greater works than these," then you are not, at least right now, a currently believing, abiding, commandment-keeping Christian, which means you may not be a Christian. Jesus says that everybody who is his is about the greater works.
Your life ought to be throwing off campfire stories, like, "Can you believe it?" God used you to reach that person through your love, your transformed life, you answering the question that Jason is answering all the time from his friends. As he sanctifies Christ as Lord in his heart, people ask him to give a defense and make an account for the hope that is within him, and then with gentleness and reverence, just like it says in 1 Peter 3:15, he's testifying to the power of God.
If you're not a part of the greater works, friends, and if your life is not currently marked by believing in Jesus, abiding with Jesus, keeping his commandments, there's a good chance that you're just like those people who listened to Jesus when he ran around. People who heard about what Jesus did weren't a part of Christ's followers. Folks who were Christ followers went out, gave glory to God, and were part of the amazing things Jesus did. That's what the church should be doing today.
Can God do some of the more miraculous things? We believe he can do it. We pray that he does it all the time, but it has never been the intention, even from the earliest days, that everybody would do miracles. That's exactly what it says in 1 Corinthians 12. It says, "Not all do miracles, do they?" So whatever is going on in John 14:12 does not mean we're going to walk on water or raise people from the dead. It does mean we're going to do signs.
Our lives are going to be changed. That's a sign. Who changed your life? We're going to love. That's a sign. We're going to forgive one another. We're going to walk in righteousness and not give over and make ourselves a slave to the lusts of this world. We're going to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. That's a sign, and that sign is going to lead to a lot of people going, "You have something I don't have, man. There's a strength and a dignity and a peace and a purpose and a hope and a love in you I don't typically see." And we tell them, "It's God who built it. His name is Jesus, and I walk with him." It's going to change the world.
So what does it mean to have your heart completely his? These are the kinds of conversations we would have with one another. This is just one thing I did. I want to throw this in there because it's just too wonderful. These are just some of the stories when I sat down one time with a group of friends not long ago and said, "Let's talk about the lives that have been changed here. I don't want the names. I want you to describe them to me."
Somebody goes, "Well, I had a guy who's an insomniac. He couldn't sleep because he was so riddled by sin and anxiety." Another guy said, "This guy used to be a bar crawler. His life was changed." He probably was talking about JP. But not, because there are hundreds of them here. Insomniacs, bar crawlers, people who were verbally, emotionally, and sexually abused. The guy who owned the largest nightclub and party planning business for nightclub owners in town came to Jesus.
Drug addicts, sex addicts, thieves, alcoholics, pornographers, liars, drunk drivers, dead professors who claimed to know God but through their actions denied him, anorexics, slaves to men and body image came to Christ here. Materialists, depressed people, anxiety disorder folks, prisoners of fear, prisoners period, homosexuals, lesbians, male prostitutes, johns have come to Christ here.
Female prostitutes, victims of extreme sadness, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, atheists, promiscuous women, predatory men, victims of childhood sexual abuse, perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse, liars, manipulators of people, victims of greed and massive debt, cohabitators, divorcees, passive husbands, angry wives, adulterous men and women, homeless individuals, alienated people, incarcerated people, Pharisees, fallen church leaders have come to Christ here.
Fake Christians, parents who have lost children, children who have left parents, pill poppers, suicide attempt survivors. There are Gerasene demoniacs all over this place because Jesus is still alive and he works through his people. That's what's going on, and he built this. "How did he build it, Todd?" He strongly supports those whose hearts are completely his.
Do you know why God hasn't done more? People ask me this all the time. "Todd, are you ever surprised what God has done at Watermark?" I go, "Yes and no. No, because this is exactly what he's supposed to do. Surprised that he would use somebody whose heart isn't as completely his as it needs to be to the level he has used it? Yes, that shocks me."
Every day I just wake up and go, "God, make my heart completely yours more, because there's a lot of ground to take still. All I want to do is honor you, and I want you to strongly support me so Jesus can become more famous, because I guarantee the only thing I'm going to want to do on the other side is to come back and tell people that it was real, it was true. This is my moment, and I believe in you. I've seen what you've done in my life."
Here are a few things you should do if you're really serious about having your heart be completely God's. First, seek him. This is very simple. Seek first his kingdom. I'll tell you a quick story. When I was in my 20s, and I did this deep into my late 20s and early 30s… I grabbed a bunch of kids who were in sixth grade and said, "I'm going to spend some time with you, and I'm going to hang with you until you go to college."
There were a number of groups of kids from sixth grade through twelfth grade that I would just spend time with. I would pour into them, and I would love them. A number of times, when they'd be with me for a year or year and a half and I just wasn't seeing much happen, I would do this. I remember the first time I did it, in fact. It was a small group of kids who lived just north of here. I walked in and went, "Guys, I have big news today. We're going to get right to it."
They went, "What is it?" When you're a sixth or seventh grader and you're hanging around a 20- to 25-year-old, he's a big deal, and everything in his world you want to know about. I said, "I'm getting married." They go, "You're getting married?" They go, "Unbelievable! We didn't even know you were dating anybody!" What I didn't know is that this mom whose house I was at listened to what I would say to the boys a lot.
She immediately picks up the phone and dials a friend and goes, "Todd is getting married. I don't know to who. Let me listen." So I start talking some more to the boys. "But I want to tell you this about this girl I'm going to marry. I'm not going to hang with her that much. In fact, I'm not going to live with her. In fact, what I'm going to try and do… We're going to get together probably once a week. We're going to have a light snack together. We're going to hang out.
We have some things we like to do in common. We might exercise or do something like that. Then we're going to probably try and have a 10- to 15-minute meaningful conversation about things that are important, but I'm going to keep living my life. I'm going to keep doing what I want to do. She's an awesome girl. She's really awesome, but…" The mom said, "I need to call you back," and she hung the phone up. I didn't even know about this. She comes back and is listening.
Even in seventh grade, these guys started to go, "Hey, this doesn't sound right." Some of them were from broken homes. They were looking at me like, "Todd, that doesn't sound like you really know what it means to be married. It doesn't sound like you really love this girl." I said, "Hey, guys, let me just tell you something. I'm not getting married, and if I did, I wouldn't do it that way. But can I just share with you guys? You tell me you love Jesus, that you want to be his wife, that you want to be his bride.
Do you know what I see you do? You like coming together and hanging out with me and eating some snacks for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then we go play hoops and ball or I'm the quarterback and we play football, and then we have about a 15- to 20-minute meaningful conversation, and you guys go right back about your life all week long like none of this matters. So if you think it's crazy I'd get married and do that, I think it's crazy that you tell me you know God and, even as a seventh grader, don't radically seek him."
I heard the mom go, "Oh!" I turn around and go, "What?" She goes, "I'm so sorry," and she kind of walked back away. I sat and talked with her afterward. She goes, "I was, first of all, really concerned, and secondly, that's exactly what I've been doing. That's what the church we go to asks us to do. The little snack we share sometimes is just a little wafer and a little cup of juice, and we have a bunch of polite conversation. We even talk about important things, and then we just go back about our business until we do it again for another hour."
I said, "It has to stop, because you're not at his church and you may not be his people." I expect seventh graders to get their arms around that. That's why the church in America is what it is, because I just described most of it, not just in America but all over. You seek him. You seek him because you love him, and you seek his righteousness. That's the second part of Matthew 6:33. "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness," which means you learn to hate sin.
You still are attracted to it, like I am, but you're going to say, "But I love God, and I want to live rightly." God is not going to use an unholy people, so when you screw up, like I do, you confess it, you ask for forgiveness, you restore relationships, you make amends, but you learn to live rightly, not so God can love you. This is not performance-based acceptance; this is acceptance-based performance.
We go, "God is good, and we want to learn more of his ways," which gets to the third thing: we seek his Word. We seek it, because this is the very Word of God. Our loving Father who gave himself for us gave us his Word so we could have his mind, so we could think rightly and stop this stinkin' thinkin' which is, "This world is all about me, and pleasure is a good thing, and now is all that matters," and we correct our hearts.
This is Isaiah 66:2. God says, "To this one I will look, the one who is humble and contrite in spirit and who trembles at my word." That doesn't mean you're scared to death of it; it means you're like, "This is God talking, the God who loved me enough to die for me. All he wants to do is help me live in a way that's not going to bring about pain in my life and is going to bring hope to others. It's going to give me meaning and purpose. This book is for me. It's a gift. I don't want to miss it. Shh! What is God saying?"
I get to open God's Word on my own and go, "Father, teach me to be the kind of man or woman you want me to be." Seek him. You seek the lost. It isn't about you. You're clear thinking. You're not here to make a living; you're here to make a difference. This is 2 Timothy 4:5: "Be sober-minded in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill the mission for which you're here." Do you want to be his church? Do you want to see him build something with your life? Be on mission. Seek the lost.
Lastly, you stay humble. I am under no illusion why this happened. With all of my years of experience right now, with all of the resources I have, we (all of you who share together and I) couldn't do this again if we tried. This had nothing to do with us in the first place. God was just willing to do something to make himself famous today, and we just said, "Lord, if you're willing, why not with us?" He said, "Because your heart is not completely mine."
So we said, "Let's get about it. Let's seek you and seek your righteousness. Let's seek others." I left that out. "Let's not do it alone. Let's make sure we're communing and doing life together the way you said." It's not just about Jesus and me; it's about God's people and me. So I'm not going to forsake my own assembling together. But we have to stay humble. God works through his Word, through his Spirit, and through his people.
One of the very first resident classes that ever came through here… I got them together at the end of a year, and they saw all that God was doing here. They had never been around a community of Christ followers where God was working this way, where stories of life change were all over the place. I asked them at the end of the year, "Hey, guys, I want you to describe me. Who do you think I am?" I got a whiteboard out and started to write down the things they said.
"Todd, you're a beacon. You're bold. You're strong. You're unashamed. You're fearless. You're prophetic. You're concerned for God's people. You're courageous. You're family-oriented. You're genuinely kind. You're a shepherd. You're authentic. You're transparent and decisive. You're rooted in truth. You're confident. You're ready to have fun. You are a leader, man. You're well-spoken, captivating, sincere." I mean, all of these great things.
I let them say them all. I wrote them all up there, and I said, "No, no. No, I'm not. Can I tell you who I am? I'm just a shepherd boy. I was just out there trying to walk with God and get to know him in the little pasture I was in, and he let me fall in love with him. He showed me who he was, and for some reason, God chose to use me and chose to use my friends, and he chose to do something. There's only one reason I'm here in the middle of this, and that's because God chose to do something. I didn't kill that giant; God did. I didn't make myself king; God did. I didn't cause Israel to be Israel; God did."
I took them to 2 Samuel 6. It's when David is bringing the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem and is dancing before the Lord. It says in 2 Samuel 6:16, "Then it happened as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window…" She was married to David. "…and saw King David leaping and dancing [delighting in] the Lord ; and she despised him…" Because his delight and love for God embarrassed her.
In verse 20 it says when he returned to his household, she came out to meet him and said, "Oh, how the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself…" He was dancing so violently his clothes, his little linen ephod, flew up in the eyes of all of the maidservants. "You uncovered yourself as the foolish people do." David looked at her and said this in verse 21, and this is what I said to those little residents: "It was before the Lord …"
"Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am, woman? I'm not of some royal heritage. I'm not from your family. I'm just a shepherd boy that God made king. This is God's work." God chose us to do this work, not me. God chose us, and we are here because he's willing to work through people who sing songs to him and love him and believe he can kill lions and bears and wolves. We are fearless, because if God is for us, who can be against us? And we believe he can do something. That's how he built this. Let's go.
Father, I pray that we would not just have some nice little song moment and listen to instruction and be polite to each other and support missionaries. I pray we would be your bride. I pray we'd seek first your kingdom and seek righteousness. I pray we'd seek community and other people. I pray we'd seek the lost. I pray we'd stay humble. O Father, apart from you we can do nothing. Everything here that has happened has happened because of you and for you.
If there's somebody here who doesn't know you, would you reach them? Would you be glorified? We love you and we thank you, the one who is worthy of all blessing and glory and honor. Would you bring people to yourself who don't know you? Bring them, Father. May their story be the next in this long line of people like me whose lives have been changed, and let's do it again. If you're willing today, Lord, why not with us? Why not with us? In Jesus' name, amen.
Have a great week of worship. Let's go, church.
As we approach Watermark’s 20th anniversary, the “How He Built This” series examines the ideas, decisions, and values that God has used to shape this community of faith.