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There has been a shift toward coldness—a lack of kindness—in our country, and incivility often becomes hostility. Jesus calls us to more than simply tolerate (a willingness to allow the existence of something), He calls us to love. Even our enemies.
Fort Worth Campus Update
How to Not Waste Your Life
The Church Matters
How We Think About Being Externally Focused
Evening with the Elders
Reflection Sunday: The Goodness of God and the Futility of the Wicked
Easter and Its Relationship with a Photoshopped Hell
Good Friday 2019
A Relentless Activity
The Motivation to Forgive
Love Precedes Life Change
There has been a shift toward coldness—a lack of kindness—in our country, and incivility often becomes hostility. Jesus calls us to more than simply tolerate (a willingness to allow the existence of something), He calls us to love. Even our enemies.
Howdy! It's good to see you guys. It's nice to be back in Texas. I thought everyone would say "Howdy," by the way, if I was in Texas. Can we try that again? Howdy! Oh, thanks, guys. I don't say that in DC. It confuses and scares the people. They don't understand it. It's awesome to be back here, and it's a privilege to be with you. We're going to be in Luke, chapter 23, if you want to turn there. I want to read a couple of verses. We'll jump in, and then look at it together.
Before we dive in, I do want to say two things. First, I love Watermark Church, and I love your pastor Todd. I had actually never been to this building on a Sunday morning until now. The only Sunday morning I ever attended was when it met back in a high school, because for me, right out of college… I didn't live in Dallas right away, but I had a lot of friends come up here whose faith journey could have gone a lot of different ways, and I watched the lives of people I really love change in the best of ways because of their connection to Watermark Church.
So I've always loved this church, because I've seen it do wonderful things for people I care about. So if you're a guest and just kind of feeling it out, the advice of a complete stranger is this is a great place and has been awesome for people I care about. It was crazy. Not that long ago, as we were launching Passion City D.C., Todd and several people who helped start Watermark just happened to be in DC, so their original launch team, your team, prayed over ours, which is amazing.
Then Todd has just found himself in DC for random reasons over the last few months. I think it's all divine to bring him to me, because if you know Todd, he's kind of like a coach. We've had a couple of lunches where he's looking across the table like, "Just keep preaching the Word, brother. Give them Jesus," and stuff that would maybe sound cheesy from someone else, but from Todd, I'm like, "I will make a difference, Todd. I will change the world." He's such a gift.
So I'm grateful to be here, and I love this place. Luke, chapter 23, beginning in verse 32. Let me read to you a couple of verses. We'll pray and then jump in. It says this, speaking of Jesus:
"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments." Let me pray for us.
Father, I want to thank you for everybody here, whether they've known you and loved you since they can remember or whether they're not sure if they can trust you or how to feel about any of what's happening in this place. Wherever people are, I just thank you that you've given us this moment together to hear what you think about.
I pray, God, not just to hear what you think about but to care about what you care about. Lord, my prayer is that we would be different people as a result of these few minutes. We wouldn't just attend a service but we would meet with our Maker, that you would change us, God. I think there's the potential of that, and I want that. I can't make that, and Watermark can't, but you can.
I just want to ask you, guys, if you're up for it and comfortable with this, would you take a second and just ask him and say, "God, please teach me today." Then if you would, please pray for me, that the Lord would use me and I would be helpful to you.
Father, we love you and we trust you. Use this time. We pray that in Jesus' name, amen.
One summer when I was in college, I lived in the inner city of Denver, and I was part of a parachurch ministry there that worked with kids. As a parachurch ministry, it had to solicit funds, donations, so they would send out a newsletter. In the middle of summer, they sent out this big newsletter, and huge, on the front page, was a big massive photo of me, which I have to say was a strong choice on the part of the designer.
The picture was inspirational. Try to picture it. It was me kneeling down, and I had long, flowing hair at the time, like a lion. I was crouching down. It was a profile. Y'all just imagine. It was a profile picture, and there were all of these little kids around me, and they were touching me, like they wanted to be close, but I was locked eyes with this little guy. He was maybe 6 years old. You could tell. You're like, "This is intimate, but there's an intensity here." Some information is being passed to this young man as we're looking at each other.
I would imagine if you're looking at this you're like, "This is so incredible. Honey, where's the checkbook? We have to be a part of this. This is amazing!" But every time I saw the newsletter I would laugh a little bit, because I knew what I was saying in that moment. I was looking dead into that young man's eyes and explaining to him the rules of freeze tag. As the youngest guy on the team, that's all they trusted me to do.
What I was saying was, "When 'It' gets you, you're frozen. You can't move. So this field is about to be a frozen wasteland of kids who can't move who suddenly become obstacles to the rest of us. You will become part of the problem." I said, "And for those of you who are alive, let me just tell you now, there are going to be two decisions. You're going to make one of the two. For some of you, with your freedom, you are going to run as far away from all this as you can and just try to eke out a little modicum of happiness before the inevitable cold gets you."
I said, "But others of you are going to leverage your freedom to set others free, and you're going to charge into that cold place, and you're going to dive between the legs of little kids," because that's how you unfroze people in our game. I said, "And you are going to use your freedom to thaw these kids and set people free." As I thought about it later, I was like, "Actually, that is a pretty motivational message," because that's the gospel. That's what God did.
While we were sinners, Christ died for us. In this the love of God was manifest, that he sent his Son, that we might live through him. Jesus brought the love of God into our world to make us alive. When the love of God slams into a human heart, dead hearts begin to beat again. Cold, unfeeling hearts begin to feel. Bitterness begins to melt away.
When the love of God really slams into your life, when you understand, "The Son of God came for me. He came charging into the wreckage for me. He ran after me and grabbed me. He gave his life that I might live," your shame begins to melt away, your defensiveness begins to melt, and your dead heart becomes alive. The warmth of the love of God liberates us.
The beautiful thing is he doesn't just liberate us. He says, "Now you be a part of this. You join me and bring the warmth of the love of God into a cold world." That's what we're called to do. Paul told the Corinthians that God was in Christ, reconciling us to himself, that Jesus came to bring us back into the warm embrace of God, and then it says he gave us the ministry of reconciliation. We're supposed to go out and do the same: charge into a cold world and bring the love of God back.
Then Jesus, when he gave his big manifesto speech, told us how to do it. He said, "You've heard, 'Love your friends and hate your enemy.' But what I say to you is love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." He says, "Don't just love your friends and hate your enemies. Everybody does that." That's not unique. Even Hitler had buddies.
He said, "But you're meant to love your enemies, because that's what I did. While you were enemies, I died for you." We're meant to love the people who don't love us back, love the people who are cruel. Let's send the love of God out, and let's be a part of a growing hot wave of love sweeping over the world, setting people free in the name of Jesus. That's what he wants us to do.
So I want to talk to you today about how we take up that cause to love our enemies. I know some of you hear this and go, "Ben, I don't have any enemies. I mean, there are some people I don't like, can't stand being around, and secretly hope fail in life, and every time there's a little setback a little joy perks up inside, but I don't have enemies." The truth is, if we're honest, the world is a cold place and becoming more so, particularly in America.
The PR firm Weber Shandwick does a review every year of incivility in America, and they would say incivility, unkindness, is at record levels, the highest it has ever been, as they poll people. We all feel it. There's a cruelty in this place, and it has escalated with the advance of the Internet. We will say horrible things to each other online, and politically it's exacerbated, so that begins to stir it, but now it's leaking out of that.
In their latest survey, they said when they ask Americans, "How often do you run into incivility in a given day, just watch someone be needlessly cruel or rude to somebody else?" It used to be just a handful, maybe four times a day. Now it's upwards of 10 times a day. Online I just see someone being mean to somebody, and then it has leaked into at the mall. Someone is just rude for no reason. Or I go to work and people are unkind. There's just a cruelty in the world today.
The reality is we have a media cycle that exacerbates that, because it's easy to get "clicks" if I can get you to gawk at and mock and then rage at the "thems." There's a propensity in our society to just pull together with the "uses" and condemn the "thems," whoever they would be. I'll get together with my little friends, and I'm not going to reach out to my enemies. I don't like them.
There are people in my office who are rude, so I'm going to talk bad about them behind their backs. There are people in my neighborhood I don't like. I'm going to avoid them. There's someone online whose political beliefs offend everything I feel inside, so I'm going to rage against them. We strike back. You hit; I hit harder.
The world has this "us versus them" mentality, constantly trying to separate us. Republicans versus Democrats. Pro-lifers versus pro-choice. Conservative versus liberal. LGBT versus evangelical. On and on it goes. CrossFitters against normal people. Country music lovers versus people with taste. It keeps going!
Here's the reality. In every single one of those, there are real issues we need to talk about and, honestly, some real theological issues at stake and some ideas on which we need to disagree and sometimes strongly disagree, but in our world today, when I disagree with you, it is not becoming loving interchange and discourse.
Disagreement means destruction. You believe something different than me? You have to go away. You have to be silenced. You have to stop. We hate each other. The reality is the world today is descending, and incivility has become hostility. You all feel that. I know you do. The world is becoming cold.
Jesus says in the midst of that, "I want you people who know my love to be different. I want you to give kindness to that person at the office who's rude. I want you to seek out that woman in your neighborhood who keeps making passive-aggressive statements to you. I want you to cross the aisle with that person whose beliefs politically cause bile to rise up into your throat and you're like, 'Oh, I can taste it!' I want you to pray for that person and seek their good."
I know when I say that some of you go, "Wow, Ben. That's a beautiful sentiment, but I don't want to do that." I can stand up here with the rest of my time and just say, "Love your enemies! Love your enemies!" and you're like, "That's a cute sentiment, but I don't want to. I don't want to do that. Great whats will only happen with great whys. So you're going to have to give me a good why."
I can stand up here and give you techniques on how to love that person, that roommate who's annoying. I can tell you how to do it, but if you don't want to do it, you're not going to do it. Does anyone need another speech on what food is healthy? I think we're all fairly aware. It's not a lack of information; it's a lack of motivation. Hand me a stalk of broccoli and a doughnut out there, I'm going with the doughnut.
You go, "Ben, don't just tell me what; you have to give me a compelling why." I remember my wife told my daughter to clean her room or something, and my little daughter just went, "I can't want to." I was like, "I get that. I really get that." Jesus says love your enemy. Love them. Pursue the good of that person. What the world says is just tolerate them. Isn't that beautiful? I looked up the definition of tolerating. It means to permit the existence of someone.
Doesn't that sound like a wonderful world to be in? "I just allow for your existence here at Watermark Church." "Oh. Where do I sign up? I want to be a part of that community." No. We're meant to extend beyond the expected boundaries, to love even those who don't love us back. You go, "Well, how do I do that?" I want to look at this moment in Jesus' life.
Do you know what this moment we just read was? It's the final scene in Jesus' life where we watch him deal with the "thems." It's the last time you get to see him treat the "other." What happens in that moment is while they're in the act of murdering him, while they're driving in the nails, they hear him whisper, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." He extends grace while they're murdering him. How on earth did he do that?
Some of us hear that and go, "Well, Ben, he uses Jesus powers. I mean, he's Jesus." Right. But I think in that sentence he gives us some motivations for us to follow in his footsteps that we can extend love out into the world too. How can we love our enemies as he called us to, do good to those who hate us? He gives us three motives in this passage.
You get the first motivation in the first word: Father. Jesus could forgive because he had the comfort and confidence of knowing "God is my Father." You see it in 1 Peter 2. It says, "When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten…" Most people who were crucified did that. When you try to nail me to a cross, I spit on you and curse at you. While they're reviling him, from the cross he did not revile back. How did he do that?
It says, "… [he] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly." That's how he did it. While they were murdering him, the reason Jesus could be kind to them is because he saw past them. "You do not determine my story. My Father determines my story. The Maker of the stars determines my history, not you. You are doing something evil. There's no doubt. I don't have to call it less than that. But my enemy does not control my story; my Father does, and I entrust myself to him who judges justly, because he will accomplish his purposes for me."
Not only could he endure the suffering, in Hebrews 12 it says, "…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." There was joy in him in that moment because he knew, "You don't determine my story; he does, and he uses even your cruelty for his purposes. So I have a fuel for my forgiveness for you, and it is the sovereignty of my Father."
For most of us, what's underneath our anger is fear. Fear is the seedbed of anger. I get mad at somebody because when they made fun of me, they threatened my social stability, and now I feel threatened, so I hit back. When that person made that comment, it made me feel small, and I hate feeling small. My mom used to make me feel small, so now I have to come back at you, and I'm going to talk bad about it this way.
It's usually fear and insecurity that drives our hostility. "You took something from me." And where there's scarcity there's hostility. But Jesus looks and says, "You know what? The person who runs my story is not my enemy; it is the Maker of the heavens, and he's my Dad. The most powerful one in the room loves me." When you know you're loved by the one who can beat up somebody else, that's a very comforting thought.
I know, for me, when I was a kid, we used to play kickball on my cul-de-sac, and I remember one day I went inside to get a drink of water. I came back out, and all of the kids were in my yard. I'm like, "Why are you in my yard?" They were like, "Well, we were playing kickball, and while we were playing, he came out." I knew who the "he" was. It was this grown man down the street who was a bully. He was always mean to us kids. He was just an angry guy.
They're like, "He came out, and he wanted to do something on the street, so he just grabbed our kickball, opened the trunk of his car, threw the ball in the trunk, shut it, and then leaned on the trunk and just started making fun of us." They told me that, and I'm like, "Yeah, that's not news." That's normally how he treated us. They said, "Yeah, but something different happened today. Your dad drove down the street, and your dad saw it. Ben, he got out of the car, and veins started to pop out where I didn't know veins were."
They were like, "Your dad walked up on this dude." My dad wasn't a screamer, but they said, "As soon as your dad got up to him, he started melting under the car, like, folding like a lawn chair. Your dad was like, 'You stop messing with these kids.' By the end of it, he opened the trunk and was like, 'Here's your ball. Here's some money. I love you kids.'" They're like, "We watched this powerful force have no more power over us because of the strength of your dad."
That was such a wonderfully comforting feeling, to be like, "That's my dad. The guy who loves me can take out my biggest enemies." So for the rest of my childhood, whenever those conversations would come up of whose dad could beat up everybody else's dad, I literally never said a word. Guys would say, "Okay. We all know Ben's dad would win. I submit my dad as number two for the following reasons." That's what they would do.
The fatherhood of God cancels out fear, and when the fear goes away, that becomes a fuel for forgiveness. Jesus could forgive his enemies because he knew, "You don't control my story; God does." That's what Joseph did. Do you remember the Old Testament? His brothers threw him in a well and then sold him into slavery in Egypt. Do you think that's not going to cause some problems later in his life? He becomes a 40-year-old in Egypt, and when he has his first kid, he names his kid "God has made me forget all my hardships and all my father's house."
He literally names his kid, "Forget you, Dad!" You're like, "Yeah, but isn't that going to make you remember your dad every time you call the kid…? You know what? It's fine. You're clearly still working through some stuff." That's some of you. You didn't name your kid that, but honestly, for some of us in here, the way you walk into the room, the way you present yourself, the way you talk to all of us is completely driven by the pain of your childhood.
That injury is dominating your story and how you treat us more fundamentally than even what Jesus did. But what happened to Joseph? Over time in Egypt, he went from slave to prisoner and then from prisoner to the very right hand of Pharaoh. God began to send him dreams, and God put him in a position of power and gave him a vision of how to save all of Egypt from a famine, and he started to realize, "God controls my story." When his brothers begin to starve and come, he doesn't say, "Well, look at you now. It's too late to apologize." No. What does he say?
He says, "What you did was evil. I don't have to call it anything less than that." But then he says, "Don't beat yourselves up, because you didn't send me here; God sent me here." He said, "God sent me here to save lives, including yours. You did not send me; God sent me." The fuel for his forgiveness is the fatherhood of God. God controls my story. It calms my fear and gives me a fuel to love you even when you've done me wrong. That's the first motivation to love an enemy.
The second motivation of loving an enemy is I have compassion because I know they're captives. That's what you get in the rest of this sentence. He says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Some of you hear that and go, "Yeah, they did. They were Roman soldiers who crucified a ton of guys. They knew exactly what they were doing. They were murdering him. They were aware of what a nail does to human skin. They knew what was about to happen as he was lifted up on that wood. They knew they were killing him. Why do you say they don't know? They knew what they were doing."
I think what they didn't know that Jesus is tying into is the full implications of their actions. They knew they were choosing to be mean, but they didn't understand the implications of it. They couldn't see in that moment that the iron of that nail, the man you are nailing it into put it into the mountains. You didn't see that the Maker of the stars is the one you are murdering. You didn't see that all things are made by him and for him. "You're made for me and will be incomplete without me. The very God you're seeking is the one you're murdering."
They don't understand the implications of all that. They don't see they're made in his image. They don't see it. They don't know. Jesus sees their spiritual blindness, and it brings out compassion. "Father, forgive them, because they just don't know." For you and me, how can you be kind to your enemy, that person who believes things that honestly go against everything you believe in in the world, and every time you see them on the news you get filled with anger?
How can you love that person? How can you be kind to them? Jesus' secret is when you look at them, you don't see enemy; you see captive. That's what Paul said. Paul said it to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4. He says, speaking of those who oppose him, "In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
He says, "When I see them, I see blindness." When I see someone blind… I heard one pastor say you don't get mad at them because they're blind. "Why are you so blind?" He says that doesn't make any sense. You feel compassion. He says, "When I see someone who doesn't see the beauty of Christ and whose life hasn't been changed by him, I don't get mad at them for being blind. I start praying, 'God, let them see, because that's what you did for me. Into my darkness you shone the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Lord, would you do it for them too?'" It brings out compassion, not anger.
Or you see them as captives. That's what Paul told young Timothy, who was taking shots. He was just trying to love people, trying to be a good representative of Jesus, and people were picking on him. So Paul writes him a letter. In 2 Timothy 2 he says, "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies…" Translation: "Get off Twitter, Tim."
"…you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."
He says, "Timothy, when you see them foaming at the mouth, screaming at you, don't see enemy; see captive. They're in the image of God, but the Enemy has held them captive to do his will. Have a compassion and beg God, 'Lord, would you perhaps grant repentance, that they might be free?'" If I see them as a captive, I can have compassion.
That's what one of my heroes, John Perkins, did. John Perkins wrote a book With Justice for All. He has a chapter entitled "Love Is Stronger Than Hate." The first sentence of it is arresting to me. John Perkins, who grew up an African-American man in Mississippi, wrote, "That was the night God gave me a real compassion for whites—the night those Mississippi police officers beat me almost to death."
In the chapter, he recounts what happened to him on February 7, 1970. He was in a van following another van. They were leading some college students back from an event, and the first van load was pulled over and arrested and taken down to the courthouse. They were in their van. They followed to see what was going on and if the kids were okay.
He writes, when they arrived, a dozen officers exited the building and began to beat him and the men with him. Then he writes, "Inside the jail house the nightmare only got worse. At least five deputy sheriffs and seven to twelve highway patrolmen went to work on us." He goes into detail in the book about being beaten, stomped, having a fork rammed up his nose. He says this went on through the night until the men thought he was dead.
But then this is what John wrote: "And I remember their faces—so twisted with hate. It was like looking at white-faced demons. For the first time I saw what hate had done to those people." Do you hear what he just did? He says, "These policemen were poor. They saw themselves as failures. The only way they knew how to find a sense of worth was by beating us. Their racism made them feel like 'somebody.'
When I saw that, I just couldn't hate back. I could only pity them. I said to God that night, 'God, if you will let me out of this jail alive'—and I really didn't think I would…'I really want to preach a gospel that will heal these people, too.' Well, although the students who watched over me through the night…were sure for a while that I was dead…I came out alive—and with a new call. My call to preach the gospel now extended to whites."
Do you hear what he said? "I see now not you as the enemy; I see you as the image of God, and sin has done something horrible to you, but I have the cure. I have the warmth that thaws frozen hearts, and I have compassion for you." When I see a captive, I have compassion. I remember when God did that for me. I remember looking at a photo of ISIS fighters. They had their hoods on, holding swords up.
I looked at this picture, and the honest reaction, as someone who has people who I love in the military… I was filled with anger, just furious at the self-righteousness of these guys, quoting thoughts about God as they did the horrible things they were doing. I got so mad. I remember feeling this voice inside of me, "What do you want, Ben?" and I said, "I want them all dead. That's what I want. Everyone in that photo."
I felt like the Lord came in in that moment and was like, "Ben, when you look at that man…" I focused in on one. He said, "Do you see an object of my wrath or do you see a potential apostle Paul? Because much of your New Testament that you love was written by somebody who out of religious zeal was murdering people. He was a religious zealot, murdering, and rather than destroy him, I made a murderer into a missionary. Yeah, I kicked him down onto the ground, but it was so I could heal him and forgive him and pick him up and make him a missionary and a friend."
The great goal of the Christian is not to see enemies destroyed; it's to see enemies converted into friends. Do I see someone with whom I can have compassion? That's what happened in Charleston when young Dylann Roof went into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire, killing nine people. I remember watching the news afterward at his initial hearing, when family members of the people who had died because of his random, senseless hate were in that room and were given a chance to speak.
Do you remember what the first person said? The first words were, "I forgive you." Then one after another, family members would get up and tell him, "I forgive you." Then one of them told him, "Repent. Put your faith in Jesus, because he can make you something more than you are now." I remember watching CNN marvel at that. They were like, "They should rage back. They should hate him back, but they are pleading with him for his soul."
"What you have done deserves judgment and judgment is coming, yet there's a chance for you to be something better than you are now if you repent." They were pleading for his soul. How could they do that? They can have compassion when they see a captive. That's what we're meant to do. "Father, forgive them, because they just don't know." They don't know.
I remember, for me, when I was a youth pastor right out of college, I had a kid come to Christ. He was so excited about his faith. I remember he ran up to me one day after school, and he was like, "I have to tell you this story, man." He said, "I was in the lunch room, and I saw a sister," which is what he called Christian girls, because they're all sisters in Christ. He said, "I saw a sister, and she was up against the wall in the room, and it was because there was this guy hitting on her, but in a really weird way, like, all up in her personal space. It was just awkward."
He said, "I watched that happen over there, so I just got up and walked over there. I looked at her and I was like, 'Hey, aren't we in a class together? I'll walk you there. Let's go.'" He said, "I kind of rescued her out of this situation." I was like, "That's great, man. That's awesome. Thanks for being a hero. That's so cool." I said, "What's going to happen tomorrow? Are you just going to keep walking her to class?"
I remember when I said this to him he went, "No. Ben, she already knows Jesus. He doesn't, so I'm going to walk with him." I said, "I'm so glad to hear you say that, because as your youth pastor, I'm encouraged to see how much you've learned under my tutelage." No. I was like, "What?! Who says that?"
I'll tell you who says that: someone who has encountered the power of God, who saw what it did for him. "While I was his enemy, Christ died for me and changed me, so I want God to do that for him, because he's a captive. It doesn't make what he's doing okay, but it makes him a potential recipient of grace."
He believed our last point (and I think we all should): love precedes life change. That's what he knows. Love precedes and produces life change. It's kindness that brought us to repentance. You don't even need the Bible for that. Frozen taught you that. Elsa decides, "I have to give liberated self-expression," and her liberated self-expression is completely destructive to the culture. What do you do with a person like that?
Well, two options are presented. You murder them or you give your life for them, and that's what her sister Anna chose. "While your unrestrained self-expression is killing my kingdom and killing me, I will not kill you back. I will step in front of that falling sword for you, because I know that true love will thaw that frozen heart." She knew it. It's love that produces life change, that makes a destructive person into a good one.
Beauty and the Beast taught you that. How does a beast become beautiful? You love him while he's still a beast, and that makes him lovely. Now, it gets a little twisted romantically in there. I'm not advocating everything in Beauty and the Beast, but the general principle is somewhat healthy. Love precedes life change. They just stole it from the Bible. While they were driving the nails into Jesus, these centurions…
You look at historical records. What they were accustomed to was to be spit on and cursed at. What Jesus does is they hear him whisper, "Father, forgive him, because he doesn't know." When he's lifted up and the religious leaders begin to mock him, they watch him keep silent and not mock them back. When the men on the crosses next to him begin to scream at him, he doesn't mock them back, but they look up a few minutes later and he's counseling one of them and inviting him to know God and find peace.
Then when the moment comes for him to die, they watch him make sure his mom is taken care of, and then they hear him say, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." The gospel writers tell us that the centurion stationed at the foot of the cross says, "I've never seen anything like that. That man is innocent. Not just innocent…that's the Son of God." You watch one of the murderers change because he saw love like that. "He's being kind to his enemies. He has forgiven me. He's being gentle with the people who are making fun of him. I've never seen anything like that."
Love forever changes the life of one of the soldiers who was just a part of killing him, because that's what love does. Love creates life change. We have to believe that. We have to see that. I remember, for me, when I was in high school, I was living in Houston and worked at an oil company. I would show up there, and there was a guy who worked there, like mid-40s guy, and every so often, every other week, he would do a Bible study during lunch.
He tried to be really low-key about it, like, "I'm not pushing my faith on people." He would say, "Hey, during the lunch hour, I go read my Bible in the conference room, and if anyone wants to come read it with me, we can sort of discuss it." Whatever. Low-key. He would go around to people's offices and invite them. Some people would say, "No, thanks." Some would say, "Yes." It was always kind of, whatever.
Then there was one older lady that whenever he did that, she would mock him loudly. The whole office could hear it. "Get out of here! You and your Bible, holy roller, judgmental…" She'd just come after him. His weight would come into the conversation, and his general appearance. She would just come after this dude.
I would watch her do this, just rail on him. I'm just watching this happen, and I'm like, "What's he going to do?" He would never revile back. He would always be like, "Okay. I'll stop." I was like, "How are you taking it, man?" He's just absorbing all this abuse. I was like, "Say something." He just wouldn't do it. She really did cruelly mock this guy. It was something.
Then one day, she didn't show up for work. I found out later she was sick. I don't know all that she had, but as an older woman it was the kind of thing where they weren't sure if she was going to make it or not. She did, but whatever she had severely debilitated her. She was able whatever months or weeks later to come back to work, but it was in a wheelchair.
I'll never forget. When the elevator doors opened and she wheeled out, he was standing there waiting for her. He grabbed her wheelchair and wheeled her to her office, and he had set up her office to be wheelchair-friendly. She's like, "Oh, stop fussing with me." But he just got her set up, took care of her, and he just kept doing that. Day after day, he just looked after her. He just loved her.
I watched over time her start to pat his hand and talk kindly to him, and not just to him. I watched a sweetness enter this woman that she didn't have before. I watched love thaw a frozen heart, because that's what love does. Love precedes and creates life change. While we were enemies, Christ died for us, and we do the same. We love because we know love precedes life change.
That's what the early church did. I read like four books two summers ago about how Rome that believed in the gods and would kill you if you were a Christian… How did Romans choose Jesus at such numbers that Christianity took over Rome? I'm like, "How does that happen?" In a society where you'll at least get socially ostracized, if not fired, how were people choosing Jesus? Why? One of the main reasons was because the Christians were so kind.
When a plague would break out in a city, the normal MO was you break out, because you don't want to die. If a plague broke out, it didn't care if your mama was sick. You'd be like, "Sorry, Ma," and you were out, because you didn't want to die, but the Christians would stay and take care of you, even if you were the one who got them fired. "You're in the image of my God, and that means you have dignity. So I'm going to love you, and I'm going to hold your hand while you go meet him face-to-face." People didn't understand that.
Little girls were not seen as valuable. They were seen as an absorption of wealth. So it was permissible in Rome, if you had a baby girl, to lay that baby out on the street to die of exposure or pimps would go by and pick them up and use them in brothels. Christians abhorred that. Christians thought it was evil, but they didn't just write nasty blogs about the Roman culture. What they did was said, "If you won't love these kids, we will," and they would go get those baby girls.
If you and I went into a gathering of one of the earliest churches, we'd be met with songs and the voices of little girls, singing about a God who sets people free, because that's what they did. Across Rome, they would look at Christians and say, "Your belief system is so backward and regressive and odd and weird and beautiful and just way better than everything we're doing." It changed them.
That's what we're seeing in DC. I mean, it's funny. When my wife and I decided to move out there, people from here were like, "You're really going to go? You're going to raise your children in the North, in the cold frozen North?" I was like, "Well, you know, DC borders Virginia. I mean, how northern is it?" But I heard what they were saying.
When I got to DC, we told people, "We're going to do Community Groups. We're going to sit around and have discussions about the Bible." People were like, "Yeah, we ain't doing that here. People don't sit around and discuss their feelings in DC. People move up here to make a difference, to accomplish something, to tackle mountains and climb them and say 'I climbed them!' That's what people are here to do. 'If you can help me, help me. If you can't, move.' DC is a cold, cruel place."
People would say that. So I brought some Texans and some Georgians for courage, and we all got together and started these Community Groups, where they would sit around in roundtables, and we would just look at the life of Jesus and then kick out a question and people could talk about it. I remember a girl came up after one of them and said, "Man, I showed up. I sat in this Community Group, and you lobbed some question out to us, like, 'So, tell us about how you feel about this.'"
She said, "I was just like, 'This guy does not get DC. We don't talk about our feelings here.'" She said, "I totally blew you off. Then, suddenly, someone in my circle started talking about what God was doing in their life, and then somebody else started sharing, and then I heard myself start to share." She said, "The craziest thing happened. It was like I suddenly realized how thirsty I've been for a long time, and I didn't know it until you handed me a glass of water."
What's crazy is she's the second person who used that exact illustration, and they'd never met each other. They said, "I didn't even know I was thirsty until I got around water like this." We've watched the church grow. We've watched it grow fast, and people are looking around going, "How is this happening?" I'll tell you how it's happening. We showed up. We use a theater in the middle of town, the Howard Theatre, and it's a club.
Our first Sunday there, the night before was the St. Patrick's Day Smoke Out. The hit song of the band that was playing is "Doobie Ashtray," which is what the room looked like when we got there. You could see the weed smoke. We had to buy these industrial fans and industrial scent machines. I don't know if you've ever seen those. They just fire out flower smells. We got in there, and there were dudes passed out on the stage. I was like, "Man, you don't have to leave, but could you just, like, scooch? We have to set some stuff up." It was a little rough.
But as we got in there, we'd talk about the love of God. We threw a block party, just invited all of the neighbors and had food and invited people. I remember the lady who ran the club was out there. My wife was like, "Ben, she was standing out there and just watching us give food to the people in the area and hanging out with people and making friends." She said, "Ben, she just kept saying, 'This is how it should be. This is how it should be. This is how it should be.'"
Donna was like, "What?" and she's like, "Life. This is what life should be like. You don't understand. I'm just used to people yelling at you. This is so weird." Donna was like, "Well, you should come and hear the why. You should come listen to Ben speak and hear why it is we believe that." She was like, "I don't want to do that," but after a while, she would start to come and listen to the messages.
I remember when she came to me, and she was like, "Hey, I'm going to bring my mother." People started to say that to me every single week. It was the weirdest thing. I was like, "What?" All across, people would be like, "I'm bringing my mom," and I was like, "What is going on here?" I realized there were a lot of people who didn't really know spiritually how to say, "Hey, my life is changing. I'm running into something that's changing me."
They didn't know how to say that, so they would just say, "I'm bringing my mom." It was like a big emotional step. I would be like, "Okay. Okay, I'm ready. I want to meet her. Let's do this. Let's do this. We're ready. I want to meet your mom." It was just people like, "Something is happening here, and it's changing me." Because that's what love does. Love will change the world. That's how Watermark grew.
That one time I visited, I remember coming into that high school, and Todd was teaching about the love of God from the book of Hosea. I started crying, and not that little tear like, "Man, that was moving." The kind where snot is coming out and you're like, "Oh no, no, no. No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no." It was kind of like, "I hope they have vibey worship so I can sneak out during the last song, because I can't do this with y'all." He was just preaching about the love of God. That love will change people. That love will grow a church.
That's why some of you are here: because they loved you before you contributed anything back. Let me tell you something. It's going to be in your hands to keep that going for all of the people who aren't here. Dallas could change if we do this. Your neighborhood could change, your office could change, because this is what God has done for us. His love thawed frozen hearts. It did. We're meant to take that up too and say, "My enemies don't control my story; my Father does."
That silences fear, so when I look at you I don't see enemy; I see captive. I know the love I have produces life change, so I'm coming after you. When we live lives like that, where we don't hide back and steal away and wait for our cold demise but we go running out into this cold world, we can be part of a wave of change we're meant to be a part of for God's glory and their good. Amen?
Lord, thank you that the message of the gospel is not "Clean yourself up, and then maybe I'll like you." Lord, I just think there are maybe some people in here who always thought religion was, "Hey, be a good person." I pray even now, God, by the power of your Spirit, they would begin to realize that is not at all what your Bible says.
The entrance into your presence comes with the admission that I am not a good person and I need Jesus to love me while I'm a mess. I need him to die for my sin, and I need him to save me. I need him to thaw my heart and pump blood back into it again. I need him to dissolve my guilt and my shame and make me something better than I am now. I need you, Jesus.
If that's you, friend, tell him right now, "I need you."
God, for those of us who know you, we're meant to look like our Dad, and I pray we would take that deadly seriously, because it's life and death at stake; that as the world grows more hostile and cold, we would grow more loving and kind, because the world marvels at a supernatural love, and it's what the world needs. It's the water a thirsty world desires. O God, may we bring the heat and light of the love of Jesus into our worlds.
I would ask you, friend, to even pray, "God, where are you sending me? What family member do I need to call? Maybe not fix everything, but just let them know, 'Hey, I'm thinking about you and want you to know I love you.' What person at work do I need to go by their desk on purpose, knowing one conversation won't fix it, but maybe one 'Hi' will begin to thaw an icy atmosphere? Who's the neighbor I know is hurting and I can do something for them? Maybe they misinterpret it, but not over time as I'm persistently loving. What's the thing I can do?"
O God, if you came and loved us while we were enemies, call us out, and may we say yes to love our enemies in your name. Make this a church and make us a people who change a city because we know what it is to be loved. You put your breath in our lungs. You made our dead hearts beat. So with that breath we sing your praise. With that life we give our lives for yours, because we want to see a city to know you. We want to see people embrace the Son. O God, use us for your glory and their good. In Jesus' name, amen.