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Plagues, Censuses, and Leadership
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For: Plano Launch
Evening with the Elders
The Gospel Through Marriage
Our Lens: The Gospel
A Biblical View of Marriage
Who We Are
The Richness of the Gospel
Fort Worth Transition Update
Experiencing Our Purpose in Christ
Hello, Watermark family and others who are tuning in. This is a bit of an unusual weekend here. It is March 14 and 15 weekend, and we are thrilled to get to share with you a little bit of the perspective that I think would be an encouragement to all of us at this time. It is a privilege to take this little bit of moment to you.
Let me just say this. While we wish we were together, in being apart it's a reminder of the privilege of being together. I remind myself all the time when something happens to me that limits my mobility or my health how much I should be grateful for my good health. In the same way, when we're not together like this, it reminds us what a privilege it is to be together.
We're trying to be good neighbors. I think you've followed our communication all along these last several days. We tried not to be too quick in making decisions. I know the NCAA has canceled tournaments all the way through the month of June, for instance. They're saying things in Omaha in June aren't going to happen. That might prove to be wise, but we don't feel like we need to say today what we're going to do for a long time.
What we know we want to do today is seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, knowing if we do that, everything necessary will be added to us. We don't need to be anxious about tomorrow. I just want to start by saying I talked with the mayor of Dallas, Eric Johnson, yesterday, as did many others, and I don't think what we're doing right now is because anybody is anxious.
In fact, let me just say this. I'm really proud of our government officials, folks who are taking a look at this thing and trying to figure out what they can do to flatten the curve. If that's not a phrase you're familiar with… I probably wasn't that familiar with it myself until about a week ago. I would encourage you, if you want to, and you want to read more about what's going on with this illness and why some of the extraordinary precautions are being taken, just Google "flatten the curve" and check it out.
Phrases like community resistance, of which there is none. Just so you know, this particular novel coronavirus… The coronavirus has been around for a long time, but this particular novel one was completely unknown to the human condition until December of this year, which is why it's called what it is: COVID-19. There is no resistance anywhere on earth. The flu… We all have heard the numbers and the fact that a lot of people die even with the American flu every year.
There is a built-up resistance to a disease that's endemic to a certain area, but there is nobody on earth that has any kind of immunity, apparently, to this particular expression of the flu. So, it has been really interesting for me just to go back. I love history. I'm sure many of you guys do. There were certain cities that responded to the Spanish flu. Literally, 100 years ago from right now, there was the Spanish flu that hit our country, and certain cities, like Philadelphia, continued public gatherings.
They did a big parade celebrating some things when health officials were saying, "I'm not sure I'd do that." Whereas towns like St. Louis, frankly, faced a lot of criticism by saying, "We're going to slow down some public gatherings and some events we had planned." The implications of that turned out to be really wise in St. Louis. They had one-eighth the death rate in St. Louis that they did in Philadelphia, as an example.
So I think, wisely, our government officials are trying to say, "Hey, if there are some simple things we can do…" With this other phrase you've probably never heard before, social distancing, that has come into play in our vernacular here of late. "…we should probably do them." So we're trying to be good neighbors and good citizens.
We don't believe it's sin for us not to be together this particular day. If we did, we would lean into that, but being prudent is not sin. In fact, the Scripture tells us we should be prudent, that all along, part of wisdom is for us to take a look at some things and consider as to whether or not this particular thing is what we should do in this moment. I think we're seeing some prudence with our government leaders, and we're trying to be good neighbors and good citizens and show some prudence as well.
If there's any community of faith, if there's any group of people who were ready for this moment, it's us. We ourselves decided not to gather together corporately last fall so we could be present in our neighborhoods. How great that you were already in your neighborhood telling your friends, "I'm here. I'm God's provision for you, God's servant to be here in this particular neighborhood."
We're not snake handlers. That's why we don't throw ourselves at crazy gatherings just to prove we won't get sick. No. We're servants, and we're right there in our neighborhoods. Everybody in your neighborhood should know God has his source of grace in you right where you are. We did think it would be helpful, though, for us to get together in this way just to talk about a few things, and then I thought I'd open up God's Word. We're just going to have a chance to reflect on God's Word together.
I know you'll be doing that in appropriate smaller communities based on what wisdom would have you and your particular Community Group do all throughout the week as you devote daily; as you pursue each other relationally with appropriate social distancing; as you admonish each other to continue to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; as you live authentically and talk about how you're using your time (we're going to talk about that in just a minute); as you certainly, in all things, counsel biblically.
That's one of the best things we can do in this moment. The world is trying to figure out how to respond to this, and we have been given some really good counsel from God's Word how to respond to all things. Of all people, we should not be the ones who panic, because that's how we're going to engage missionally. Proverbs 24:10 says, "If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited." Far be it from our God to ever call us into a moment we're not completely ready for.
So, let me tell you some basic logistics, what we're doing because we want to be good neighbors and because we want to be wise and because, like I said, we're servants and not snake handlers. We are going to do what the city of Dallas has asked us to do so far. Some cities have said, "We're going to shut down all things until the end of March." Right now, the city of Dallas has just asked us to do it for seven days.
If you were going to ask me, I would bet they kind of tipped their hand yesterday that they might even extend this out another week as prudence and wisdom would have them, as government officials, consider and make those decisions and they're consulting widely. I want to tell you about a question I asked our mayor yesterday just to encourage you a little bit about why the considerations were made that were made and why other steps weren't taken.
I think we should probably prepare ourselves that this is the most loving thing to do for a season. Again, if we thought it was sin for us not to gather in this particular way, we would say, "Hey, we're going to do it," but we don't think it's sin to be good citizens, and we don't think it's sin in this particular moment to gather in other ways.
By the way, Hebrews 10:24-25, which says, "Don't forsake your assembling together, as is the habit of some," is not talking about… I've said this repeatedly in the past. It's not just talking about Sunday or Saturday gatherings; it's talking about the fact that Christians should never isolate. Wise men always seek solitude, but it's fools who isolate.
One of the things you hear us talk about again and again because we love you… In fact, so many folks who are regular attenders at Watermark who don't have a formal network to be cared for and supported right now are realizing, "Doggone! I wish I had a community of folks who were like-minded with me, who shared the same passion for the things God told me I should be passionate about, to care for me and be in contact with me formally through this time."
So, I would encourage you, the first chance you get, if you're not a member, to get that thing rolling, because we want to know who our family is. We're going to try to care for our whole community. I know you will. I know you'll be present right where you are, each of you. But when the Scripture says, "Don't forsake your own assembling together," it's not just talking about our "all church" gathering that's weekly. We certainly should do that, but he's talking about just day by day.
We know also in Hebrews it says in chapter 3, verse 13, "Encourage one another day after day, as long as it's called 'Today,' so you won't be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." All of us need to be doing that right now in every way we always have and probably even with a little bit more intentionality.
Let me just remind you of a few things. Here's what I want to do as I share with you that we're basically stopping all activities on our campus. Our churches, our smaller communities, if you will, are going to continue to meet in every way that's appropriate in smaller gatherings, and we encourage you to do that. We'll pump out a lot of fun resources. This next week, we're going to every day drop the "best of" stuff related to Recovery things at re:gen on Mondays.
Our Porch is going to broadcast similarly on Tuesday night. Wednesday night, we're going to put out some best stuff on marriage and family and things like that. On Thursday there will be some Equipping stuff we'll put out there, because we know our women meet on Wednesday and Thursday and our men meet on Thursday. So, all kinds of stuff is going to be coming and resources that we think are "best of" for you to use in your smaller communities.
Then, if this does continue, we are already working on what we're going to do that's going to be fresh and, I think, really fun and really creative and really helpful if we move out beyond this particular week. So, we're so glad you're here. All of our campuses are going to go through a thorough cleaning because we have an opportunity to do that, so we're going to take advantage of that.
Our staff is still going to be actively working, ready to serve you in any particular way we can, constantly available through email, through phone, and as appropriate, very, very present with you as we'll be pouring with and meeting with leaders all the time. Would you please let us know if there's anything that's going on inside your smaller communities that your particular community cannot address; in other words, that we can widen out to the broader part of the church?
We realize there is going to be an economic impact to this, so some of our members in our body who are tied to hourly wage or maybe work with certain industries that are no longer operating… There's going to be an issue with how to provide for yourself. So, you need to be in good communication, first, always, with others who are part of that smaller provision, and then through your shepherd and through your community staff person, and then we will make sure it's disseminated broadly throughout our body so we care for every single one of our members.
We're glad you're with us today. There are a couple of things I want to do before we get into what would be a time of Scripture study and reflection. As I thought about what God would have us do at this particular moment… Like I said, the very first thing he said was, "Todd, you should do what you always are supposed to do: seek me. Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness."
We'll make sure all of these resources are available to you and we push out through links that will be put together, even right now, when we're done, with our sermon study guide, so you can take a look at that, and you'll see links to all of these other resources I'm pushing you to. We're putting together a playlist on Spotify. That's a free account you can get set up that will have worship opportunities there for you just to listen to great music in your smaller communities or those of you who are musical can tear into it.
I hope you had a chance to read the article I wrote that we posted on my website and then The Gospel Coalition people picked up and has been translated now into a lot of different languages, because truth travels. Truth travels everywhere. Both in Asian countries and in Nordic countries, I know for a fact they've already translated that article so others can be encouraged in the way that we have.
There's a link to that. I would encourage you to read that. I talk in there a lot about why we don't worry. Worry is not our way. That's exactly what it says right after Jesus exhorts us in Matthew 6:33 to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. He tells us in Matthew 6:34 to be anxious for nothing. He specifically says it this way: "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."
That's why early in the week we didn't say, "We know for sure we're not going to meet this weekend." It wasn't because we were obstinate or hard-hearted. We weren't arrogant. Some of you guys were quick to email. Whatever the coronavirus was doing to you, it wasn't affecting your opinions or your desire to type me quickly your ideas about how we were responding initially. What we're trying to do is wait and be prudent and be wise and, when facts are there, be great neighbors and equip you to be great people of God right where you are.
So, just a couple of things. Paul takes Jesus' idea in Matthew 6:34 where he tells us to not worry, and in Philippians 4:6-7… We all know these verses, but let me repeat them to you. It says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all ** [understanding] **, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Let me just talk about a few things here. There's a statement I think we often hear that is partially true: "We don't know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future." I say it's partially true because we do know what the future holds. Good health is just the slowest possible path to a certain death. Most of us aren't going to die by the flu or some virus. Most of us aren't going to die by an atomic bomb, and I'll tell you why I say that in just a moment.
We're going to die through the same kinds of things men and women have died from from the ages. We do know what the future holds: certain death. Hebrews 9:27 says, "It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment." Jesus tells us through his servant Paul that we should be people who aren't anxious, but with prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving…
What do we have to be thankful for? We have this to be thankful for. We know what's coming. We know that, as it says in Revelation 22:12, Jesus is coming quickly, and his reward is with him, and he's going to render to every man according to what he has done. In moments like this and in moments like we spilled into these last days, God says, "Be faithful. Don't be slack in this day of distress."
We can be thankful because we know the world is not our home. We know that God's coming kingdom doesn't have viruses, doesn't have work stoppages, doesn't have anything that will cause us to practice any kind of social distancing, but I'll tell you what else God's eternal kingdom doesn't have: a chance for us to serve him by loving those who don't know him, and it also doesn't give us a chance to care for and love others.
We ended our service together last week in Colossians, chapter 1, as you remember, by reading the latter part of that particular passage. It says in there that we are to fulfill what is lacking in Christ's sufferings. He suffered in every way he needed to to bring us into relationship with God on the cross, but he left us here to be his hands and feet. What a great opportunity we have to right now rejoice in our sufferings because our world has changed.
As Paul said, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I don't share just on behalf of his body, which is the church, but in filling up what is lacking in all of Christ's afflictions. Of this church (you and me), of this particular moment, we are made ministers according to the stewardship from God he has given us in this moment, which is bestowed upon us for the benefit of the world we live in, so that we might carry out the preaching of the Word of God." This is what we read last week.
"That is, the mystery which long ago nobody knew about, which has been hidden from past ages but has been revealed to us in this particular moment, to this generation, has been manifested to us, his saints, to whom God willed to make it known." We have a tremendous opportunity when people are trying to figure out what in the world is going on to share whose world this is and how God loves the world and gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shouldn't perish but have eternal life.
Watch what it says in Colossians 1:27. God willed to make it known to you because he wanted Christ in you to be the hope of glory restored. So we should not walk according to the course of this world, but we should walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called, and we should manifest the kindness and the grace of God.
That always looks like this, in Colossians 1:28: "We proclaim him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we might present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose we labor (March 14, March 15, March 16, and forever while we're on this earth), striving not by our own flesh, but according to his power which mightily works within us." Church, we love you. We're praying for you. We're confident in you, and we know that God is the least surprised by this particular moment.
Someone brought me a cup of coffee, and I got rid of the particular brand they brought me the cup of coffee in. They went back and got a coffee cup. This random coffee cup that was left in the back just says, "Good morning. This is God. I will be handling all your problems today." That's a really corny statement. It's a really biblical truth.
So I pray that in the midst of this you would know that worry is not your way. Please, go back and read through that article we're going to link to you. I think you'll be encouraged by it. Share it with others and be thankful that the world we're headed to doesn't have viruses. Be thankful that you know why there's going to be a resurrection for you to life, and encourage others to know that exact same thing.
Let me tell you what else I would encourage you to do. I just made some notes for myself as I was thinking about it. This would be a great practice for you as you start to think about "What else as I pray in supplication with thanksgiving?" What are some other things we can be thankful for? Here's something I scribbled down as I was making some notes to myself.
Our world is slowing down right now. It's the first time in my entire lifetime, obviously, that the NCAA tournament has been wiped out. I don't know how much time you were going to spend filling out your bracket, but you might want to be somebody who takes advantage of the fact that there's no NBA, no NHL. We all know the NFL is over for a while. Who was watching the XFL anyway? All college basketball is done, and a myriad of other things aren't happening.
That means you're going to get some time back, those of you who were into those kinds of things. Some of you are going to be encouraged to work from home, which means you're not going to have to spend that time commuting. Make sure you use your time wisely. Thank God for this moment to slow down and use your time wisely.
This is interesting, so tune in here. People who study such things have said that because of the exponential growth in human knowledge, human knowledge has doubled almost every single year, so there are all kinds of things that are constantly being thrown at us. I love this. I read a long time ago that Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the eighteenth century (that's the 1700s)… There's more information in a daily edition of the New York Times than Jonathan Edwards was confronted with his entire lifetime.
The brother had no distractions, so he had more of an opportunity to study God's Word and to do God's work, but that's not an excuse for us. We're probably not grooming our horses or tending to our gardens. I mean, I know he didn't have a house phone, much less an iPhone that was a constant source of distraction to him, but he disciplined himself. I think even in an age where everybody had the same challenges that age had that Edwards distinguished himself, and so should we.
In this moment, God has given you extra time to be still and to seek him and to know that he is God, to journal, to write, to reflect, to study, to encourage, to be ready to counsel biblically because you have to have something to say. So download the Join the Journey app. Continue your Bible reading program for this year. Catch up on your effort to read through the Bible this year. Don't waste your time. I'll bet you Jonathan Edwards spent a fortnight studying his Bible, not putting his Bible aside so he could play Fortnite. So why don't you follow his example and get after it.
So, there are some high-level thoughts. This is what we're doing this week. We'll let you know as we move through this week what being a good neighbor would have us do in our city. We're going to continue to give our advice. One of the things I will let you know I did ask the mayor about… I said, "Mayor, 500 seems to be kind of a random number." I'd heard the day before it was going to be 1,000, and then they reduced it to 500, and they even recommend not 250 or more gather.
I just said, "That could be considered rather arbitrary, and also it's curious to me that you didn't shut down movie theaters, which you know a lot of folks are going to go to, and malls, even though there are some stores that are making decisions." Even right before I came up here this weekend, Apple announced it's closing all stores for a while, which is really interesting. That's their effort, I guess, to be either a good neighbor or to care for their employees.
All this to say this: I appreciated his response, which was, "We, of course, had all of those options, but we just thought that what we should do is take some steps, and we're asking if you guys would be supportive of us in that. We might get to where we need to take other steps." I appreciate their effort to be prudent. I appreciate there to be a St. Louis, if you will, in 1919 that reduced the long-term impact as they flattened the curve in our city.
So, the Scripture tells us to pray for kings and all those who are in authority. I was encouraged that our president yesterday announced that March 15 is a national day of prayer, so all of us ought to be praying for kings and all those who are in authority, that we might live quiet and tranquil lives. Pray for your mayor. Pray for city council members. Adam McGough is a member of Watermark and is one of our city councilpersons and is a great gift to us and our city.
So pray. Pray that members of our body would run for school boards and run for city council and run for state reps and state senators and congresspersons and other ways, that they would serve in that way. Pray for one another, pray for our nation, pray for wisdom, and be God's people. We'll let you know what we're going to do as we go forward.
Now listen. Don't leave, because what we're going to do, just so we can maybe save this next little thing, because that stuff I've just talked about will be a little bit more relative to the particular time we're gathering this weekend in this way, but what we're going to do is we're going to study in just a moment something fresh and something encouraging to you. I'm going to take a look at the censuses in Scripture and the plague that came because somebody took a census wrong.
We have a census that's about to happen right now in our country, and we have a bit of a plague, so we're going to see if we can't learn something. I'm going to take you to some fun places in the Bible. I'm going to answer some Bible problems. I'm going to show you how to study the Scripture. I'm going to do some application for today. We're going to roll the bumper just so we can save this for posterity going forward, and we're going to have a great time together in God's Word.
I love you. I'm praying for you. The elders are praying for you. Our staff is praying for you. I know you're praying for one another. I'm proud of you, church. This is our time. You are ready. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving… And you have so much to be thankful for. Add to my list, and let's be about it.
One more thing before we study God's Word. We've talked about a lot of it already. I mentioned atomic bombs, so I don't want to just leave that hanging out there. I want to share this with you, because I thought this was excellent. I've given you more Paul and more Jesus, but I want to give you a little of Jack Lewis, also known as C.S. Lewis. He wrote something that is just as relevant today as when he wrote it. It's a little essay called "On Living in an Atomic Age."
I want you to listen to this, because I thought it was really helpful and really relevant to us. Just bear with me a moment, and then we're going to go study more of God's Word together. This is what he said. If you want to, as you're listening, every time I say atomic bomb, put in coronavirus or epidemic or pandemic or whatever it is that is troubling you at this particular moment. Listen to what Lewis says.
"In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. 'How are we to live in an atomic age?' [How are we to live in a pandemic?] I am tempted to reply: 'Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.'
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death [before the coronavirus] before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still.
It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.
If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb [by a plague], let that [plague or] bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs."
It's so funny. I mentioned the basement in my TGC article, and God had Lewis and me thinking similarly, although with a completely different intellect. He says, "They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds." No, friends. Let the Word of God dominate your minds. That's why we're going to study it together right now.