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Serenity Now! Whether You Live in Mayberry or Manhattan

Last message in a 3-part series, "By Still Waters". Having taken inventory of the damage stress does to us and to our walk with Christ, how do we go about pursuing true peace?

Todd WagnerSep 24, 2006

Messages In This Series (3)
Serenity Now! Whether You Live in Mayberry or Manhattan
Todd WagnerSep 24, 2006
What a Crazy Life Creates in Us
Todd WagnerSep 17, 2006
What a Crazy Life Communicates to Others
Todd WagnerSep 10, 2006

I love the gift of music. I'm telling you. Last week, we got up here after I don't even know what genre that was. A cross between rock and rap, and it really communicated to us the stress we can feel in the world today. Then there's that great song by Rascal Flatts that really communicates a lot of how we all feel. He said, "Now I can't fly, but I got two feet that get me high up here." There's even a reference there of climbing to a lonely place where you can regain some perspective in your life.

Let me talk about that song for a second. We say we miss Mayberry. What is about what Mayberry represents that we all miss? It's the simplicity of life. It's a sense of folks caring about you and knowing your name. It's relationship. I mentioned last week that busyness rapes us of our ability to have relationships.

People who are workaholics or "activityaholics" are really often people who don't want to face the brokenness of the relationships they live in. Rather than work through the way God has designed us to work through and taught us how we can work through the things that separate us and isolate from one another, what we often try and do is fill our lives with activities so we're distracted from the depth of our loneliness.

Mayberry represents to us that place where it doesn't have to be crazy busy. But I want you to really think back for a second about Mayberry. Was there ever stress in Mayberry? If you didn't think of Barney when I asked that question, you haven't watched the show very much. His name should be Barney Stress, not Barney Fife. Everything about Barney created stress. Where did Barney want to go back to?

Let me tell you something. I literally, in my brain, just came up with this, and then I had to sanctify it. I was sitting there listening to that song one more time and meditating on it. I've listened to it a couple times this week. Stress is a function more of where you place your hope than it is of where you place your heinie (that's the part I needed to sanctify). It's more a function of where you place your hope, then it is a function of where you have your home.

What I want y'all to understand this morning is that Mayberry had stress. It was all a matter of if you were an individual who knew things were going to work out. How many times did Andy say to Barney, "Barney, settle down. These things have a way of working themselves out"? Andy represents a guy who was grounded, whereas Barney represents a person who was a control freak, who has to make it all work and take care of all of it himself. There was no sense of sovereignty in Barney's life. So Barney was full of stress.

The solution isn't to fantasize that the good old days have gone. The solution is to put your hope someplace where you can create a sense of peace in the craziness of the world. The solution is to pursue relationships the way the good folks pursued it in Mayberry in your Manhattan. There are, today, some very lonely people in Manhattan. But do you know there are some folks who are experiencing a life of peace and abundance in Manhattan? It's all a matter of where they place their hope and prioritize their life, not a matter of where their heinie is or where their home is.

This is really what it says in Haggai 1. We're just going to read a few short verses. It's a tough book to find. We all need to get better about being able to flip right there. If you have your Bible, we're going to turn around a couple other places today. Let me just read this to you. This is what the Lord says to us. "There's going to be no peace in your life if you don't know me. You might have fleeting times of satisfaction or temporary experiences of what you think is fullness and sanity, but it's going to be insanity later when this reality that you're creating turns out to be an illusion."

Look what it says in Haggai 1:5-11. "Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Consider your ways!'" Take a good, honest, hard look at yourself. Be still and evaluate. Be honest. Calm down long enough to admit to yourself the reality of your emptiness. This is what he says. "You have sown much [there's a lot going on] but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk…"

In other words, why you give yourself away to these different ideas for different moments, you always are coming down. There's always another deal you need. There's always another injection you have to take, and always another click of your mouse to escape. "… [you earn] wages to put into a purse with holes." There's never enough money to give you peace, enough deal to give you significance, so you don't try it again.

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Consider your ways!'" Is this the way you really want to live? "' Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,' says the LORD. 'You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?' declares the LORD of hosts, 'Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.'"

What God is talking about right here is this is a time in the nation of Israel's history when they had been put away. They had gone into bondage because they did not seek and follow God. So God said, "You don't want to walk with me? I'll let you walk as a slave to those who you've given yourself to, and you've found security and treaties that you've made. But I'm going to show you that there's nobody worth aligning yourself with other than me. Other people who you align yourself with will eventually look for the moment of your weakness and seize upon you."

That's what happened to Israel. They thought they found safety in their allegiances and alliances to the ways of the world, only to become captive to them. So for 70 years, they went away. God in his kindness and his sovereignty, created some world events where he raised up an individual who was a deliver, a guy named Cyrus who was the leader of the Medes and the Persians who wiped out Babylon.

Then because God had stirred him in his heart to change the way the people of Israel were handled, he told the people of Israel who were settled in Babylon (modern-day Iraq), "You can go back home if you'd like. You can worship the God in the land that you came from." Some of the folks in Israel had gotten used to living in Babylon, and they didn't want to leave.

There were certain people who understood God's sovereign plan for Israel. They were the right people, who really wanted to honor God, who went back to the right place where God said he was going to make himself known, who wanted to do the right thing.

They got there and instead of doing what God said they should do, which is to order their lives in a manner which is consistent with how he wanted them to order their lives as a group of people whose lives circulated around their attention to him and celebration of who he was in the temple, they got distracted with building their own homes and scurrying about finding greatness and security again in their own ways.

So even though they had just come out of this place where they were in bondage to something else, and they were called back to celebrate who God was, it wasn't long after they returned back to Israel that they got distracted all over again, and there was not peace in the land. So God said, "How is this working out for you?"

In a modern-day analogy, the temple of God is our bodies, God says, "I want you to do business with me in your heart of hearts. I want you to gather around other believers who also have me tabernacling with them, dwelling in them. To celebrate who I am, we come together here on Sundays to remind each other the greatness of who our God is. We discuss and sing and praise him.

As we go out throughout the week, the idea isn't that we then move to isolation but that he continues to tabernacle among us. We continue to worship him in Spirit, meaning with all of our heart and truth, in fullness and acknowledgment of who he is. But if we just come here and for a second, in this tabernacle that is our body, celebrate him, and then leave and go back giving ourselves to other things, we will find the same leanness in our souls that Israel found during this time in its history.

Isn't that the state of many people? Even people who say they know God. Because they don't walk with him as their Good Shepherd. So God's saying, "Consider your ways. Is this really working out for you that you give me fleeting attention and get to me when you can or maybe carve out a singular time of the week to acknowledge me?" He says, "No. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to focus on me again. Be still and know that I'm God. Walk with me throughout the day. Continually remind yourself of my ways and not your ways."

In verse 10, he says, "Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce." In fact, the things that God says in a very circumstantial way that he was supposed to give the nation of Israel that would allow them in their grand society to experience the blessing of God he withheld from them in the same way that he withholds from us the satisfaction and refreshment of soul that we can only get when we pursue relationship with him.

"I called for a drought on the land…" God says. This is Psalm 106 again. "I sent leanness to their soul." Haggai continues, "…on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands." God is saying right there, "I'm going to rig this deal. You will have momentary periods of serenity, but it's going to be insanity when you realize that you have money that you put in purses with holes, that you have all kinds of drugs but you can't ever get drugged enough because you're quiet desperation or sometimes loud screaming still makes its way through.

It's an amazing thing how comfortable people can be in an uncomfortable circumstance when they live with the God of hope. But we are an illustration as a people who have progressed more than any other people in the history of the world, who have more material provision than anybody else in the rest of the world, who have all this technology that's supposed to make our lives simple. We are an illustration of how uncomfortable people can be in a comfortable situation when they live outside of the will of God.

What's the solution? The world is always going to offer you a new way. Let me just ask you a few questions. Is this true of you, people who say you have a Good Shepherd? Do you have difficulty relaxing? Do you have tightness in your neck and shoulders? Do you have lower back pain? Do you feel tired and lifeless most of the time? Do you have frequent, severe headaches?

Do you get indigestion often? Do you have diarrhea or constipation? Do you think you might be getting an ulcer? Do you have trouble sleeping at night? Are you a teeth grinder? Are you susceptible to every cold and virus that comes down? Do you have allergies or asthma? Do you eat and snack excessively? Have you lost a lot of weight? Do you have cold hands and sweaty palms? Do you have shortness of breath? Do you have a rapid pulse? Do you generally feel nervous and unsettled?

I would say, looking at what Rascal Flatts said, do you have a dream of constantly escaping and getting away? Do you have a fantasy of buying a one-way ticket to someplace where you can be alone and leaving it all? Do you know that happens a lot, where people just disappear?

There's a rather famous case in our little community not many years ago where a guy just up and left and disappeared, left five kids and a beautiful wife high and dry. They couldn't find him until a number of years later, he showed up back on the East Coast. He said, "I just couldn't handle it anymore. I had to get away." He didn't face it the way God has men face the emptiness of our ways, but as a coward, he ran away.

Do you love anything that helps you escape from your reality? Busyness, activity, or something that would (for a while) delude you from reality? God says, "I want you to live in the reality that you're in victoriously, whether it's Manhattan or Mayberry. You can have stress or peace, and it's all going to be contingent upon who your Shepherd is and where your hope is; not where your home is."

There are all kinds of ways to find peace. One of the things I love about some of the media that is out there is they take issues that are in our society and they come up with funny ways to illustrate the insanity of how we try and find peace. Here's one. Take a look at it.

[Video]

Frank: You want the legroom, say you want the legroom. Don't blame the mechanism.

George: All right, dad. We're five blocks from the house. Sit sideways.

Frank: Like an animal. Because of her, I have to sit here like an animal. Serenity now! Serenity now!

George: What is that?

Frank: The doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on tape tells me to say, "Serenity now."

George: Are you supposed to yell it?

Frank: The man on the tape wasn't specific.

George: What happened to the screen door? It blew off again?

Estelle: I told you to fix that thing.

Frank: Serenity now!

George: Dad, the hinges are all rusted here.

Estelle: I hate that old door. Throw it out.

Frank: Serenity now!

Kramer: It might be time to just let her go, Frank. She's worked hard for ya'.

Frank: Will you put her to rest for me?

Kramer: Oh yeah. I'll take good care of her.

Frank: You're late again, Costanza, so listen up. Starting tonight, we're having a little sales contest. The loser gets fired; the winner gets a Waterpik.

Estelle: You're not giving away our Waterpik.

Frank: Serenity now!

George: You know what? It doesn't matter, because I quit.

Frank: I guess your mother was right. You never could compete with Lloyd Braun!

George: You wanna sell computers? I will show you how to sell computers. Hello, Mr. Farneman. You wanna buy a computer? No? Why not? All right, I see. Good answer. Thank you.

Jerry: What happened to you, pal?

Kramer: Joey Zanfino and some of the neighborhood kids. They ambushed me with a box of 'Grade A's.

Jerry: Are you all right?

Kramer: Oh, no. I'm fine. Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.

Jerry: So, you're using Frank's relaxation method?

Kramer: Jerry, the anger, it just melts right off. Serenity now. Look at this. Serenity now.

Frank: Hey, Braun, Costanza's kicking your butt!

George: Watch how it's done. Oh, hello, Mr. Vandelay? Would you like to buy a computer? Oh, really? Two dozen?

Frank: Costanza, you're white hot!

Phone: If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and…

Frank: Hey, Braun, I got good news and bad news. And they're both the same: you're fired. Costanza, you've won the Waterpik.

Estelle: You're not gonna give away that Waterpik.

Frank: You wanna bet? Serenity now! Serenity now!

Lloyd: You know, you should tell your dad that 'Serenity now' thing doesn't work. It just bottles up the anger, and eventually, you blow.

George: What do you know? You were in the nut house.

Lloyd: What do you think put me there?

George: I heard they found a family in your freezer.

Lloyd: Serenity now. Insanity later.

Jerry: What happened here, Kramer?

Kramer: Serenity now, serenity now.

Jerry: Kramer.

Kramer: Jeez, Jerry. I didn't hear you come in. Yeah, the children, they've done some redecorating. Serenity now, serenity now.

Jerry: You don't look well.

Kramer: Well, that's odd, because I feel perfectly at peace with the world.

Jerry: Oh, I'm sorry. Look at me, I stepped on your last rose.

Kramer: Jerry, come on. Don't get upset about it. There's always next spring. Now will you excuse me for a moment. Serenity now!

[End of Video]

That is just genius. It just takes the fact that we're all looking for someplace to find some serenity, and it shows the emptiness and the foolishness of serenity now, but insanity later when we get alone in our room. That's not what God wants for you. He doesn't want you to drift back to Mayberry. He didn't want you to be deluded for a moment through some chemical escape. He wants you to live in the abundance of life. So how do you get there?

Last week, I gave you some very practical steps towards that end. I'll just review. Take control. We encouraged you to evaluate everything prayerfully. We're going to talk about how specifically we're going to give you a means to do that coming up. Purposefully, but not privately. We told you to take control, to not schedule by what others think you should value, but what you value, and what specifically, your Good Shepherd has encouraged you to do.

That means you have to get to know him and say, "God, lead me in the everlasting way. Let me not lean on my own understanding. In all my ways, let me acknowledge you, and you'll make my paths straight." That really should say, "Set your schedule by what your Good Shepherd values and expects."

Take control, we said. If you don't set your own priorities, somebody else is going to set them for you, and they're not going to have your best interests in mind. We talked about how two of the greatest things God gives us are peace and rest, and they are provisions that idolaters never get.

A seminal verse that we've been looking at in the midst of all of this, and in fact, it is the place that Jesus gave the famous statement that he had, where he says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." He took it from Jeremiah 6. It's worth reading again. This is what it says in Jeremiah 6:16-19 and verse 21.

"Thus says the LORD, 'Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it…'" In other words, don't dream about going back to Mayberry. Walk in the way that the people in Mayberry who had peace walked. "'…and you will find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' And I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' but they said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. 'Hear, O earth: behold…"

"I am going to bring leanness to the people. I will bring emptiness to you no matter how full your purses are. I will send leanness to your soul because I love you and want you to see the emptiness of your ways." It says, "…and as for My law, they have rejected it also. […] Therefore, thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I am laying stumbling blocks before this people. And they will stumble against them, fathers and sons together; neighbor and friend will perish.'"

There are stumbling blocks all along us, and those stumbling blocks are the lack of serenity and peace that we look for. There's a little bit of what I did last week that I want to expound on for a second. I want to talk to you about how God cares for you and wants to lead you in this everlasting way.

We talked about how if you don't set your own priorities, somebody else will set them for you, and they won't have your own interests in mind. Specifically, we went back to Genesis 1, and we saw where God made us in his image. Just like he rules over the universe in peace and strength, we are to rule our world and not to let our world rule us.

There's another little section in Genesis 2 that I want to spend some time on today. It comes from a place that you may not think has anything to do with peace, stillness, community, relationship, fullness. It's in Genesis 2:24-25. You've heard this verse numerous times at weddings. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." Then he goes onto say, "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed."

The picture of peace, not insecurity. Not a life that is self-obsessed and, therefore, constantly worrying about what others think about them and, therefore, driven to negative places but being completely at peace and comfortable with one another. Completely exposed but together, nothing driving them apart.

What's really interesting about this text is this. One of the things I do whenever I marry a couple, is I take them to Genesis 2:24 specifically and say, "This is God's design for your life. If you want this relationship to be everything God intended it to be, then you have to understand the blueprint for a successful relationship with right there in Genesis 2:24.

Everything you need to know about how to make this marriage work, not just not end up in divorce, but how to have it be the marriage you dream of, is right here. You have to understand what it means when it says leave and cleave for the purpose of being able to be so close and so together that you can know every bump and insecurity in each other's life and be in a place of peace, fullness, and really being loved."

In the ancient, near Middle East culture, when you left your mother and father, that means you left your social, your economic, and your professional. Everything about your life was tied up into the family unit. When you gave yourself to a woman or allowed yourself to be given to a man, you then started over. You still would be in the context of your family community, but you were no longer defined by your relationship with your family or your father, and you needed to start a new life together and enjoy the strength of community you had.

Here's what it means to leave. I tell couples, "When you get married, you're saying, 'As a result, I'm about to enter into a covenant relationship with you because I believe that you want to love me and act toward me in a consistently loving way where you have my best interests in mind and not your best interests in mind. I am, therefore, going to alter everything in my life.'"

So the word leave really means this. It means you need to adjust any relationship or activity that's going to interfere with your covenant commitment with your spouse. You're saying, "When I make a covenant with you… I don't have a covenant with my workplace. I don't have a covenant with my hobby. I don't have a covenant with my friends. I don't have a covenant with anything other than you. Everything that has been in my life before is going to now be adjusted, reevaluated so that it in no way can interfere with the intimacy that we want to have with each other."

Now, I'll say this. This is not a one-time negotiation, because I've had couples do this where they come and say, "Okay. I've been playing in softball leagues and flag football leagues and poker with the guys, and we have negotiated down to two nights a week from my five." The wife says, "Okay. I think I can live with that. Two nights a week. I'll still go out and do some stuff with my girlfriends. We're young."

What happens a little bit later is maybe some kids are entered into that or maybe there's a new career where you travel more, and the two days you're home are the days you're out playing with your guys. You look at that wife and say, "What do you mean? Why aren't you happy? We negotiated I would only do this two nights a week? That's all I'm doing. I'm not doing five. You said that was going to be okay. That was the deal we cut."

No. This is what is called a perfect present verb where you are constantly reevaluating. It is not a one-time negotiation. It's a constant evaluation. In other words, "What we thought was going to work last week, last year, is it still working today? Or has something happened now in the context of our life stage and growth that we need to reevaluate what we thought made sense then because we want to adjust it now? I want to leave something that has been in our past even since we've been married so that it doesn't threaten the way you feel loved and honored and served by me." It's a constant tweaking of the relationship.

What does that require? In order for there to be peace in the home, what does that require? What often happens is the wife tries to communicate to the husband through maybe less enthusiasm about a physical relationship or sometimes just the cold treatment or sometimes by letting yourself go and not looking really excited when you're around, to just getting lost in books or soap operas or friends. "This relationship isn't feeding me anymore," and she can't believe that you can't figure it out and sends you all kinds of nonverbals.

That typically doesn't work because what guys do is they go, "Okay, she seems to be happy." She's now filling her life up with these things over here, and he fills his life up with more things over there. What happens is isolation begins to multiply, and the relationship that was to bring you the greatest joy is now one of the things that brings you the most amount of pain.

Then what a lot of folks do is they give themselves more to work, give themselves more to hobbies, and then often set themselves for the one thing that will satisfy them, which is another relationship until they spin out of control either with an emotional affair or often a physical one. Sometimes it's pornography. It's not even a real person. It's just a fantasy that this woman and I are close and she gives herself in nakedness and wildness and unleashed abandon to me.

But God doesn't want you to live inside some fantasy where you're successful. He wants you to have the tools to work through the relationship in a way that you're successful there and have the fullness that you want there.

Wives, he doesn't want you to get lost in some love story. He wants you to have the love of your life right there with you. It takes what? Constant communication, not nonverbal manipulations, where they sit together and talk and say, "How are you doing? I want to be subject to you in love. I want to reorder everything in my life. I don't feel a closeness. We're not coming together and celebrating with passion the way we used to."

So a good relationship is a relationship that on a regular basis (daily, weekly) is sitting down and saying, "How are we doing? How are you feeling? Is there an emptiness in our love for one another? Is there a schedule that has pulled us away from each other that we need to adjust so we can be what we always wanted to be: there for each other, loving for each other, and caring for each other?"

Secondly, not only does God say, "To make this relationship work, you have to adjust everything about yesterday," he says, "You have to evaluate everything about tomorrow. You should cleave to your spouse." Let me tell you what that means. Cleaving means you will evaluate every new opportunity or obligation by asking yourself, "Will this bring us closer together or drive us further apart?"

In other words, God has it rigged. You want oneness? This is how a man and wife will come together under the fullness of intimacy that they're supposed to have. They have to communicate about yesterday and the way they have adopted habits and priorities. Is it affecting their relationship?

Then they have to evaluate new opportunities by asking, "If we take this on, what will it do to our relationship? Yes, this new job is exciting. Yes, it's a promotion. But you're going to be traveling X number of days a week, and what will that do to you and me?"

Rather than broker the intimacy that we long for now and God intends for us to have now by saying, "We'll take this job for five years, make that salary, save this percentage, and then we'll be able to buy that house in that neighborhood we want, and then we'll have peace," what often happens is folks broker their current relationship for a future promise of a good relationship.

During that five years, there's such isolation and separation and learning to live apart from each other that develops, that when they get that cute little home on that cute little street, they end up fighting over who stays in it when they split up. God says, "You have to be wise about what you let enter into your life. Because things, even good things, can get in the way of the intimacy that he intends for you to have in your relationship.

Why am I talking about marriage when I'm talking about serenity? I'll tell you why. In Ephesians 5, Paul takes marriage, and he says, "Because of sin, because you don't live the way God wants you to live, marriages have been a disaster." In Ephesians 1, 2, and 3, what he does is he says, "But Jesus has interrupted the destruction of your way, and he claimed you again. He has shown you a better way. You have chosen to believe that he is the Good Shepherd who gave his life for you as sheep."

So you're restored to God, and now you begin to live as God wants you to live. Which means in your relationships now, you can be as others-centered as you were in the garden before sin entered into the world and love each other and delight each other and have a marriage that is not defined by self-interest, sin, and separation.

But then he goes further. Watch this. He quotes in Ephesians 5:31, "FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED [cleave] TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."

Here's the deal. Right there, Paul is saying, "Marriage is the ultimate analogy of God pursuing us. He is the male. He is the bridegroom who sought us, his lover, and has called us into a relationship with him.

Those of us who have come into a relationship with him said, "Yes, yes. Of all the gods in the world who offer themselves to me for me to follow after them and give my life to them… Whether it be materialism or whether it be just busyness of activity or whether it be some addiction to some coping strategy or some fantasy world I go to and try and find meaning in, I'm giving myself to the reality of Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, and resurrected on the third day."

God revealed in him, "I will love him, and he will be my beloved." What do you think you do when you come into relationship with Jesus? This is why most of us don't have oneness with God and, therefore, don't have peace. We've never, having said, "I will give my heart to you," gone back and done the things that will give us the oneness with God that gives us a peace that passes understanding.

Watch this. When you come into a relationship with Christ, everything is offered up. God, what do I need to adjust, to refocus in my life right now, so it won't interfere in my relationship with you? What idols have I been chasing that now I no longer need to chase? What have I been a slave to that now, for freedom's sake, I've been set free, and I no longer need to chase it?

What do you tell me to love that I might love, that we might pursue it together, and I might experience the oneness that comes in walking with you and experience the fruit of intimacy with you? Which among other things, is the fruit of self-control, the fruit of peace.

Secondly, we don't evaluate things that come into our life. We don't say, "Will this new opportunity drive us closer together, Jesus, or bring us further apart?" In other words, are you asking this question? If I add these things to my life, will it make me more like my Savior? If I add this thing to my life, will I be more in bondage or more free? If I add this thing to my life, will I have more anxiety or more peace? If I add this thing to my life, will I deepen in peace, or will I add pressure?

Are you evaluating your life that way? If I get this house, take on this debt, have to take this job to work this way, not be home for my kids, cause tension in the relationship… "But in 10 years, I can retire." We never retire. We just want more money, and we keep putting it in a purse with holes because the strategy has failed.

What I'm telling you is the leave and cleave picture that we have to do to make our human relationships work, Paul is saying that what's will make your relationship with God work. Are you really focused on your relationship with your Shepherd? If there is anxiety, if there is peace, if there is despair in your life, the answer is no.

You are not seeking first his kingdom. You are not adjusting your life according to his will, way, and Word. You're not evaluating things that are coming in by saying, "How is this going to affect my relationship with Christ and, also, the ability that I'm going to have to do the things that Christ wants me to do that he says will give me ultimate meaning and significance in the way that I'm available to my family, to him, to life mission, and purpose." Do you get the picture?

Certain things are going to come into your life, and you can't avoid them. Sometimes you can't ask whether or not an illness is going to come into your life, maybe a loss of a job is going to come into your life. But how you handle it (like Barney or like Andy) is going to make all the difference. Sometimes you have to say, "This thing has a way of working out."

Hudson Taylor was a great man of God who did a lot of work in China. This is the one thing he said. "It matters not how great the pressure is, only where the pressure lays. As long as the pressure does not come between me and my Savior, but presses me to Him, then the greater the pressure, the greater my dependence upon Him."

Let me ask you this. Are you evaluating everything in your life with a sense of, "God loves me. He's in control. He cares for me. This would not have come had it not come through the hands of a loving shepherd who is over this pasture that I am in"? So if there is pressure coming, if there are wolves at the door, it is only to draw me closer to him.

I might find peace in his presence and just to push up against him in this moment where I can glorify him or the fact that I am preserved and provided for even in the valley of death, a picture of despair and destruction, but there is security. As I walk through that valley the world says, "There's no way you can peace with that kind of life or that kind of diagnosis. There's no way you can have peace with that kind of circumstance," and you can say, "Oh, yes, I can." They're going to say, "Who is your Shepherd?"

Here's what I wanted to share with you. God longs for a relationship with you, but you have to sit with your lover and let him talk to you about the reason there is not oneness between you and your Good Shepherd who leads you besides still waters and green pastures and restores your soul and puts you in a place where you're prospering as an individual. It's because you're not spending time with him and ordering your life in a way that will allow you to experience what he says you'll experience.

Let me give you a very little simple four things that I would encourage you to do as you move into this next week. I'm going to lay it out like this. First, you have to believe. Secondly, you have to be sill. Thirdly, you have to be wise. Lastly, you will be blessed.

This is what it means to believe. The very last words Jesus spoke when he was here on earth were, "I've given you a life full of purpose and mission and meaning that you will never, ever regret. I'm not going to make you some king of some temporal success story. I'm going to make you an individual who participates significantly in an enduring kingdom."

Look what it says in Matthew 28:16-20. What Jesus is going do is he's going to bracket as he wraps up his message to his servants… He's going to bracket the center of what we're to be about with two very important truths that you have to believe for you to have peace. This is what he says.

"But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.'" In other words, "You have to know I am in control. I'm the Good Shepherd. There's not a bear, there's not a lion, there's not an enemy who can take you away from me. I have all authority. Nothing will befall you except that which, in my sovereignty, I chose to allow into this pasture.

Because I'm perfect shepherd, I'm not going to allow the metal of your life to bear the load of stress greater than that which I have destined you and enabled you to handle. So when it comes, know that I believe you can handle it or it would not have come into your life. But you have to stay with me. You have to know this is not an accident. You have to know that I have all authority, and I'm intimately acquainted with you."

Watch what he says. "All authority is mine. Now, you go, and you live your life this way, and you'll get fullness and meaning and purpose. You actively call other people to have a relationship with me, their Good Shepherd, and you teach them to observe everything I've commanded of you. What it means to leave the ways of the world and to adjust their life priorities and to lean not on their own understanding but in all their ways acknowledge me, so they can make their paths straight.

You have them identify themselves with me, their Good Shepherd, and remember this as you go. The one who has all authority loves you, has your best interest in mind, and will never leave you or forsake you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the age." So he says, "You have to believe that. If you don't believe that, you're going to run in all kinds of different directions trying to figure this thing out on your own, and you'll have stress whether you're in Manhattan or you're in Mayberry."

Secondly, be wise. A number of months ago, I received an email from a guy who came to me who said, "My life is not right now defined by still waters, by green pastures. My soul is absolutely a wreck. I have lost the respect of my wife, intimacy with my kids, I am burdened by debt, and I don't know what to do. My life is out of control."

This is a guy who said he knew Christ. So I sat down with him and shared with him this fact. I said, "No. Here's your deal. You say you know the Lord. You say you believe in him. But you're not walking with him. Your life would not feel the way it is, and it certainly wouldn't be ordered that way." He took some offense at that, but we worked our way through it.

He realized, "I can see from God's word that I have not ordered my life the way Scripture wants me to." You're right. So what we do? Later that afternoon, I shot him an email. With him permission, I want to read you the email I shot to him. This is what it says.

"Bill, great meeting with you this morning. I was totally encouraged by your humility and honest self-assessment. Now, for the good part. Application. A couple of thoughts as I lay this down. Figuring out what it means to seek God first is the easy part. This morning, you said you wanted to seek him first. You figured out that you haven't been seeking God first, and so you're overwhelmed. You don't have the peace that your Good Shepherd wants you to provide. There aren't still waters in your life. Figuring that out is the easy part. Seeking, trusting, yielding, following faithfully is the transforming part."

So I wrote down James 1:22 and 1 John 3:18. " 'But prove yourselves [Bill]doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.'** Bill, don't just love God with word or a tongue but follow through now in deed and in truth." This is what I said. "This is a journey for all of us. None of the things I'm about to exhort you to are a silver bullet, but together they become God's way for us to experience his goodness, grace, and abundant life.

Everyone wants a life free from the burdens of isolation, coldness in relationships, freedom from debt, and the concern for many things, but too few of us take the grace available in Christ." Proverbs 13:4 I wrote to him says, "The soul of the sluggard craves [peace, meaning, significance] and gets nothing, But the soul of the diligent is made fat."

"You told me you wanted your life to be different. Now, what are you going to do? Are you going to have a sluggard soul who now turns back his own ways, or are you going to push through and do what God wants you to do? We go our own way, Bill, and in that way, it's the way of death. It seems right to us at the moment, but in the end, it is the way of death, just like the proverb said it would be. Albeit, sometimes a very slow, seemingly happy, successful, got-it-all-together death, but death none the less."

This guy lived in a home that if you drove by it, you'd go, "If I ever lived there, I'd have it made." He has a beautiful wife. "If I had a woman like that who I could share my bedroom with, I'd have it made. I'd have healthy children." He seemed like he had life, but it was death. A seemingly successful, got-it-all death, but death none the less.

From there, I shared with him the things that God calls us to. I shared with him a couple of things that going at this alone is not going to get it done. I said, "God in his goodness has given us each other." I put down a number of verses there that would illustrate that. I told him about the folks who would him connect with others who could shepherd him through the days ahead and told him how he could get ahold of those different people.

This is what's great. That was in February 2006. About three weeks ago, this is what I received from him. "Todd, I wanted to give you an update on the family and what has transpired these last months. First of all, Kim and I have been truly seeking (for the first time) him every morning together. We're praying together, and for the first time in our marriage, we feel God directing our path. I'm beginning to lead my family spiritually like I've always said I wanted to.

We determined that we could not walk in the public school system we were in. It was overwhelming us, and the current was too strong. With the high cost of living and the lack of support for our values in the school system, we knew we needed a change." He was still; he faced reality. Now let's see if he's going to be wise.

"We found a broker to help us find a house and got busy taking practical steps to deal with our reality. I had a friend participate with me who was a great shepherd in the process. We determined we needed a different environment for both our children and for us. We put our house on the market, and we prayed for a buyer on Thursday. We had a contract on Friday. The house sold in a week, and exactly the number we asked God to provide (I mean to the penny)…"

Let me just tell you something. Did you hear what he did? He moved out of the community that everybody is trying to move into because he knew it was a slow death for him. The illusion of looking like a success was not worth the cost of being unsuccessful.

"We're still unpacking boxes, but more than a few tears have been shed thanking God for providing for our family in such an amazing way." The rest, Paul describes, when you walk in his will (meaning Jesus' will) is starting to sink in. "Being shed of most of our debt is a liberating feeling. Getting our budget updated and finding an area to serve are our next big tasks. I've always avoided doing a budget because I knew we were in bondage to house debt, taxes, and credit to cover shortfalls.

Celebrating our God by sharing what he has given to us with him was a joke. We have found a home and now a church in South Lake. It reminds me a lot of Watermark. We're being fed well here and looking forward to applying our gifts as time permits. I don't have enough time to explain how my son is doing now that he has a father who shepherds him well, not according to his own understanding, but has taken the courageous step to follow his shepherd.

He was not happy. I mean, like really, really upset with me when I told him things were changing and about the move, and God has put several men now in his path to encourage him. It's truly a miracle. He has come 180 degrees in a week of being in the new house. I would've never believed in a million years. I can't explain how ugly he was being to us. Now he seems excited. All due to a few coaches at the new school who are taking an active interest in him because of their relationship with Christ."

He specifically says, "In this moment, we felt like we needed to get some help for our kids," and they put him in a school with Christian values which was the right thing for him, he felt like at that time. "I wish I could tell and communicate to all parents the difference between a high school leadership committed to honoring Christ and what we were used to." What he really wants to tell you is the difference between a family lead by a man who is walking with his Savior and a family lead by a man who is giving the illusion that he believes in a Savior.

"I know all kids don't have to have this environment, but the difference these men are making with my son is a gift I wish more kids could get. I thought you might be encouraged by the mountains God has moved in our life since I came to see you guys six months ago. I wish you all the best, and thanks again."

What he did is he didn't just hear about wisdom. He pursued his Good Shepherd. He got busy with his wife, and he sat down and said, "You know what our problem is? We're not adjusting our life in relationship with our Jesus. We give him nominal satisfaction and attention, but we walk away. I want you to watch a video of another couple who did a similar thing. Then we'll close.

[Video]

Natalie Fournet: We went on a date that Friday night to a haunted house. I guess it was love. He wanted to get married on LSU's football field. I said, "No. We'll get married in a church on LSU's campus," so that was our compromise.

Beau Fournet: I grew up often going to church but never really understanding the gospel.

Natalie: I grew up as a believer from a young age but did not walk with the Lord.

Beau: In mid-2001, I decided I was ready to have kids, so Natalie and I were in line on that. My wife was very busy. I worked for a large consulting firm, and my primary clients were not always in Dallas. So I spent a lot of time traveling. I would typically fly 200 to 250 roundtrips a year to visit clients.

My days would start around 5:00 a.m., and I'd get home each evening between 8:00 and 9:00, sort of a late dinner, and get ready to do it again the next day. I recognized a lot of people could do what I do at work, but only one person could be the husband to Natalie and be a father to my children. So we decided I would start looking for an opportunity that would put me in a better position to succeed at my top priorities at home.

Natalie: Looking back at that time… It's been a few years. It was in the middle of labor and delivery, literally, that he accepted this new job. He had to be in London for a month after Kayla was born, so I was just so excited that he wasn't going to London.

I know for me I was teaching, and we were pregnant with my first. We lost our first through a miscarriage. The big question was, "You're going to come back and teach because you're not pregnant anymore. You're not going to need to stay home. Beau and I prayed about it and thought about it. We talked to our community about it. I wanted to get back and teach.

Someone had said to me, "Your identity is in Christ, Natalie. You don't need to be a mom or a teacher. You have an identity." I'm like, "I don't know what that means." Looking at Beau, and I was concerned that he really did know he had a lot of identity in work, because he is so smart and he was so good at what he did. That was a lot of who he was.

Beau: A number of things have changed as a result of this decision. The first one is just with Natalie and me. I'm available for her when she needs me. We spend a lot of time together. We're able to date on a weekly basis, and rarely have a dinner where we're not eating dinner together as a family (Natalie and me and the kids). The children, I feel like I'm able to shepherd them. I think I am fulfilling my responsibility.

Natalie: I think his action, that big decision he made to be here for our family, was such an active way of loving me and loving our family that it gave me the freedom just to trust him more. To a large degree, our marriage is night and day, looking back. I don't think during the midst of it, we knew that huge change was happening. But looking back before we were both walking with Christ and now knowing what it is today, we're just amazed that God preserved our marriage from the before to what it is now, and we're very thankful of it. It put us on an equal ground that we weren't on before.

[End of video]

See, Beau is a guy who believes. In his time of being still before the Lord, he realized he needed to make some changes, just like Bill did. Then he was a wise man who didn't just hear and do what he wanted. But as Jesus says, "The wise man hears and builds." Believe, be still, talk to your Savior. What do I need to leave? What do I need to adjust? What new things should I say no to that are coming into my life so it doesn't affect our relationship and the relationships you've told me are going to be lifegiving to me? And then be blessed.

Let me just tell you something. Did you hear what Beau said? "I'm shepherding my kids. My wife loves me and respects me." Do you know some of the most strategic things that have happened in Watermark this last year have happened under the provision of Beau Fournet's giftedness and the time that he freed up?

He led us on our entire mission to serve the Hurricane Katrina victims because God had ordered his life in such a way that the day he's driving to work and he sees a bunch of people in a little shelter (a year ago). He stops. Figures out. Had margin in his life, where he led us as we served in Reunion Arena and has led us in the deployment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from you all to effectively help people in New Orleans.

He's helped us shepherd through what it means to lead well here as a leadership with his gifts and consulting and with group of friends who have come alongside us as elders and leaders and teachers and staff members to sharpen us. This is a man whose life is blessed, not perfect. But he's saying, "This is the life I wanted. The life my Shepherd intended me to live in. Not a slave to what I thought success looked like, but green pastures, still waters, a restored soul, and a family that is grateful for me as their under-shepherd."

What I'm going to give you this week is a chance to spend some time alone with the Savior in the same way that Bill did. I'll send out to you in an email early this week, and it'll also be found on our website, "How to spend some time alone with God," in an extended way where you can listen to him with different applications that are consistent with the message we just had.

If you're not on our communication email list, all you need to do is write down on your Watermark News,"I want to be on that list." We'll email it to you. Write your email address, rip it off, and put it in the box in the back, or you'll get one if you're already connected with us here.

Next week, maybe on Sunday morning for some of you… Those of you with families, it's going to be harder. You're going to have a time where one can do it while the other watches the kids, and likewise. Spend that time where you're being still because you believe that God has your best interests in mind.

Then, be wise. Act on what he told you. Don't process it alone. Do it with others. "This what I think God is telling me. Shepherd us now to that place," and then you watch the blessing come into your life that God says his sheep always experience underneath his provision as a Good Shepherd.

That's how you're going to worship him this week. By walking intimately with him and sitting, and saying, "Let's communicate, Shepherd. How am I doing? I know if I'm walking with you, there's going to be a peace that even the folks in Mayberry didn't have if there hope was somewhere else."

Father, I thank you for my friends and the chance for us to reflect these last weeks together on this topic, and for how you care for us and want us to be in a place that all would know we have a good shepherd who seeks our best interests and who takes joy in the condition of the souls of those who are in his pasture and his flock.

Lord, I pray over them the way the writer in the book of Hebrews closed his message where he said, "Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

If we can help you know the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, or get you connected with others who can walk with you through your challenges, let us know. Have a great week of worship.


About 'By Still Waters'

Deadlines. Schedules. Blackberries. Meetings. PTA. Soccer practice. It sounds almost trite to say that our lives are busy and hectic. But could our overloaded schedules be a symptom of a more serious problem? Could being overbooked and under-rested have deeper spiritual implications? In this series Todd Wagner examines what a lack of peace produces in us, how it impedes our ability to effectively communicate the character of God to the world around us, and what we need to do to find that "peace that passes understanding".