The Story: Your Next Chapter
Christmas Eve 2021
The Story: Restoration
The Story: Redemption
The Story: The Fall
The Story: Creation
We encourage you to download our new life inventory tool and gather with Community Groups, family and friends to prayerfully walk through the tool together. Our heart is that you would find joy and purpose in your story as we seek to fit into the greater story that God is writing.
Special thanks to Jennie Allen and IF:Gathering for partnering with us to provide this tool for our body.
David Penuel: Good morning, Watermark. Most of you guys are watching this on the morning of December 26, 2021, but we know that anything we post online lives forever, so you may be watching at another time. I'm sharing this today because we are not meeting in person for services today. Instead, I want to share with you a conversation I recently recorded with our lead pastor Blake Holmes and a Watermark member named Jennie Allen. You'll get to know Jennie in just a few minutes.
This conversation is serving as a conclusion of a recent sermon series we did called The Story. We'll be focusing this morning on your story and my story and what the next chapter is. Like I said, it's December 26, and oftentimes, this week between Christmas and New Year's we reflect on the past year, and then we look ahead and plan for the next year.
So, that is what we're going to be talking about this morning, but before we go there, I'd love to turn your attention to watermark.org/news. Every single week, we share a story of one of the members of our church. Guys, let me tell you, reading a personal story is a great way to get to know us, as a church, and more importantly, it's a great way to get to know the God we serve.
While you're there at watermark.org/news, if there is any way we could pray for you or connect with you, there's a section there that says, "How may we serve you?" If you would just click that and give us your information, we'd love to follow up with you. All right. With all that said, let's go ahead and get to my conversation with Blake Holmes and Jennie Allen.
All right. Blake and Jennie, we are here on the day after Christmas, and we're going to have a conversation that is an epilogue to a sermon series we just finished called The Story. Blake, would you start us off by telling everybody what The Story was and what that had to do with Christmas?
Blake Holmes: Yeah. The Story was a reminder to us that we fit within a much greater story, the story of the Bible. The Bible is made up of 66 books, but it's really broken up into four major movements: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. It's those four major movements that serve as the foundation of a biblical worldview.
Creation: Who are we? Why are we here? Is there a God? Fall: What is the problem? We all experience problems, pain, suffering, even death in this world. How did that start? Why do we experience that? Is there hope? Redemption tells us there is hope and that God loves us despite our rebellion and the way in which we have disobeyed him. He still loves us. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So, we can have hope in this world and be rightly related to him through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. And then restoration, because history is not just a random occurrence of events, but history is the unfolding of God's prophetic, providential will. So, we looked at the story of Scripture over four weeks. We thought that was the right thing to do because it highlights what Christmas is all about: God with us. That redemption piece, that all of history finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his love for us.
David: The first thing you said was our story fits within the bigger story. We've been focusing on this bigger story, but today, we're going to be talking about our stories, especially as we head into a new year. We're going to get there, but I want to introduce everybody to you, Jennie. Jennie is a member of our church, Watermark, but she's also an author.
You're a leader of the IF:Gathering, which some people may have heard of or participated in, but really, you just love making disciples. I noticed recently something you just put out there into the world for kids is called The Story of God. Upon closer inspection, it lined up exactly with The Story, the series. So, tell us a little bit more about that. I thought that was an interesting coincidence.
Jennie Allen: Well, it's a very well-known story, so it's not that surprising that we all are aware of it, but honestly, I did not fully understand it until seminary. I had young kids when I was in seminary, and one of my professors, Howard Hendricks, said something I've never forgotten. He said, "Before the age of 5, give your kids a huge faith." So, with kids who were that age, I was trying to do that, and I was learning all of these huge concepts about God that were changing my life and understanding that story for the first time.
Even though I'd grown up in the church, I'd never had somebody tell me the whole story. So, I would go home and try to teach my kids that. To help with that, I built these tools. It has taken 15 years to have them for the rest of the world, but it's super fun that the church is teaching that and it's coming out at a similar time, so I'm grateful.
David: I just love that it synced up. I thought that was really cool.
Blake: Jennie, you do a good job of taking complex truths and making them simple for other people to understand. That story, David, that we talked about I think is helpful for people to recognize. I think all too often we compartmentalize our lives of how we live. We don't think about how our faith should inform our lives, but that story, like I said, informs a biblical worldview. It's the lens through which we should view our relationships, our work…everything we do…our play, our recreation. That story should inform everything we do.
David: That's a great transition into what we want to talk about with the rest of our time here. I would say 2021 was a really hard year for me, and I've heard that from a lot of other people, like, "2020 was tough, but I think 2021 was actually worse." I know reflecting on the bigger story these last five weeks that we've done that has helped me make a little bit of sense of the difficulty in my own story.
So, what we're going to do here is we're presenting the body, and anyone listening, with a tool they can use to reflect on their own story this past year and then look ahead and plan ahead for what their story might look like in the next year. So, would you guys talk to us about… Hey, sometimes I just want to move past 2021 and not reflect on it, but why should we reflect on it? Then sometimes I want to just live in the moment and not think about tomorrow, but why should we plan ahead for tomorrow? How would you guys answer those two questions? Reflection and planning. Why are they important?
Blake: Well, I would just start by saying I think your response is a natural response. If you think about the difficult times in your life, you just want to work through them. You just want to get over it. It's kind of like swim to the other side. But oftentimes, what happens there is we can miss what God is trying to teach us through that. It's a refining process. So, I think it's natural for us to want to work through the hard, not feel the pain and the disappointment we're experiencing sometimes, but then I think we miss some of God's greatest lessons.
Jennie: You know, this is something my husband and I do every year. What I've found is I drift toward selfishness and laziness and Netflix. That's where I go. Without a plan and without a purpose and an understanding of where I'm going, I just go there. I waste time. I don't cause thriving to happen for my family. I don't cause thriving to happen for myself. I don't wake up and think, "Man! I just want to work out today." There are not things I choose for my good without planning and without some structure.
The beauty of God is he was a planner. He was intentional with a vision that he has, is, and will accomplish on this earth. He had a strategy and a plan. We have to realize, too, we're up against an Enemy who's very strategic. The Enemy is clearly causing schemes to happen. It says he causes schemes to happen in our lives. He is scheming all the time against us.
So, if we are not scheming back and saying, "Hey, I'm going to resist the Devil, and I'm going to choose the way of God," we get apathetic. Life, as you said, is hard right now, and what happens when life is hard is we want to check out. We want to cope, and we want to check out. Of any generation, I think we might have the most choices when it comes to that. Right?
Blake: We're distracted. We're easily distracted. I think about what Jesus says. The parable of the sower. Probably the most famous parable. The sower goes, and he throws the seed. Some falls on the road. Some falls amongst the thorns. What Jesus is trying to say there is "Hey, listen." I think God is continually trying to speak to us through his Word, but we're so easily distracted.
The pain, the suffering of the world, the temptations of the world drown out his voice, oftentimes, if we let them. So, we have to take the time to stop, slow down, reflect, and listen. We have to hear his voice and not just race to the next thing or try to just get through what's painful in our lives or numb ourselves to death through entertainment or whatever coping strategies we have.
David: So, stopping, reflecting, seeking God, and then looking ahead. Really important. Jennie, you just said this is something you've been doing for a long time. That's one of the main reasons why you're here. As you've been doing that, you came up with a tool that you've been sharing with people for a long time, but we've never had a chance to share it with Watermark, so we're doing that through this conversation.
I have a copy of it right here. It's called Your Next Chapter to fit with The Story series. It's a guide to help people do an exercise, as you were talking about, to help people be intentional with how they're going to approach 2022, or whatever next year they're entering into if they watch this later. So, would you tell us a little bit more about the history? What actually do you do, and how have you been sharing this thing with others? What have you seen fruit-wise in other people's lives? Just tell us about this.
Jennie: I think this season is one that often is filled with reflection and filled with vision casting. We're starting to think about the next year and what we hope. Oftentimes, it's called New Year's resolutions. I just think it's being thoughtful about and listening to what God wants from us in this next season. My husband and I have always taken that very seriously.
There are some people who hate that kind of thing. I'm personally in love with it. I have seen the good of just reflecting over "How is my relationship with each one of my kids, and what do we need to do with that specific kid who, honestly, is more withdrawn and we don't totally know why?" We make a plan for each kid that we're parenting and stewarding their lives. We will be often driving during this season, so we'll…
I remember before it was a tool that is printed like this so beautifully, it was my Moleskine. I would write out each category of our lives. I'd take our relationships, and I'd take our work and the work God has assigned to us. We'd take each part of that and say, "How is that going, and how did it go last year, and what are we celebrating?" It's not just looking back at the difficult things. It's going, "Hey, we're slow to celebrate. We're slow to stop and thank God for what he has done." So it's a chance to do that.
Then it also is a chance to look forward and say, "Okay. How could we be more intentional with that part of our lives?" I see it less as resolutions, because it's more planning than it is committing to work out every day or that kind of thing. Certainly, a part of it is taking care of our bodies and taking care of our minds and our relationships, but it's not so much goal setting as it is being intentional with what we've been given and stewarding it well.
Blake: I think that is seen throughout the Bible. You see in the feasts that are given to Israel in the Old Testament… God very intentionally gives the nation of Israel opportunities to stop and reflect upon the goodness of God and the way he has worked in their lives. He gives them a chance to look back and see, "Hey, we serve a God who's a promise-keeper, a covenant-keeping God."
I often think about what it would have been like to have grown up in a Jewish home. The Feast of Booths… That's a time where families would gather, and they would go camping. Why would they do that? To commemorate God's faithfulness in the wilderness. It would be like, "All right, kids. We're going camping." "Why are we going camping?" "Because God was faithful throughout our journey to bring us to the Promised Land." God wanted his people to remember that.
Jennie: I actually love that that's the story you told, because for me, often, it's one night my husband and I will get away. We don't go camping. We go to a really bougie hotel. Okay? It's one night. We go together, and we lay it out over two days. We really spend time with this, because it takes a while to look back and to look forward and to think and talk, to give 30 minutes to one kid, and to do that with each of our kids, and to do that with our job and our different projects we have in our lives and to do that with our health. So it takes a while.
We really commit to two days where we just get away and do this together. I don't think anybody should do it alone. I think when you get alone, you get cynical. One of the gifts of community is it causes you to believe you can do more with God than you thought, and you could dream bigger dreams than you thought, and you could look back at old things that were difficult and see the good in them. Community does that. It builds our faith. It helps us have optimism. It helps us believe God could do more.
So, I think you can't do it alone, and I think you really need to set apart time. My kids do it. Not all of them and not every year. We're not those parents who force it, but often, they're like, "Hey, Mom, can you send me that thing you do?" We'll send it to them, and they'll print it out, and they'll do it with their lives. I think kids at any age can start to learn the discipline of envisioning a life that pleases God and how to walk in that in the different parts of their lives.
Blake: I'll add one more biblical idea to this. Think about what Communion is. Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me." It's a chance to examine where you are, to look back at what Christ has done for us through his death, burial, and resurrection, and then also he says to anticipate what is to come, to look forward, that someday we will be with him.
So, this is a thoroughly biblical idea. I think it's what God calls us to do: stop and reflect. I just don't think we take the time to listen. That's why I'm excited about what we're offering, what Jennie has done with her family. I mean, imagine if more of us paused to go through this exercise and be attentive. "What's God trying to teach me through this?"
David: Here's what I love about this guide we're putting out there. We kind of haven't mentioned this. It's going to go with this video. It'll be emailed out to everybody who gets The Current, which is our weekly email here at Watermark. It's something you actually have to download and print off. It's not an online form you fill out. There's something about the physical aspect of it, as you're describing the feasts or Communion… There's something tangible we're doing.
Even before this guide was available, you had your Moleskine and a pen. You're putting pen to paper. You're doing an activity, and then you're reviewing it with others. As I was looking at this thing, I thought of two Scriptures. One was Proverbs 21:5, the first part of it: "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance…" This does require some action. You have to click "Download." You have to find a printer and print it. Then you have to take the time. You have to set aside the time. You have to find a pen, and then you have to write it down.
Then another proverb, Proverbs 15:22: "Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed." I love what you said about "Don't do this in isolation." Maybe you do it at first alone or just with your spouse if you're married, but then bring others into it and go, "Hey, how would you guide us? How would you sharpen our plans for next year? How would you help us make sense of the past year?" So, that's really what we're trying to invite everyone to do.
Blake:"Help me see my blind spots. What could I have been missing? What am I not remembering?" I think something also, David, what you see throughout Scripture… One of my favorite stories is when Israel crosses the Jordan. God says, "Hey, I want you to go get 12 stones, and I want you to stack them. The reason is because your kids are going to come along and go, 'What are these stones doing here?' and then you'll get to tell them of my faithfulness."
So, as you do look back and go through this exercise, think of something God has done that you can celebrate with your family. Maybe it's a picture you put on the wall. Maybe it's 12 stones, or whatever it might be, so that year after year you can remember God's faithfulness. It gives you a tangible reminder. When you run into something difficult, you maybe see something in your home, and you go, "But God is faithful. He saw me through in the past, and he'll see me through in the future."
Jennie: My small group leader Matt Moss often says, "Force family fun," and he has us do the stones at the end of the year. We do the guide together, and we do the stones.
David: So you write on stones?
Jennie: We do. Yes.
David: Oh wow. That's really cool.
Jennie: We talk about vision for the year. We write several things God is leading us to do. I remember back many years ago being afraid of dreaming dreams. I remember thinking it was ambitious, that it was selfish, that it was possibly getting ahead of God. I feel very differently now, because what I've seen is, as I've yielded to the Spirit and not just said, "I'm going to build my own things, and I'm going to do it my way," but said, "God, we really just want to honor you…"
We have a few years here. We only have a few, and we have within that year a few days that seem to go faster and faster every year. "So, with these days and this year, God, what do you want us to accomplish for your kingdom?" The cloud of witnesses in heaven is watching us. We have a race that we are to run, each one of us as a family, as an individual, that he has put in our lives, predestined before time, that he prepared good works for us to live in and to carry out and equipped us to do it.
So, there's a plan. We just have to walk in it and to listen long enough for him to reveal it to us and to throw off the sin and the weight that so easily entangles us, because all of us are carrying a lot of that right now. This helps us do it. It helps you name your sin, name your weight, your burden. It helps you notice maybe what you haven't even had time to think about or talk about or be honest about.
I'm someone who… It's hard for me to share. When they put me on the spot in small group, or whatever… The culture of community in Watermark is crazy. I mean, we bring our finances every year. I'm like, "Man! This is wild." But it's so healthy, and it's so good. But for me to share it, I have to know what to share. So, what you do next is you share it with other people, but sometimes, first, we have to reflect long enough that we even know what God is leading us to do or leading us away from.
Blake: You have to be known. So often, we don't take the time to let others know us. Maybe it's fear, insecurity, but to live in community and to reflect upon what God is trying to teach us throughout the year and go, "Hey, help me see. What's that next step of faithfulness God may have me take this next year?" This is not a… We're not offering an inspired guide here. It's just a helpful tool.
What I would say to people if they're intimidated by the tool or they're afraid to dream dreams… The question they need to ask themselves is "What's the next step of faithfulness?" It's as simple as that. Just to pause and go, "Hey, what's my next step of faithfulness? What would God have me do?"
I love what has been put together, because it does allow you to evaluate many areas of your life. Like I said before, not just your spiritual life, but your theology should inform every area of your life so that you do have that biblical worldview. Consider how you're spending your money. Consider relationships at work or the relationships you have within your home. That's a helpful exercise.
David: All right, Blake. Jennie just talked about dreaming dreams. I want to close with this question for you. What would your dream be for Watermark Community Church related to this guide? For the members of our church, or anyone watching this, if they were to download this and go through it, what do you hope to see in the future as fruit as a result of this exercise?
Blake: My answer is really simple. I want us to fall more in love with Jesus. I mean, I want us to have a bigger view of who God is. Years ago, there was this little book that was called Your God Is Too Small. I often think of that title. I reread it not too long ago. Our view of God is too small. I want us to fall more in love with God, and when we do that, I know we'll be able to better love people as well, but we need a bigger vision for who God is. We need a bigger theology. It starts with listening to his Word and taking that next step of obedience. So, fall more in love with Jesus.
David: Thank you so much for saying that. I think some of us could be tempted to go, "Oh, good. I'm going to get this, and maybe I'll make more money this year or maybe my life will be better. I'll be able to work through some of my problems." Maybe some of those things will happen, but if we miss what you just said, I think we miss it all.
Blake: We miss it all, because at the end of the day, God is not going to ask us, "How much money did you make?" He's going to ask us, "Hey, what did you believe about my Son Jesus? Did you believe me? Did you walk with me?" Faithfulness isn't measured in what we have in the bank or what we accomplish at work. It's our faithfulness to the Lord.
Jennie: I think it's important to mention that we're all tired. Right? I mean, you said it earlier. This is a hard year. I don't feel like dreaming dreams right now. I'm tired. We've all been in survival mode. I think we're all just a little bit weary, and that's okay. God can work with that. This isn't something where we're just trying to make this the best year ever.
This is something where we're just trying to be faithful with what we've been given and obedient with what we've been given. So take that pressure off. We all kind of collectively are struggling a little bit, and there's something bonding about that. I think that's where our community even helps us more, because they push us forward and help us do it.
Blake: I agree with you. You said this year was hard. You said we're tired. I agree with that, but don't miss the opportunity, the moment, to stop and reflect and say, "Hey, Lord, what are you trying to teach me through that experience?" So, it's a great moment to slow down.
David: When people download this, there's going to be a letter at the beginning from our church's elders, but they give you a shout-out, because you put this thing together. I just want to thank you. Thank you for putting it together. Thank you for sharing it with us freely. We didn't have to pay you a dime.
Jennie: Not a dime.
David: We repurposed it and slapped The Story branding on it, and we're sharing it with everybody. We love being on the same team with you.
Jennie: I love it too.
David: And thank you for joining us today for this conversation. I think everybody is going to be encouraged.
David: Blake, would you close us in a word of prayer? Then we'll wrap everything up.
Father in heaven, thank you for giving us your story and preserving it in your Word, that we could read and we could see how our lives fit within a much bigger story. I know there are people today who are listening to this who can't make sense of what's happening around them. I just pray that by the power of your Spirit they would read your Word and they would be reminded that you are writing their story, that you're providentially at work in their lives, and you always have their best interests in mind. We thank you for that. We rejoice in that.
We just celebrated Christmas, the God with us, Immanuel. Lord, you didn't leave us to live a life wandering in isolation, in fear, in trembling, but you entered into our world of pain through your Son Jesus. So, thank you for the gift of Christmas. I pray, Lord, that we would take the time this year to slow down and reflect and we would get a much bigger vision and view of who you are and, in light of that, that all of our problems and anxieties would quickly be cast away.
We thank you. Thanks for friends like Jennie and Zac and for David and his leadership in our church. Thank you for the body of Christ at Watermark and, Lord, for their faithfulness throughout this past year, and I pray you would do great things in the year ahead as we fall more in love with you. We pray this by the power of your Spirit in the name of your Son, amen.
[End of video]
David: All right, friends. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Blake Holmes and Jennie Allen, and I hope you'll join us next Sunday for our first service of the new year. That's right. We'll be right here at 9:00 and 11:15 a.m. You can join us in person or online. Before you go, I want to tell you about one more thing.
Watermark is a church that reads the Bible, and not only that, we read the Bible together. After all, community is our middle name. We have a Bible reading plan called Join the Journey. My friend Emma Dotter is here to tell you just a little bit more about it. After you hear from her, get off your screens and have a great week of worship.
Emma Dotter: Hey, Watermark family. My name is Emma Dotter, and I am so passionate about all believers being equipped to know and understand God's Word. I am pumped to be jumping in with the Join the Journey team this year as we study the New Testament, just one chapter a day. There are so many ways you can join this year.
We have the daily devotionals accessible through the website and app. Plus, we're launching a new guided journal if you want to join without a screen, and we're launching a daily podcast to help you dive deeper into the text. There are so many ways to join, but however you do, what's important is that we're reading the Bible together. I am so excited to see what God is going to teach us this year on the journey.