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Engaging With the Bible
Christmas Eve 2018
Special Christmas Message from Todd
9 Things I Learned at "Seminary"
Commitment Is the Key to Change
Enjoying The Benefits Of Your Faith
The Mode of Our Helping Matters
Fort Worth Evening With The Elders
Evaluating Your Relationship With God
An Ounce of Mother Is Worth a Ton of Priest
Romans 5: Gifts From God
Dignity of Responsibility
Are You a Fool for Believing in God?
The Cost of the Cross
A Prophetic Word for the Mission
What God Has Done and What We Must Keep Doing
Life’s Slot Machine
Put on Humility
This past weekend I was sitting on the front patio. My two older kids were running around the front yard just playing. Beautiful spring day. Chasing each other around the tree, laughing, playing. As I sat there, I pulled out my phone and checked the news. I hit "International news," and the first headline that came up made my heart stop and sink as I read there was yet another terrorist situation going on in Europe.
I looked at my kids as they were playing, completely oblivious to the horrors that happen in this world, and I just thought the world they're growing up in… They have no idea at this point the evil, the horror, the malice that is among them. They just don't know yet. My heart broke for them. Some of you may know, but not even a week ago, on March 24 at 11:00 a.m., an armed terrorist walked into a grocery store in France. Three guns, three bombs, and a knife.
He killed three and took one hostage, a checkout girl named Julie…he took her hostage as a human shield that he could protect himself with her, this hostage, because police were starting to arrive on the scene…fearing for her life. He claimed affiliation with ISIS. Then as the police responded, one particular person, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, arrives at the scene. This man is elite special forces within France.
He served tour of duty in Iraq, had received decorated medals for his time there, had trained in terrorist response, had all the equipment, all of the weapons, all the training, all the mindset. He had rehearsed this even just weeks prior. As he arrives to the scene, he does what you would not expect. He begins to talk to the terrorist rather than attack the terrorist because of Julie, the checkout girl.
He tells the terrorist, "I'm going to lay my weapon down. I'm laying my weapon down. Take me instead of her. I'm a more valuable person than she is. I'm a lieutenant colonel." Arnaud Beltrame walks willingly and weaponless into the arms of a deadly terrorist, and Julie walks free. Right now in France and internationally you will see Arnaud Beltrame recognized and lauded and celebrated as a hero.
He has received the highest honors in France from President Emmanuel Macron, who said he laid down his life to stop a deadly peril and he fell as a hero. His life was not wasted. His brother said of him that he knew exactly what he was doing. When people questioned, "How could he have done this? He walked in. Did he know he was going to be killed?" his brother said he knew exactly what he was doing.
Then you think about Julie. You think about how Julie the checkout girl must have felt and feels today, this blend of what you might call a sober gratitude. A soberness of spirit, because she knows Arnaud is not going home to his wife. He will never kiss her goodnight again. He died and suffered. He died of stab wounds and gunshots. Arnaud laid down his life.
There's a soberness of spirit there, because she was held in the clutches of a terrorist, facing certain death, moments away from it. There's a soberness of spirit there, but it's mixed. It's equal to a gratitude she must feel. It's like Julie got a second birthday on March 24 as she escaped death because of what Arnaud gave to her. Julie gets to go home to her family. Julie will feel the sunshine on her face again. Julie will celebrate holidays and family meals and vacations. She got life because Arnaud lost his. There's a sober gratitude.
Sadly, the terrorist happening, the killing, everything that took place on March 24… That's commonplace to us. Every day it seems like there's a headline. In fact, even today, right now in real time, there is what people would say, statistically, is the worst humanitarian hostage crisis in recorded history, and news is not even hardly picking it up, not even giving mention to it.
World leaders are turning a blind eye to it because it doesn't take place under any kind of national sovereignty, because it's not a part of a particular people group. There's a callousness toward it, an ignorance of it, and turning a blind eye toward it, an apathy toward it. What is that hostage humanitarian crisis I'm speaking of today that's happening in real time? It's the fact that Satan has taken captive hostages to sin and Satan.
Every single person who has walked this earth since the beginning of time… He has taken them hostage to do his will. They have been taken captive by him, and because, frankly, it has just become so commonplace we've become numb to that reality, and we are walking past each other daily as hostages or ones who have been set free. Every person in this room either was or is a hostage. That is an undeniable reality.
We either were or are a hostage to sin or Satan…but for Jesus, except for the fact that Jesus came to set the hostages free. That is the very reason Jesus came. He left heaven, eternally begotten Son of God, to come for us, the hostages, that he might take our place, just like Arnaud for Julie, that we could walk free. That's good news. That's why Good Friday is good.
The world would say, "How can you say Good Friday is good? What's good about a Savior on a cross? Didn't he come to rescue the Jews, to set people free, and instead he hung on a cross? He was captured by the Jews and the Romans and hung upon a cross. A crown of thorns, spear in the side, nails in his wrists and feet. What's good about that?" That's what the world would say.
But then you remember Arnaud, celebrated as this international hero, the recognition he gets even though he fell. That's why we celebrate Jesus, because we know something the world doesn't. You can only celebrate and thank with a sober gratitude on Good Friday… You can only call Good Friday good if you recognize two truths.
You can call Good Friday good if you recognize the fact that you yourself once were (or maybe right now are) a hostage to Satan, and if you were a hostage, having been taken captive to sin. If you recognize those two truths, then Good Friday is really, really, exponentially, eternally, infinitely good despite the suffering Jesus went through for us. We have a sober gratitude, just like Julie did.
Here's the thing. It's different than Arnaud and Julie. Julie was an innocent checkout girl. She wasn't an enemy of the state Arnaud was going to rescue. It says in the Bible that while we were still sinners, enemies of God, Jesus died for us. He gave his life for very enemies against God, because we were sinning against God, ourselves, and others.
It says in 2 Timothy, chapter 2, "God may perhaps grant [us] repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth…" The truth that we were slaves to sin and Satan. That's why Jesus came: to die for our sins that we might go free, to set us free. It says, "…and [we] may come to [our] senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." Which is sin.
It's one of the most terrifying verses in the Bible. Every single person has been taken captive by Satan to do his will, which is sin. But that is the very reason Jesus came: to set the hostages of sin and Satan free, that we could go free from death, sin, and Satan. That is why Good Friday is good, and if we understand this then we can celebrate.
We can stand on Good Friday and worship and sing praises and songs of redemption to our Savior who took our place, his life for ours, that we would walk free. That's why Good Friday is good. He ransomed us from certain death. He atoned for us. He took our place. It's the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He was the substitute sent for us. He took on flesh and blood because we too have that, that he would take our place.
He redeemed us, rescued us, ran into death that we would walk free. That's why Good Friday is good. He knew this. He said it. It was some of his first words within his ministry. Having come from the temptation in the desert, he walks into the synagogue of Nazareth. They hand him the scroll of Isaiah. He opens to chapter 61, and his first words are, "He [God the Father] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives."
He was sent to proclaim liberty to the captives, those of us who had been taken hostage by sin and Satan. He came to set us free, and he did so at the cross. That's why Good Friday is good. Furthermore, church, he says the gates of hell will not prevail. Those gates of hell that restrain and contain the eternal souls of those who are captive, hostages to sin and Satan. He says the gates of hell will not prevail.
The good news of the cross, messaged by the church, is delivered to set the captives free, and the gates will not prevail. The captives, the hostages will be set free. That is why Good Friday is good. Jesus, unlike Arnaud, is not a hostage negotiator; he is a hostage emancipator. He comes for freedom. He came for you, for freedom. Good Friday is good.
I want each person in the room to consider one of two things. For those of you who have not yet trusted in Jesus and this is unfamiliar and you're here because of a guest or maybe because it's Good Friday and it's religious routine, I want you to consider this. How crazy if, when Arnaud came to the face of that supermarket to exchange his life for hers, Julie would have said, "No, I'm good. I'm going to work this out. I'm going to talk to him. I'm going to tell him all of the good things I've done, and I think he's going to release me."
While other dead bodies lay around him, knowing that person's sole intent is to kill (as is Satan's), that Julie would say, "No thanks, Arnaud. I'm going to handle this on my own." That's crazy. No one would ever do that, and yet there are many in this room (and I used to be one) who used to say, "No thanks."
Instead, I would implore you today on Good Friday that today could be the day, as Christ through me implores with you… Let Jesus take your place, because, be certain, sin and Satan want to take your life now and forever in the next in a place called hell, and Jesus stands ready at the cross as a rescuer and a redeemer to say, "Let me take your place."
The other thing I want you to consider, the other person in the room… Think about Julie and how her life is forever changed. She had a second birthday on March 24 when she walked out of the arms of that killer free. She will forever tell everyone about Arnaud. She'll be telling everyone, "You haven't heard of Arnaud? Let me tell you about that man. I want you to know about this man."
She'll thank God for Arnaud every single day, and she will live life differently now because she has gotten a second lease on life. She thought she was going to die. She's going to live differently because of Arnaud. Church, so do we. We tell everyone, "I was once a hostage. Let me tell you about my Jesus who set me free because of the cross. Let me thank God every day for Jesus, and I will live my life completely differently for all of my days, because I was a hostage and I've now been set free, and my life will never be the same." That's why Good Friday is good. It's so good.
With a sober gratitude, knowing what Jesus endured and the death he died on our behalf, but such a deep gratitude that we will never forget. Now in case some of the theology and the routine of religion, because, "Well, it's Good Friday, so we go to church and we do this thing. It's the holiday that rolls around…" In case some of this is lost on you, I want especially you to hear from two former hostages who have been set free from slavery to sin and Satan, Debi Ndindjock and Matthew Lopez, dear friends of mine. So if you would, please welcome Debi Ndindjock.
Debi: Hi, I'm Debi, and Good Friday to me means freedom from sin. I'll briefly share my story with you and just tell you what this is for me. I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 12 years old, and even though I knew I was forgiven I did not feel free. I did not understand what walking with Christ was. I did not understand what surrender to Christ was. What this looked like in my teens and in my early 20s into my adulthood was a life that looked no different from the world.
I was drinking heavily, partying regularly, in many inappropriate relationships, and over a period of time this led to real hardship in my life, which included strained relationships with my parents because of my rebellion and also a broken marriage, another marriage that was on the brink of divorce. Somehow in the middle of all this it just seemed I got to the end of myself. Just feeling like a prodigal who was among the pigs, that my Father had ransomed me, he had paid for my sins, and yet I was living like I was still in bondage.
I have that sober gratitude. I know God used those circumstances in my life to show me who he was, and he led me to himself. About eight years ago, I came back to the flock and reconnected here at Watermark. I started fellowshipping with fellow believers and started praying, getting in the Word more. Part of this also included confession. I confessed to struggles I had in my life at the time, which included control, resentment, pride, and worked my way through that.
God's Word says if we confess our sins he's faithful and just to forgive us, and he also says if we confess our sins one to another we will be healed. I got a lot of healing from that and just walking through with other people, but there was something I was not ready to publicly confess, and this was that during that period of time of rebellion I had had four abortions. I feared telling anybody that. I felt like that's what I would be identified with, that I would be known as "abortion lady," that that would be my label.
So I held back, even though I told that to some friends, but I was scared to tell it. Only four months ago as a step of faith I shared my testimony in re:gen, and God has used that amazingly. Whereas I thought I would be met with rejection and condemnation, I was met with love. God showed me that everything, all my sin, that I didn't have to be in bondage over it anymore, that he had already paid for it fully on the cross.
After I shared my testimony, some of my friends approached me. I have talked with women who have had that same sin and are still going through the same guilt and shame and are scared to share it, and it has been really beautiful seeing how me sharing my testimony has also led to their freedom from their own bondage. Together with some of my friends a new ministry was birthed out of that which aims to share with women who are in unplanned pregnancies the beauty of the design God has for the life in their womb.
So brothers and sisters, I implore you, and I hope the same story is for you, that you don't have to live in that bondage anymore, whatever the sin may be. I held on to mine as what we refer to in re:gen as that 2 percent, the little bit you still hold onto. I pray that you may find the same freedom in the cross, that Christ died for it all, no matter what it is, no matter how ugly it is, and that you may celebrate Good Friday as well with me. Thank you.
Matthew: Hi, my name is Matthew, and I'm here to tell you why Good Friday is so good to me. When I was 8 years old, I was serially sexually abused by a family friend, a man who lived in our neighborhood, someone my parents invited into our home. As a result of that, of course, there were impacts on my life, none of which were good.
I had a deep-seated rage in my heart, inability to trust people, a sense of shame, not able to tell anybody, a vindictive spirit like I had to right that wrong, and I carried that chip on my shoulder, and just a feeling that for the rest of my life I was different and no one understood me. I think in large part because of that I started seeking accolades of the world, seeking achievement, trying to find my worth in man. I pursued that on the athletic field.
Ultimately, I played soccer in college. I competed in the Ironman triathlon and jujitsu tournaments. I doubled down on my career. I was the first one in my family to go to college. I got a law degree, got an MBA degree, practiced law at a prestigious law firm, started a business with my best friend and some of our best friends as investors, and although the world would say we were successful, my heart was empty. There was a God-shaped hole in my heart. Nothing in this world could fill it.
I found myself chasing the next thing around the corner with no satisfaction and no rest for my soul. Unfortunately, I doubled down on the things of the world, and because there was no peace and no rest I sought a life of sin and started masking things with marijuana to numb the pain, alcohol, seeking affirmation from women. The deep-seated rage I mentioned in my heart… It was just unresolved conflict. Nowhere to put it. No outlet.
It led me to be a serial fighter, a violent man. I've had over a hundred brutal fistfights in my life and all the trappings that would come with that. Broken every bone in my hand, too many broken noses to count, 40 stitches in my face, multiple surgeries, dislocated shoulders, life-sucking lawsuits. Everything you can think of.
The last fight I had was with my brother, my own flesh and blood. I didn't know it at the time, but my 3-year-old niece was watching from a window. She watched her father, my brother, hit the asphalt. She cried out. Because of that, I ended up in a psychologist's chair, seeking help from the world again. We went through a series of tests, several sessions.
I remember it was a Friday afternoon. We were there to go over the tests. To me, it was something I was seeking to say, "Hey, maybe you can help me change my behavior." I thought we were going to go over some things to change it. I remember he sat me down, and he had a grim look on his face. It was almost like I had to pry it out of him or coax it out of him. I was looking at him, saying, "What are we dealing with?"
He started going over the results of my tests, and he said, "Matthew, I don't really know how to unpack this for you. The results of your test indicate you're a psychopath. You're a sociopath." Those words probably sting your ears like they stung mine that day. I didn't really fully understand it. I'd heard those terms. With eagerness I asked him, "What are we going to do to fix it? What does the protocol look like?"
He kind of shook his head and said, "There is no protocol. Academic and literature would tell me that you're not supposed to be sitting here asking for help. You don't seek help in your position." That was a Friday afternoon, so I didn't have anyone to call professionally. I spent that weekend not walking in community, totally isolated, and of course, the Enemy starts to whisper lies to you. I started hearing things like, "I told you you were different. You are terminally unique."
The thoughts of suicide started playing through my head, that I was a liability to my friends and to my family, that I would hurt people. I started feeling like I was a liability to society, and I started taking steps toward suicide. Somehow, by the grace of God, something as simple as a childhood song… I remembered that Jesus loved me. I wanted to know what was said about that.
So through faithful friends I found this church, Watermark. I actually had coffee with John Elmore out there at those tables, and I started being reminded about what God said about me, that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, that God doesn't make a mistake. God started gradually tearing down the lies of the Enemy. He reminded me of his truth, that I am a child of God, regardless of any label the world puts on me. He came to rescue sinners, of whom I am the worst.
I came to understand that Jesus died for me while I was his enemy. While I was fighting my own flesh and blood, spewing hate, hating, he died for me. He died for the man who molested me, so vengeance is not mine so I could be free of the anger that was in my heart and wouldn't be a slave to it. He redeemed me by what he did on the cross in the greatest act of love the world has ever known. He knew I would be labeled and accused by the Enemy to make it on my own. He knew I would be held hostage and a slave.
With reckless abandon he pursued me. He left the 99 to come rescue me. In his rescue plan, he died a brutal death. He became sin and suffered separation from the Father so I wouldn't have to, and there wasn't a plan B. He died a tortuous death on the cross to send a message of hope and love on my darkest day. That was the only way, so he could be a beacon of hope. That psychologist and anyone else who puts a label on me or anyone else doesn't know my Jesus and what he did for us on the cross that day.
Because of what he did on the cross I'm no longer a liability. I'm a leader at Watermark's re:gen ministry. I find my worth in God, not in my works but what he did. And what do I do when I have an opportunity to tell people about my Jesus, my hero, my rescuer? With an eager heart I shout it from the rooftops, and like Julie proclaims her hero, I proclaim his name. I put him on the front page, and I pray that just one would come to know him through my story and have eternal salvation. That's why Good Friday is good to me. Praise God.
Todd Wagner: John Donne, who was a sixteenth-century poet and cleric, wrote a poem called "Death, Be Not Proud." A portion of it goes like this:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
That is the hope we celebrate because of what Christ has done, but Matthew and Debi and other hostages didn't know that until somebody who, by the grace of God, has come to know what Matthew and Debi, who have been set free, have come to know… They went out into the world, this broken world that is still filled with great sadness… This morning at 4:00 a.m. we lost a mother of a dear staff member. Greg Crooks' mother died at 4:00 a.m. this morning, but she didn't die. She lives again.
We're in a world where there is death and abuse and betrayal and hopelessness, but we are not people who live in this world without hope, because we have a living hope. What we are told to do as long as we're here is to remember his death and his resurrection, remember he has made the payment for us and that there has been a testimony that death should not be proud because Christ the King has come, not to negotiate but to emancipate.
We live in this world and we remember death, so we mourn with those who mourn and we comfort others, therefore, with the comfort with which we have been comforted and live in this world with other hostages, which we formerly were. We have been set free, and we tell them how they, like Julie, can walk out in freedom, or at least we must and should. It's not enough that we would come in here and remind ourselves of our provision.
We are left here to go and share with others, and we have 24 hours before we'll gather in here to celebrate the resurrection part of the story. So when you leave, grab those little Easter invites (they're useless after this weekend) and go get them. There are other invites to Watermark we can use all the time, but go and get them.
Just walk up and go, "I don't know what you're doing tomorrow. I don't know what you're doing Sunday, but would you come with me? I'll meet you there. Will you have lunch with me afterward? I want to tell you my story. I'm like a girl named Julie, and I'll explain that to you tomorrow." Matt is out there praying that you'll find him. Debi is out there praying you'll find her. Somebody in your family whose dead religion will have them at church tomorrow is praying that you'll find them and tell them there's something more.
God does his part. This is a picture of our campus that was on Channel 5 last Saturday morning. I don't know if you drive by here in the evening, but we have what's called a gobo that we project up on the side of our church. We had this verse: "God demonstrates his love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." There is work being done, and Park Central was closed at LBJ, so they were announcing that.
Think about those construction workers. They don't need an Easter invite. They were there for eight hours, constantly reminded that we have six different times they could gather with us and that Christ has done something we should celebrate when we gather. But not everybody works construction on 635, and not everybody was watching the news at 8:30 Saturday morning on Channel 5. So we have work to do, church. What a privilege.
Right now if you drive by in the evening this is the picture that's up on the side of our church, because we remember his body that was broken, but let me just tell you there will be another picture up there tomorrow and Sunday because he has risen. What we're about to do is just a chance for you to personally reflect. Come, all you hostages, come. Come and receive the provision. Come and receive the reminder of who Jesus is.
We're going to take elements that were in every meal you had if you were a person who was alive during the time of Christ. Bread and wine are not a part of every meal we have. I do believe every meal we have can be a reminder to us that we are to proclaim the love of God and the hope of Christ until he returns. That's the commandment of Scripture. We're going to be reminded of it so we would then talk about it, so that Matt and Debi and everybody who doesn't work construction on 635 might know there is something worth singing about.
So convince yourself. Meditate one more time on the amazing love of God, and then come and receive these reminders. We're going to let you come and take these and go back to your seat. If you're here with other friends, maybe share it with one another. Serve one another as Christ has served you, and then pray. Pray for folks who need to know what we have become convinced of. If you are here and you're still trying to figure out that love and understand it, I would encourage you…
We're going to put up here on the screen different little verses after the song "Come, Ye Sinners," which has the gospel in it. We're going to throw up there different verses that will walk you through what you need to do if you're at a place where you want to be delivered from the captivity of sin. Let me just warn you. If you take this meal as some religious relic, as some means of grace, not only does it not give you the grace you seek; it increases the judgment to yourself. What I'm saying is only Christ delivers. This reminds us of Christ's delivery.
If you have not personally on your knees said, "That's my cross. That's my sin you died for. You need to be my Savior, and I wholly put my trust in you alone," then you're declaring there is a God who loves you so much he would die for you and make provision for you and has been raised from the dead so he is a living King who can come and judge the living and the dead and you're among them because you've never personally accepted and asked for that provision for your life.
So I would not invite you to this Table; I would invite you to the cross, but once you take that, you're welcome here. So listen to the song, sinner. Read the verses we'll put up that follow. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you'll be saved. For with the mouth man confesses, resulting in salvation. With the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness.
Christ died for your sins once and for all, the just for the unjust, but he has to die for you. We love you. We want to give you a chance now in somber reflection and quietness in the room to listen and then come as you're ready. Receive the elements if you're a believer. Take them as a reminder of your faith, and then get out there and prove it, not so God will love you but because you are overwhelmed with the love of God. Matt and Debi need you.
Father, would you help us receive these elements in the way you intended? Would you let us be individuals who receive the reminder of your broken body and shed blood? And having been reminded, would we live as people who offer ourselves as living and holy sacrifices, knowing this earth is not our home. It's not as you intended it to be, but now it's our time to go and declare what you declared, that Christ has come to set captives free. We thank you, Lord, that we have been redeemed, like Julie, from the arms of somebody who held us captive and desired our death. We love you, and we remember Jesus our King.