Update #2 from Africa – Kenya and Sudan

It has been a great several days meeting people that I will stand long behind in God’s Kingdom reward program. Not only many faithful Kenyan pastors who toil faithfully with almost no support, help or comfort (not to mention little training or encouragement) but also meeting many people who have quietly served decades making Tenwek hospital in Western Kenya an amazing place. They are new to having the Pastors conference on their grounds and it is truly amazing to see what they have developed here to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the Kenyan people. Tenwek’s motto is, “We treat, Jesus heals”. And treat and share truth they do. This “little missionary hospital” has grown to be one amazing place, now doing surgeries as complicated as knee/hip replacements, open heart, eye surgeries and cancer treatment and research. They have their own nursing school, community service program that teaches preventive care and abstinence, and so much more. It is now staffed by 600 Kenyan doctors, nurses and administrators with about 7-15 US docs who live here with their families. It is amazing to watch these families live amongst the people. It is like stepping back into the 50’s watching their kids run barefoot with homemade bow and arrows/spears/toys over grassy Kenyan mountains that are lush, green, and full of trees/loud birds. They learn to swim in the river at the bottom of the hill and play like kids should play: free, without an Xbox, and full of imagination. Folks make their own butter and can’t wait to invite you into their homes that are filled with children, the peace of Christ, simplicity and joy. Beautiful to be around.

If you know me at all I don’t like to use the term missionary when I am talking about anything other than a normal believer who is being faithful wherever they are, but if you think of what it must have been like to wade into the African frontier and bring light and hope to the tribes of Western Kenya, I am getting to know some of the saints that did it and some of the new generation who are now continuing to support what is now, as it should be, largely a work done by native Kenyan believers. Every patient and person accompanying a patient is individually loved on and receives care and truth. Over 10,000 treated so far this year and all without government assistance. It is the top hospital in the region and one of the best training schools in Kenya for multiple medical disciplines. Followers of Christ doing what they should as they should in a place so marked by peace and simplicity you envy it. As i said …I will gladly stand back as these friends receive their eternal reward.

Meanwhile, at the conference I am loving and motivated by hundreds of men and women who sit crowded on hard wooden benches for 10 hours a day, soaking in everything we can give them. Teaching on servant leadership, conflict resolution, the problem with tribalism in the church, forgiveness, discipleship, preaching/teaching, reconciliation, role of church in crisis, and forming a nation and more. They take short breaks for tea and worship that would make a dead man dance. My heart is full…especially knowing that all my friends in Dallas are seeking to live as missional lives and taking advantage of their mission field littered with Xboxes, excess, and anything but rolling lush green mountains. May peace, joy, love, and simplicity (you can drop the homemade butter) abound in your home and may you live so faithfully that I can’t wait to stand behind you as I watch the Lord celebrate your faithfulness.

Got word from Rick and Chad today that the first day of their conference in Sudan went well. I look forward to joining them in next 36 hours as I wrap up here. Jumping on a small bird (cessna) off of a valley airstrip with our faithful friends at Mission Aviation Fellowship- more great guys who have chosen to live here solely to transport guys like me to places it would otherwise take hours to drive. They say they are the donkey and we are the Samaritan that seems to love our neighbor. Grateful my donkey has wings and these guys jump in with me in prayer everytime I jump in one of their planes.

Don’t know what your mode of transportation is going to be today but I pray you are the good samaritan and love your neighbor with truth and grace wherever you go.

Privileged and grateful.

Update #1 from Africa – Kenya and Sudan

All is well in Bomet (western Kenya part of Rift Valley area). Day one in the books, with Celestin kicking it off after an extended time of raucous worship. Lots of energy over here, as you know. By far largest group we have had – 500-600 in all, they say – really the entirety of the African Gospel Church pastors and senior leadership. Many different tribes (think racism, even though they are all Kenyans) and the right group to provide better leadership for the nation if next year’s elections carry as much controversy as 2007′s did (which led to murder/rape, displacement, and other sadness).

I continue to be encouraged at all the humble servants I meet every time I leave Dallas. Many kindred spirits busy getting after it for the Lord’s sake everywhere I go. My prayer is that others always feel the same when they run into members of Watermark. Six guys from an Indiana church showed up who are involved with a child placement agency for Kenyans who want to adopt abandoned children. I started talking with one guy whose daughter is having a rough go of it – in Dallas of all places – and he tells me she teaches at “some school down there.” I ask him what district, and he says she’s teaching 7th and 8th grade in the same school 2 of my kids are at. Crazy. Said he was trying to figure out how to get her connected with the right people as her 4-month marriage has just come crashing to an end. God has His ways. Even if he has to drag guys from Dallas and Indiana to Western Kenya to answer prayer.

I am teaching 4-6 hours the next several days. Should be great fun.

Rick and Chad completed day one in southern Sudan safe and encouraged. Looking forward to joining them later in the week. Pray the Lord gives them favor and creates many divine appointments prior to conference kick-off up there. Sudan is set up for awful tribal racism that will implode their country. Good news is the Church has the chance up there to set the foundation that will bless the nation for generations. Praying we can play whatever role the Lord wants for us faithfully. Pray with us.

Col 4:2-6 NASB
I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.

The Jews Missed Jesus When He Came…Might We?

Friends,

I received an excellent question yesterday via email that I’d love to share with you. Check out the question, think through how you would answer, and see my response. Chime in/comment here if you have anything to add/further thoughts!

From: Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2011 08:37:44 -0500
Cc: pastoraloffice
Subject: I’m curious…

Good morning! I was pondering this last night, and wanted to get your thoughts on it… The Jewish leadership’s primary problem when Christ came was a fundamental misunderstanding of scripture regarding the Messiah. They were looking for a conquering King and were, thus, blind to His true identity. Similarly, many people now are on the lookout for Christ’s return, also in the form of a conquering King.

Is it possible that we may also have a fundamental misunderstanding of scripture, and be on the lookout for Christ’s return in a form altogether different than the reality? I know we think we read and interpret scripture correctly, but dogma sometimes seeps in undetected. I just wanted to see what your perspective on that would be… Have a great day!

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Tuesday, October 04, 2011 8:49 AM
To: Xxxxxx Xxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: I’m curious…

Xxxxxx….that is a brilliant question and great observation. Here is my response:

Father…help me to walk every day and read Your Scriptures in humility and truth. Don’t let me miss Your will and way in anything. Protect me from my biases, even MY hopes. Fill me with YOUR hope and let me be one that sees with YOUR eyes. Come quickly Lord Jesus, and don’t let me miss You when You do. Until then, let me be Your hands and feet. Fill my mouth with truth and make my life an expression of YOUR love. By Your grace may others see Your Son in me….His grace, His goodness, His courage and His love. I long for the day when You will return as King. As evidence that You are a King may everyone see You reign now in and over me and Your people. Come quickly Lord Jesus, and don’t let me miss You when You do.

Here is my other response:

Matthew 24:4-31. By His grace we have a bit more specific revelation than our friends in Israel did. Even so, I love the question!

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

Can a Christian Drink Alcohol?

Another question out of the Wagner email bag…what should I tell newer believers about drinking alcohol? See below for a great question and my response to it. Be encouraged as you read through/process the Scripture and feel free to jump into the conversation!

From: Xxxx Xxxxxx
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 12:55 PM
To: pastoraloffice
Subject: What is a good answer to give baby christians regarding drinking?

I have been asked by several baby christians regarding drinking and since I didn’t have a good biblical answer, I then informed them that I would get back with them once I received an answer from the pastoral office. I was given the following answer from one of your members (copied just below) and wanted to get your opinion to see if this is ok for me to give to my baby christian friends.

I will appreciate your response.

RESPONSE FROM CHURCH MEMBER:

Please see the below portion of a commentary that we would be in agreement with from www.gotquestions.org It does a good job of articulating the biblical view on Christians and their use of alcohol and the many scriptures that speak on the subject: http://www.gotquestions.org/sin-alcohol.html

Scripture has much to say regarding the drinking of alcohol (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Deuteronomy 29:6; Judges 13:4, 7, 14; Proverbs 20:1; 31:4; Isaiah 5:11, 22; 24:9; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12). However, Scripture does not necessarily forbid a Christian from drinking beer, wine, or any other drink containing alcohol. In fact, some Scriptures discuss alcohol in positive terms. Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructs, “Drink your wine with a merry heart.” Psalm 104:14-15 states that God gives wine “that makes glad the heart of men.” Amos 9:14 discusses drinking wine from your own vineyard as a sign of God’s blessing. Isaiah 55:1 encourages, “Yes, come buy wine and milk…”

What God commands Christians regarding alcohol is to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Jesus changed water into wine. It even seems that Jesus drank wine on occasion (John 2:1-11; Matthew 26:29). In New Testament times, the water was not very clean. Without modern sanitation, the water was often filled with bacteria, viruses, and all kinds of contaminants. The same is true in many third-world countries today. As a result, people often drank wine (or grape juice) because it was far less likely to be contaminated. In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul was instructing Timothy to stop drinking the water (which was probably causing his stomach problems) and instead drink wine. In that day, wine was fermented (containing alcohol), but not necessarily to the degree it is today. It is incorrect to say that it was grape juice, but it is also incorrect to say that it was the same thing as the wine commonly used today. Again, Scripture does not forbid Christians from drinking beer, wine, or any other drink containing alcohol. Alcohol is not, in and of itself, tainted by sin. It is drunkenness and addiction to alcohol that a Christian must absolutely refrain from (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:12).

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 7:55 PM
To: Xxxx Xxxxxx
Cc: John Cox; Jonathan Pokluda
Subject: RE: What is a good answer to give baby christians regarding drinking?

Glad you want to make sure you communicate God’s heart on this topic accurately. GotQuestions.org is a website we refer to and trust….and I think their response is excellent. In addition to the Scripture referenced in their response, I would encourage you to read through Romans 14 and see how that passage stirs your heart. Talk through this with your community group and sharpen each other by searching God’s word together. I typically find that I learn/grow the fastest when I study Scripture with others who know me well.

We don’t have a standard “Watermark policy” on alcohol other than to be aware of the Scriptures teachings and exhortations highlighted in the questions below and in the Got Questions piece. Remember, to compromise (dissipate) your mind with any substance is not God’s best for us (Ephesians 5:18) and therefore prohibited by Scripture…that much is clear.

Here are a few questions I would encourage you to use as you share with anyone who asks you about drinking or anytime you are discerning how to honor the King in any activity that the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid.

  1. Am I/Will I be mastered by this activity.  Specifically, is this now, or could this become, a coping strategy or idol or addiction that takes the place of God in my life? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
  2. Is it profitable/beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12)?
  3. Will it cause the/my ministry to be discredited in any way? (2 Corinthians 6:1-3)
  4. Could it cause other believers to stumble/be confused if they saw me engaging in this activity (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)?
  5. Does it help me to make disciples/advance the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20)?
  6. Am I living under a yoke of legalism that doesn’t honor the Gospel? Am I limiting my freedom in Christ for any reason other than my love for Him or my concern for others (Galatians 5:1)?
  7. Will participation in this action violate the encouragements found in Ephesians 5:3, Psalm 101, Philippians 4:8, 1 Peter 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, or Romans 14:13-23?
  8. Does it glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Hope that helps …may we all be continually yielded to the Spirit as we honor our Lord as His servants and image bearers.

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

Who Is Really Saved? (Re-Visited)

Thanks for all of the comments/emails/thoughts on the July 14th post Who Is Really Saved?

As a follow-up/further conversation piece, I thought I would also post an email exchange I had with a new friend in response to that blog. Hopefully this will be able to continually spur others on/continue the great dialogue out there/encourage some of you to read the original and share these truths with others!

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2011 4:47 PM
To: pastoraloffice
Subject: Who is really saved

Pastor Wagner,

I’ve become aware of your ministry through my employer, a member of your congregation who has been awesome in working to shepherd me through a difficult time for my faith. He recommended a recent post of yours “Who Is Really Saved” from your blog. Off that, I watched the related sermon, a few past sermons and read most of the last years worth of your blog posts. Over the weekend I came to really appreciate your bold presentation of God’s word, I also came to appreciate that you’ve selected your views carefully and after study and consideration.

Before I get to my question, a little about me. I was raised LDS and remain nominally active, primarily because I appreciate the positive influence the LDS church is in my wife and children’s lives. I enjoy a casual interest in LDS and more general Christian history and tradition. Unfortunately I’ve almost entirely lost my faith in God, at least in part due to my inability to reconcile faith and reason, but there are a number of other issues that plague the growth of my mustard seed.

My question for you primarily centers on your “Who is Really Saved” post. I noticed that while you reserve judgement on the Christianity of many nominally christian churches, you didn’t extend that to Mormonism. While I definitely appreciate the deep theological divisions Mormonism has with some of the more mainstream Christian sects, the religion still revolves around the belief the Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior and only through faith in him can a person be saved, which would seem to be the keystone of any definition of “Christianity”. Where yourself and a Mormon may disagree about the appropriate weight that emphasis on works role in identifying true faith receives, you’ll find no disagreement with them that faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation. That would seem to set it apart from religions like Islam and Judaism, which are explicitly non-christian.

I’m asking solely for my own edification. I’m not as interested in a detail of where you disagree with Mormonism, I’m more interested in where the line is drawn for you on what qualifies as a Christian.

Thanks for your ministry, I’ll continue to enjoy your perspective both in written and spoken form!

– Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2011 2:31 PM
To: Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx
Cc: Employer
Subject: RE: Who is really saved

Xxxxx…please forgive my delay in response. I have been out a bit speaking/tending to other commitments and sorry to just getting back to you. Really glad you sent this email and are asking questions….that is how we all learn!

I would love to answer your specific question here, with a hope that we get a chance to visit about your broader faith struggles at a later time. I have copied the co-worker you mentioned here so he can step in and continue to dialogue with you…but for starters on salvation, there are a few past messages that have been done at Watermark that I think answer your question and were included in the blog…but if you want to re-listen, I’ve included the links here:

http://www.watermarkradio.com/index.php?id=153&channel=237&series=162&message=6

http://www.watermarkradio.com/index.php?id=153&channel=237&series=210&message=9

The reason I separated Mormons with other non-Christian beliefs is because although Mormons speak of Jesus, they do not speak of, believe in or follow the biblical Jesus. So while LDS speaks of Jesus….they redefine him, or to say another way, marginalize him in the same way Judaism and Islam speak well of Jesus but reject His claim to deity and His claim that He alone is the means through which fallen humanity can be reconciled to His holiness by grace through faith in His full and complete work on the cross.

A good message for you to watch and talk with your employer about is “Jesus on Jesus”, which you can find here.

Really glad the blog and some of what has been shared at Watermark has encouraged you and I would welcome the chance to say hello in person should you ever get the chance to visit with us at Watermark…if you join us on a Sunday that I am teaching, please stop by the front so that I can shake your hand and greet you.

Love the questions you are asking…stay at it!

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

Who Is Really Saved?

As promised, today I am making public another email exchange that I expect will challenge, instruct, and encourage all. This week, in response to a message I had given at Watermark on July 10th, I received an email from someone who had been in attendance and very kindly asked me to clarify some comments that were made in regards to different Christian denominations. Below you can see the emails. Read, be reminded of truth (or informed of it for the first time), and share it with others who may need to know where our hope comes from!

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
Sent: Monday, July 11, 2011 9:41 AM
To: pastoraloffice
Subject: Sunday’s Service

Dear Pastor Wagner:

Yesterday’s service struck a chord that I can’t seem to shake and I wanted to reach out to you for clarification. Did I understand you correctly when you said Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and Catholics aren’t Christians? Is that how you feel? I found it highly offensive that you would say Baptists and Methodists aren’t Christians. I’ve been going to some other denominational churches in town and they are definitely Christians that believe Jesus died to save our sins. This isn’t the first service that you have put down other religions such as Muslims and Jews and I want you to know that I find it a real turn-off when you start bashing other religions. What is the point?? I really felt like Watermark might be different from other churches I’ve attended over the years. I discovered WM through your Divorce Care Ministry. As mentioned, I had been going to another church, but was so impressed by the way DC touched and changed my life in such a short time that I felt like I needed to give WM a real shot and have been attending Sunday service for the last two months. Honestly, I feel like I owe WM my life with the transformation DC did for me. And I really want to find the right church to call home. But I’d really like to know how you feel and if I heard you correctly yesterday.

I appreciate your sincere response.

Thanks,

Xxxxx

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 4:44 PM
To: Xxxxx Xxxxxxx
Cc: Jessica Gober
Subject: RE: Sunday’s Service

Xxxxx…thanks for reaching out and asking. I appreciate you giving me the benefit of the doubt and taking the time to make sure you heard me correctly before you left discouraged or represented to others your understanding (Proverb 18:13). May that humility and wisdom continually mark both of our lives.

Now to your questions. I think you must be referring to my comments about the fact that we have had a long list of presidents (and other governmental leaders) who were “members” of Churches but who have not consistently represented a Christian worldview, and I was making the case that this was because of lack of discipleship, accountability, and leadership both within and from the church. In other words, our problems nationally, governmentally, locally, in our families, and in our individual lives are not that we are or are not Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, etc., but rather that too many are professed “Christians” by either affiliation or aspiration but not in practice. You would not hear me say that Methodists/Baptists/Episcopals/Presbyterians/Catholics are/are not Christian any more than you would hear me say that because someone goes to Watermark they are/are not a Christian. Note: I am not diving into or addressing the much more complex issues of denominational dogma and shifting positions because not everyone who attends any given church subscribes to, or even is aware of, official church positions, some of which are thoroughly unbiblical and thus call into question the entire foundation of the denomination…but that is not your question.

To your question about who is and who is not a believer…that is not my position to decide but the Lord’s, so I only want to direct you to Scripture. If you look at Romans 10:9-10 and John 5:24 you will see what it is that defines salvation. There is obviously nothing mentioned in these verses about a denomination or association with anything other than a personal trust and confidence in Jesus. One thing that cannot be missed in Scripture is that belief is never mere intellectual assent or profession. It is about responding in faith, trusting in His provision for your sin and recognizing and following Him as Lord. We don’t “accept” Jesus, we don’t profess Jesus, but we follow Jesus. This is always what belief means in Scripture when related to salvation. There is an eternal difference (and to my point on Sunday, there is tremendous present day consequence) between a said faith and a saving faith. Biblically speaking, heart change always results in life transformation and increasing conformity to Christ. Any exceptions to this, if they even exist, are tragic and filled with both eternal and present life consequence.

To this point, what I wanted to communicate Sunday was that the leaders of many churches have failed to shepherd the flock of God among them and help them understand what true faith, humility, and obedience look like. The result of a compromised pastorate and weakened church has been devastating to us individually and nationally. My job (as both a pastor and follower of Christ) is not to “see through people” (to see who is or who isn’t saved) but rather to “see them through” to greater obedience, joy and faithfulness in their relationship to Christ. If you were in the 11:00 service on Sunday, you may have missed this quote by A.W. Tozer that I shared in the other services. It speaks to the same point:

“Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church. It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them. Each generation of Christians is the seed of the next, and degenerate seed is sure to produce a degenerate harvest not a little better than but a little worse than the seed from which it sprang. Thus the direction will be down until vigorous, effective means are taken to improve the seed….

To carry on these activities [evangelism, missions] scripturally the church should be walking in fullness of power, separated, purified and ready at any moment to give up everything, even life itself, for the greater glory of Christ. For a worldly, weak, decadent church to make converts is but to bring forth after her own kind and extend her weakness and decadence a bit further out….

So vitally important is spiritual quality that it is hardly too much to suggest that attempts to grow larger might well be suspended until we have become better.”

The Set of the Sail by A. W. Tozer, p. 154-156.

Below are some messages I have done in the past on the topic of salvation in general that I think will help further communicate my heart…hope you get the chance to listen and are encouraged:

http://www.watermarkradio.com/index.php?id=153&channel=237&series=162&me
ssage=6

http://www.watermarkradio.com/index.php?id=153&channel=9&series=210&message=9

Finally, you also asked about my thoughts on belief systems that are fundamentally non-Christian. Though I hope that I have never been perceived as “bashing” others who don’t believe the same things as I do, I do not mind being understood as representing what Scripture represents, specifically that there are not multiple paths which lead to the same “mountain top”. There is absolute truth and anything which contradicts this truth is by definition false or untrue. Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through faith in Him (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Sadly, this means that those who follow the tenets and beliefs represented in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, Judaism, etc. are separated from God and in need of transformation by grace through faith. This does not mean they are our enemies humanly speaking, but it does mean they are enemies of the gospel whom we should pray for, love, speak truth to, share the hope of Christ with, remind, reprove, and exhort with great patience, kindness and humility. I have many personal friends of all these faiths who are kind, loving, sincere, and moral whom I love deeply and discuss differences freely with gentleness and respect. Sincerity (mine or theirs) never defines reality/truth. Truth defines truth and because I am their friend I pray for them and labor with them that they might come to know the truth that Scripture says will set them free.

What it all boils down to is that, no matter what religious affiliation one may have, if we truly place our trust in and follow Christ, believing He is the only way to have a relationship with God, then we are reconciled to him (Romans 5:1) and it is our role in His Kingdom to lovingly share the hope of the gospel with others in word and deed (1 John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Very grateful for the work that He has done in your life through Divorce Care, and I pray that He would increasingly transform you into His likeness. Please let me know if we can be of further service to or if there is anything Watermark’s staff can do to get you further connected here. We would count it no greater joy! I’ve CC’d Jessica Gober here, who I am confident you may know through Divorce Care, so that she can help serve you in any way as well.

Thanks again Xxxxx…hope that is helpful and grateful for the chance to clarify. I look forward to hearing your reply.

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

The Complete Single

Recently, a friend asked me a question that has popped up occasionally in my time in ministry: Should I stay single or should I settle down to serve Christ in a life-long commitment to another? To both singles and married folks alike, I’d love to share this exchange with you in the hopes that it would encourage you all to keep Christ the focus of not only your relationships, but your lives:

From: xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2011 11:01 AM
To: pastoraloffice
Subject: I’d like to hear your thoughts…

Hey Todd,

I’d like to hear what you have to say about this since you are a Godly married man seeking after Christ. This past semester in my local ministry our Bible study was over 1 Corinthians. As an unmarried man I have been wrestling with/considering 1 Corinthians 7 (primarily vs 7-9). I certainly know that Paul does not forbid marriage and that there are many benefits of it, spiritual and non-spiritual. What initially caught my attention was that Paul says that he wishes more people were like him (single)…and elsewhere in the book that married men are focused on things of the world whereas single men are focused on the things of the Lord. (Obviously only disciplined and Godly single men are focused on the things of the Lord and being single does not automatically make one focused on the Lord…I also take the statement about married men being focused on things of the world as Godly men being focused on the world only to the extent that is necessary for them to take care of their families…not a sin just a non spiritual necessity).

I believe that Paul talks of marriage and celibacy as different spiritual gifts, that one is not necessarily better than the other. I know that God calls people to different lives and that marriage and singleness are both callings that he equips people for. Perhaps part of the reason I have been wrestling with this passage is because I had not really studied it or heard it preached on in the past. I also feel that most Christians and churches in America do not take singleness seriously because it is counter culture and seeing that might also be why I have been wrestling with it. (Obviously I have not been to most of the churches in America so I can not necessarily make that statement with evidence).

You may have already discerned that the reason for this email is that I am a single man who wants to pursue the Lord and righteousness above all else, who is nearing life decision points in his life, and I have been weighing and evaluating these scriptures and God’s will for my life. I have been dating the same girl since high school. I certainly believe that God has blessed our relationship and that it has often been used to glorify him (and of course we have had our struggles and hard times). My girlfriend has been and become a wonderful, Godly woman who I would be incredibly blessed to be married to. And this has certainly been my (and our) thought for a while.

However, there are a few reasons why I have been searching to see if God has called me to singleness ever since I my 1 Corinthians Bible study. For one, I feel called to work in a demanding/non family friendly and dangerous career. However, my girlfriend has sincerely expressed willingness and desire to go wherever the Lord sends me be it dangerous or not, so that is not that big of a reason anymore. I am concerned about my career as I know I will be a workaholic. This is a blessing and a curse because if God gave me a family I do not want to be an absent father, so I know there would be conflict between being the father that is needed and performing the career I feel called to serve in. I can see how the Lord has equipped me to be single more so than most people I know. For one, I enjoy solitude (though I never consider myself alone, but I enjoy being free of distraction and the world) and I believe that I grow the most spiritually when I am away by myself or my girlfriend and I are away from each other. The biggest reason I have been weighing this is certainly the scriptures. I know that God made marriage and gives it as a blessing. But I feel Paul is also saying that God has made some to be single and it is better for them to be singularly devoted to the Lord. I certainly take scripture as the authoritative message of God and will do (try to do) what it says.

I have talked to my dad about this and he brought up the point that marriage can provide the support and encouragement to better serve the Lord. I agree with him and appreciated that input. I can easily see how the scripture would encourage singleness. So going back to my main point I would like to know what you feel led to share with me on the matter as you are a married man that is serving the Lord. As I have told my girlfriend when discussing this, I do not yet know what God is calling me to in this situation. But I am seeking His will so that I can say/act/live with certainty that I am doing the right thing and that I have carefully considered the scripture and the truth.

I am very sorry for the length and density of this email. I know that ultimately God will guide me according to his will if I seek after him. If anything this has helped me filter my thoughts. I appreciate anything you might have to say. Of course I would appreciate your prayers that God will give me direction and boldness to go where he calls me to and to serve wholeheartedly in all aspects of my life.

From: pastoraloffice
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 4:17 PM
To: xxxxxx xxxxxxx
Subject: RE: I’d like to hear your thoughts…

Sorry to just now be getting back to you as I have been out of town for a few days. Unsurprisingly I am very encouraged with the way you have been processing this and searching through what God would have in store for you next. Love how have been unpacking 1 Corinthians 7 to see how it applies to you.

A few thoughts…and I’d love for you to share this with your dad and the other guys from your Bible study as they know you/your relationship best and can counsel your situation consistently. For starters, while marriage is a largely important part of most people’s adult lives, we weren’t created to eventually get married…we were created to know Christ and make Him known. We were created to “not be alone”….but that doesn’t require marriage and sadly many married folks don’t pursue oneness with each other or with others in biblical community as Christ intends. Marriage is required for us to biologically “be fruitful and multiply” but we certainly can (and should) do that spiritually as single Christ followers. Check out a message I did many years ago called, “The Complete Single: Oxymoron or Option”.

The first question I would have you ask yourself (which it sounds like you done to some degree) is what circumstances will allow you to do that best? Will marriage be a place where you can partner with another to serve the Lord, understand your own struggles more intimately, and grow in your faith, or will it hinder you from following Christ in any way that He is asking you to do?

Tommy Nelson did a good job with this topic even longer ago when he gave a message titled something like “The Monkey of Marriage and How It Can Grow To Be the Gorilla of Distraction”. He talks about 1 Corinthians 7 and I think I refer to it some in my message. You might enjoy both.

On another note, I would caution you some against giving too much weight to your future job pursuits (while they deserve some consideration and certainly are something you should be communicating with your girlfriend about). I would encourage you to live fully in light of today instead of making decisions based on an uncertain future. I am fully confident that you can achieve these high goals that you have set for yourself, but only God knows exactly what our future is (James 4:13-15). He will take care of you and your hopes and dreams whether you are married or single….keep seeking him like you have so far, with ALL your heart soul and mind and marriage/career/future will be a joy. I would also encourage you to think through your implication (resignation?) to be a “workaholic”. You know God is glorified when we work hard in all we do (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31), but that doesn’t have to look like a role that puts you in a position to trump family and your relationship with Him. Our first calling is to be a follower of Christ, and if we are married, our second calling is to care for our spouse…I would never counsel anyone to decide early on in life that they would put themselves in a job function that elevates the day-to-day of that ahead of either of the things above. I understand your concern about bringing a family into the jobs you want to pursue, and that is valid as those industries need devoted followers of Christ ministering/serving in them…but above all set yourself up for success in a vocation that gives you room to abide with Him….and to Paul’s point, single soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3-4/1 Corinthians 7) have less homeland concerns so they can be less distracted/encumbered/responsible for/concerned by/obligated to other things than the war at hand. BUT…don’t underestimate marriage as a gift from God….for more than kids or sex. It is a great place to learn things that can only be learned in the furnace of trial and commitment. Luther once said, “l learned more about spirituality and surrender in marriage than I ever did in the monastery”. Frances de Sales (17th century Christian writer) replied to a young woman asking him what he thought about her friend’s advice that she should not get married because it was “more holy” to remain single, care for her father and to devote herself as celibate to God by saying, “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other. It is a perpetual exercise of mortification…from this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.”

So not only have you not sinned if you marry….you are set up to be sanctified in great ways if you stay committed to your commitment.

As you know, marriage has been a blessing to me as it has grown me in ways nothing else has (worldly speaking) and certainly given me the blessing and encouragement of my kids as well…whether you choose to pursue marriage, to remain single for a time, or to remain single for your time on earth, your #1 priority is your relationship with the Lord.

Bottom line…be faithful where you are. Whether married or single. Be a faithful student of the word, friend, son, boyfriend, and servant. Honor your girlfriend in dating by continuing to pursue her as long as with her, and by guarding her heart if you feel led to step away from that relationship. Given that y’all have been together as long as you have been….it is getting REALLY close to the time to release her to pursue others who have the desire to enter into a covenantal relationship or let her know you are pursuing that with her. It is not as if y’all need to get to know each other better…and keeping her around in case you do want to get married someday is not exactly putting her interests ahead of your own. Be free….but be considerate and willing to live with your indecision or decision;that is what Godly men do. Philippians 2:3-5.

Praying for you…may you be devoted to Christ and center all of your relationship around Him. May He bless you as you serve Him as a single man today. I am proud of you and rejoice with you at God’s kindness in your life. This email back is not complete….use it to get the conversation going with your guys/Dad/Lord…don’t use it as dogma.

Romans 14:22,

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
www.twitter.com/wordsfromwags
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

Front Line of Care

If you have been around me for very long, you know that I am CLEAR on the issue that next to God’s word and His Spirit, there is nothing as present a means of His grace in our lives as authentic fellowship with other believers. This is such a central issue to the Christian life that from the beginning we at Watermark have made connection to other believers non-negotiable for members of our larger faith community. Periodically, we have to remind brothers and sisters of this fact. Below is a copy of the letter (and the reason) we send to individuals who are not in accountable relationships with others at Watermark as well as some links to further resources on the community topic.

If you are a member of Watermark and need help connecting with others this way….contact Dana Douthit at ddouthit@watermark.org.

Meanwhile….Read it through, pass it on and live it out!

Dear XXXXXXX,

Thank you for completing your 2011 4B and for your desire to stay connected with us at Watermark. We are writing to let you know that our records indicate that you are currently not in a community group. We realize that our records could be wrong or there could be a misunderstanding about what we define as a Watermark community group. A Watermark community group consists of yourself and a minimum of at least two others, with at least one being a member of Watermark. Because the nature of this letter is about your membership and community, we want to let you know why this is so important to us.

As your church leaders, our Elders are continually challenged by Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The privilege and trust given to us to lead His flock is one we take very seriously (Acts 20:28). All members (elders and staff included) have chosen to make the body of Christ at Watermark the place where we find community, accountability and encouragement. The first line of care always comes from other members closest and committed to you. Watermark has a direct touch with every member through the almost 1000 community group leaders we regularly meet with, train, encourage and serve. Each leader provides constant care and attention for everyone in his or her group. If someone is struggling or needs assistance beyond the group’s ability, every leader has direct access to a staff member who has access to every spiritual and physical resource in the church. In this way, every active member of Watermark has accountability that tracks throughout the church, directly to the elders.

This is consistent with the model provided for us in scripture (Exodus 18) and because of its importance, we supply significant resources and staff to assist our body so they can pursue and prosper in these life-giving relationships.

We have seen again and again that the single most important step a person can take for radical life transformation is to be committed to authentic, biblical community. The commitment to biblical community that is shepherded by trained and accountable leadership produces growth. That growth pushes you towards a deeper understanding and desire to be transformed in the image of Christ.

Because we believe firmly in the importance of the biblical call for God’s people to live in community, after six months we make members inactive who are not in a group of three or more people (with at least one other person being a Watermark member). As your church leadership, we would not be loving or leading you well if we allow individuals who remain isolated from relationships with other members of our body to believe that they are being cared for and shepherded as Christ intends.

Please let us know if you believe we have not served you well in your effort to connect, you need help connecting or if you have chosen to find God’s provision for community at another church. If we do not hear from you on where you are in the process of finding a community group or how we can help care for you, we will not be able to take responsibility of your care before Christ. Therefore we will move you to “inactive” as a member. We understand that it takes time to find a group, but we also want to be faithful shepherds of our members and call you to all that scripture calls you to. If there are any extenuating circumstances that we need to be aware of please let us know.

Right now, we would like to know if you:
1.) Have found a community group and we don’t have that accurately reflected in our records
2.) Would like to share with us how you are living in obedience to scripture related to this area
3.) Plan on attending group link or have a personal strategy in place to find community
4.) Do not wish to join a community group at this time.

We look forward to serving you and hearing from you soon, and are praying that you would avail yourself to all that Christ intends. For some great reminders on the importance of community and the heart behind this communication, please see:

THIS IS THE LIFE Part 1
THIS IS THE LIFE Part 2
Connected to Others
Gifts I’d give my children 2007

Four fools on a stool Part 1
Four fools on a stool Part 2

Hebrews 3:13,

The Community Team

Why Doesn’t Watermark Church Have A Cross On The Stage (Most Of The Time?)

watermark-stage-shane-and-shane

Where’s the cross?

With technology today, one way I frequently interface with Watermark members and guests is through email. I typically get some excellent and thoughtful questions that I welcome the opportunity to respond to. These questions are great teaching moments for not only for myself and those who are asking, but also for anyone else who may have similar inqueries. From time-to-time I would love to leverage this blog in an endeavor to make those emails public and spark more conversation around them.

To kick this off, below is an email I recently received from Jason asking why we don’t have crosses on stage. Read below for his original question and my response back to him.

—————————-

From: xxx
To: pastoraloffice
Subject: Cross?

Quick question…Why is there no cross on the stage?

From: Todd Wagner (pastoraloffice@watermark.org)
To: xxx
Subject: Re: Cross?

xxx…glad you asked. While we don’t have any objections to crosses being on stage (that is evident if you were here with us on Easter…if you weren’t, check out this video. Most of the time however, our set up does not typically include a cross on stage. The same is obviously true for the outside of our building but we earnestly pray it is never true in regard to the the testimony of our lives.

While a cross is an excellent reminder of Christ’s atoning death for us and our subsequent justification and death to sin, we also believe having a cross on our bodies or our building is not necessarily the best way to display our love for it or the Christ Who hung on it. I think you will agree that there are many who culturally wear a cross around their necks without having any understanding of its implication and also sadly agree that there are too many buildings with crosses on top of them that are full of leaders, followers and doctrines that do anything but reflect its glory.

As you know, Jesus says they will know we are His disciples by the way we LOVE one another, not by the way we decorate our stages, buildings or wardrobes. (John 13:34-35)

Bottom line, we have no objection to a cross being displayed anywhere in or on our building or bodies but we do pray that we have an increasing obsession to live our lives in such a way that others see us “pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus.”

Hope that helps xxx…I’m not sure if you are fully connected with us at Watermark, but would love to help you take steps towards doing so if you would desire that. Glad you reached out and hope you are out representing Christ by the way you lead, love, and serve today!

Todd Wagner | pastoraloffice@watermark.org
Watermark Community Church
www.watermark.org
214.239.8809

Best short article I have read in years

Bolded Red is me…GREAT stuff. Best article I have read in years. Read it-learn it-recite its truth to others.  Concise, compelling and TRUE.
Let’s get busy teaching the Word and why it matters to our friends.

Does the Bible Matter In the 21st Century?

By Vishal Mangalwadi

Published April 13, 2011

FoxNews.com AP

In his quest to change oppressive regimes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush “Everyone desires freedom.” True. Everyone also desires a happy marriage can everyone therefore have one?

Afghanistan, Iraq, Ivory Coast ought to teach secular ideologues that freedom does not flow from the barrel of a gun. Nor does it flourish in every culture.

Why do most American presidents place a hand on the Bible to take the oath of office? Secular education has made that a meaningless tradition, but the tradition exists because the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom. Forget the Bible and America will go the way of the first Protestant nation – Nazi Germany.

Plato saw Greek democracy first hand and condemned it as the worst of all political systems. That’s why the spread of the Greek culture, called “Hellenization,” did not stir a struggle for democracy. In AD 798, the English scholar Alcuin summed up the then European wisdom to Emperor Charlemagne: “And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.” Indeed, the voice of a corrupt people is often the devil’s voice.

The cancer at the heart of America’s political economy is cultural. This great nation was built by an ethic – a spirituality that taught citizens to work, earn, save, invest, and use their wealth to serve their neighbors. This biblical ethic has been replaced by secularism’s entitlement culture that teaches people that they have a right to this, that and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve. This new culture forces the state to take from productive citizens or borrow from other nations and spend it on man-made rights. This corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, but can democracy allow leaders to go against the voters’ voice?

The people’s voice began to be honored as God’s voice only because the sixteenth century biblical Reformation began saturating the hearts and minds of the people with the Word of God. Those who prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done in Scotland (or England, or Holland)” found the grace to free themselves from the tyranny of men. Not just Islamic, but every culture that rejects the kingdom of God condemns itself to be ruled exclusively by sinful men.

Almost everyone desires a happy marriage, but without the Bible, America cannot even define, let alone sustain marriage as one man–one woman, exclusive, and life-long relationship. The West became great because biblical monogamy harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, women, children, and men. 

Human history knows no force other than the Bible that has the capacity to dam sexual energy to build powerful families and nations. Indeed, no non-biblical culture has ever been able to require husbands to “love your wives” and give them the spiritual resources to do so.

Vishal Mangalwadi is the author of “The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.” (Thomas Nelson)