January 12, 2003
I have a friend that I have known for a long time and I like to imitate him. When someone does something that is a little bit funny or interesting, he always says, “You character. You are just a character.”
Over the last several weeks, in preparing for this series of talks, I began to reflect on that little phrase, “You character.” I think my friend was right. I think he is right because all of us are made up of character. What is character? Character is an outward reflection of an inward connection. We are going to find out that true character is an internal thing. It comes from God himself.
A while back, I conducted a very informal survey on character qualities. I asked people, “If you could name the character quality that you want more of, which quality would it be?” People thought for a second and most of the respondents told me this, “Ed, I would like to have some more discipline. I want some more discipline in my life.” I decided to begin this series called “Character Tour” on the subject of discipline. Why are we calling this “Character Tour?” It is sort of a play on words. Basically, we are going to take a tour through the Bible and look at great characters who exemplified great character. We are going to log on to Expedia or Travelocity and we are going to find out what character is all about. Because if you look around these days, there is a character void, a vacuum in our world.
I think when it comes to character; we have got to start with the “d” word—discipline—because the “d” word is like a four-letter word to many of us. “Discipline! I can’t become a disciplined person. That’s reserved for those extraordinary people. That’s reserved for talented and gifted people, not for people like plain old ordinary me, Ed. You’ve got the wrong person.”
That’s not true. All of us can go deep with discipline. The problem is that a lot of people don’t really understand what discipline really means. So, let’s begin with coming up with a working definition of discipline. Discipline is doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do. That’s what discipline is. It’s doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do. Let’s say it together…together means you and me, all right? Discipline is doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do.
Right up front, many of you are saying, “Ed, I understand the first portion. Discipline is doing what you ought to do. Obviously, discipline comes from the nature and character of God. If we sync up with God, if we defer to him, then we do what we ought to do. I understand that. But that second part of the definition, what I want to do? You mean if I do what I ought to do then I can do what I want to do? What’s up with that?”
Yes. Because watch this. When we bow the knee to Christ, he comes into our lives and he works from the inside out. The Bible says that when we ask Jesus to infiltrate our being, suddenly our desires and his desires connect. So, our desires are his desires and his desires are our desires. God wants all of us to be highly successful. That’s right. God wants all of us to be highly successful. And because of this, he will allow us to do what we want to do, if we are disciplined.
Here is God’s definition of success: If we are living in the will of God, we are successful. To live in the will of God, we have got to be people, though, who go deep. I’m talking about real deep with discipline.
When you think about failure, it is usually riddled with excuses. Scroll back through your life, and think about all the times you have failed. I did that over the last several days in preparing for this talk. Usually, when we deal with failure, we deal with excuses. Like, “You know, I just quit making the calls at work. I let things slide at the office. I stopped having a date night every week. I allowed my kids to move into the corner office and be the CEO’s. I stopped really watching my diet. I began to skip workouts. I skimmed with my sermon preparation.” That’s where failure begins and ends with a bunch of excuses.
On the other hand, success, being in the center of God’s will, begins and ends with that “d” word, discipline, doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do.
I like what M. Scott Peck says about discipline. Have you ever read the book by M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled?” Peck says that discipline is delayed gratification. Children, it’s like eating the liver and onions first so you can enjoy the chocolate syrup. Do you hear me screaming? It’s like enduring all the pain and agony of working out on the Stairmaster or treadmill or pumping iron so you can feel good after the workout; feels healthy and full and alive. It’s delayed gratification. I like that definition. Discipline is doing what we ought to do so we can do what we want to do. It’s delayed gratification.
The question that hangs in the balance is simply this, “How do I go deep with discipline? How do I do it?” I’m glad you asked because discipline is reserved for all of us, all of us who defer to the Lord. All we have to do is have the ability to make decisions, and we can become people who grow and go deep with discipline.
As I began to pray and think about it, God brought to mind a great character of discipline over in the Old Testament. We have talked about him before several times, but not in this way. His name is Daniel. If you have your Bible, turn to the book of Daniel…Daniel, Chapter 1. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. You can follow along on the side screens, the view-a-verse. I am going to read Daniel 1:8, 9, and 17. Daniel was a man of deep discipline. He did what he ought to do so he could do what he wanted to do. He was all about delayed gratification. Daniel made several decisions that caused him to go and grow deep with discipline, decisions that we need to make as well.
First of all, Daniel was involved in something that we need to be involved in: advanced planning. That’s what Daniel did. He planned in advance. Before I read Verse 8 of Daniel, Chapter 1, let me bring you up to speed. Daniel was in J-town, Jerusalem, with all of his friends. King Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon captured Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar brought back with him the best and the brightest of Jerusalem all the way to Babylon. Check this out. Daniel was 800 miles away from home. Daniel, by himself. Daniel, a young single guy in a very perverted and decadent culture.
Nebuchadnezzar, though, was pretty bright. He wanted to train these Jewish guys and gals to be a part of his palace and help him lead his nation. So, here is what Nebuchadnezzar did. Nebuchadnezzar said, “I’ll tell you what, I’m going to have these Jewish people learn how to really eat. I’ve got my master chefs here, and they are going to cook some really rich food, some good food, and we are going to fatten these guys and gals up. That’s what we are going to do.”
Do you know what Daniel did? Daniel said, “Not going to do it. Not going to do it.” Daniel said, “I’m not going to play that game.” Daniel advance planned. The Bible says; don’t miss this now, in Daniel 1:8, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself.” Purposed—that’s in the past tense. He decided in advance that he was only going to eat stuff that honored the Lord. He was going to have a body for God. Daniel basically traded in the merlot for the H2O. [Laughter] Most of you laughed. Some of you were too embarrassed to laugh. Get it? Merlot—wine—for the H2O. He traded in all the fatty veal for veggies. He said, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to drink H2O. I’m going to eat veggies with my pals, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We’re going to do the body for God thing. You other people can eat off the King’s table, the Master Chef’s, and all the fatty foods. After ten days, we’ll see which group is the most ripped.” That’s my little translation there. Sure enough, the Bible says that after ten days, Daniel and his friends looked better than the others.
“Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” Verse 8. Look at Verse 9, “Now God (not Daniel) had brought Daniel into favor and goodwill.” God did it. Discipline comes from God. It’s doing what we ought to do so we can do what we want to do. It’s delayed gratification. Discipline in and of itself is superfluous at best. Great. You are disciplined. You have a lot of strength. You will pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Good for you.
Discipline, though, does this: it puts us in a position to be used mightily by the grace and the mercy of God. Discipline puts us in a stance so we can be blessed and we can bless others. God does the blessing. God does the moving. Just as God did the shaking and baking with Daniel.
“God brought Daniel into favor and goodwill.” Discipline simply put him in the position to be used. Look at Verse 17, Chapter 1, “God gave them (that’s Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) knowledge and understanding.” Some of you might remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Those are the three asbestos boys, the three faithful firemen. We talked about them in a series we did this past summer. Remember the series this past summer called “Ignite”, when they went through the fire? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—those are Daniel’s good friends. They had discipline, too, and God brought them into favor along with Daniel.
Look at Proverbs 21:5; we are talking about advanced planning. “The plans of the diligent lead to profit.” Sir, if you want to have a profitable marriage, you better advance plan. Ma’am, if you want to have a profitable dating life, you better advance plan. If you are going to have a profitable career, you better advance plan. If you want to have a profitable spiritual maturity, you better advance plan.
“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” I can’t plan on the fly. We can’t become disciplined people instantaneously. The problem with most of us is we make the decision during the heat of the moment. Too many of us live by reaction rather than by choice of action. For example, the Bible says that we are to stay sexually pure until marriage. (Every time I talk about sex, people listen.) That’s what God says. God says sexual intercourse is for the marriage bed only. So, if you are single, if you are a student, you have got to advance plan. You have got to say, “I’m going to live my life according to God’s agenda.” God does not say “no” about sex. He says to wait until you get married. “I will advance plan and live a pure life sexually. It honors God.”
I don’t wait until I am in the back seat of a car and say, “I’m going to be disciplined sexually.” I don’t wait until I am alone in an apartment with a person and say, “Okay, I’m going to be disciplined sexually.” I plan in advance; because if we don’t plan in advance, we either operate by our plans or our glands. That’s pretty funny now. It’s snowing today. I had to warm up the crowd a little bit. Advanced planning.
You don’t wait to eat healthy; you don’t wait to have a disciplined diet when the dessert cart is being pushed by your table. You don’t wait until then to say, “Now I am going to be disciplined in my diet.” You plan in advance before you make reservations at the restaurant, before you walk into Whataburger. Believe it or not, Whataburger has some healthy food too. You don’t wait in the business world to lead with integrity. You don’t wait to make that decision when the transaction is taking place. You don’t say, “Oh, wow, I’ll be disciplined now. I’m not going to exaggerate. I’m not going to lie. I’m going to be honest and no smoke and mirrors.” You don’t do it then. You plan in advance. You start when you decide to go into business or when you decide to take the job.
Look at Jesus. Everything he did with advanced planning. Everything we do must be done with advanced planning. It’s huge. It’s Biblical. It’s big. It’s all about going deep with discipline. One decision. Make the decision to advance plan.
Here’s another decision we need to make, and Daniel made this too. This is going to sound weird, but hang in there with me. Where’s my sushi? Here it is. We need to sushi-size our day. I love sushi. It might be one of my favorite foods. Sushi is cool. The good thing about sushi is that it is bite-size. This is from one of my favorite restaurants, Sushi Sam. This right here, this green stuff, is called Wasabi. Too much of it will light you up, baby. But you take a little bit of wasabi, put it in the soy sauce like this, take the sushi, dip it and if you have a big mouth like me, you just [Ed eats a piece of Sushi]. It’s a little bit risky to eat sushi, raw fish, but you have to take the dietary risk.
Someone told me sometime, “Ed, here is the difference between Dallas and Fort Worth. In Dallas, they call it sushi. In Fort Worth, they call it bait.” I live in Tarrant County and I love to fish. I like to call it bait because it’s very versatile. I can either eat it, or put it on a hook under a bobber and catch a big catfish or gar or carp. I like that. Sushi, it’s just bite-size. It’s down. It’s over. It’s good. We need to sushi-size our day. A lot of us surround ourselves with discipline-downer-type people, those doggy-downer-type people.
“Oh, man, do you realize how long you would have to be disciplined for it to pay off? Do you realize how many hours over the next month you are going to have to workout to maintain proper cardiovascular health? Do you realize how much work it is to eat properly? Do you realize how many hours you will have to pray and journal and read the Bible? Do you realize how long the Bible is? Is it really worth it? Come on. Let you guard down. Just this once.” Discipline downers will whip you. They will wear you out. We have got to surround ourselves with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego-type people. We have got to surround ourselves with people who prop up our discipline, people who will have our backs. Yes, discipline is from God, but we have to have people to motivate us who are all about discipline. And we have got to sushi-size our lives.
You live a busy life. I know you do. We are all in this rat race. I live a pretty busy life. I’ll tell you something. If I started looking and thinking about all that stuff, like, “Oh, man, tomorrow morning, we start off with a staff meeting, and I’ve got to do creativity planning meetings and meet with the radio and the television people and think about endurance and all this stuff. And I’ve got to think about the Creative Church Conference, and I’m not really prepared to talk before my peers and….” Wow, I might…you would have to commit me to the Ha-Ha House if I started thinking about that stuff in bigger than sushi-size chunks. You are the same way. If I walked into your world and thought about your plans and your agenda for the next three weeks, I would go, “Oh, man, you’ve got that much on your plate?” Ha-Ha House time. That’s why Jesus said to sushi-size your day.
Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Each day (1,440 minutes each day) has enough trouble of its own. So, just enjoy each moment that God gives you. I’ve learned that. God has taught me that. I’ve talked to Christian counselors who have helped me with that because, many times, I have gotten overwhelmed by stuff. Right now, I’m just enjoying speaking. I’m not thinking about what I’ve got to do tomorrow; I’m just enjoying the moment. You enjoy your moment. You enjoy your day. Take discipline in bite-size, sushi-size chunks. Don’t think, “Well, man, I don’t know about next month or next year or five years from now.” Those moments will come whether you worry about them or not, so don’t. Sushi-size your day. Daniel did.
Look at Daniel 6:10, “In his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down three times on his knees that day and prayed and gave thanks before his God as was his custom since early days.”
This whole one-day-at-a-time thing is one of the great aspects about the AA program. I don’t know if you realize this, but the AA program is founded on Biblical principles. It’s a great program. One of the things they tell you in AA is “Take one day at a time.” Recovering alcoholics count their days of sobriety. In fact, I did a whole series about the AA program called “Recovery Channel.” We did a whole talk on all those principles and it’s a great series. But a lot of people don’t realize that all the AA stuff is straight from the Bible. God’s word is everywhere!
Daniel sushi-sized his day. Are you ready? He took each day in bite-size chunks, and we have got to do the same thing. Zachariah 4:6 highlights what we have been talking about concerning discipline. It says this, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord.” It’s by the Spirit of God. The spiritual disciplines—praying, fasting, meditation, whatever—in and of themselves are fine, but we are disciplined because of the reality of God’s spirit within us. Here’s what Galatians, Chapter 6 says: Paul is talking and says, “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption.”
Now, what’s Paul talking about? Paul is saying this: the moment that we come to the point in our lives where we say, “Well, I can handle my anger problem. I have enough guts to turn my back on lust and I can really get a read on greed by myself. I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I’ve got enough stuff to do it.”—Paul says you are worshipping your own will. You are not following God’s will. You are worshipping this quality in and of itself. That’s sowing in the flesh and, if you do that, you are going to reap corruption.
Look at the last part of this verse, “But he who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.” Paul is talking about green acres. He is talking about the Farmer in the Dell. He is saying this. All a farmer does is work the soil, throw the seed in the soil, and then back up. I mean, after that, he can’t do much more. God, the Creator, through nature, causes that seed to germinate and to produce fruit. The spiritual disciplines, friends, are the same way. In and of themselves, they are fine and dandy; but let me tell you what they do. They get us in the ground and then God does the germination, the production and God yields the crop.
So I’m to be a disciplined person. Why? Because it gets me in the ground and God does the growing. God does the true discipline, the true endurance, the true vision, the true courage, the true enthusiasm and God does the true love. That’s what God does. So, it’s all about God. We are to be very careful that we don’t worship this me-istic, I can do it, I’m strong enough, I’m big enough, I’m bad enough attitude, because it’s flesh. It’s corruption. And it needs to be all about God and his grace.
How do we make these decisions and live these decisions out? I could talk some more about advanced planning and give you examples and illustrations. I could talk to you about sushi-sizing your life, and I could talk to you about being disciplined in your prayer life and your diet and all that stuff. But as I have said, character is an outward reflection of an inward connection. Character is doing what you ought to do so you can do what you want to do. It’s delayed gratification. It’s obeying God.
How do we realize the depths of discipline in our lives? I’m going to talk to you about something that is rarely discussed, but it’s mentioned over 52 times in Scripture. I am going to talk to you about meditation. When I say the word meditation, some of you think about Eastern meditation, with someone sitting in a lotus position humming a mantra. Eastern meditation is weak stuff. That’s just emptying the mind. That’s just detaching yourself. How can you go deep when you are detached?
True Christian Biblical meditation is not emptying the mind. It’s filling the mind. It’s transforming the mind with God’s spirit. It’s understanding who you are in Christ. It’s a purpose-driven thing.
Meditation. Here is what Richard Foster says about meditation, in a great book we have in our bookstore called The Celebration Of Discipline. Foster says, “Christian meditation very simply is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. It’s that simple. I wish I could make it more complicated for those who like things difficult.” Sometimes I meet people who just like things difficult. “Ed, complicate things for me, please. Ed, surely it can’t be that simple. I could understand this so there has got to be more to it than that.” You don’t understand something. Things should be simple and easy to understand. Just because something is simple and easy to understand does not mean it is shallow or superficial. You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it in a very simple way.
I talked to a guy a couple of days ago who is one of the top fishing guides in North America. His name is Tommy Lock. I saw his name on the Internet and just called him. He answered the phone. He takes the very complex sport of fishing and he teaches people how to do it. Do you know what he told me? He said, “Ed, what I do is very simple. I make it easy. I make it simple.” What he is talking about is so complex, I can’t even explain it to you. But he has the unique ability to make the complex, simple. I thought to myself that this guy has got it right. We need to do the same thing with meditation. What is meditation, simply speaking? It’s creating enough space emotionally and spiritually to hear God’s voice and obey God’s voice. That is what it is.
This past weekend, our twins brought home a little hamster. You know a hamster is pretty much a sophisticated rat. That’s what it is. This hamster is in this aquarium, and I saw this thing jump on one of those, not loop de loops, but those little wheels. This hamster was just cruising on that thing with his little teeth chattering. He is thinking, “Man, I am bolting. I’m flying.” But he is not going anywhere. We are all in a rat race, aren’t we? We need to create time and energy and opportunity to meditate, to hear God’s voice and to obey his word.
I have a challenge for you over the next week. Your challenge is to take three times slots where you spend ten minutes a day meditating, hearing God’s voice, and obeying God’s voice. I’ve made up a little system so you can understand where you are going.
First of all, get out of the race. Just disengage from the race. We are all busy. Get out of the race. Leave everything on hold. Then, find a place to meditate. It could be somewhere in your home. It could be outdoors. I don’t know where it is, but find a place where you are not ambushed by technology. Then, create a space emotionally and spiritually. Give God time, ten minutes, of uninterrupted time to meditate, to hear his voice and to obey his voice.
Then, you contemplate his grace. Here is what you do. You hear his voice; you obey it. “Well, Ed, how do you hear God’s voice and obey his voice?” I’m glad you asked. The answer is Scripture. That’s a good way to meditate. Tracy Barnes said it’s good to take Scripture and just recite it out loud for ten minutes—the same Scripture. A lot of times we see the Bible and we are intimidated by it. We go, “Wow, 66 books. There’s no way. I can’t go there, Ed. I’m just….”
Take a book like 1 John, one of the Gospels, and just go through it in sushi-size chunks. For example, Jesus said, “My peace I give to you.” Just contemplate and meditate on that text for ten minutes three times a week, and watch what happens. Ask, “Okay, my peace I give to you. Jesus, what are you saying to me? What kind of peace do I need right now?” You will not believe what will happen. Amazing stuff will happen. It’s a great way to study the Bible.
My mind is drawn to the book of Psalms. Psalms is in the middle of the Bible. Here it is, Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and his leaf does not wither.” Discipline, meditation, gets us into the ground, right? God does the growing.
Then it says, “Whatever he does prospers.” That’s meditation. That’s starting with God. One of the pictures behind meditation is a cow chewing cud. Have you ever watched a cow chew cud? We need to chew on this scriptural cud. Hate to be gross, but when a cow chews cud, you think surely he is going to swallow it. But he doesn’t swallow it at first. He will kind of spit it back up. I did some research on this. Do you know a cow spits up cud about seven times to get every bit of the nutrient from the cud? We need to take Scripture and chew on it and deal with it over and over again while we are meditating.
Also, we need to meditate outdoors sometimes. One of the reasons we built a beautiful lake here is so we can walk around it and pray and meditate and we can worship God for his creation. Now, we don’t worship creation. That’s pantheism. That’s humanism. That’s what Oprah talks about. We take nature and nature reflects to us the beauty and the artistic ability and the creativity of God. It causes us to worship.
For example, the Bible says in the book of Proverbs, “Go to the ant you sluggard. See how diligent the ant is as the ant works.” Go outside and look at the ant. Have you ever just looked at a flower or a blade of grass or a tree or fish and said, “Wow, this is amazing. Look what God has done for this world. Look what he is doing for me during this moment.”
We have a beautiful statue of Jesus out there called Christ Rising. That is what it is for. A lot of us miss nature. We miss the beauty of God’s creation.
Another way to meditate is just to use your body. Sometimes when you meditate, lie flat on your face before God. Sometimes kneel. Sometimes sit up. I like to use my hands. Maybe for example, if you are dealing with anger towards someone. I know that no one is, but let’s say you are. You might feel like this, “God, I want to punch this guy’s lights out. This person is making me sick the way she acts.” Then just release it to God. Physically, just say, “It’s yours, God. Now envelop me with your peace and your understanding, your discernment to deal with this situation.” Use your bodies when you are meditating before God.
Think about events in your life. Think about the past, how God has rescued you, how he has brought you, matured you, and what God is doing today. Think about those things. We do that all the time around Fellowship Church without staff. We go back over the twelve-year history of Fellowship Church, and we talk about moment after moment how God’s grace has rescued us and helped us and empowered us and given us the ability just to have a church like Fellowship. We can go on and on talking about this, but it begins with meditation, advanced planning, and discipline.
Daniel advance planned. Daniel sushi-sized his day. Daniel meditated regularly before the Lord. Daniel exemplifies discipline. Look at Daniel 6:4, because they were trying to trap Daniel. They were trying to mess him around. They were trying to jam him because they were jealous of Daniel. Here is what happened. “So the governors and satraps thought to find some charge against Daniel, but they could find no charge or fault because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.” Lord, I pray that could be said about me.
I pray that you pray for this because we are talking about you as well, because when we create that space, God can use us as a channel for grace. Discipline. You want to go deep with it? Just make the decision. Advance Plan. Sushi-size your day. Begin to meditate and God will use you in an unbelievable fashion.
Let’s pray together. Father, thank you for this message. I thank you for giving us true discipline. I thank you for giving us true and pure character. Lord God, I look forward to seeing the great things that are going to happen in my life and every life here because of today’s worship experience. God, give us your ability to hear your voice and to respond to it. In Jesus name, Amen.