December 10, 2006
[A video testimony plays on the side screens of Bruce, a close friend of Ed’s.]
Video: I was raised Jewish in Rochester New York; probably the most religious guy in the family. It was a cultural thing more than anything else. I was the one dragging everyone to Temple every weekend and I had a Bar Mitzvah at thirteen; and I was proud to be a Jewish guy.
Then I met Tracy. She was searching and had not really become a Christian. She was on a path and Christianity was something that would happen for her eventually. And I knew that in our faith, the Jewish faith, there is Raysh Hashanah or Yaum Kippur you go to Temple and that is about it.
Tracy, being a Christian, went every weekend. And I thought if I had a faith in God then I would probably be okay. So that was the first big step for me. We then got married, and Tracy did become a Christian. And during this time she was trying to educate me on what Christianity was. But I was really big in the Judaism. We would go to some churches and I would see Jesus hanging on the wall there and it freaked me out. A Jewish guy could not handle that at all.
Tracy finally found a really cool, nondenominational church in Chicago and I was going to listen to the guy’s messages. And I found myself going through the week thinking about his messages and finding slowly but surely I was putting those things into action, which was a good thing. I was being entertained with the drama and cool music. And it was okay. But still, I was hanging on to my Judaism and no one could take that from me.
Then Tracy gave me a Christmas present. She bought me a one year Bible and it was broken up into 365 sections and I started reading it. I had always heard about the 200 and some references in the Old Testament to Jesus, but I had never really studied it. It was a great opportunity to start reading it, and a lot of those things were becoming live to me. I am seeing it and thinking, “Whoa! What are the chances of that happening? That seems way too wild—no way. How did they miss that?” It seemed really obvious.
There were a lot of influences in the Chicago area, and Tracy was really getting active in the church. Through that I was really meeting a lot of people. They were all really great, and they were really helping me understand more and more about Christianity.
One weekend, we had this incredible flood in Naperville, Illinois where I was living. Seventeen inches of rain fell down and we took in five feet of water in the basement of our house; just flooded it. We were struggling to get all of the water out, and next thing you know, there were 15-20 people from the church that just showed up at our house and just helped pull all of the stuff out.
They helped clean the whole house out for us and sat and talked and told us about Christianity, but in a really cool way. I was blown away.
“Man these Christian people are cool!”
The Jewish thing, in the Jewish faith, I had always had a bit of an apprehension about the whole Christian scene. And so it was really breaking down walls. I was incredibly influenced by that experience and so many other influences that were happening to me in Chicago. So, I was on a great path.
When I found out that we were being transferred down to Dallas, the pastor said, “Well, you have to check out Fellowship Church. It is really cool.”
So, we came down here, and within a few weeks of moving down here, we came to a service and they were right. It was happening.
A guy that I was working with at Fox Sports Southwest down here was a good solid Christian man, and we would go out to eat all of the time. And he became an incredible influence in my life, and he told me he was praying for me. And I always thought that was kind of weird. It was in January of 1998. And then midway through the year, I was halfway through the Bible, and I went to the Ballpark in Arlington.
I was invited by the Fox Sports guys I was interviewing with for a job, so I was invited to go to the suite.
“Cool, I get to stay in a suite!”
But convincing Tracy to go was tough. Tracy is not a sports fan. But I convinced her to go to the game and it was awesome.
I knew that I was going to get to watch a game in a suite, and I was really excited about that. Little did I know that night would change my life forever.
[The video ends and Ed speaks live from stage.]
My baseball rabid relatives asked me to get them tickets to a Rangers game. I go to a Rangers game maybe once every five years. We were getting cabin fever, so I called a friend of mine and he was able to swing us six tickets; four in the stands and two in a suite.
I thought, “That is very generous”.
I met my friend at the Ball Park, and as we were walking through the turn styles he looked at me and he said, “Ed, today is your lucky day! Four of the people that were supposed to be in the box dropped out. Now your entire family can stay in the box and watch the game with you the entire way!”
I said “Sweet!” because it was a suite, and the suite was sweet!
When I walked into this place, the food, the junk food, was out of sight. I am kind of a health nut; I watch my diet, but I noticed these giant bratwurst hot dogs and I began to pound down those hot dogs. I mean, I threw the diet out the door. It was gluttony, it was sin, and I loved every moment of it!
After my third hot dog, a young woman walked up to me at the back of the suite. I was facing the food; my back was to the game.
She said, “You are Ed Young, aren’t you?”
I said “Yeah.”
She said, “Well, my family and I have been attending Fellowship Church and we really like it.” And she began to explain to me that she had just become a believer.
She pointed and she said, “Do you see that guy over there?”
I looked and I saw a young guy, drinking a beer, watching the game.
“That is my husband. He is Jewish, and he is on the verge of stepping over the line and becoming a Christian.”
[A video interview plays of Ed and Bruce]
Bruce: So then at the Ballpark, they had a whole bunch of Fox guys in the suite and you were in there with your family and we got a chance to speak, but not until near the end of the game; it might even be around the 6th inning.
Ed: Uh huh
Bruce: You and I just kind of went up and we were eating some food and I remember you eating a bratwurst.
Ed: That’s right.
Bruce: That’s a big thing with you.
Bruce: And we were just talking about all of the different…you were asking me about all of the concerns that I had about being a Jewish guy and taking a leap. But still it was cool; you are a really cool guy.
We were talking about all of the questions that I had, and you were breaking down a lot of them for me. Chief among them, I remember, for me was the big concern that I always had was that I would have to denounce my Judaism and convert to Christianity. And I could not get comfortable with that.
What you did was so perfect, because you explained to me that I was not renouncing my Judaism, but I was building on my Judaism and I could retain my Judaism that I was proud of but also build on it with Christianity. That was huge. About the ninth inning, you looked at me and you were like, “Bruce, man, we answered all of your questions. What is the deal, man? Come on. Let’s go!”
I said, “What do you mean?”
You said, “Well, let’s just do a prayer. Let’s just grab Tracy and go right into that bathroom in the suite and get on our knees and say the prayer. We will do it right here.”
And I am like, “What? Here?”
Ed: Do you remember, Bruce, too, I will never forget this; right when it got to that point, over the monitor, the announcer said it was the ninth inning, two outs.
I remember us going like, “Whoa!” Do you remember that?
Bruce: Oh, I totally remember that!
Bruce: Yeah, I do remember that because I knew that if we were going to do this, we were running out of time. I remember you pointing over to Tracy and kind of ushering us to the bathroom. And just the look on her face, I think that she just knew.
Bruce: And it was cool. We went into the bathroom and got on our knees.
Ed: That’s right
Bruce: And I remember thinking that Tracy had always been telling me that she had so many people praying for me. And I remember thinking that my life was really going to change, and I felt this warmth come over me, and I did not know what it was.
But, just as we were saying the prayer, he called strike three to end the game. 30,000 people started cheering. Do you remember that?
Ed: I do remember that. And you know what is crazy about that? When I heard that, Bruce, I thought about the text that says that all of the angels of the Heavenly hosts will rejoice when even one sinner repents. And that was one of the most powerful moments in sharing Jesus that I have ever experienced. Because, I mean, praying that prayer … boom, you know! Isn’t that amazing?
Bruce: It is the timing!
Ed: How is your life, Bruce, different today than it was prior to that night, prior to the Ballpark in Arlington? How would you describe it?
Bruce: Night and day, man.
Ed: Two different worlds.
Bruce: You know, for me, personally, I speak for me and also for my family, but I think for me there is this odd sort of peace that I have. I really truly know that God is in charge of my life and if I am in the middle of what could be a stressful situation, it is odd but the old, before I became a Christian, would have freaked out and had stomach aches. I was a bit of a worrier. And now I just have this peace that I know that no matter what the situation is, I can just pray and trust that God is in control of my life. That is real; I mean that has changed me!
Ed: What would you say to people who were like you years ago that are on the edge and ledge, right there thinking about stepping over the line or maybe they are investigating or seeking Christianity?
Bruce: Nobody truly knows for sure what happens to us when we die, you know? But when you become a Christian, it punches your ticket to heaven. And, I don’t know, is a non-Christian willing to take that risk and take that chance of not going to heaven?
Ed: Yeah because I can remember when we talked, one of the things that I asked you was to name a good reason why you should not do the deal. And I remember you saying, “Man, I cannot think of a good reason why I shouldn’t.”
And that is a great point, because so many people who are on the verge of making a decision are bombarded with excuses. But those excuses are not really good enough reasons to keep them from making that decision.
I remember too, Bruce, in our conversation, for me, because I was just hanging out at the game, I did not think that we would have this time to talk. But, I had to get uncomfortable to speak to you and ask you some of those questions. And, of course, you had to get uncomfortable to talk. Yet, when we kneeled down, and kneeling is an uncomfortable position, you made the most comfortable choice ever and that is to ask Christ to infiltrate your life.
I just think that there are so many people out there and they are just right on the ledge and they are down on one knee and they need to put the other knee down and say, “God, have your way with me. Infiltrate my life.” Because I think that the heavenly host and everybody else are waiting to give them an ovation when they make that decision.
Bruce: And I think that I might have been one of the most unlikely candidates to become a Christian, and it is the single greatest thing that I have ever done in my life!
Bruce: And I would encourage anybody who is out there watching not to sit on the sideline but to jump into the game now and have their whole life changed. Do it now; it is the greatest thing that I have ever done. And there is no looking back. And if I can do it, anybody can do it!
Ed: That is right, man.
Bruce: Because it was a difficult decision for me to make, but I took the leap.
Ed: Well, Bruce, what is so awesome is that God used so many different people, dozens in your life, to bring you to that point at the Ballpark. And I happened to be there and God did it. And I thank him for the opportunity to know you and be involved in that transaction and I really understand the verse that says both the sower and the reaper rejoice.
I also understand, too, when the Bible says that when the heavenly host will cheer when one sinner repents, because I have been a part of both of that. And I am really proud of you and we are proud of you at Fellowship Church, and we are going to pray for you and I know that God has an incredible life in store for you!
Bruce: Well, thank you Ed.
Ed: Thank you.
Bruce: Thank you for being a part of it.
[The video ends and Ed speaks live from stage.]
It is the bottom of the ninth and two outs for many here. You are at this place today for a reason. You are at a satellite campus, maybe at Plano or Uptown or Alliance or maybe in South Florida; you are at Fellowship Church for a reason.
It is interesting to look at Bruce and to see how God used people to sow seed in his life. People sowed seed in Illinois; people sowed seed at Fellowship Church, from our Children’s ministry to many of you. And then I just had the opportunity to do the reaping. It was right there on the edge on the ledge. Right there before he stepped over the line. I just encouraged him and challenged him to make that decision.
It is the bottom of the ninth. There are 2 outs for many lives here. You are here because people have been praying for you. You are here because maybe someone invited you. You are here because maybe you have gone through a difficult situation or circumstance, and you feel this low grade sensation that something is not right. You tried this and you tried that. And you find yourself right on the verge of stepping over the line.
The fact that I was even at a baseball game is miraculous. I don’t even go to baseball games. I respect baseball players and the sport is great, but I just don’t go the ball park very much. That was wild.
Number two is the fact that those four people dropped out right before the game. That’s crazy. Then the fact that I was talking to a Jewish guy while eating a bratwurst—about Jesus! That is really nutty. God intersected our lives, and I was in the right place at the right time, and so was Bruce. It was a God thing.
How do you become a follower of Jesus? That is a good question. How do you do that? Basically, because there are many here in this situation and there are many here like Bruce; basically, there are certain paths you can take to become a Christian.
The first plan or track is the performance track. Let’s say, for example, that some wealthy baseball owners got together and decided to form a new honoring system. Not the hall of fame, but the hall of perfection. Let’s say that these owners said that if someone could play perfect baseball for ten years, then this group would give the player and his family a billion dollars. Let’s say that every major leaguer and his iguana began to work out and diet and do what you had to do to get into the hall of perfection. Their loved ones would look at them and say, “Give it up. Chill, relax. You are not going to do it.”
There is not a perfect player in the major leagues. They have all committed errors; they have all struck out, grounded out, or flied out. No one is perfect. It is a pipe dream, it is ridiculous. And who would be able to do that? Love would motivate us to tell them, “Give it up; you are not going to make it.”
Scripture says that we are not perfect. If we bat a thousand at the moral plate every time up; if we play flawless life baseball, then we can get to heaven. We will have the righteous and holiness of God. The Bible leaves that option open for you and for me.
However, I have a problem and so do you. I am a natural born sinner and so are you. No one taught me how to sin. It is something that I do. I never took sinner lessons; I just know how to do it. I do it all of the time.
A lot of people tell me, “Ed, I am on the performance track. I am Catholic, I am Baptist. I am Pentecostal. I am Church of God in Christ. I do this and that. I help the poor. I am generous. If God is going to grade on a cosmic curve, I have more good in my life and bad. And compared to my neighbor, Ed, this guy is wheels off! I am telling you, man that God is going to wink and say, ‘Guys will be guys and girls will be girls, but you were a good guy or a good girl so come on in.’”
Here is what Scripture says in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
The Bible says that the payment of sin, the paycheck of sin is death. The word death means eternal separation of God. So what that means is that if I have one bad mood, one impure thought; if I commit one sin of omission or commission, then uh-oh, the performance track is in the tank.
Let me put it to you this way, because a lot of you are on the performance plan. You really are and you are saying to yourself, “I can perform my way.”
[Ed draws continuum on a Plexiglas board.]
Let’s say this end represents evil. I am talking about axe murders, cereal killers—Osama, Jeffery Dahmer, and people like that. Are you feeling me?
On the other end on this continuum would be God’s standard of goodness. What is God’s standard? He is holy; he is perfect. Pure, 100% righteous.
Let’s say, for example, that we take Mother Theresa. Mother Theresa, one of the greatest Christian ladies to ever live. She cradled dying infants in her arms for decades. I have read where she said, and I quote, “I have fallen miserably short of God’s standard of goodness.” This is Mother Theresa—MT.
If MT put herself on this continuum, she would put herself about right here. She has fallen short that is what she has said.
Billy Graham. My family has known Dr. Graham for several decades; he is the real deal. He is an authentic, wonderful Christian guy. Billy Graham has preached to more people than anybody in the history of the world. Did you know that? More people. Billy Graham, I have heard him say, “I have fallen miserably short of God’s goodness.” I have heard him say that.
I heard him say, “I have really messed up with my family. I did not spend enough time with my family.” I have heard him say that.
So, Billy Graham would put himself well south, you may say, of MT. Let’s put BG, Billy Graham. MT, Mother Theresa.
Ed Young. I am a pastor. I grew up in a pastor’s home. Ha, I am a sinner though. I have messed up. I have struck out a lot and made a lot of errors. I would put myself well south of these people. In fact, there is no way that I could ever perform my way past these cats. MT and BG? No way. I put myself right here. Now, Lisa may put me way down here… I’m just kidding. I put myself right here.
Bruce Levinson, he would probably put himself right here.
If I gave you this pen, where would you put yourself? Would you have yourself on that continuum? Where would you put yourself?
We have a problem. Mother Theresa has a distance that she can’t make up on her own. She can’t perform her way to God’s standards. She is in trouble. Billy Graham on this continuum, hypothetically, is in trouble; serious trouble. Ed Young, woo! I am in real trouble. All of us are in trouble, because distance is distance. Bruce Levinson, he is in trouble.
So, the performance plan. We think, “Yeah I will bat one thousand; I will play error free baseball. Woo, woo, woo!”
It is all about woo. Woo makes God to say, “Give it up, give it up. It is not going to happen.”
So what did God do? Here is what God did. This is a giant chasm. Us: that is you and me. Us. God. God’s standard right? Perfection, 100% righteous. We have a problem; we have sinned, and sin has caused this cosmic chasm between ourselves and God.
One bad mood, one off day, one sin of omission and commission and we have this cosmic chasm separating ourselves and God. So, what have we done? In our humanist view we say, “Ok, I will be very philosophical and surely I can get to God by doing that. I will be religious.”
“Man, my father was a pastor in the Church of Christ.”
“My grandmother, she prayed every day and I read my Bible.”
“I will go to Africa and help with this whole AIDS thing and I will go on missions’ trips and I will serve in the church”
All of those things are dandy. Good for you. But you are on the performance plan.
THE GRACE PLAN
Well, God has given us another plan. That was called Plan 1, the performance plan. We will put a “P” there.
Let’s talk about plan 2. Plan 2 is the “G” plan. That is the Grace Plan. I have got to have grace, and so do you. What is grace? It’s unmerited favor. I don’t deserve it, after my best day. You don’t deserve it. No one here deserves it.
Mother Theresa she does not deserve it. She is a sinner. Billy Graham? He is a sinner as well. You know I am. Bruce Levinson? Sinner. We are all sinners. Here a sinner, there a sinner, everywhere a sin-sinner.
The Grace plan. What did God do? Because God loved us, what did God do? He took the initiative and he sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all of our sin, for all of our junk and funk, for all of our strike outs, and for all of our errors.
Jesus has built a bridge to God. So, let me draw a big cross covering that sin. The work has been done. I hope that you did not miss that. The work is “done.”
Religion and the performance plan is spelled “do.” I have to do this and do that and do this and do that. And, hopefully, somehow I can appease a holy God. But, sorry, the math does not work. I still fall short.
Christianity, the “G Plan,” is spelled “d-o-n-e.” When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, right before he breathed his last breath, what did he say? “It is finished”.
I did not deserve it and nether did you. And now God offers us this slam dunk deal. Again, can you think of any good reason why not to take this deal? Seriously, is there a down side?
God says, “Ok, you either receive this or not.”
The moment we receive this, several transactions take place. Number one, all of my sin is forgiven. The moment I say, “Jesus infiltrate my life, Jesus be the leader of my life,” boom! Sin is gone because it has been taken care of.
In the second transaction is this: the righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed and given to me. Now when God sees Mother Theresa, he does not see Mother Theresa the sinner. Now when God sees Billy Graham he does not see Billy Graham, sinner. Now, when God sees Ed Young he does not see Ed Young, sinner. Now, when God sees Bruce Levinson he does not see Bruce Levinson, sinner. Now he sees someone who has received his son. He sees the righteousness of Christ.
Because of the grace, the distance is made up and we understand God’s purpose, power, plan and agenda. We understand why and how we are supposed to do this thing called life. That is how someone becomes a follower. I am not talking about religion. I hope that you know that. Being religious that is a man-made system. That is spelled “d-o.” I am talking about a personal relationship—“d-o-n-e.”
It was amazing, that night at the ballpark in Arlington. There were thousands cheering because the Rangers had won another one. But thousands more were cheering in heaven because one young Jewish guy bowed the knee to another young Jewish guy. I am talking about the Carpenter; I am talking about being in the reconstruction business. He will totally change and renovate your life from the inside out.
It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs. What is keeping you form stepping over the line? Can you seriously think about one good reason why you should not step over?
Only the power of God can change the geological plates of your life. Only God can do that. Won’t you let him? He loves you and he wants to walk with you and live inside of you. It is the bottom of the ninth with two outs. What are you going to do?
Let’s bow our heads. Every head is bowed and every eye closed, I don’t want anyone looking around. I want no one moving at all, because I do not want anything to disturb this holy time.
God is sowing seed in many lives here. Many lives will be at our satellite campuses, many lives will be watching this on television. And he has brought you to this point to make this decision.
While Bruce and I were praying, I basically said, “Bruce, repeat these three phrases.”
Bruce said, “I admit.”
Just that phrase, “I admit that I am a sinner and I have messed up. I have been on the performance plan.”
Say “God, I believe. I believe to the best of my ability that you sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for my sins, and I am moving right now from the performance track to the grace track.”
You may be saying, “I have these doubts. I believe, but I have doubts.”
That’s cool; God is bigger than your doubts. If you didn’t have any doubts, then there would be no faith. Without faith there is certainty and with certainty there is no faith. The Bible says that we are saved by Grace through faith.
So, just say “I believe to the best of my ability, Jesus, that you died on the cross for my sins and you conquered the grave.”
Here is the third phrase: “I receive”
Say, “Jesus, I receive you into my life. I open the lid of my heart and ask you to come in. I give you everything I am and everything that I will ever become. Tax, title and license, God, I give it all to you. Infiltrate my life. Become the leader, Lord, of my life. Sit on the throne of my life. I move myself off of that and put you there Jesus. I receive you.”
Just say that. Once again, I will give you a chance to say that again.
“I admit I am a sinner.”
“I believe, Jesus that you died on the cross for my sins.”
“I receive you, Christ.”
As your heads are bowed and your eyes closed I am going to ask you this; if you prayed that prayer with me for the first time and meant it, will you lift your hand for a second. Many hands are going up. I am going to tell you something now. The heavenly hosts are cheering because you have come into the family of God.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven.”
So, if you would, everyone look at me for a second. In a couple of moments we are going to sing a song. And if you said that prayer with me and meant it to the best of your ability, I am going to ask you to get uncomfortable.
Right now, I know, you are sitting down in a comfortable chair, a comfortable seat and that’s cool. But I am going to ask you to get uncomfortable because Jesus asked people to get uncomfortable when they followed him. He always called people out of a crowd. So, I am going to ask you…I can’t demand it, but I am going to ask you if you prayed that prayer with me for the first time to get up out of your seat when the song starts and to make your way forward.
What I am talking about doing is getting up and walking forward and just facing me down front. Because Jesus always told people to put their flag up and say, “I am following you.”
I am sure that you had not planned on doing this. And hey, if you brought someone and they are walking forward, why don’t you walk with them and stand with them? If the gospel has already attached itself to your soul, stand and walk with them. Families need to do this. Husbands and wives need to do this. Many, many here need to do this. If someone is coming, you stand with them because God is moving.
I will tell you something friends; it is the bottom of the ninth with two outs and I do not know when you will have another opportunity to do this. You may have thousands more, I don’t know. This could be it.
I know that God brought Bruce up there in that suite for that reason. Our lives intersected. And God has brought you here for that reason—to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. So when I close this time and segue to this next song and say “Amen,” don’t hesitate; make your way forward to stand down front.
[Ed leads in closing prayer and leads in a walk forward alter call.]
[The remainder of this transcript is during the walk down invitation…]
As believers, it is time for us to pray for people who stand and make their way forward. If the gospel has already attached itself to you, then you pray for people that are coming down front.
Don’t hesitate as God leads. No one disturbing, this is a holy moment as you respond because the invitation has been given, the work has been done, and Jesus Christ wants to infiltrate your life.
We don’t do a lot of alter calls at Fellowship Church; we don’t have people walk forward a lot. But I will tell you something; there is something powerful in it, because Jesus always called people out of a crowd.
You may be hesitating thinking, “What will people think; what will people say?”
I want to tell you something else about the story that I didn’t say in the video. Right when Bruce got to that point of making that decision, a guy walked up and literally began to get Bruce off track and into some other stuff, and it was almost the ninth inning. I remember looking at him, and I began to pray, “Get this guy out of the conversation because he is going to blow the deal!”
I know a lot of you right now have a lot of excuses in your mind why you should not walk forward. Don’t hesitate.
A friend of mine is a professional athlete, and he and wife had been out of church for fifteen years. They walked through the doors of Fellowship Church the first time we extended an invitation. He stood in the back and walked all the way down front to make a public decision. So if a professional athlete will do that, which is some serious pride, you can do it. So don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about someone to your right or to your left, what they will say or what they will think. You come forward only as God leads.
[Ed addresses the people who have walked forward…]
I want to say something to you down front. This is the best thing that you will ever do. This is what Fellowship Church is all about, giving the opportunity to make this decision and then to discover the implications of this phenomenal life. It is the best part of life; it is what it is all about.
We want this place, Fellowship Church, to support you, to encourage you so that you can discover more about the best life and how to live in the sweet spot of God’s success. And we just want to help you and encourage you.
You know, anytime that God wants to birth a bunch of baby believers he looks for the warmest incubator he can find. And that is why I am so thankful to be a part of Fellowship Church. And I want to thank you for this incredible decision that God has orchestrated today.
Right now I am going to ask you to head out that way so that we can talk to you about the decision. So if you would follow these pastors out and head toward room 229 so that we can talk to you briefly on the upper deck.
If you came with some of these folks, after the service is over in the next couple of moments you can go up there and wait for them and they will be up in the lobby to greet you. But we want to talk to you briefly and give you some literature on this awesome decision that you have made. Let’s show our appreciation again.