EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LIFE IS IN YOUR FISHBOWL
February 4, 2001
Their faces were pressed against the glass as they watched their every move in the giant aquarium. It was amazing to see how effortlessly they moved around the big tank. They didn’t realize it, but they were a spectacle for the large crowd to see, to watch their every move. I just described to you an exhibit from Sea World and also an exhibit from your life and mine.
I don’t know if you have stopped and pondered it, but people are checking you out. They are watching me. Their faces are pressed against the tanks of our lives, seeing how we do this thing called life. Isn’t that great news? I mean, that’s a pretty cool deal. You don’t have to be on “Survivor” or “The Mole” to be watched. The thing about it is this voyeurism stuff doesn’t end when the credits roll or when we get voted off the island. No, no. It’s a 24/7 deal, because scripture says repeatedly that we are influencing, impacting, and marking the lives of others.
Before we think about all these people looking at us, before we even worry about them seeing our worlds, I think it would be good to sort of jump out of our tank and look at our own worlds. I cannot really influence people unless I influence myself. Right now, I am going to give you several questions. I call them “fishbowl FAQs,” frequently asked questions, that we should pose to ourselves regularly if we are to be the kind of influence, if we are to be the kind of impact, and if we are going to be the kind of people who mark others in the most profound way. We have got to ask ourselves these questions.
Before I get into the questions, though, I have to say this. This talk is not for the treading-water types. It is not for those who want to splash around in their floaties in the shallows of saneness. This is for those who really want to go deep and who really want to make a change in people’s lives in this one and only life. The Bible says that pretty plain in 2 Corinthians 13:5. It says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” So once again, friends, before we even think about other people watching us, we need to watch ourselves. How do we do it? Fishbowl FAQs.
Here’s the first one: Is my swimming ‘N Sync? Throughout this series, we have been saying a couple of things. Number one, we have been saying life is a fishbowl. Number two, we have been saying if life is a fishbowl, that means we are a bunch of fish. We have got to ask ourselves, “Is my swimming synced up with God? Is it synced up with Christ?”
You take your Palm Pilot and you put it in its carriage. When you do that, it syncs up with your computer. All of the inconsistencies are reconciled and it becomes one. When I regularly and strategically sync my life up with Christ, all the inconsistencies are reconciled. The Bible says I become one, because Christ is living in me and he is doing life throughout me as I defer to him, as I allow him and let him run the show. Are you syncing up with Christ? Are you swimming in his wake? Are you taking stroke after stroke with him or are you just kind of floating around in the tides of our culture—just whatever feels good, whatever makes you look good, whatever gives you pleasure.
How are you swimming? Is your heart bigger today for God than it was six months ago? Who are you sharing with? What are you reading? Who are you praying for? What ministry are you involved in? Tough questions, swimming questions.
As many of you know, I get a chance now and then to travel around the country and talk to church leaders in different conferences and things. A while back after one of my talks, someone came forward and said, “Ed, thanks for being here. I have heard about Fellowship and blah, blah, blah.” Then here is what they said. “Ed, I’m not really growing like I should.” I said, “Well, why?” They said, “Well, the church I am attending now is without a pastor, and I don’t know, I’m just not getting fed.”
Little did they realize it, this person was not slamming the church, he was slamming himself. My job as your pastor is not to grow you up. That’s not my job. Technically speaking, it’s not the responsibility of the church to make you grow. We have opportunities. I teach from God’s truth. But if this is your only feeding, you are not swimming very well. You are swimming in circles instead of really following in the wake of Christ. So whenever you hear someone say, “Well, you know, I am not getting fed,” that is an indictment on themselves. We have no excuse not to grow. We have no excuses whatsoever. If you are looking to me or the pastor or the church to do it all for you, you have missed the boat. It’s up to you. It’s up to me. We make the call.
Are you synced up with the Savior? A pretty good FAQ, a question I challenge you to frequently ask yourself.
This next question is about our environment. Is my pride, or you could say, is my ego polluting my environment? Is it poisoning it? Is it clouding it up? Some people are putting out so much pride, and their tank is so cloudy and polluted that they don’t know which way is up and which way is down. They don’t know really how to swim. Pride is something that is really a wacky deal. It’s the forerunner of all sins. I wrote a book awhile back called Fatal Distractions. It’s a book on the seven deadly sins, and in one of the chapters I talk about pride.
Pride says to someone on a materialistic trip, it says, “Hey, you deserve to be greedy. You deserve it. Don’t feel guilty about it. Come on, man, you deserve it.” Pride says to someone who likes to promote themselves, “Hey, if you don’t promote yourself, if you don’t brag about yourself, if you don’t name drop, who is going to do it for you? You do it.” Pride says to the person who is caught in lust, “It’s okay to think about doing that with this person. It’s okay to camp out on those websites. It’s okay to read this or do that, because after all, you are just a red-blooded American.” Pride.
Pride keeps us from coming clean. Pride hurts our influence. It hurts our impact. It hurts the ability to mark our family’s lives or our coworker’s lives, or our neighbors’ lives. Many of us are caught in pride.
In 1 Peter, Chapter 5, it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Have you ever tried to swim against a current? It’s tough, isn’t it? You can’t really do it. If you do the pride thing or if I get caught in the pride thing, it is like I am swimming against a current. Conversely, if I go with grace, it’s just a go-with-the-flow-type mentality. It’s just like, “God, I rest in you. I want to allow you to do what you want to do in my life. Here I am. Take me.”
How many of you have ever been to the Hyatt Hill Country in San Antonio, Texas? Isn’t that a cool place? They have this thing called “A Lazy River.” You jump on these inner tubes and you just kind of float down the river. You just go with the flow. That is the way it is as we go with grace and do the 1 Peter, Chapter 5 thing.
In John 3:30, here is what John said, “He must increase but I must decrease.” He being Christ. How are you doing with the pride thing? Some of you are saying, “Well, Ed, how do you really know if pride is tripping you up? How do you know if ego is messing up your environment? How do you really know?” I’ll tell you how to know. Ask someone. Some of you are saying right now, “Oh, I could never do that.” Busted. If you are saying that, you’ve got a pride problem. Ask your spouse. Ask your friends who will tell you the truth in love. Ask your co-worker. “Do you see any pride in my life?” Because the ride of pride is a devastating one.
Here is another one, number three if you are keeping count: What baggage is submerged in my body of water? What am I trying to hide in my tank, so to speak? We all have these aquariums, these fishbowls, these spheres of influence. What are we trying to hide down there?
This past Monday morning, I was walking around a little pond in a neighborhood close to our house with my three youngest. We walk around this pond pretty frequently, and I know the terrain well. We were just kind of chilling. I had some sunglasses on, polarized lenses, because you never know when I will spot a fish or something like that. The sun was perfect and the water was pretty clear. I saw something that caught my eye in this pond. I said, “Kids, look at this. This could be a treasure.”
Sure enough, in the bottom of this little lake was a briefcase. I was thinking, “Whoa, cha-ching. Local pastor finds 1.5 million.” So they said, “Daddy, just jump in and pick it up. Pick it up.” The water was freezing. Thankfully, I have long arms. I have like a 36-inch sleeve. So I just kind of crawled on my stomach and stuck my hand into the pond and I was barely able to get it. I pulled up this briefcase that was waterlogged. It had a name engraved on it. I was like, “Wow, this is cool.” I didn’t really look through it. There was no money there. I did, though, see the name on the briefcase. It was a judge, of all people. I tracked her down, called her up. “Oh, thank you so much,” etc., etc. No reward, no reward.
Perspective. I had the right perspective, didn’t I? I knew the terrain well. I acted on what I knew. As we spend time in God’s truth, as we spend time in connecting with him, he will give us a perspective that is supernatural on our lives. As we walk around our tanks, our bodies of water, our aquariums, if something is out of kilter, if something catches our eye by the Holy Spirit, we’ll see it. We will see that bag, that wound, that scar, that hurtful habit that we are trying to keep down, that we are trying to submerge, that we are trying to get rid of, that we are trying to cover up.
When God does this, through his perspective, as he points it out through the Holy Spirit, let me tell you what we do. It’s crunch time. We either reach our hand down and pick it up, or we don’t. God gives us the grace for us to pick it out, and root it out. We, though, have to make the decision to do it. What I am going to ask you is this, “Are you regularly doing that?” You can’t just do it now and then. It can’t just be a semi-annual thing. It’s got to be a daily thing.
As we become familiar with the Bible and familiar with talking to God, we will see these inconsistencies and these bags in our lives. A lot of us have stuff, baggage, that we have never dealt with. That’s why I am so into Christian counseling. I say this so often. There is a great role out there for a Christian man or woman who is trained to help you, to get you advice.
I have the privilege of talking a lot about marriage. One of the reasons we talk about marriage so much is because it is the second most important decision you will ever make. We talk openly and honestly about it. What I’d say to marriages that are drowning—a lot of marriages right now are like, “Help me, help me, I’m drowning.” A lot of marriages are like that. My advice to you is to get help, get help, get help.
Most marriages wait too long to walk into a Christian counselor’s office. Or they find a counselor who will agree with them, who does not come from the biblical perspective. If a counselor does not come from the biblical perspective, you have got to really question whether you are getting truth or error. Go now. Help them to help you. Help them, as you share with them, to locate the baggage and do the whole location thing and take it out. It’s a good question.
Number four: Is my integrity intact? I ask myself that question often, “Am I a man of integrity?” We have choices, don’t we, in life. They come to us at a rapid fire pace. Choice after choice after choice. Do I choose to compromise or do I choose character? People are watching. They have their faces pressed against the glass of our lives. They are saying, “Oh, he calls himself a Christian. Let’s watch. She calls herself a Christ-follower. Let’s see.” What kind of choices do you have? Do I cheat on the exam, student, or not? If I say, “No, I am not going to cheat. I am going to be honest,” that’s integrity. Do you exaggerate to make the sale, which is compromise, or do you say, “You know what? I’m going to be honest about our product.” Integrity. The choices we have. It’s amazing how they hit us.
The word “grit” is right in the middle of integrity. It takes a bunch of just grit to do it. In Proverbs 11:3, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” Or you could say hypocrisy.
1 Corinthians 10 says, “So whether you eat or drink….” Don’t you love this one? “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, for I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many,” the good of those who have their faces pressed up against the glass of your life and mine. Why? “So that they may be saved.”
The first time God hammered this into my heart, I was 20 years old at basketball practice, Florida State University. My teammates knew where I stood. They knew my convictions. They knew I was a Christ-follower. During a very intense practice, there were a couple of fights that day among the teammates. It was pretty tough, you know? I was playing on the second string, where I pretty much lived, against the first string. I took a shot. It was an easy shot, and I missed it. Can you believe that? You know what I did? I let some profanity out of my mouth when I missed that shot. When I did, and I was the only Christian on the team, it was like practice just stopped. Even the coach stopped. “What did you say, Ed? What did you say? Did you say what I thought you said?” It was like God said, “Whoa, Ed.”
I don’t care if it’s 11 teammates, 1,100 people in your corporation, or if you are some superstar and millions look at you, we all influence others. We are all leaders. Leadership equates to influence, those integrity issues, those character issues: honesty or falsehood. Integrity.
Here’s the fifth question: How am I processing relationships? How am I processing the people in my life? Life is full of relationships. I think one of the greatest questions that we need to ask ourselves has to do with our relationships on the family front. The way you treat your spouse, is that honoring God or not? What is it saying to your kids and to others? You say you love your wife like Christ loved the church, are you doing that? I’m not saying perfection. None of us are perfect. None of us have wings and halos yet. How about an older brother or sister here, the way you show respect to your parents, or lack of respect, what kind of current is that sending to your younger brothers and sisters? Parents, how are you treating your children? Children, how are you treating your parents?
Jesus said something pretty hard in Matthew 18:6. One day I am going to do a series on the hard sayings of Jesus. That would be a great series, wouldn’t it? Listen to this one. “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” I’ll let that one sink in just for a second.
On the family front, that is where Christianity is lived out. You know you can’t fool your family, can you? Even children say, “Oh, I see how Dad acts at church and another way at home. I see how Mom does this here and that over there.” They know, don’t they? They sure remind Lisa and I when we are inconsistent.
Do you treat others fairly, though? Let’s move from the family front. Do you treat others equally? That’s huge. We have never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to God. I don’t care what they do or what they have, who they are, we have never locked eyes with someone who does not matter to God.
A man from Houston, Texas, has been a great influence on my life. He is a wonderful Christian man, a very successful business guy, former NFL football player, all that. I have heard him speak and share his testimony and pray with people. All those things have influenced me, but I want to share with you the number one thing that marked me. One day, he invited me to his country club, which I think is one of the most exclusive country clubs around, River Oaks Country Club in Houston. Huge. Big money.
We walked into the palatial locker room and there were a bunch of guys playing cards and drinking. There was probably a net worth of 1.5 billion at that one little card table. I watched my friend walk over to these guys and say, “Hello” and all that. They said, “How are you doing?” He replies, “I’m doing fine.”
As we were getting dressed, I watched a man who is physically-challenged, a locker room attendant, a guy who spent his entire day just cleaning dirty golf cleats, watched him walk over to this table of guys who were drinking and playing cards. And they were treating him like trash. Like trash. My friend, though, treated him like he was the most important person in the locker room. When this locker room attendant saw my friend, his whole face lit up. My friend spent more time talking to him about his day and his needs than he did the power brokers, the people who could help him and he could do deals with.
How do you treat those people who can do nothing for you? Oh, it’s easy to treat someone right if they could help you in business or help the church, or do this or that, but how do you treat the person who could do nothing for you? How are you processing people? The way my friend treated that guy changed my life. I said, “Whoa, this guy is the real deal.”
Five questions: Is my swimming in sync? Is my pride or ego polluting my environment? What baggage is submerged in my tank? How about my integrity, is that intact? How am I processing people? I ask myself these questions regularly, as I examine myself. I get out of my tank and say, “Ed, I want to look at your world. How is your world doing, because you cannot affect other people’s world until you think about your world first.”
You see, I know a lot about this stuff. I really know what I am talking about. You know why? I have lived in a fishbowl my entire life. I grew up in a pastor’s home. My father has always pastored growing, large churches. I have been in this fishbowl my whole life. People watching me, where I go, where I don’t go, what I wear, what I don’t wear, where I live, where I don’t live, what I drive, what I don’t drive, “Oh, really, Ed, hmm. You mean you shop at a grocery store, Ed? What do you have in your car? Really!”
But let me tell you something. The fishbowl thing is a great thing. I love the fishbowl. As a Christ-follower, we should love it. We are all in a fishbowl. It’s a good thing, a wonderful thing. Don’t leave this place and go, “Oh, man, I can’t believe I am in a fishbowl. I just want to swim behind a rock and live my life.” It doesn’t work that way. It’s great.
Let me tell you why it’s great. First of all, it’s built in accountability. You know what’s funny about accountability? Oh, I love to talk about accountability. You need accountability. But I am slow, I don’t know about you, to talk about accountability in my own life. Are you that way? I think you are. “Oh, he needs accountability. She needs accountability.” How about self-accountability? Kind of hurts.
I will never forget what happened several years ago. I met a guy, and if I called this man’s name out right now, every one of you would know who I am talking about. He’s a big-time celebrity. I got in this conversation with him and we talked about spiritual matters. Here is what he told me. He looked at me and said, “You know, Ed, I am a Christian. I have prayed the prayer to invite Christ into my life, but you know what? I believe Christianity is a private thing, not a public thing. I want to just keep it private. I don’t want to wear it on my sleeve. I don’t want to go public.”
I said, “Come back.”
He said, “No, it’s a private thing.”
I said, “I understand that. It is a private decision, but we don’t have a choice in going public. We have got to go public.”
Do you know what he was saying? He was saying, “Ed, I want my cake and I want to eat it too. I want the Christianity thing, but I want also to get wasted on the weekends and have sex with this girl and that girl, and live my life.” He was saying, “I don’t want accountability. I don’t want it.” If you don’t want it, don’t give that weak stuff to God or me or someone else. “Oh, yeah, I’m a Christian, but I am not going to go public with it.” Come on, who is he trying to fool?
Accountability is a good thing. Once you step out of the shadows and go, “You know what? I’m a Christ-follower,” you’ve got accountability, brother. You have got accountability, sister. You’ve got it. We are only as accountable as we want to be.
Also, here is what else living in a fishbowl does; this is another great thing. Living in a fishbowl earns us the right to share with others. We can’t, though, communicate Christ with others until, first of all, we live the life. Our walk and talk must coalesce. There must be a connection there. I have got to earn the right, because you know what? It hurts me to say this, but this is the truth. I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day, and I give sermons. I want to see one.
In my friend at River Oaks Country Club, I saw a sermon. When I blew it at Florida State University, they saw a sermon, a poor one. But as I do life deeply with God, as I ask myself these frequently asked questions, people will see that I am not perfect. I have not been measured for my wings or halo yet, but you know what? This guy walks the walk and talks the talk. This girl walks the walk and talks the talk. Then, they will come near you and you will have an opportunity to share Christ with them, to fish for them. Why? Because they have seen it. We have got to earn that right.
Here is another good thing about being in a fishbowl. I’ll do this right quick. Being in a fishbowl helps us live a life of substance. It helps us live a life of substance and significance. Boy, I love that. Jesus said that we are salt. He said that we are light; he said that we are leaven and all this stuff. There is one thing in common with the stuff that Christ compared us to: Penetration. We are to penetrate our world.
Let me let Jesus sum it up, Matthew 5, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
It’s like the song I learned a long time ago in church. You know I grew up as a pastor’s kid. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” One verse says, “Hide it under a bushel, NO, I’m gonna let it shine.” Then the next verse says, “Don’t let Satan blow it out. I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” We are to let it shine. Are you letting it shine in your aquarium? Because if you do, you understand your world and you will understand how others see your world. And you will mark, influence, and impact people in this one and only life.