FAMOUS LOST WORDS SERMON SERIES
SUNDAY, JUNE 25, 1995
An American Indian tells the story about a brave who found an eagle’s egg one day. He took the egg and put it in the nest of a bunch of prairie chickens. The eagle grew up thinking it was a prairie chicken, and it did what most prairie chicken’s do. It walked around on the dirt, pecking seeds and insects. This eagle grew to be very old. Then one morning the eagle looked up in the sky and saw the most majestic bird he had ever viewed in his entire life. And he took his giant wing and punched his prairie chicken friend and said, “What in the world is that in the sky?” And his prairie chicken friend responded by saying, “That’s an eagle up there, the most majestic of all fowl. Don’t worry though, you can never be like him, you’re just a prairie chicken.” So the eagle, who thought he was a prairie chicken, lived about two more years, then he died. What a tragedy. Built to soar, built to move out, built to be the greatest bird in all of creation, but conditioned to live life as a prairie chicken. Does that sound kind of familiar?
Maybe you are saying to yourself, “Ed, I am in that situation. I can identify with the eagle. I have talents, I have abilities to move beyond my self-imposed limitations but for some reason or another I have not chosen the path of excellence. I am doing enough just to get by. I am stagnated in the status quo. I am a normal, average person but I want to soar with the eagles. I am tired of being a prairie chicken.” No matter what you do, whether you teach, preach, sell, keep a home, work as a student, you, if you are totally honest and transparent with yourself, want to live a life of quality and excellence. But again there is some reason that you don’t. It is much easier to chill out than to really be the kind of person that you know you should be. It is much easier to have those long, unproductive lunches and attend seminar after seminar on how to do it, rather than sitting behind your desk and doing it.
We are infatuated, though, with this whole subject called excellence. The bookstore shelves are sagging with the weight of all of the volumes written about quality and excellence, in pursuit of this, and I’ve got to have that. You never read any books about pursuing mediocrity or how to get less that the best or how to love being below average. Those are not attractive titles. We want to discover how to live a quality life. So having said all of that I want to direct your attention today to the greatest book ever written on excellence. And no, it was not written by Steven Cobey, Ken Blanchard nor Peter Drucker, it was written by God, Himself. It is called the Bible. Because from the book of Genesis, which is the first book in the Bible throughout the text until we conclude the Word of God in the book of Revelation, it is a book about excellence. I am going to share with you some principles concerning excellence.
Recently, I traveled to the jungles of the Yucatan peninsula to do some fishing. And I am talking about literal jungles where jaguars and pumas and army ants and snakes and a lot of wild things surrounded my friends and I. I began talking to some Mayan folks who had lived there their entire lives and they shared with me an experience that really took me aback. They said that one day they realized that about 400 yards into the jungle there was a beautiful lake. The jungle was so thick, the mangrove trees were so dense, they knew it would take some energy and effort and endurance to hack their way through the bush to get to this beautiful lake. And they described to me how it took day after day, month after month, to finally get to the lake. They talked about negotiating their way around snakes and mosquitos and poisonous plants that would eat their skin alive. They indicated, however, that once they got to the beautiful lake, it proved really worth it. The lake was teeming with wildlife and was gorgeous. The fishing was excellent. They described to me in detail, though, how tough it had been to cut that path through the jungle.
Today we are going to use the sword of the spirit, because the Bible is called the sword of the spirit, to cut a path through mediocrity. And this path is going to take some work. This path is difficult. There are many times in my life, I am sure this is true for your life also, where I want to kind of throw down the sword, put my machete aside and say, hey, it’s too tough, it’s too difficult. But God says, “Ed, go for it.” God says, “Person, go for it.” He wants the best for you and the best for me.
Let’s look at three principles of excellence. The first principle. Excellence is based on God. We have to start here. That is the foundational principle of excellence. Excellence is based on God. And after I share each principle with you, I am going to give you a way on how you can engage in excellence. But let me start with this general principle, excellence is based on God. We serve an excellent God. We sing songs which state that God is excellent, God is beautiful, God is perfect, God is Holy. Nowhere in the Bible do we have an average God, a decent God, a God who does enough just to get by. Exactly the opposite is true. We serve a God who does the best for us. When He saw the barrier caused by sin, He sent Jesus Christ, the sinless savior, to live a perfect life and to go to Calvary and to rise again for your moral foul-ups and for my moral foul-ups. He didn’t give us kind of a half-way savior, He gave us someone who was perfect, someone who lived a life of excellence. Nowhere in the Bible do we see Christians characterized as just normal, every day, run of the mill people. In the Bible Christians were energetic, they were visionary, they had endurance, they had courage, they were committed to excellence.
You didn’t have a bunch of prairie chickens pecking their way through the New Testament. You had eagles. One of my favorite verses of scripture on excellence is found in the book of Colossians. Colossians 3:23-24. Listen very carefully to these words. “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord.” Let me stop right here. Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart like you are working for the Lord. A lot of you are in difficult situations at work and to be candid you would say, “Ed, the person I work for is a jerk, I just cannot stand this person, this person is a tyrant, this person is unfair, etc., etc.” This, I believe, will help you live a life of excellence because you are tempted to do just enough to collect that paycheck instead of really busting it for the Lord. Your ultimate boss, the Bible says, is Jesus Christ. And once you realize that, the light should turn on and then the workplace can become an avenue of worship. Whenever we express love to God, whenever we glorify God, we are showing God that we are worshipping Him. The way we work, our attitude, our language, our commitment to quality all speaks volumes to those people outside the family of God and that person who seems so difficult to work with. Look past that person to Jesus Christ, you are reporting to Him. So the efforts and the quality should not be for this person, it should be for the Lord. It should also be to set an example for those folks around you.
Think about your work ethic, for example. When people see you and they see your average work ethic, they are seeing an average God. And God is not an average God. When people look at some of you and you kind of work below average and kind of do just enough to collect that paycheck, they think Jesus is kind of just enough to help in a certain situation but He can’t take care of all of one’s needs. Jesus is not concerned about being a quality God Who follows me and loves me and pursues me daily.
This was hammered into my mind this past week. Monday at lunch I went to a Yogurt shop in the neighborhood. I walk in and the man working there was moving in slow motion. We are talking about ABC Wide World of Sports slow motion. “How’s it going, man?” I said, “It’s going well. I would like some yogurt, banana with non-fat granola.” “Was that non-fat granola or Reeses peanut butter fingers on there?” “Granola, please.” “That will be $3.19.” So I begin to pay, give him $4.00 but I couldn’t leave it here. I was talking about excellence, I was thinking about it so I said, “Friend, I want to ask you a question if you don’t mind.” “Yeah, whatever.” I said, “How do you like your job here?” He said, “It’s all right. I’ve been here for about a year and this is easy compared to my last job.” I said, “Easy?” And he said, “Oh, yes, man, this is easy and I kind of like it.” And I thought wow, doesn’t that speak some major, major words to areas in my life and I think areas in you life. And I had to share that account with you once it happened to me.
Surely you have come across people like that and surely you have been tempted and you have done some things like that guy did. You kind of take the easy way out. I want you today to say before God, I am going to commit my life to excellence. I’m going to obey Colossians 3:23-24. Let me continue reading. “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart as working for the Lord, not for men since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ whom you are serving.” Here is one quick way how to engage in excellence under this general point, excellence is based on God. Don’t just sit there, do something. Don’t just sit there, the Bible says, do something. If you are a Christ follower, you should be a doer. You have got to discover what your natural bents are, your natural talents. And more often than not, God will call you to do something that goes along the lines of where you giftedness is and once you find out where you giftedness is, don’t just sit there, go for it, try something.
A couple of years ago, I am ashamed to say, I received a gift and this gift was a CD player. And this CD player is in my office across the street. And with this CD player came a remote control. I have only used this CD player about ten times in two years, that’s terrible, isn’t it? Because I can’t study with the music on and I just study and kind of forget about it. Well, when I got the CD player, I turned it on and the remote control worked. I am terrible about mechanical things. When, however, I put the batteries in the remote and it worked, I was pleased with myself and once I saw it worked, I put the remote into a drawer of my desk and closed it. About eight months later I was kind of in a musical mood so I put some music on, I don’t know whether it was Phil Collins or Michael W. Smith, who knows, but I put it on and it wouldn’t work. And I’m saying, can you believe this thing is broken already. Well I had enough smarts to take the remote control apart and take a wild guess what I found. The batteries, even though they had been stored in a very safe and warm and comfortable place were corroded. Corrosion is gross and they wouldn’t work. The batteries were made to energize, to do something. We are batteries. We are not made to sit in a comfortable place and to relax, we are made to do things, to cause energy to occur empowered by the Holy Spirit of God. Don’t just sit there, do something. What is it that you need to do that you are not doing? What is it you need to try? What is it you that you need to step out in faith and risk doing?
Our church, because we are committed to an excellent God, is committed to quality and excellence right here. Not opulence or not perfectionism but excellence. And for some reason, I have talked to people over the years and they see something of quality that the church does or maybe another Christian organization, whether it be Promise Keepers or Christ for the Nations or World Vision and they say, “You know what, that’s a really nice program, that speaker is really quality, she really does a great job in this realm, but you know the whole organization just doesn’t look Christian.” And I want to say to myself, now what does that mean, doesn’t look Christian. A lot of people have this mentality that all Christian organizations should be nickel and dime operations, dingy and dark worship centers with tone deaf choir members and staff and pastors who have no talent and who are just lazy and sit around. That the church should have a bunch of shag carpet, terrible sound systems, and la, la, la, la. The Bible calls us to excellence. We should set the standards for excellence. We serve an excellent God, thus we should show people how excellent God is. That’s why we are serious about it here and we feel that anything that communicates the nature and the character should be done with excellence. We spend large blocks of time making a lot of this happen.
I want to do something totally different right now in my sermon. I want to show you something. And before this tape rolls, listen to me. I want to show you what our membership does just to make this weekend stuff happen. We have four weekend services, one Saturday night at 6:00 pm, three on Sunday, 9:00, 10:05 and my favorite one the 11:10 am service which is my last service. Our members, I am not talking about paid staff, you would not believe what these folks do behind the scenes. What I am going to show you lasts about a minute and this indicates just some of the weekend activity. Sit back, relax and let’s roll the tape.
In fact, let me show you something additional right quick. Now this is our bulletin here and I want you if you want to get involved in something excellent with some of our members and all of what they are committed to, I want to show you how you can get involved. Each of you has gifts that are unique, that are unbelievable. On the back of this card that says How Do You Join This Church, under all the information we ask you to fill out, if you would like information from the church on any of these topics, How To Become a Christian, Starting Point Class, Nursery, Drama, whatever, there is an appropriate space for you to check. The staff reads these cards and you will be contacted regarding your interest. For example, you may check Nursery and Preschool. You may think I am a single parent, or maybe I have four children like the Youngs do and all that stuff, I want some information on the Nursery and Preschool. When we talk to you about the Nursery and Preschool, not only will we tell you about it, but we will also ask if you wouldn’t be willing to help in that area since that area is exploding on our church. Three times a weekend we have children’s church and let me tell you something. Children’s church is the church. They have such a good time and we have, I think, the greatest children’s pastor in the country, Mike Johnson, doing that. We will get you involved in certain areas, maybe athletics, maybe whatever. So write down some of your gifts and we want to get you plugged in and involved because you have excellent gifts, we serve an excellent God and we want to communicate Him in an excellent way.
So we got it. Excellence is based on God. Don’t just sit there, do something.
The second principle is this. Not only is excellence based on God, excellence is based on goals. Excellence is based on goals, the second principle of excellence in the Bible. Goals. Philippians 3:13. The Apostle Paul says this: “This one thing I do.” Paul said that, he didn’t say these thirty things I dabble in, Paul said this, say it with me, this one thing I do. And in verse 14 he said, “I press on toward the goal.” I press on toward the goal. Excellence is based on goals. Do you set goals? That is not a humanistic, worldly thing to do. The Bible is a goal oriented book. Do you have goals, in your marriage, in your dating relationships, in the market place? And I said goals, plural. And I want to share with you this way to engage in excellence. The first one was, don’t just sit there, do something. This is the second way to engage in excellence under principle number two, excellence is based on goals. Are you ready for it? Hold on to your theater seats. Set mountain range objectives. Set mountain range objectives. When you think about goals, when you think about objectives, when you think about getting the job done, don’t just set one goal. For example, spiritually you might say, I want to read through the Bible in a year. And you go out a buy a book on how to read through the Bible in a year and you do it and once you get to that point, ha, I’m through, I can relax, I can stagnate, I can just veg out. You need to have another goal. Or you say, it is my calling in life to find the man that I can marry. And you work and you court and you date and finally, there he is. And you say, ha, I have achieved the goal, I have climbed the mountain, I have got him, now I can just relax. Or maybe, as far as your career, you are thinking, if I could only close that deal, or make that amount of money or do this or do that, then I can just relax for the rest of my life.
Goals are important but you have got to set multiple goals. Don’t just look at one goal. Once you climb one mountain, once you reach one goal, have the next goal in mind. So once you read through the Bible in a year, what is the next spiritual goal? Once you get married, what is your goal relationally? Once you achieve that success financially or in the business world, what is your next goal? What are you going to do next?
This happens to me everyday. My wife and I have been running for the last two months every day. And my wife is a natural runner. I consider myself mildly athletic, but Lisa can go. She is about 5’9″, she has really long legs and she pushes the twins in a double wide jogging stroller. I push EJ, our three year old. So here we go like a convoy. When we jog every morning about 7 am, we run anywhere from 3 1/2 to 4 miles together. It is a good time for us to talk, see how we are doing. We know there are two giant hills we have to climb and we have to descend. This past week one of the twins fell out of the stroller. Please note, she is just fine. We just sort of brushed her off. Ha ha, the rigors of goal setting. However when we hit that first hill, a tough hill, we don’t normally say, well OK let’s stop running. We made it to the first hill, let’s just stop. No, no, no. We are thinking about the next hill. And once we cross over the next hill, and finish we are considering already what time we will run the next day. And we need to take this principle and let it bleed over into our goal setting. Remember once you achieve your goal, once you are climbing the mountain, once you are pushing the jogging stroller up the hill, think about the next one. If you don’t you can burn out, you can fall into depression, you can kind of flounder around doing nothing with your life. If you don’t believe it, read the story of a man named Elijah in the Bible. Elijah, you’re talking about a great victory, God delivered him on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal. He won the victory, this solitary man. This prophet won. And you would think after this victory, Elijah would be getting high fives and celebrating. He didn’t though, read about him in the Old Testament. Elijah found himself nestled in kind of a fetal position beneath a juniper tree trying to cradle his achey, breaky prophetic heart. What was his basic problem? He didn’t have something else in store. And later on, of course, God restored him, “Elijah, wake up, how about another goal, come on now.” So don’t relax, don’t chill, set those mountain range objectives. You know the difference between excellence and mediocrity is about ten minutes? Ten minutes more working through that relational conflict, ten minutes more work with that client, ten minutes more lifting weights. Ten minutes more reading your Bible, ten minutes more talking to God in prayer. Ten minutes more. Are you willing to do it? God wants you to do it. God want me to do it. I am not talking about being a perfectionist. I am talking about striving for excellence.
And this next principle will really solve all the problems for those of us who struggle with perfectionism. Here is the third principle. Remember excellence is based on God and excellence is based on goals. And finally, and this will seem paradoxical, excellence is based on failure. That doesn’t really make sense, does it? Excellence is based on failure. It is. The biggest fear that a lot of us have from living a life of excellence is the fear of making a mistake.
I think about three years ago I did a sermon series entitled the faces of fear. I talked about the three greatest fears that man deals with, the fear of dying, the fear of living alone and the fear of failure. The fear of failure, frankly, has kept me from doing a lot of things concerning excellence. I’ll think that I could step out there and do that, but I might mess up and I am a Pastor of a church and they will see me just really fumble the ball on the one inch line. So I will just play it safe. Haven’t you done that before? We all have. I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want to look dumb, or stupid or weird.
The Bible is packed with story, after story, after story about men and women, God-following people who messed up. And here is the good news, perfectionists, God used the people for excellence despite their failures and their mistakes and their sin. And every time I study this, every time I think about this, every time I meditate on this it inspires me to try new and different things. I mean I can identify with a guy like Samson. I can identify with a guy like Jonah. Think about Samson. Samson was a he-man with a she weakness. He was a gifted man. Samson, though, went against the advice of his parents, young people. His parents told Samson that the Bible says not to associate with those ungodly Philistine women. You need to marry a God loving wife, a Hebrew. But Samson, believing that he was the strongest man in the world, thought that he could do what he wanted to do. Although he was a leader, he began to let down his guard and he got involved with a prostitute, then Delilah. He was captured by the Philistines and he, though he had so much potential, had his eyes gouged out and was put in prison. One would think it was over for Samson. Forget it, lights out, no more. But despite his major league mess up, God used this man to lead in one of the greatest victories experienced by the nation of Israel in its history. Samson.
We can identify with someone like Jonah. Jonah was a man called by God to preach to Ninevah. God was getting ready to judge Ninevah but because people mattered to Him, He was going to use Jonah to preach to the Ninevites. Jonah said, “God, no way. I’m not going to Ninevah, you can forget about that God.” And Jonah began to run. He is the quintessential running man. He jumps aboard a boat and a great white whale eats him. He prays inside the belly of the great white whale, and the whale spits him up and he says, “God, I have changed my ways now, I’m going back to Ninevah and I am going to hold this giant crusade.” And he holds this giant crusade and, check this out, the entire city, the entire city turns to God. I am not talking about twenty people or one hundred people or a thousand people, an entire city. And Jonah, this prophet, after that great spiritual anointing, he walks outside of the city, turns around and says, “God, OK, take one cosmic sweep of Your hand and wipe them off the map. Even though they are all saved now, God, I don’t like them being saved. I’m really getting depressed and angry and upset.” Even though Jonah had these problems, he was still listed in Hebrews 11 in the Hall of Faith, and Jonah’s prayer of deliverance was quoted by Jesus Christ himself.
You can look at Sarah, you can look at Hannah. Go on down the list. Despite these major errors, God uses the people for excellence. Don’t let a mistake hold you back. I love what Charles Kettering said. “You never stub your toe while standing still.” You never do. And you are going to stub your toe, you are going to mess up when you do great things and you commit your life to excellence. And here is how to engage in excellence, the third engagement in excellence principle under the third general principle, if you are taking notes. Here it is. Bring a huge motherload supply of bandaids if you commit your life to excellence, because you are going to foul up and mess up and stumble and fumble and foul out and everything when you try things. God wants you to try. He knows you are going to mess up and He will use these mistakes for His glory.
I look back on our church and I have seen how many mistakes we have made, for instance, when we start a different program. A couple of years ago we tried to do four services on Sunday morning alone. Some of those things flat out didn’t work. And we look at it as an education not a bunch of things full of mistakes. It is kind of the Dr. Seuss principle. You know Dr. Seuss don’t you, GREEN HAM AND EGGS, that guy. We have all read his books. Dr. Seuss, after he wrote his first children’s book, took the book to twenty-three publishers. They all rejected it. The twenty-fourth received it and it only sold about six million copies. Thomas Edison’s assistants walked into his office one day and they said, “We have tried 700 different experiments and they don’t work. They are a failure. It’s horrible.” And Edison said, “Hey, these aren’t mistakes. Just think of it this way. We know more about the subject than anyone. We are 700 steps closer now to solving the problem and finding the cure.” God hits those straight licks with crooked sticks. Are you trying things? Do you have those bandaids ready? It is going to happen but God will use those things for great glory.
To shut this message down, I want to tell you about someone you have probably heard of. And this person, His name is Jesus. Jesus was committed to excellence. Jesus had the courage to confront the religious leaders of His day. He had the wherewithal to heal on the Sabbath. He called Himself the Son of God. He had the audacity to hang out with second class citizens like tax collectors and prostitutes and Samaritans. And then, He loved His enemies who were persecuting Him and finally He said this to His followers. “You will be able to do greater things than I have done.” That always kind of puzzled me. Jesus said that we would be able to do greater things than He had done. How can we do that? In a nut shell, we have got to commit to the kind of excellence that He committed His life to. So. The choice is yours. Are you going to be a prairie chicken or an eagle who soars to the heights of doing great things for God?