The Finest Hour
December 12, 1999
You smile with satisfaction when you read your e-mail because you finally secured that meeting with the man who can change the course of your career. That individual can launch you to another level, can give you the edge above your competition. He can make you a lot of money. The meeting is set for the next day at 8:00am at his office. The night before you go through all of the preparation. You get your sales pitch down cold. You run through the different scenarios. You try to read into the questions that he will ask. You pick just the right outfit to wear. You set your alarm early. You get a good night’s rest.
You arrive at this gentleman’s office thirty minutes before your appointment. You are sitting there in the reception area and pop a couple of Altoids. Then his assistant escorts you into his palatial office. You settle in one of those butter soft leather chairs. You lock eyes with him, and you can feel in your gut that great things are going to happen. You talk. You really connect. You hang on his every word. You are into the conversation. He gives you several insightful suggestions which you quickly hammer out on your laptop. Money is discussed. A contract is drawn up on the spot. You shake hands and you leave. A deal, you know, has been done. This has been your finest hour in the marketplace. You know that your career will never be the same. There is nothing like those meetings that matter, is there?
We have, ladies and gentlemen, a standing appointment with the God of the universe, the true power broker. His office is the church. We show up and do business with him and a cosmic transaction takes place. Every time we leave church it should launch us onto a new level. It should give us an edge above the competition. It should change the very course of our lives. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another.” We are not to let a little weather, a little excuse, a little Cowboy’s game get in the way of our corporate meeting with God.
When we turn our back on church attendance, when we don’t regularly worship him with the corps of other brothers and sisters in Christ, we are dissing a basic directive from the Lord Himself. We are rejecting the opportunity to do business with Him. Well, since this is the finest hour, and since I am in a series of talks on worship, let’s talk about how to do this thing called “corporate worship.”
When you think about corporate worship, you have to think about preparation. You have to be prepared for worship. I want you to hold your right hand out right now. Let’s start with the thumb. I love my thumb. I have a very long thumb. And my thumb also is double-jointed. Can you do that? Anyway. Each finger, including the thumb, represents a different aspect of preparation we should be involved in concerning worship. The thumb stands for the fact that we should be rested up. In other words, preparation for Sunday worship begins Saturday. We should get a good night’s rest. And if we aren’t prepared, if we aren’t rested up, we may just search for the Starbucks and wait to kick back in one of those Fellowship La-Z-Boy-type chairs. We have got to be rested up. At the Young household, Lisa picks out all the outfits for the children the night before in order to alleviate those fashion fights. Rested up.
The pointer stands for prayed up. Do you pray before you come to church? We have learned throughout this series that if we know Christ personally, everything we do and say should be an act of worship. The following comments that I am going to share are reserved for Christ followers personally. If you are a Christ follower, you should pray regularly. You need to pray for the leaders of this church. Pray for those people in the parking crew who brave the elements week in and week out. I drove on the campus early this morning and there they were, braving the elements. Man, they put wind in my sails. Pray for those who give us extravagant hospitality, those who hand out doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, if you go to the 9:00am service. Pray for the hundreds of people that we have involved in the greeting ministry, the usher’s ministry.
Also pray for those individuals who work in the preschool, the nursery, the children’s church. Pray for those who work behind the scenes doing the video work, our graphics, the incredible sound, the lighting. Pray for those in the band, the praise team, and the drama team. Pray for those, like myself, who will be teaching. Pray for the leaders of the church. Also pray for the church, for the people who will attend. Pray for those who don’t know Christ. We have a lot every single weekend who show up just to kick tires and test the waters. Pray that they will establish a relationship with Christ. Also pray for believers, that they will ratchet up their behavior and that they will take a character step and really understand the true implications of going deeper with the Lord. You have got to be rested and prayed up.
This finger, tall man—heads up. You have got to have your heads up. You have got to be on time. Oh, oh. I ask you. What if Bill Gates called you this afternoon and said he would like to meet with you at the California Pizza Kitchen in Grapevine at 12 Noon on Wednesday to talk about your career. How many people would be at the CPK at 11:30 ready for Bill? What if Bill called me and said that he wanted to make an end of the year donation to the church? Yeah, Bill.
Last weekend I did a test. I walked out in the lobby one minute before I was to walk on stage and people were still pouring in. I thought to myself how sad that was. If you are pouring in just to hear the sermon, you are missing a huge aspect of the worship service. Our worship service begins at 6:00pm on Saturday, 9:00am and 10:45am on Sunday. Get up early. Have your children in the preschool, nursery, or children’s church. Get a good seat and get your game face on. Be prepared. Are you prepared? Do you have your head up?
And do I need to say anything about leaving early? How many Dallas Stars fans do we have in the house? Dallas Stars. I don’t know that much about hockey, but I have been to a couple of games. And one game we attended, it went down to the wire, and we didn’t leave with a minute to go to beat the crowd. We wouldn’t do that. If Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, why are we in such a hurry? “Well, I am going to win the race to Taco Bell. I am going to get there first.” Folks, when you get up you could be disturbing someone who is making a defining-moment decision.
Let’s talk about another finger, the ring finger. We have got to get dressed up. Don’t you love getting dressed up? In the early days of our church we used to wear suits and ties. We had the throne chairs on stage. And that’s cool, to dress up and wear a tie and a dress. However, our culture is a casual culture. For those who have to dress up during the week, the last thing they want to do is dress up for church. Sometimes you do. Remember that church is not a fashion show or a flesh show. Dress casually or fashionably. But think about meeting Bill Gates at CPK. What would you wear to meet him?
One of the reasons that we dress casually is to indicate that you can come to church just like you are, wearing casual clothes. Jesus loves you just the way you are, just the way you look. But we have got to think through being dressed up. Again, single parents, and we have so many of you attending our church, our hats go off to you. That is the most challenging job in the universe. Prepare before hand. Get the clothes out.
And let me say a word to parents and single parents about teenagers. This is just a little side bar deal. If your teenager ever says, “Well, I just don’t feel like going to church.” Hey, you are Mom. You are Dad. You are the leader, the parent. They don’t have a choice. They don’t have a say so. Students, when I was young, I didn’t always want to go to church either. I admit that. But my parents said, “Ed, you are going.” And I am so glad that I did. The same is true, whether you are a student or an adult. Usually on the weekend when you say you don’t feel like attending, but do go, that is when God has something incredible for you. It is never easy to go to church, and let me tell you why. The evil one knows what is going to happen in your life. He knows that all heaven will break loose in your life and mine when you go to church, and he doesn’t want it to happen. So he will give you and you and you an excuse.
A couple of weeks ago, I was lying in bed early Sunday morning and Lisa was prompting me to get up, get up, get up. I told her that I didn’t really feel like it. But she said, “Ed, you are the pastor….” She didn’t say that. I was just joking around.
The little pinkie, we have got to be fessed up. We need to confess our sins, to come clean before the Lord. I want to direct your attention to Psalm 130. Now and then if you are perusing the Psalms, you will see beneath the numbers these words: “a song of ascent.” Here is what this notation is referring to. When the Israelites would go up to worship, they actually had to climb a hill. They would sing these songs to prepare their hearts to confess their sins while they were going to corporate worship. Now picture a family walking in sandals. Picture a single adult walking and singing this song of ascent. Psalm 130:1-6, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” And this word “feared” simply means “astonished reverence.”
So we have talked about the hand of worship. And if we have the hand of worship down cold, here is what we can do. Turn to your neighbor and shake their hand. If we have the hand of worship down in preparation, we can shake the hand of God, do business with Him and have a cosmic transaction. Is that a great deal or what? But I have got to add one caveat. When we prepare for worship, we have got to remember the BCBs. The first “B” stands for “babies.” The church is not a place to bring a baby unless you are bringing the baby and dropping him or her off in the nursery. It amazes me how well-meaning moms and dads will bring their children into the service when we have the most incredible nursery, preschool, and children’s church I have ever seen. Yet they bring babies and let them disturb you.
I understand about that whole dynamic. I don’t know a lot in life, but I do know about having babies. My wife and I have had four of them. I understand the apprehension of dropping little junior off at the church nursery. Have you ever looked at our church nursery? You would not believe it. It is great. We have trained workers. We have a police officer who is there during the whole time we are in church. Moms, we give you little tokens. Isn’t that cool? “Well, Ed, what if little junior gets sick? How can they contact me?” Well, let me show you. Let me show you, Mom or Dad.
Let’s say, for example, you come to Fellowship Church, and you are a little bit nervous. For the first time you give little junior over to the nursery workers at church. You get the token. Look, little junior must be sick—“Ed Young, Token 103”—up there on the enunciator. So, Moms, you can relax. You can worship without disturbing others. Dads, you can relax. You can worship without disturbing others. We have this system down cold. So if you bring a baby, you can sit out in the lobby and watch us on the video monitor. But if you are in the service and the baby is fussy, the ushers politely will ask you to go out to the lobby and then will obtain a tape of the service for you. You don’t want to disturb someone making a defining decision.
“C” stands for “cell phones.” I have never had a call that was important enough to take in church. I have never had that call. If you have a call that important, you don’t need to be here. Just stay home. But I don’t think you will have a call that important unless Bill Gates is calling you to meet him at California Pizza Kitchen at Noon on Wednesday. Turn your cell phones off. In fact, leave them out in the car. Leave them at home.
The other “B” stands for “beepers.” I know we have a lot of physicians here. Just put them on vibrate, and that is enough. Turn your beepers off. Get ready, get engaged for that cosmic transaction. That is how I challenge you to prepare. On our side of the coin, we prepare. There is not one superfluous second in the worship service. Everything we do, from the preliminary music to the opening songs, to a video, to a drama, to a teaching session, matters. The stakes are sky high. Every week I walk through the worship center at least once a day. When I walk through this beautiful place, I always think about the people who will be in the seats the following weekend.
I think about the businessperson who is tempted to take shortcuts. I think about the family who has just lost a loved one. I think about the couple that looks OK, but their marriage is on the rocks. I think about the seeker who needs to know Christ personally. I think about the mature believer who needs to take another step in their pilgrimage with the Lord. I think about all those things, and I just pray that God will help everyone who is in leadership at Fellowship to remember how high the stakes are. That is why we spend about two hours of preparation behind every minute here. We have a seventy-minute slot to take back turf the evil one has tried to mess up. Because of God’s grace and mercy, we have the opportunity to be a part of that.
Let me give you a hypothetical situation. What if you invited some friends over to your place this Friday night. You tell them you will see them around seven. At seven on Friday, you hear that knock on the door. Would you greet your invited guests unshaven and in an old T-shirt? Would the den be an absolute mess with clothes everywhere? Would your spouse walk out in a ten-year-old bathrobe with her hair in a towel and a mask cream all over her face? “What do you all want to eat. I can warm up some chicken from a couple of days ago or maybe we could go to Sonic.” No, you wouldn’t do that. People here wouldn’t even entertain the thought of entertaining like that.
Instead you would think through the evening. You would put on something that looks halfway decent. You would clean the house and have some music playing. You would prepare the food in a creative way. You might light some candles. Is that being hypocritical? Is that not being real? That is thinking about the guests. It is thinking about the people who will show up to eat the food. It is deferring to them, and that is precisely what the local church must do when we worship. We serve the food in a thoughtful, compelling, and prayed-through and purpose-driven fashion. That is preparation. If you do your preparation work—and we do ours—we can reach this community for Christ.
Now let’s change gears and talk about participation. I cannot wait to talk to you about participation. I have been looking forward to this point in today’s service because of one reason. Something wild happened to Lisa and I Friday evening. You won’t believe this. A generous friend gave Lisa and I a guest certificate at the Four Seasons Resort and Hotel. They gave us a night, a meal, facials, and massages. This past Friday we used the certificate.
We arrived at the hotel, settled in, and made our dinner reservations at one of the restaurants, Café On The Green, for 6pm. It was a romantic setting. They put us in the corner. Lights were low and the music was on. I had a smile on my face. So did Lisa. Because…love is in the air. So we were talking. Lisa looked at me and said, “Ed, don’t be obvious. Don’t look, but the couple sitting at the next table is Celine Dion and her husband, Rene.” I said, “Lisa, that is Celine.” You know, we are a celebrity-driven culture, aren’t we? We continued talking, trying not to be too obvious. I guess Celine overheard our conversation, and she said, “Excuse me….” Then she began to ask us some questions about the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. I was trying to be cool while I answered. After a couple of moments, she sent a bottle of wine to our table. Well, Lisa and I don’t drink, and we politely declined. Then Celine asked what we did professionally. I told her I was a pastor and she could hardly believe that. I explained that we were at the Four Seasons for a special night.
She said that she and Rene would be in town for a couple of days and wondered if I would mind if they attended one of the worship services. I said, “No, any time.” So, ladies and gentlemen, she has been backstage for the last fifteen minutes. I want us to warmly welcome international recording star, Celine Dion.
(Great amounts of applause)
Wait. Wait. Wait. You bought that? I didn’t talk to Celine Dion. You should have seen your expressions. A couple of people in the back had their lighters out. I have never seen the 10:45 service so engaged, so into it. Talk about posture. Celine is in the house. Well, Celine is not in the house. But I will tell you who is in the house. His name is Jesus. That’s right. I know the Lord hears those claps and that response. Participation. Wow, we participated. What would happen if each and every weekend we were engaged.
Well, how do I participate in worship? Write this down. I am huge on taking notes. Let me give you a very depressing statistic. You forget 95% of what I have talked about by Wednesday. Here you are walking around on Wednesday saying, “I remember Celine Dion’s name, but that is it.” Man. That is a doggy downer. But if you write it down, take notes, it is amazing what you remember. What is the last time you ever ventured into Fellowship Bookstore? We have journal after journal after journal available there that I have begged you to buy. Make it your weekend teaching journal. Take notes. Jot down scripture references. Outline.
Let me tell you why. A month from now you may be taking a break with some friends at work. Someone you are talking to is really going through the deep weeds. You think, oh yeah, Ed talked about that, but you can’t remember what was said. But you won’t be able to bring it back. I forget what I said in about three or four days myself. But because I have it written down, I can refer to what I said. And if you do that, you can go back to your journal so you can say, “Here is what you need to think about, pray about. Here is what the Bible says about this.”
Or maybe you are going through a difficult time in your life. Write it down. If you don’t want to go to the bookstore, go to Target. Write it down. There is something supernatural about the written word. That is why we have the Bible. Record your thoughts. Write it down.
Also sing it up. Seventeen times the Bible says to sing to the Lord, not just about Him. Sing to the Lord. We do not expect everyone to sing at Fellowship Church, especially on the weekends. You know why? Because we’ve got a bunch of people who are not convinced. We’ve got a bunch of people who have not stepped over the line. We have a bunch of people who don’t know Christ personally. And quite frankly, they don’t know how to worship. They don’t know how to express their love to the Lord. You can’t express your love to Him until you know Him. But those of us who know Jesus, whoa, we need to sing to Him.
David said this one day, “Sing to the Lord a new song.” And if you study church history, after every great spiritual awakening, new songs and new music appeared. That is why a lot of the music we do is new stuff. Now we love some of the traditional hymns of the church and we sing them. But we are not going to go back to those traditional hymns and use them exclusively. Every time someone says, “I wish we could go back to our musical roots.” I want to ask how far back do they want us to go. Back to the Gregorian chant? Back to the Jewish melodies of the early church? Silent Night was criticized when it first came out by some Christians. Some said that it did not have enough gospel in it. Handel’s Messiah, when it was written and performed, received the criticism that it was too repetitive. You know the song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God? That hymn comes from a tune that was sung in the taverns of the day. So we unashamedly sing to God. We sing one way at weekend services and another way at our First Wednesday service.
After we sing it up, we are to do something else. We are to give it out. Yes, you can give without worship, but you can’t worship without giving. God is so gracious to include us in His economic plan. Think about it. We use our energy and our creativity and our discipline and our vision to make money. Money is a means of exchange. And when we give to the local church, we are giving a part of ourselves. We are tangibly saying that God is the Lord of it all. Proverbs 3:9-12, “Honor the Lord with your wealth…” Isn’t it funny that some people will not honor the Lord with their wealth. They say they will pass on giving to the One who gave it all. “…with the first fruits of all your crops. Then your barns will be filled to overflowing and you vats will brim over with new wine…” The next part of it is really interesting. All of a sudden the Bible does sort of a 180 and moves from talking about giving to discipline. Check this one out: “…My son do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke because the Lord disciplines those He loves as a father the son he delights in.”
Why did God talk about discipline following money? God knew that we would struggle with it. Let me say this as bold as I can. We have some mature believers who give incredibly to make this church go. And they understand the first fruit thing and honoring God with your wealth and all that. But we have others who just throw a bone God’s way, pocket change. One day they will be disciplined. I don’t say that to scare anyone. One day you will stand before God, and He will ask how you handled His church financially.
Here are two major excuses I hear about giving, and these are laughable to me. First one is the one I call “the accountant excuse.” People say, “I want to give, but let me talk to my accountant first.” An accountant is never mentioned in the Bible. I am all for accountants. But it is a no-brainer when God tells us to give 10% of all we make to the local church. You can ask your accountant how you can give 10% this year. But don’t lie to leaders in the church, to me and to God, and say, “Well, my accountant….” Hello.
Or you give God “the let’s-make-a-deal excuse.” “Oh, God, next year I am going to give. Next year when I cut the deal, then I will start giving.” I laugh at that because I have heard that my entire ministry. It is always, “Ed, we are not giving now, but next year we will.” Oh, really?
You can play games with God and lie to Him. It is between you and God. But giving is part of worship. And I can’t rob you of a blessing by not telling you that. Jesus talked about money more than He talked about eternity. Why? He knew we would struggle with the mean green, the scratch, the dinero. You are not really a true worshipper until you give. We don’t hammer you for money. I teach the truth. It is your deal. So you have got to write it down, sing it up, and give it out.
One more thing here. We also have to soak it in when we participate in worship. “Lord, I want to be a sponge today. I want to soak it in. I want to soak in the music, soak in the drama, soak in everything.” If your first response when you leave this place is something like this, “Man, Rob is an incredible singer. Wow, did you hear that solo by Vanessa? Kelly Wick is one of the best actors I have ever seen. Wasn’t that a funny story about Celine Dion?” All those things are fine and good, but those should not be our first response. Our first response should be, how did Rob’s solo speak to me? How did Vanessa’s song deal with my character? How did the drama pose a question or give an illustration that set up what Ed was talking about? What should I do because of what was given in the weekend?
Which leads us to the next thing we are going to talk about. Practice. Let’s talk about practice. We have got to practice it. Question. Can something be irrelevant and true? You better believe it. Remember several months ago when I described how I dropped that 40-pound dumbbell on my big toe? I crushed it in 20 places. I had a compound fracture of the nail bed. They rushed me to the emergency room. A couple of my friends who are physicians were on call and walked up to me. You know you are in trouble when doctors say, “Ed, you really messed up, man.” I was in intense pain. They didn’t lean over me and say, “Ed, you know pain. Let me give you a word study on the word pain. Pain comes from two Latin words….” They didn’t say that I was in a hospital and they want me to know the historicity of the hospital. No, those things would have been true, but they were irrelevant. They said, “Ed, you are messed up. Here is a shot. Here is the surgeon.”
That is what we have to be about in the local church. For far too long the church has been long on diagnosis but short on remedy. And it has been disobedient to Christ’s model of communication. Two-thirds of Christ’s words were words of application, words of relevancy, words of shoe leather. We are to live it out. And that is why we are a life application church. It is because Jesus was. It is because the Bible was written that way.
Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. Make the most of every opportunity.” Every church should have a balance of three groups in it. Every church should have a hunk of people who are hell-bound, who don’t know Christ personally, who are outside the family of God. Every healthy church should also have a hunk of people who are toddlers, who are spiritual babies having just stepped over the line of faith. Every mature church should also have a bunch of people who are deep water Christians, mature believers, the core. Our church is a balanced church, and I am so thankful that we have all three groups represented. I never want our church to be full of mature believers. If it is, then we are not doing the right stuff. If we are mature and we have a hunk of people who are growing deeper, they will be inviting their un-churched friends, the hell-bounders will be accepting Christ, and you will have more babies. Thus a great process will be going on.
On the other hand, you don’t want your church to be full of hell-bounders or packed out with toddler Christians. You must have a balance. Don’t ever let anyone say to you that the Fellowship Church is not a mature church, or that it is not a spiritually deep church. If anyone ever says that to you, here is what they are. They are little, immature toddler believers playing dress up. They are little toddler believers who have never gone through spiritual puberty. “Feed me. Help me. My diaper is dirty.” Don’t let them bring that weak stuff to you because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a hunk of you who are mature.
Let me tell you why. When you are married to Jesus Christ, you are fertile. You reproduce. I don’t have to go around and tell you that I am mature. You just know it. I don’t have to tell you I have got gray hair. You just see it. I don’t have to tell you I am married. You just know it. I don’t have to tell you I am mature enough to father four children. You just know it. People who are mature don’t have to advertise. People who are mature are others-centered. You know what? As a parent I have had to get outside of myself. I have had to put the needs of LeeBeth, E.J., Laurie, and Landra above my needs. And I thank God for the maturity of the Fellowship Church. Talk about unselfishness. Talk about reproduction.
Look at what has happened. I will let the numbers speak for themselves regarding maturity. We have grown from 150 in attendance to nearly 10,000 in weekend attendance—when it is not raining. We have over 4,000 involved in our home groups, connection classes, or seminary. We have over 2,800 volunteers who are not paid who work here at least once a month. This year this church will give $12,000,000. Don’t say the Fellowship Church is not deep. Hey, a lot of things don’t upset me, but I will fight you on that one. And you better fight anyone that says that to you because they are just a walking billboard advertisement that they don’t get it. It takes unselfish, mature people to grow a great church and that is what God is doing.
So we have got to practice the stuff. I have been to church a lot. I have heard various speakers a lot. I have heard pastors a lot. Sometimes when I am sitting in a church I will think, “Wow, that guy is smart.” And I will download all the data, but walk out and wonder, “How can I apply that in my life, in my marriage, in my parenting? How can I apply that to the pressures I feel in leading the Fellowship Church? How can I apply that to my thought life? How can I apply that to my finances?” It was just a bunch of information, true information, interesting information, but irrelevant.
The measure of a church is what happens in people’s lives in between services. We have 168 hours a week. If we sleep 8 hours a night, that leaves 112 hours that we are up. And we need to worship God 112 hours. Let’s say we go to church 2 of the 112 hours. That leaves 110 hours. Well, during the 2 hours at church, we better bust it. We had better be prepared. We had better be teaching and equipping and helping people to do what? To worship the other 110 hours.
We worship more outside the church than in the church. When we have that down—the preparation, the participation, and the practice—when we have that down, we will understand what it means to be fully engaged in the finest hour. The finest hour.