In the Zone
November 20, 2011
A “zoned in” life is all about positioning. When we place ourselves in the right posture before God, we find ourselves in a position to be blessed by God. But there’s much more to it than that.
In this message, Ed Young takes a look at a powerful principle behind the life that God has for us. Because when it comes to a life in the zone, it’s not just about getting there; it’s often about who’s 1st.
[Ed welcomes all campuses.]
Today we’re gonna talk about something really, really fun and really, really exciting. I was just thinking back and wondering the other day why we’re so infatuated by the firsts. Have you ever thought about that? All of us have a desire to be first. I know I do. And we read about people who are in first place. We say, “I’m not playin’ for second.” It’s all about first. Most of us remember our first kiss, our first paycheck, the first night of the honeymoon, the first time we saw our child. The first! I was thinking, why are we so freaked out and fascinated about the first? First in line, I wanna be first! The first one, first! Then I thought, we’re fashioned for the first. We’re made to be first.
Let me back up for a second. In God’s economy, God is a God of the firsts. God cannot be second. He’s either first or last. We’re made in his image, thus giving us this desire to be first. We’re made, we’re hardwired, we’re fashioned for God to be first. Only when God is first in our lives can we understand what it means to be first. Because if we know God personally through Christ, we’re first. We’re first, think about it! That’d be a good place to clap! I’m first, not because of what I’ve done, but because of what he’s done. God sent his first, the Lord. We give him our worst, giving us the opportunity to make him first. People say, “Jesus is Lord.” You’ve heard that before. Simply put that means that Jesus is first in our lives. That’s what I want to drive at today. That’s what I want us to think about and consider, this whole thing about firsts. Is the Lord first in your life and mine?
I’ve told Lisa many times, “I love you.” And hopefully that’s true for all of those here who are married. It’s one thing for me to say ‘I love you,’ yet Lisa expects me to back it up. Am I going to rapidly for any couples here in this place? So you say it, but then guys, our spouses wait for us to back it up. So, it’s easy to say, “God, you’re first.” I articulate that, I say that. That’s cool, though. To get into that we should do that, we should confess, the Bible says, that Jesus is Lord, that he is first. That’s important. The question is do we boldly back it up? Do I back it up? Do you back it up? Every time I open this Word I know it helps my life and it helps your life.
When I talk about, for example, relationships it helps me and it helps you because this is God’s word. Romans 8 says God is for us, not against us. God’s either first or last in your life and mine. He can’t be second, he can’t be first. When I talk about friendships, I know I’m helping you and helping me. When I talk about our emotional health or decision making, I’m helping myself, I’m helping you. When I talk about finances I’m helping you and me. And I just want you to know that God is saying this: Help me help you. That’s what he’s saying. We have to give him an opportunity, though, to work in our lives. It’s a pipe dream to say, “I’m gonna live in the zone, I’m gonna live right here in the zone. And I expect God to work in my life, I expect him to do some amazing things.” Well, God wants to.
Our God wants to bless our lives. The key, though, is to be in the right spot to be on the receiving end of the intangible and tangible favor of God. I just defined to you what it means to be blessed. We say, “God bless you,” “I’m blessed.” What does it mean to be blessed? To be on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. Here, though, is the key to being on the receiving end. It’s one word. Obedience. Obedience. Obedience even when we don’t feel like it. Obedience even when it’s not popular. Obedience even when it seems countercultural. We trust, we obey, the blessings accrue in our lives. But it goes back to the first.
God is a God of the firsts. As I peruse the pages of scripture I see, for example, the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve had it goin’ on. The first directive God gave to Adam and Eve was a directive of management. He said, “Take care of my garden.” So that should end the argument over what’s the oldest profession known to man. It’s landscaping. Some of you will get that later… “Oh, that was funny!” Yeah, OK. Management. Take care of my garden, God said. They were in the sweet spot of God’s success. They were zoned in, Adam and Eve. But God said,
“There’s one tree and I don’t want you to jack with the tree. Don’t mess with the tree.” Just one tree, the first tree, you might say. The first, the first. There’s power in the first. We know what happened. God said, “Adam and Eve, take care of the garden. You can have a blast eating the fruit and enjoying one another and naming the animals, and fishing and hunting and all this stuff. You can do all that, manage the garden, but don’t mess with my portion, the first tree in the middle of the garden.” And we know what happened. They sinned and they ate God’s portion. The enemy said, “Hey, you can be like God if you’ll eat this.” And they did and you know the rest of the story.
They had a couple of kids, Cain and Abel. They were some crazy cats, back in the day. Cain knew he should bring an offering to God, the Bible says in Genesis 4. So here’s what Cain did. He waited until he had, like, a bunch of bushels of apples. And he said, “You know, I think I’ll throw God a bone. I think I will give him a couple.” So the Bible says he brought some to God. Then Abel, his brother, had a brand-new lamb born. The first. He took that portion from the first, brought that to God. God accepted Abel’s offering, rejected Cain’s offering. I wonder, man, God you’re kinda being hard on my boy Cain… looking on Cain with some serious disdain! Why, God, why? It took me a long time to understand and unpack this. Here’s the deal. Abel understood the first. Cain didn’t. God is a God of the first, the first.
Then we read in the book of Exodus. Believe me, I’m going somewhere with this. Exodus 13:2, God steps in. “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.” Sixteen times, firstborn, firstborn, firstborn. Again, God is a God of the…. Firsts. It’s his portion. “Consecrate to me every firstborn male, the first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.” OK.
Now we go over to Exodus 23:19. Again, the first, the first. “The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring (not give) … bring into the house of the Lord your God.” So obviously there’s something powerful about the first going on. In the last session we learned that Abraham, after he dominated these terrorists and these kings, he saw a guy named Melchizedek, who was a foreshadowing of Jesus, Abraham brought God’s portion, the first portion, to Melchizedek.
And now we jump over to the book of Joshua, chapter 7. Let me give you the Wikipedia. Joshua was The Dude, The Man, who led the nation of Israel to conquer this incredible tract of land called the Promised Land, the Holy Land. There were 10 cities. God said, “The first city is mine.” God always keeps a portion for himself. God is a God of the … firsts.
So he said, “Hey J-man. Take over Jericho, the first, and make sure all the gold and the silver and the good stuff goes to my house. Don’t jack around with my stuff.” Joshua said,
“You got it!” Sure enough, they dominated Jericho but there was a guy named Achan, who took some stuff for himself. He buried it in a hole in his tent. And God said,
“Hey Joshua, do you know why you’re getting your butts kicked? Somebody has stolen my portion, man! Somebody is messing around with my stuff!” God is a God of the firsts. He always keeps a portion for himself. God said, “Take that first city, Jericho, bring the stuff to my house. You can do what you want with the other nine cities.” Powerful stuff. The first carries with it the juice to redeem the rest.
Then we keep reading. The prophet Malachi. Malachi steps up and this is radical. I’m telling you. Malachi records these words from God.
“Will a man rob God?
‘You’re robbing me.’
‘How do we rob you?’
I’m in verse 8, ‘In tithes and offerings.’”
Recently someone was mentioning the tithe here and someone seated behind a friend of mine said,
“What’s a tithe?” That’s a great question. What is a tithe? You hear that thrown around. Tithe, tithe. Pay your tithes, tithe, tithe. Tithe is simply, 10. Tithe is God’s portion. Tithe is God’s cycle of financial blessings. If we’re zoned in, if we’re zonies (I like that) we understand we’re in the blessed place. We understand obedience. We understand about first things first, we understand about bringing the tithe. We understand the tithe is God’s economic cycle of blessing. We understand we’re on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. We trust God for the intangibles: forgiveness of sins, eternal security, a clear conscience, guidance, decision-making, things we can’t touch, see, taste, or smell. God, though, always tests us with the tangibles. Oh, you can say, “I love you Lisa.” But Ed, you better back it up. You better back it up. What’s God saying? Help me help you.
So the Israelites, they were bringing these broken-down offerings to God. They weren’t giving the first to him, they weren’t bringing the firsts to him. These sheep that were baa—aa—aad off. These cows that were barely mooooo—ving. They weren’t bringing the firsts. God says, “You’re robbing me, man, you’re robbing me!” Then he says, and this is heavy, verse 9, “you’re under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you’re robbing me.”
A long time ago I decided, all right, God, you’re a God of the first, I’m fashioned for the first. I make you first in my life. I’ve said it. I trust you with the intangible, God. God began to bless the tangible. “Ed do you really trust me? I mean do you really trust me with the tangible?” And even though I don’t always feel it, by God’s power and his grace I commit to it, to follow in his footsteps and bring the first to him. I discovered I’d rather have 90% of my gain, of my income, blessed than 100% cursed. I will choose blessing every time. I’m just telling you about my life. Malachi 3:10. Bring.
Here’s what I’ve discovered, too, in God’s economy. I’m not giving, you’re not giving, we’re simply returning, we’re bringing what we’ve been blessed with. So bring the whole tithe, 10, the first portion, God’s slice, where? Into the storehouse, into the temple, the house of God, the church, “that there may be food in my house. Test me in this.” Test me! Say test. Put that in your frontal lobe for a second. Test.
There’s a hermeneutical principle, known as the power of the first. Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation. Whenever you interpret something you need to understand the context, the historicity, the flow. For example, whenever the word tithe is used for the first time that’s big because every other time it’s used reflects that first time. Am I going to rapidly? Are you smelling what I’m stepping in? You got it. When something is only mentioned in scripture just one time, take a step back and go, wow! Say wow with me like that. 1-2-3-… WOW! OK, yeah. We’re gonna come back to the wow.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of Heaven… the floodgates of Heaven, and pour out so much blessing (tangible and intangible favor into your life and mine),” that we won’t have enough room for it. That’s ridiculous, man! That’s stunning stuff! That’s God’s economic cycle of blessing. God’s a God of the first. He can’t be second, he’s gotta be first. I’m fashioned for the first. The Bible is well-versed and immersed in the first. We’re about the first. God sent his first, we give him our worst, we have an opportunity to make him first and then to bring him first.
This whole situation culminates, of course, with Jesus. Jesus was God’s what? Firstborn. First fruits. And the Bible says Jesus lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death. God buried him, he planted his fruit. We’re the seed, the offspring of Christ! The power of the first. You can argue that Jesus was God’s tithe. Where did God direct his tithe? That’s a good question. The church. When Christ ascended he said, “Take care of my bride, the church.” How do we do that? It’s great to say it, it’s great to trust him with the intangible, but we bring God’s portion. We return it to him.
Can I have a $20 bill? Somebody? Thanks, man. Twenty dollars… I will take it. Hey, why did you take that guy’s money? That’s weird. Well here’s what you didn’t know. Before the service I came to my friend, Andy. I said,
“Andy, here’s my $20. You hold it. When I ask for it, you return it to me …rapidly.” What is God saying in your life and mine? You want to live in the zone? You want to be a zoney not a phony? Bring me my portion! It’s your choice. I’m not gonna forcibly take it from you but bring me my portion, the first, the first. I think now we understand why Jesus said in Matthew 8:21, where your treasure is, that’s where your heard is.
God’s economy never changes. I’m talking about God’s economic cycle. What happens when we do this? What happens when we understand the power of the first? What happens when we live in the zone? What does it look like? What are some markers?
Number 1, when I’m in the zone, when I’m moving from the land of Ing into the land of Blessing, I’m in the position to receive the blessings of God. I’m blessable. If I’m not understanding and involved in God’s economic cycle, it’s not gonna happen. I don’t know why God talks about finances so much. It’s the second major theme in scripture. Christ talked about our stuff more than he talked about Heaven, Hell, or prayer. And I’m simply telling you because God doesn’t need your money or mine. I want to help you live in the land of being blessed. It’s about the first. So when I bring the first, I’m in a position to receive.
Two days ago I was jogging with one of our twins through our neighborhood. We have three giant, scary dogs, two are small. One of our scary dogs is a massive Doberman. So I’m running with one of our twins and the twins can just kick my rear in running. It’s pitiful. They can fly, I can’t. So I’m with Dutch, our Doberman, jogging about this fast. And as we wind through the streets surrounding out street, of course all the dogs rush up to the fence. <barking sound effect> All that. And I look at Dutch, and this Doberman is so big and so bad he doesn’t even look at the dogs. He’s like, “Hahaha… what? I could bite your head off. Hahaha! That yellow lab? Come on, man. Have you lost your mind?” He has this swagger about him, this prance about him. He is a big, muscular Doberman.
Your stance determines your prance. Are you in a position to receive the blessings of God? If someone throws me a pass I don’t just stand there. I get under the ball and catch it! I begin to bring the first, it’s God’s portion, I’m in the right position. I’m blessable. Are you blessable? Notice the power, man. There’s power in the zone.
My source in life and your source in life determines our course in life. Who’s your source? Is it God? I mean you say it, I say it. Is it God? Because a fundamental part of obedience is bringing God’s portion. The first. And the first (don’t miss this) carries with it the power. Only the first has the power to redeem the rest. The first. These cats back in the day, they didn’t wait until their ewe produced 10 lambs and then they go, all right, I will give this one. I will bring this one to God. NO! The first one born, BOOM. They brought it to God. I don’t wait until all my bills are paid and then go,
“Hey Lisa, now let’s give God some leftovers. Or now let’s try to find at least 10% of our income.” No way! It’s the first! The first carries with it the heat, the juice, the octane to redeem the rest.
Go back to the book of Exodus. God said if you have an unclean animal, take a clean animal, a firstborn, to redeem the unclean. Jesus is all about redemption, covering, salvation. He’s God’s first. Only the first has the power to redeem the rest. The first. That’s the power.
Notice the perspective, too. I got some perspective right here. Do you ever wonder why people make weird decision? Dumb decisions, stupid decisions? That guy’s smart… what an idiot! That girl seems intelligent… wow, that’s crazy. It goes back to the first. I’m telling you it’s all about the first. If God is first place he’s gonna be first place in everything in your life and mine.
Your sight determines your plight. My sight, your sight in life, determines your plight. When I realize everything is from God I got the right position, the right power, the right perspective, now man, I’m in the blessed place. So friends, the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line. The quickest way to be in the zone, I’m telling you, is to trust God with the tangible.
Remember I told you to put that word ‘test’ in the frontal lobe? The only time… <rewind sound>… the only time… <rewind sound>… the only time… <rewind sound>… the only time God says, “Test me,” has to do with the divine portion, has to do with the tithe, has to do with this 10% situation, has to do with God’s economic cycle. The only time he says that. So he’s saying, “OK, test me! All right, you say it. Stand up and just test me.”
So I thought, how can we do that? How can we do that? How can we do that? Then I said I’ve got it! Let’s just accept the God challenge. So right now if you want to, all of us, I am, we’re gonna test God. If you’re seated on the end of one of these aisles, this is gonna be cool, man, make sure to pass out a God challenge card to everybody. Again, you don’t have to fill this out! No pressure! Because like my friends say, “Pressuah busta pipe!” No, no, no, no. How many of you have never heard that phrase before? Wow, we got some white people in here. I love that phrase! When it gets down to crunch time and somebody chokes just say, “Pressuah busta pipe!” If you feel pressure it’s from God, not me. I’m already involved in this process. I cannot even explain to you the intangible and tangible blessings of God in my life.
So here’s the deal. This is cool, this is the God challenge. This is a money-back guarantee. In other words, we’ve got seven weekends from now until the end of the year and I’m gonna ask you to sign up. If God does not bless your life and show up in huge ways, we’ll give you God’s money back. I will say it again. I know it’s hard to believe, a church doing this? Yeah, you do this for seven weeks, make sure you participate in a way that we can track it in our financial office, we’ll give you God’s money (hahahaha.. you get that?) … God’s money back. That’s how confident I am!
You say, well, I’m not sure. Test him! God says, “All right, big boy, test me! All right, big girl, test me!” Well let’s do it. The God challenge. Malachi 3:10, my part, respond by committing. Even when you don’t feel like it. And I do not always feel like bringing God’s portion to the house. And I’m the pastor! I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I can tell you many times I’ve not felt like it. It did not make economic sense. But, by faith Lisa and I brought at least 10 to the house. Every time God has shown up in huge ways, every single time.
Am I saying, though, that it’s just gonna be like in finances? It could be. But usually it’s in ways that money can’t even touch but God’s gonna take care of you that way. It’s God’s economic cycle. So my part, respond by committing. Only seven weeks. We’re writing this book called the Seven-Day Sex Challenge, the sex-periment. I just thought seven, it’s the number of completion, it’s a Biblical number. Yeah.
All right, my part: responding. God’s part: his guarantee. At the end of seven weeks if you think that God did not honor his word just contact the business office, we will gladly say, “Here’s God’s money back.” But you can’t out-bless God. You can’t do it. And this is huge. At the bottom it says, “Giving with a check or cash or giving online with name and address included will ensure proper accounting for the record of the giver and the church financial office.” So that’s huge, you know.
Accepting the challenge. God wants to pour out blessings in our lives. It’s not like God is like, “I don’t want to bless my kids.” We all wanna bless our kids. God wants to pour out blessings in my life when I’m obedient (it’s about obedience) in bringing my tithes and offerings to him. “I am now committing to put him to the test because I believe in the power of partnership I choose to take the God challenge for the next seven weeks and I will bring the first 10% of my income to the Lord at Fellowship. It doesn’t matter if you make $5 a day or $50 billion a day, bring it. Bring it! You’re not giving it, bring it!” God is a God of the first. First things first. Stephen Covey ripped that principle from the Bible. Maybe some of the Biblical writers were alive they could probably sue Covey and make a lot of money. I’m serious! I love that, I mean the book’s a great book. I’m not saying that. It was kind of a joke. Stephen Covey… is it cuvey or cōvey? Cuvey? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Anybody know him? I’ve never met him, I just threw his name out. Covey? OK. Well.
Please print. You know, penmanship is a lost art. And guys, I know for us it’s the biggest struggle. Lisa, women are natural-born givers. They give life, they just give more than we do. Guys, we’re control freaks, we’re selfish, we measure everything by money. I understand that. Let’s just talk… yeah! But I’m telling you, try it and see. See what happens, just try it. It’s only seven weeks.
And God doesn’t need our money so it’s not like, OK, wow. God’s going, “Man, I really need that $100 a week. I mean I need it! This economy’s messing me up!” No. So do that, signature and date, then grip it and rip it. When we receive the offering in just a few minutes just fold it. And then your first act of obedience is the envelopes. Check, or the way Lisa and I ensure our first fruits, we do it online, we have the automatic withdrawal, you can read about it, go online, etc., etc. However, sign up and I’m telling you great things will happen in your life. I don’t know.. you know I do know why God talks about it so much. It’s because we spend so much time thinking about making money, thinking about losing money, insuring stuff, and can I do this or that for money? Money is who we are. It really is. And we all get funny when we think about money. And we also get funny when we think about sex, but especially money. So God tests us with the tangible, this is throughout scripture. You cannot get away from it.
So let’s do that. That sound good? Anybody want to live in the zone? Because when we bring the first, we’re not phonies, living in the psychedelic world, we’re zonies! Let’s pray together.
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]