IN THE ZONE
November 6-7, 2004
[An oval carpet is in the middle of the stage. In the middle of the oval are the words “In The Zone,” and the graphics for the series surround those words. In effect, there is a “zone” in the middle of the carpet.]
It happens on the golf course. I’ve seen it happen in the boardroom. It can also happen in relationships. You birdie three straight holes on the back nine. You close the deal that makes your company a lot of money. Maybe you surprise your spouse with a four-day cruise. You say, “I’m in the zone! I’m hitting on all cylinders. Life is on a roll.” We love to throw that phrase out there these days, don’t we? In the zone. What does it mean to be in the zone? What’s a zone?
A zone simply is an area that’s distinguished from the surrounding areas. It’s in contrast to other places. Our God—and this is going to shock some of you—our great God wants all of us to live in the zone. He desperately desires us to operate in the sweet spot of his success. See the God cam? [The view on the side screens goes to a camera shot of Ed from above the stage. Ed is standing “in the zone” on the carpet.] That’s sort of the perspective that he has on our lives. He wants me to live in the zone. He wants you to live there, too. Are you living in the zone? Are you zoned in? Or do you find yourself zoned out?
God doesn’t want any of us to live in a zoned-out existence. He wants us to live in the zone. What does it mean to live in the zone? It means to live in the sweet spot of God’s success. “What’s the sweet spot of God’s success?” you might ask. Well, before I tackle that, I’m going to talk to you about this series. I’m launching a brand new series, as we’ve talked about, called “In the Zone.” I’ll be dealing with this stuff for the next four to five weeks. I can’t tell you how amped up I am regarding this subject matter. I’ve learned so much just preparing for this stuff.
Because this is so huge—and I would venture to say that 99.9% of you have never heard teaching, in-depth teaching, on this topic—because this topic is so monstrous, it’s not going to be easy to show up here at Fellowship Church for this series. You’re going to have a bunch of wild and wacky stuff happen in your life to try to keep you from getting here. That’s the enemy. The enemy does not want us to talk about this stuff. He does not want us to download this stuff. So just understand that right up front.
Also, too, know this: that this content, that this stuff is difference-making stuff. It will help you and influence you in every area of your existence. I pray that you find yourself in the spirit of prayer during the next four to five weeks, that you simply say, “God, I want to open my heart and my life to this teaching.”
This will air on television all around the country. It will be on the internet. It will be on the radio. And even those who are watching by television or the internet, or listening to radio, you’re going to have a hard time checking it out because it’s that huge; it’s that important for us to get this stuff down. And the enemy wants to eat our lunch. He does not want us to talk about it. So, having said that, let’s kind of back in to this subject matter: living in the zone. Are you zoned in? Or do you find yourself zoned out?
Our God is a God who wants us, who desperately desires us to live in the zone. We, as followers of Christ, need to be God-hearted. We need to reflect and to mirror the majesty of who God is. If we know God personally, we should mirror who he is. We should have the character qualities, we should reflect the stuff that God is about.
THE ESSENCE OF GOD IS GENEROSITY
Well, what’s God about? God is about living in the zone. John 3:16, a verse that’s very familiar to all of us here. You even see this watching football games. After the extra point, they lower a sign, “John 3:16.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Let me stop right there. If you don’t get anything else I say today, get this: God is for you. God is for me. And a lot of times we have a difficult time accepting that and swallowing that fact. God is for us. He wants us to have a life of excitement, adventure, vitality, and fun. Living the Christian life is the best way to live.
Let’s keep going. Look at [Romans 8] Verse 32. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Our God is a God who is generous. And because God is generous, we should be God-hearted. We should understand the fact that everything we have comes from God—our gifts, our aptitudes, our abilities, even the material stuff that we have. And because God has given it to us, we should reflect that. That’s living in the zone.
One of the guys that we need to understand who lived in the zone lived a long time ago. His name was Abraham. Abraham was a very interesting guy. He came from a family of idol worshippers. He was zoned out. But he got zoned in to the blessings of God. Let’s read about his life. If you have your Bibles, turn to Genesis Chapter 12. I’ll read Verses 2 and 3. God’s going one on one here with Abraham. God says in Verse 2 [paraphrased], “I’ll make you into a great nation. I’ll bless you. I’ll make your name great, Abraham. And you’re going to be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you. Whoever curses you I’ll curse. And all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
You might be saying, “Man, what’s up with that Ed?” Through Abraham, the nation of Israel was born. Through the nation of Israel, the Savior Jesus Christ was born. And because of His birth, we can be born into the family of God.
Let’s keep going, because Abraham was a man who was truly blessed. In fact, one of his workers said this about him: Genesis 24:35, he said—he’s talking about Abraham here—“The Lord has blessed my master abundantly and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys.” Abraham was blessed, if you read about his life, occupationally, relationally, and financially. He knew what it meant to live in the zone. He knew that everything he had came from God. He was blessed by God. And in turn, Abraham was a blessing.
We throw that term around a lot, too. Blessing. You sneeze, “God bless you.” Someone asks, “How are you doing?” and some people will say, “I’m blessed.” Oh really? Watch a comedian. He’ll take the Lord’s name in vain 400 times. He’ll drop the F-bomb 35 times. And then to conclude his show, he’ll say, “God bless you.”
What does it mean to be blessed? Whenever I say the words “bless” or “blessing” or “God bless you,” here’s what I think. I think of the intangibles: peace, contentment, tranquility of the soul, love, joy. That’s what I think about. And that’s part of it. That’s part of blessing. Blessing, though, is deeper than that. You might want to jot this definition down. Here’s what it means to be blessed or blessing. To be blessed means to be on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. To be blessed means to be on the receiving end, to be a recipient, of the tangible and intangible favor of God. We understand the intangible part—the peace, the joy, the tranquility of the soul, love and all that. We understand that blessing is kind of about stuff we cannot taste and touch and smell and feel.
But I’ve added something to it, from the Bible. I’ve just told you that God wants to bless, and he does bless, in tangible ways—materially, financially. He blesses his people with stuff. That’s very interesting. Isn’t that something about God? For some reason, though, a lot of us have a hard time accepting that fact. Why should we have a hard time accepting the nature and character of God? If we don’t accept the fact that God blesses in a tangible way, then we are a blessing blocker. We’re blocking and retarding the generosity of our great God. God wants to bless your life. And to be in the zone, we’ve got to be bless-able.
Let’s look at the God cam again. See the God cam? God does not want us to live out here. [Ed walks outside of “the zone.”] No. He wants us to live in the zone. But could it be that some people here are not even blessable? Positionally, if you’re not in the zone, if you’re not blessable, how are you going to be blessed? And how can you be a blessing? That’s a good question.
I’m talking about the difference between ownership and stewardship. I’m talking about the difference between management and ownership. That’s what I’m talking about. Abraham understood that his stuff was not his stuff; it was God’s stuff.
Go to the book of Galatians over in the New Testament. Galatians 3:29. Genesis is in the Old Testament; Galatians is in the New Testament. Here’s what Verse 29 tells me: “If you belong to Christ”—I do. I belong to Christ. I’m in the zone.—“then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” “Whoa! You mean God’s telling me that the same zone, the same stuff that was available to Abraham is available to me?” Yes! Through Christ. Remember Abraham, Israel? Israel, Jesus? Jesus, me! I can break into the zone. I can break into the blessings of God.
Three events in Abraham’s life talked about Abraham being in the zone. The first one happened when he gave a generous offering to a priest named Melchizedek. I didn’t say “write the check.” I said Melchizedek. Melchizedek, many scholars believe, was a foreshadowing (a type) of Jesus.
[The second event] Abraham was wealthy. He hooked up with his nephew Lot. Lot was blessed bountifully just because he hooked up with Abraham. It was like two Fortune 500 companies traveling along in the wilderness. They got to be so big they separated. Abraham, being God-hearted, being a blessing, said, “Lot, you go ahead and choose the piece of real estate where you want to do your deal. I’ll just take second, man. You just go ahead.” He was that generous. You know the story. Lot chose and Lot got all fouled up. And Abraham rescued him and all that.
[The third event] Abraham was old. God said, “Abraham, you and Sarah are going to have a baby.” He was like, “What?” They became pregnant. They had Isaac, the apple of Abraham’s eye. Those of us who are fathers know about that special relationship we have with our sons. You know what God told Abraham to do? “Hey Abraham, take the life of your son as a sacrifice to me.” Now, just put yourself in his sandals for a second. Here’s Abraham and his son Isaac walking up to the mountain for the whole sacrifice thing. His son is probably, I don’t know, 12 or 13 and saying, “Dad, where’s the animal? Dad, where’s the animal? Where is he dad?” And can’t you imagine the tears and the emotion that Abraham was dealing with? God’s telling him to take the life of his own son. I mean, that just seems weird, crazy. Right before he began to kill his own son, what did God do? God provided a ram, a scapegoat if you will, that Abraham used in place of taking the life of his son.
Abraham killed the ram and spilled his blood, which was a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice [that was necessary] because I’m a natural born taker. And so are you. I’m not a natural born giver. I’m a natural born taker. Why? Because I have a sin nature. I’m all fouled up. I’m all messed up. God, though, in his grace sent Jesus Christ to die in my place, to suffer for my sins, to spill His blood for my junk. It’s something I don’t deserve on my best day; something you don’t deserve on your best day. That’s how crazy God is about you and me. That’s how much we matter to God. And this whole ram thing with Abraham’s life was an illustration of the ultimate sacrifice that was to come years later when the ultimate lamb died on that rugged Roman cross outside the city limits of Jerusalem.
Man, don’t forget it. You’d better download it. Abraham was God-hearted. Abraham was a guy who lived in the zone. Abraham was generous with his abilities, and his talents, and his aptitudes, and his money, and his stuff. It’s the difference between management and ownership.
Several years ago, a young lady that Lisa and I know, who has been going to Fellowship Church for a long time, a very wealthy young lady, walked up to us and she said, “I have this house in Carmel.” And she said, “I hardly ever use it. You know, I would love just to bless you guys. Just use it, Ed, Lisa, and your family. You can take staff members there, just treat it like it’s yours. It’s on the Pacific Ocean. It’s an estate with gardeners and all this stuff. Just go out there and use it. It’s yours.” I said [sarcastically] “Let me think about that for a second…Yes!”
So, man, we jumped on a plane and took our family out there. We’ve taken some staff out there. It was super generous for this wealthy lady to provide a house on the Pacific Ocean. There were albino seals in the back yard, literally. It’s phenomenal! When we walked into this beautiful estate we were like, “Whoa! This is it! Isn’t it?” We ran around jumping on the beds, you know. All that.
I walked into the kitchen and I saw, posted on the refrigerator, a list of things that we were responsible for. It was about 10 or 15 things. Do you think I did those things? You better believe it! I obeyed those things because I was managing the house. And man, was it fun to manage that house! I enjoyed it.
God has given all of us a phenomenal house. We’ve all been blessed by the Blessor. And He says, “Enjoy my house. I want to bless you. Be a blessing. But make sure to do the stuff on the list that I have on my refrigerator. You don’t own it. No, no, no, no. You manage it. Enjoy it. But do my stuff, and obey the stuff on my list.”
IN THE ZONE
Let me try to explain it better. You know, I’m a frustrated artist. Okay. [Over the next several minutes, Ed draws a diagram on a Plexiglas board with glow-in-the-dark markers to illustrate the idea of living in the zone.] Here…If you can’t see it don’t worry, this is glow in the dark stuff. In about 20 seconds it will pop. Here’s the zone. God—I’m going to make up some words—is the Blessor. We understand that. He desperately desires us to live where? In the zone. We’re wired to live in the zone. God is the Blessor. Again, that’s not a real word, I just made it up. When we’re in the zone, we understand God is the Blessor.
[Ed has misspelled the made up word and written “Bleesor” instead.] Why are you laughing? What? What did I do? [An audience member tells him of the mistake.] Oh man, I’m sorry about that. Ladies, turn your head for a second. [Ed spits on the board to erase “Bleesor” and then rewrites “Blessor” in its place.] Okay, how about that? Is that good? I can’t believe I did that. It’s the fourth service. If you’re visiting, please come back. I’ve had too much caffeine today. Okay. I cannot believe under pressure I misspelled a word! I’m a terrible speller. God is the Blessor. In the zone, we are what? Blessed. God is the Blessor. We are blessed.
Think about Abraham. Think about your life and mine. God’s the Blessor. Everything comes from Him. We’re blessed. And because we’re blessed, because we’re in the sweet spot of His success, what happens? We can become a blessing. A blessing. So we’ve got the “-or.” We’ve got the “-ed.” That’s not Ed, that’s blessed. And we’ve got the “-ing.” Well, you might be saying, “Okay, okay, how do we go from blessed to blessing? How do we do that?”
RECEIVE AND REFLECT
Good question. Two things. Number one, we receive. Number two, we reflect. We receive and reflect. We receive from the Blessor, the favor of God. Tangibly and intangibly, we receive Christ. We move from outside the zone to inside the zone. We’re blessed. We understand that. We’re not owners, we’re managers. And we are a blessing as we receive that. And then as we reflect that, as we mirror the majesty of God, the generosity of God, as we are God-hearted.
But, there’s a land out there that a lot of people live in. It’s The Land of Ing. You would not believe the amount of people who live in The Land of Ing. Let me have the God cam again. The Land of Ing is outside the zone. [Ed stands outside of the zone on the carpet.] Okay, now. “Now, what does it mean to live in The Land of Ing? I understand what it means to live in the zone, to be blessed by the Blessor, to be a blessing, to receive and reflect. But The Land of Ing? What’s up with that?”
The Land of Ing would be those people who are into own-ing, earn-ing, hous-ing, cloth-ing, bling-bling. Ha, ha! They only see that stuff. They think they’re an owner. They think they own stuff. They think their stuff is their stuff. Their abilities, their abilities. Their junk’s, their junk. Their aptitudes, their aptitudes. Their abilities, their abilities. Their deal, their deal. That’s what they think. A lot of people live in The Land of Ing.
Here is some cool stuff, though. When we move from The Land of Ing into the zone, God puts his bless on our ing. He puts his super on our natural. Isn’t that great? That’s what our great God wants to do. He doesn’t want us to hang out there in The Land of Ing. No, no, no. He wants to put his bless on our ing. Yet, we think whoever dies with the most ings wins.
Do you want adventure? Do you want excitement? Do you want vitality? Understand the fact that you’re not an owner; you’re a manager, you’re a steward. Receive and reflect. It comes from the Blessor. If you’re blessed, be a blessing. Be a blessing. That’s the sweet spot of God’s success. How do you become a blessing? You obey the list on the refrigerator. You enjoy the house God’s given you. You enjoy the stuff. But you obey. You trust and obey.
God taught me a great lesson about this years ago. People often wonder about the history of Fellowship Church. And as you know, for the first eight years we were in rented facilities. We met in high schools and fine arts complexes and office parks and all that stuff. And because of God’s favor and grace, we were able to get this land and build this building. We got the resources to build this building from people who just gave, who understood the fact that God was the Blessor. They understood the fact about the blessing and being blessed, and they turned around and reflected the heart and the nature of God. They knew the difference between owning and managing something.
Well, Lisa and I, years ago, had an amount of money set aside that was a lot of money to us. Here’s the thing about money. Money is relative. We set aside $15,000, which is a lot of money to us, to give to Fellowship Church, to the building right here. You might be going, “Ed, wait a minute. You’re paid by Fellowship Church. You mean you give?” You better believe it! God doesn’t care if I’m the pastor or in real estate or a teacher or a coach or whatever. I’m just a guy, okay?
Lisa and I had LeeBeth, our oldest. Lisa then had a miscarriage. We went to fertility doctors and spent a lot of money. Then we had EJ. Then the doctors told us, “If you guys even want to have a prayer at having another kid, you better come to us.” And they were talking about the surgeries and procedures. And we knew it would cost at least $15,000 to $17,000 if we even thought about having another baby.
So we had a decision to make. We had 15 grand earmarked for Fellowship Church. We did not have any extra money to do the whole fertility thing. We thought, “Whoa, okay. What do we do? What do we do?” Well we prayed about it and we saw that it was a no-brainer. Living in the zone is understanding the fact that God is the Blessor. We’re the blessed. We’re a blessing. And what’s the most important thing in God’s zone? We know that. It’s the local church, that which is most near and dear to the heart of God. It’s called the bride of Christ. So joyfully, and being God-hearted, we wrote this check to Fellowship Church and gave $15,000. Yeah God! We knew, though, at that time, there was not the money to pay the fertility doctors. But we did what God wanted us to do.
Two years later, without any fertility medication, without any surgeries, we find out that we’re pregnant. Well—this is like 10 ½ years ago—Lisa surprised me with the news. Let me tell you what she did. I’m going to show this to you. She hid a camera in my office, and she’s going to tell me, and you’re going to watch this, that she’s pregnant with twins. I want you to watch, and don’t laugh at my hairstyle please, okay? Don’t be, don’t be doing that. Check this out.
[Videos of Lisa telling Ed that they are pregnant with twins and after the twins are born plays on the side screens.]
Yeah! [applause] I mean, that’s great. You know? Yeah. It’s kind of emotional just seeing that. But God has blessed our life in many different ways. He’s blessed us occupationally, relationally, and financially. But I cannot put a price tag on twins, on human life. Man, our great God! It’s just unbelievable.
Now, I’m not telling you, as you move from an owner to a manager that God’s going to make everybody pregnant. I don’t want to scare you. But I am telling you God is going to bless your life as you’re God-hearted with the abilities and gifts and aptitudes and stuff that He has given you.
One time Jesus told a story in Matthew 25 about a guy that owned a business. And this guy hired several people. And he gave one guy five talents, the other guy two talents, and the other guy one talent. The guy said, “Invest the stuff and I’ll be back later.” When the owner came back, the guy with five talents had parlayed his into ten. The guy with two talents parlayed his into four. The guy with one talent dug a hole and, like, sat on the talent. The owner goes, “Man, what are you thinking? I gave this talent. Get out of my life. You’re fired.” Then he took the one talent, the owner did, and gave it to the other two who had parlayed their talents. Then Jesus said this, “If you’re faithful over a little, I’m going to make you faithful over a lot.”
It’s the difference between ownership and management. It’s doing the stuff on the list posted on the refrigerator in God’s house. Genesis 1:28, the first words God ever spoke to Adam and Eve, that husband and wife team. You know what they were about? Read it. Management. God said, “You’re not owners, you’re managers.”
Where are you? Are you zoned in or zoned out? In my research, I’ve discovered how many of you are zoned in and how many are zoned out. If I can remember these numbers exactly, 79% of those hearing my voice right now are zoned out. 21% of those hearing my voice right now are zoned in. And next weekend, I’ll explain those numbers.