JUICY FRUIT SERMON SERIES
OCTOBER 13, 1996
Several days a week I try to run four or five miles through our neighborhood and the most difficult part of my weekly jog occurs about 100 yards from my driveway. There right in front of my face is one of the most intimidating and frightening sights to any human being who has ever donned a pair of Nike running shoes, a giant 2/10ths of a mile hill. And I know that every time I run I have got to climb the hill. And when I am climbing the hill, my mind says things like this to me. “Ed, you are 35 years of age. Why are you doing this to yourself? Why don’t you just walk to the top of the hill and then start your run. Ed, do you realize how fast your heart is beating, how heavy you are breathing? This can’t be good for you. Are you sure you warmed up?” But while I am having this conversation with myself, the self-control sensors begin to go off and I have to dig down into the depths of what little discipline I have and climb the hill. I know that once I get to the top, the next 2.2 miles will be pretty much downhill. So I climb, so I can cruise.
The same discipline that pushes me to the top when I run serves as the foundational character quality for what the Bible calls self control. I define self-control or self discipline as climbing before cruising, fighting the uphill battle so you can enjoy the downhill breeze of success. I believe all of us in this Arts Center this morning would say, if asked, that we want to become a person who has more discipline, who has more self-control.
Just for a second, think about the people that you know in your lives that are very successful. If you get up next to these people, nine times out of ten they are people who practice self-discipline and self- control. In contrast, think about the people who are not very successful, those people who have had a string of embarrassing setbacks and difficulties. You get up next to them and they will give you excuses like I quit doing my homework. I stopped making the calls. I began to cheat on my diet. I began to let things slide at the office. And then they will hang their head and slump their shoulders and say, I lacked self-control. I lacked discipline.
You see our God wants us to be disciplined more than we want it. God wants us to be disciplined because he knows that we will never achieve anything of lasting value in this life unless we have self- control. That is why he has verses in His word like Proverbs 25:28 which says, “A man without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken down walls.”
In our study regarding Nehemiah a couple of months ago we discovered that city walls were of major importance to Biblical cities. If a city had city walls, it had security and a sense of community. The Bible says that if w e lack self-control we are as defenseless, as vulnerable, as exposed as a city without walls. So here is what God does. You see God is not passive. He takes the initiative. God is committed, totally committed, to taking people like you and like me who lack discipline and transforming us into disciplined people. The moment we invite Jesus Christ to come into our lives, He places the person of the Holy Spirit in the depths of our being. The Holy Spirit does a supernatural, transforming work to mold us into individuals who model self-control and self-discipline. We become individuals who climb before we cruise, pay before we play, fight the uphill battle so that we can enjoy the breeze of downhill success. The Holy Spirit does that. He says to us that if we join hands with Him, He will lead us and guide us and direct us into a new domain of discipline.
I don’t know about you but I am ready to step up in the discipline area. I am ready to join hands with the Holy Spirit. If you are like me, I want to share with you just briefly how the Holy Spirit changes us in this exciting area called self-control.
The first thing that the Holy Spirit does is this. He assists us in making pre-arranged choices. That is very important. Don’t miss it. You see, the essence of discipline is climbing before cruising. It is fighting the uphill battle, so we can enjoy the downhill success. But the key to practicing discipline is pre-arranged choices. It is making decisions before you get into the area in which you need discipline. And that is very, very important.
For example, let’s take the physical domain. Diet and exercise are very important to me. Intellectually I know that I have got to eat properly and that I have got to work out. About 95% of the time, I do a good job. The reason I am so concerned about my health is because my father had some heart problems about 10 years ago. When I talked to the cardiologists and nurses, they scared me. I said to myself that I had better get serious about my health. Intellectually I know that I have to eat properly. For example, Friday night my family and I walked into a Mexican restaurant called Eduardo’s. I love Mexican food. The music was playing. The chips arrived right away. Beef fajitas, queso, flan. Let me stop right here. If I had waited to make my decision to eat healthy when I was sitting down in Eduardo’s, I would have messed up. I would have missed it. I would have blown it. But you know what I did. I made the pre-arranged choice to eat properly before I went to Eduardo’s. As a result, I walked in and sat down. I had two or three chips maximum, ordered corn not flour tortillas. I stayed away from the fatty stuff. Intellectually I know that I should eat properly. I practice discipline when I make pre-arranged decisions.
The same is true in working out. Yesterday Lisa and I ran about 5 miles together. We didn’t lie in the bed Saturday morning and pondered whether we should run. We could have said our legs were tired. It was kind of cold outside. We could have had a million reasons why we should not hit the pavement, climb the hill and do the run. But we had made the pre-arranged decision to do so. Our running stuff was out. The twins were ready to go in the jogging stroller and we ran.
Now let’s go a little bit deeper. How about in the financial area? Every year Lisa and I do a budget. We live by the budget for the most part. That means that if I am in one of my favorite tackle stores and see a fly rod that I have got to have, when I look at the price tag I am able to say no. You see we have made a pre-arranged decision months ago that the fly rod, even though it would catch bigger fish and is on sale, would not fit into the budget.
Pre-arranged decision-making also works in an area that we don’t really think about. We also need to have discipline in our relationships. We need pre-arranged choices in our relationships. Here is what I am talking about. How many of you in here are married? There you go. We have lots of people who are married here. Now if I were to ask you if it was important to spend quality, romantic time together at least once a week, what would you say? Amen. Of course, the women are saying, “Preach it, Ed, that’s great. Yea.” Now intellectually we would agree with that. I preach to you time and again that spouses need a date night at least once a week. If you can’t do it once a week, I will cut you some slack, once every other week. The couples who have flourishing marriages make the pre-arranged choices to have a baby sitter on a certain night so that they can go out together. Some say, “But what about the kids, they are so young. We can’t afford it.” Hey, you can’t afford not to do this. The world is tearing marriages apart. It is ripping families apart. They are becoming fragmented, tormented. You have got to do it. I don’t care if it is Mac Donald’s or Taco Bell or the $1.50 movie. You have got to date your mate. But you have got to make a pre-arranged choice to do it. You can’t just say, “Wow, its Friday night. Honey, think we can get a baby sitter and go out tonight?” Discipline. The marriage sets the pace for the family and the family is the building block for our world today.
Pre-arranged decision making also takes place in our relationship with God. Intellectually I know this. “The B I B L E, that’s the book for me, I stand alone on the word of God, the B I B L E.” The Bible tells we that if I want to grow spiritually, I will have to be a part of a local church. I have got to worship regularly. I have got to spend time daily in God’s word and talking to Him in prayer. Also, I have got to hang out with brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that, it is great. Give myself a high five. Wonderful. Praise God. But, I practice this growth when I make the pre-arranged decision to be in God’s house no matter what the weather is like, no matter if the Cowboys are playing the Cardinals, no matter what the sermon topic is. I have made a pre-arranged decision to be here because I know that God will bless my life and give me self-discipline when I do so.
The same is true of my relationship with Jesus day by day. I make the pre-arranged choice to be with Him, to meet with Him. The same is true by being a part of a home team, a small group. We have got to make a commitment to be together with believers, to join a Bible Alive class.
There is another area in which we need to make pre-arranged choices, the moral area. For example, the number one desire that men have is sex. You can debate it. You can not talk about it. But that’s it. Sex. Physical satisfaction, their number one need. So if the number one need for men is sex, then most men will struggle in the area of lust. It’s getting kind of quiet in here. Well, if you have some guys at work and they frequent the topless bars, you make the pre-arranged choice not to go out with them socially. You make the disciplined choice not to do what they are going to do. So when you get in the situation, peer pressure can not cave you in. You see, I know because I am a guy.
Ladies, oftentimes you struggle with gossip. I should know because I am a guy. Dr. Gary Smalley and Dr. John Trent tell us that women speak an average of 15,000 words a day more than men do. So women, you have this gift of communicating. You may be out with your girl friends sipping coffee at Starbucks when you are tempted to gossip or to slander somebody. You may be at a small Bible study. Someone may suggest the group pray for a person by giving all the details of a situation which do not need to be shared. Make the pre-arranged choice not to talk, not to slander, not to say anything before you get into the situation.
The essence of discipline is climbing before cruising. The key to practicing that is advance decision-making.
Galatians 5:16. “Live by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” It doesn’t say we won’t have them. We are all going to have them. It says that we will not gratify them if we are joined hand in hand with the Holy Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit does something else in this change process. After He assists us in making pre-arranged decisions, He also protects us from overwhelming temptation. I Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man….” Let me stop right here. Isn’t this great? I don’t care what you are going through in the area of temptation, how strong the pull, someone else in this church is going through the same thing, probably to a greater degree. Someone before you has resisted this temptation. And that is comforting. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” A way out means an escape route. He will not allow us to be tempted too much. He will always give us the strength to bear it. Circle the word bear. The word bear is a nautical term. The literal meaning is a word picture of being in a ship tossed and turned in a storm. You are about to drown in the temptation. Suddenly you see a little island, the island of safety, the island of escape, a little harbor. You make your way over, thinking that you can’t make it but something pushes you and you make it. You have escaped the storm. That is what the Holy Spirit of God will put in your life and mine if we hold His hand. He will never, ever put us in a situation where we are unable to resist it. Hey, the Holy Spirit is faithful. He is going to keep us from an overpowering, overwhelming temptation.
I want you to write down three things beside this verse.
- Everyone is going to be tempted, even Billy Graham, even Jesus, even Mother Theresa. Everyone is tempted.
- Others have resisted the same temptation that you are dealing with right now.
- God will help.
The Holy Spirit protects us from overwhelming temptation.
He does something else, a third thing. He shows us the payoff, the reward if we remain self-controlled and disciplined. And that is exciting. Discipline would be horrible if there were not some kind of reward. Self-control would be terrible if there was not something out there. You see, the uphill climb would be just a drain if we didn’t know that we could cruise one day down hill and feel that breeze of success. The Bible says this in Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest.” We are going to reap a harvest. There is tremendous benefit to living a disciplined and self-controlled life. If you are self-controlled and disciplined in the physical domain, you will have better self-esteem, more energy. You will be vibrant and healthy. If you are disciplined in the financial domain, you can worship God with at least 10%. Save some money, too, and know that He is Lord of all of your money. If we are disciplined in our relationships, especially with our spouse, we can look at the payoff. There will be communication, intimacy, a good physical relationship and good spiritual relationship.
Further you can look at your spiritual life. You can see how involved you are in the Body of Christ. I am accountable to my Christian brothers and sisters. Let me stop here and say something about accountability. You have got to have some people in your life that you are accountable to. And when you are accountable to people, you can share what you are going through. You can share your struggles with discipline, your struggles with self-control. A lot of times we are afraid to share what we are going through with those who are close to us. And Satan wants to keep us quiet. “Don’t say that. If you say that, you will embarrass yourself. If you admit that you are going through that temptation, being materialistic, wielding power in a weird way, they won’t understand that.” But he is the father of lies. You step up and say what you are dealing with to the person you are accountable to they will usually say that they have dealt with the same thing. You see Satan doesn’t want that.
If you are disciplined in the moral area, the ethical area, you can say before God that you have a clear conscious. You watch what comes off of your tongue. Many, many single adults here need to make some pre-arranged choices. They need to practice discipline in regard to who they date. They need to make the choice beforehand that they will not date people who do not know Christ personally. God commands this in scripture. It is not spiritual apartheid. It is because God cannot stand the thought of people who matter to Him being together in an intimate relationship without sharing that which is most precious to them. Too many times, you will come to a situation where the guy is so good looking or the girl so beautiful that you just say yes and never give a thought to where they are spiritually. We have to have that discipline too. Let me give a plug for a new series that I am going to begin November 10. I am going to do a series on dating and romance. If you are a single adult, in junior high or high school, you need to be here. If you are a parent with little toddlers, you need to be here because the Bible says a lot about dating and romance and we have got to understand it!
The Holy Spirit of God will do all these things. Let us not become weary in doing good, in discipline. We have to crash through it. I want to give you a self-control starter kit. I want to show you what you can do today to help in this area of discipline. See those four lines on your outline?
- Start with yourself. Don’t think that this will just be great for your friend, for someone else. This is for everyone. I am paraphrasing here, but Jesus said, “Don’t worry about a little speck of dirt in your friend’s contact lens when you have got a Sequoia tree in your eye. Worry about yourself. Think about yourself.” Self-control begins with self. It means to get a grip on something in order to control it. Start with yourself.
- Start strategically. How many of you can name at least one area where you need more self-control? Lift your hand. If you have not lifted your hand, you do not have your lying under control, yet. We all need more self-control in at least one area. If you are wondering about self-control and wondering about what areas you should tackle, you should first ask your spouse. Your spouse can probably give you at least three areas. A good friend will also help suggest where you should start strategically.
- Start small. Here is our problem. We say, “I want to be big for God. I want to do something big. I am just one blessing, one anointing, one Bible conference away. Then I will have the breakthrough.” That is just some kind of pop, psychobabble Christianity. We are not just one anointing away. Where is that in the Bible? You read about the great patriots and matriarchs. It is a day by day, roll up your sleeves, go after it, climb, climb, climb. The cruise. It is day by day spending time on your knees in prayer. Start small. Tackle each day at a time. And then one day after you have done this year after year after year, you will look back and realize how disciplined you have become. I am a man, a woman of God, mature spiritually. Start small in the physical area, in the relational area. Keep the date night once a week. It is like the old saying. How do you eat an elephant? The answer being, one bite at a time.
- Start now. Don’t say I will start the diet tomorrow. I will start spending time with God tomorrow. I will start to make a budget tomorrow. I will start one day when I get it all together. Start now. You see when I think about discipline and self-control, I think about Jesus. Jesus lived 33 years a sinless life. Jesus was climbing up a hill called Calvary. Now I guarantee you that He had on His mind the cross. But He climbed because He knew He could cruise. He fought uphill because He knew that once He hit the downhill He could feel the breeze of success. He knew that one day people like you and me who struggle with discipline would receive Him. He knew that we could climb and cruise together. Is discipline worth it? Is self-control worth it? Ask Jesus.