January 7-8, 2006
What did “they” influence you to do that you would not have done if “they” hadn’t been around? Let that statement marinate for a second. What did “they” influence you to do that you would not have done if “they” hadn’t been around?
Someone walks into a conversation and they come to a point where they say, “They have been coming to me,” or “They feel,” or “They believe….” I love to ask the question that no one ever asks. “Who are they?”
“Them. Yeah, those.”
“I don’t know.”
Who are they? They are a few who seem like everybody in our mind. The sway of they. The power of this pronoun. It seems so benign. It seems like it’s no big deal, but they carry some serious weight.
The lists are out. Have you seen the lists—what’s hot and what’s not? What’s in style; what’s out of style? Who comes up with all that? When we read it, we think, “Oh, the masses say that. That’s what everybody’s saying.”
No, no, it’s not everybody. It’s just a few.
They say…. they feel…. they believe…. So I’d better buy that, drive that, do that because of they. The sway of they.
Lisa and I were having dinner with some friends on New Year’s Eve and the waiter was serving us soup. He had this giant soup bowl, he had a ladle, and he was taking the soup and putting it in the ladle and then putting it in our soup bowls. And one of my friends at the table said, “Hey, why do you serve the soup that way? Why don’t you just dump it straight in our bowls?”
And this waiter said, “Well, they tell me to serve it that way.”
They. Isn’t that funny.
“They” is powerful. They carry a lot of weight in our lives. They are always speaking stuff into our lives. But here’s the question: Are you listening to the right “they” or the wrong “they”?
What did the right they influence you to do that you would not have done if they hadn’t been around? What did the wrong they influence you to do that you would not have done if they hadn’t been around? Those are some deep questions, penetrating questions.
This New Year we’re thinking about what’s in store for us. And if we could see what God wants to do in our lives we wouldn’t believe it. God is that awesome. He’s that’s amazing. He has some giant stuff for us to do by His power and by His mercy. But we have got to think about they. The sway of they. The wrong they will keep you in the fray and the right they will keep you above the fray. Who are they? Have you ever tried to chase down they?
Whenever I think about “they,” though, I think about my boy Nehemiah. Nehemiah, a man mentioned in the Old Testament, knew about the sway of they because Nehemiah did something that they said could not be done. Nehemiah had a cush job in the Persian government. He asked permission from the king to leave and to rebuild the city walls around Jerusalem.
Now that seems weird to us because we’re thinking, “Okay, what’s so big and bad about city walls? Who needs city walls? Why are city walls important?”
Well, in our day they’re not. But back in the day, 440 B.C., city walls were huge because city walls provided protection. Also, in Jerusalem, they provided an opportunity for the Jews to worship in the temple. They could have protected worship in the temple.
So, Nehemiah asked for permission, and because the favor of God was on his life, the king of Persia gave him all this money and all the supplies to rebuild the city wall. Nehemiah was a great leader, a great difference maker. He wrote a book in the Bible. If you have your Bibles, turn there, Nehemiah 2. I’ll begin reading with Verses 19 and then I’ll go to Verse 20. Then I’ll skip over to Nehemiah 4 and we’ll close it down.
Nehemiah 2:19-20—Nehemiah has hit “J-town” everybody knows why he’s there, to rebuild the city walls. People had tried to do it for a long, long time, but they couldn’t do it. Nehemiah is the man of the hour. Here’s what he says. After he finds the right “they,” after they begin working on this incredible project, the wrong “they” show up.
Nehemiah 2:19, “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us”—that’s the wrong they mocking the right they—“and said, ‘What is this thing you’re doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’”
“I mean, Nehemiah, what are you smoking? You’re going to try and rebuild the city walls? You can’t do that! Nehemiah, I thought you were in the Persian government? What’s up with all this stuff?”
And look at Verse 20, because Verse 20 talks about the right they. Nehemiah had the ability to surround himself with the right “they” and that’s what I need to do and that’s what you need to do.
[Nehemiah 2:20] “So I answered them and said to them (the wrong they), ‘The God of heaven will give us…” What? “…success….” You can read here, blessing or favor. “Therefore we His servants (the right they) will arise and build….”Arise and build. That means he’d step up.
Then he says, “You have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”
Again I’ll tell you, if you could see what God wants to construct in your life over this next year, you wouldn’t believe it; nor would I.
What does God want to do in your life? Maybe God wants to construct character in your life. Maybe he wants you to ratchet up commitment or discipline or integrity. Maybe it’s in the relational world by building your marriage or building your kids. Maybe you are harboring a hurt. Maybe you’re involved in an addiction. And you know what God wants to construct. He’s telling you right now.
You feel it. You sense it. You know it. Maybe it’s unforgiveness. Maybe someone messed you around and maybe you’re holding on to it. What does God want to construct in your life?
Every time God constructs something in our lives, what happens? We’re surrounded by the right they. But the wrong they always shows up. Who are the wrong they? Well, the wrong they are the people we think are everybody in our minds, but in reality they’re just a few, just one or two usually. The wrong they or the right they.
How do you find the right they? And how do you deal with and process the wrong they. Speaking of the wrong they, the wrong they didn’t like Nehemiah’s success did they? They didn’t like the blessings of God on his life. The wrong they questioned the motives. Nehemiah was leading the right they, and the wrong they came out and began to mock and abuse and tear down and rip Nehemiah and the right they apart.
So, the principle is whenever we step up and step out and allow God to build stuff in our lives, what happens? The right they surrounds us; then the wrong they will come around and mock us and talk behind our back and abuse us. That’s just the way it is.
Turn to Nehemiah 4:12. The right they are now going to get really intense with the wrong they. The right they talked to Nehemiah, and Nehemiah writes in Verse 12, “The Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, ‘They will come up against us from every place where you turn.”
They, they, they, they. The sway of they , the wrong they.
“Man they feel, they said, they believe; they’ve been coming to me, they’re attacking us Nehemiah. They’re big, they’re bad, they’re powerful.”
Look at Nehemiah 4:14, “When I saw their fear….” What is fear? False evidence appearing real. That’s what fear is. We all deal with fear. I have to deal with fear, so do you. 365 times the Bible says, “Fear not.” There’s a “fear not” for every day of the year, isn’t that cool? We’ve got to face our fear. And so often we allow “they” to prey on us and to keep us locked and frozen in fear.
But Nehemiah said, “When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: ‘Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.’”
That’s why I encourage you to journal your prayers, so you can go back and remember. Whenever God wants to build and construct stuff in your life, it’s always about what? It’s always about worship. What is worship? Is it what we do here on Saturday and Sundays and First Wednesdays? Yeah, but it’s much more. Worship is a 24/7 commodity. Everything we do, say, touch, and feel should be an act of worship.
So when God constructs stuff, he’s always constructing stuff about worship in your life and mine. So the way I treat my wife, my kids; the way I steward my finances; the way I live, breathe, talk, and walk—it’s all an act of worship.
So we’ve got the wrong they, and the wrong they is always wants-based. The right they are always needs-based.
Well, Nehemiah, being a great leader, takes the people where they need to go, not where they want to go. Great leaders take people not where they want to go but where they need to go.
Fifteen years ago I didn’t want to come to Dallas/Fort Worth. I didn’t want to come up here and help start Fellowship Church. Not in the belt buckle of the Bible belt. Not me. I wanted to go to southern California or south Florida where the fish are big and wild. Dallas/Fort Worth? I mean I like the city and all that, but I wanted to go to California. I wanted to go to Florida, not Dallas/Fort Worth.
Leaders take us not where we want to go but where we need to go. Our great God, my Lord, my Savior, Jesus Christ, took me where I needed to go, not where I wanted to go. Had I gone for my wants, I would have missed this incredible ride, the amazing stuff that God has done right here at Fellowship church. Many of us are leaders. Leadership is all about influence. Are you taking people where they want to go or where they need to go?
What does God do in your life and mine? He takes us where we need to go. The wrong they, the right they—they are always speaking into our lives. Who are we listening to? Who are we hearing? Who are we paying attention to?
Now some of us have the right they in our lives, but we’re not really listening to them. We’re hearing them but not listening.
Maybe you’re a student, and the right they is maybe your parents. Or maybe it’s a youth pastor. Some people here are from our student ministry and they’re speaking truth, the right “they,” into your life but you don’t want to listen. Listening is hearing with action. You say, “No, no. I’ll do my own deal.” Hey, the right they know more than you do.
Maybe you’re a single adult and you have the right they in your life and the right they is saying, “Don’t connect with this person. Don’t date this person.” But you’re saying, “No, no, no. I know what I want.”
Are you listening to the right they? Maybe a part of the right they is speaking the truth about your marriage, but maybe you’re saying, “No, no. I’ll do what I want to do.”
Who are you listening to? The right they or the wrong they? The sway of they. The wrong they, man, those voices are powerful. They’re really a few, but it seems like everybody. But the few, man, are loud. The evil one can make the wrong they sound like [Ed imitates Fat Albert], “Hey, hey, hey!”
THE WRONG THEY
THEY KEEP US FROM OUR UNIQUENESS
What does the wrong they do? How do you know if the wrong they are holding you hostage? And specifically you might be asking, “How can they mess me up?” Well, first of all, they can keep us from our uniqueness.
Do you realize that you’re unique, that you’re one of a kind, that you are a creative genius? Everyone here is a Picasso, a Renoir, a Monet. We’re unique. No one has your laugh, your smile, your skill set, your abilities. It’s been given to us by God himself. But somewhere along life’s journey the world system just beats the uniqueness and the creativity out of us.
If I have a proper view of who I am, I see myself the way God sees me. But the moment I begin to try to appease and see myself as they see me, that’s when I mess up. That’s when I lose my uniqueness. That’s when I become one of them. And we spend so much time trying to please “they.”
We worry about, “What did they say? What did they feel? What do they wear? What do they drive?” They, they, they, they, they. The sway of they.
The moment I move from seeing the way God sees me to the way they see me, I transition from being a vertical player to a horizontal pleaser. Life’s too short for that. When I die, God is not going to say, “Hey Ed, why weren’t you more like so and so?”
No, God’s going to say, “Ed, why weren’t you more like Ed?”
We had a lady who worked at the church for years from New York. She was a great lady in her early 60s. She had a classic New York accent. One day she saw me in the hall and she said, “Pastor, thank you for being you.”
I said, “Lynn, that’s one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever given me.”
Well, I want to turn to you and say, “Thank you for being you, because you are made in the image of God.”
But the wrong they, I’m talking about them, can hold us hostage. Nehemiah knew he was unique. He knew his project was one of a kind. The right they knew that, too.
THEY CAN KEEP US FROM STEPPING UP
Well, what else can the wrong they do? The wrong they can keep us from stepping up. Nehemiah and the right they (who were needs-based) built the wall. Why did they build the wall? For protection. Why did they really build the wall? For worship.
Nehemiah had to step up and build the wall. He found the right they while he was building the wall, read it this afternoon. But then the sidewalk supervisors showed up. Take a wild guess who they were? Sanballat, Tobiah and Gesham. And they began to talk trash and call them names and say this and say that, but what did Nehemiah do? Did Nehemiah say, “Man, you guys are just haters,” and keep on working? Yeah, that’s what he did.
He didn’t jump down from the wall and go toe-to-toe with them. He didn’t mud sling with them. He didn’t say, “Who are they? Well, let me find out. Who said that? Really? He did? She did? Well, I’ll find out. I’ll sit down and talk with them and have coffee at Starbuck’s and surely I can change them.”
He didn’t do that. Do you know what he did? He prayed and he stayed above the fray. Because when you have the right they, the needs-based people in your life surrounding you, they will give you the props to stay above the fray and to discover the path God has for your life. That’s what Nehemiah did. You have got to step up. I can’t be frozen in fear.
This past July, I had a powerful experience occur in my life. I’d been praying for a man, a very cold-hearted man. In fact, he was the coldest man I’d ever talked to about spiritual issues. I’d been praying for him for years and years and years to become a Christ follower. I shared Jesus with him on several occasions, but the response I received was unbelievably hard.
This July I knew I had to share with him one more time. I knew it. God just impressed it upon my heart. So, I just showed up at the guy’s house. I began to talk to him, and the power of God began to fall upon the conversation, and I said, “Hey, you roll the dice for everything in your life. You’re a risk-taker and your going to sit there and tell me you will not roll the dice for Jesus Christ? You’re not going to roll the dice for him? You’re going to play it safe? You take risks in every other area, and for Jesus you’re not going to do the deal?”
And, then, I could not believe what happened. The guy began to weep. Tears began to stream down his face. It felt like an out-of-body experience. And several moments later we both hit our knees in his living room and that hard, cold man bowed the knee to Jesus Christ. It was one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever had.
So after he made that decision, we embraced and I looked at him and said, “Listen to me very carefully,” I said, “All hell is getting ready to break loose in your life. From this day forward, the wrong they are going to come after you.”
Today we’re in the early part of January and I wish I could tell you that this guy is doing great, but he’s doing terribly. The sway of they. He’s in the middle of the deep fray because of the wrong they in his life.
Now this will be seen on television around the world. This will be podcast. This will be on radio in most major cities. It’s also going to be on the world wide web and I want to say this to everyone here and everyone who will experience what we are talking about in the various ways of technology: You will never, ever, ever, ever find the right they away from the local church. You will never discover the right they in your life. You’ll never discover who they are or who should be in your life until you get connected, until you start serving in the local church. I just have to get that off my chest because the Bible is riddled with those statements.
THE WRONG THEY KEEP US FROZEN IN FEAR
So, the wrong they can keep us from our uniqueness. They can keep us from stepping up. And they can keep us frozen in fear. You don’t want to be frozen in fear, do you? I don’t. Face the fear. “But they might… But they could… But they should…”
And we stay frozen in fear with our feet cemented in the sidewalk instead of stepping up and stepping out and facing our fear. Maybe that’s what you need to do. That rhymes. For the New Year, face your fear—false evidence appearing real. Start allowing God to build, and the right they will surround you and the wrong they will come out.
THE RIGHT THEY
Well, you might be saying, “Okay, Ed, the right they, who in the world are the right they?”
Begin to allow God to construct stuff in your life. Get involved with the local church and begin serving and you’ll see the right they. Who are the right THEY? They are people with “He” in the middle. The right they always have “He” in the middle. You know it.
The right they, how can I say this, the right they are tough. They’re tough. Don’t ever sit there and let anyone tell you, “Well, Christianity is for those people who need a crutch. It’s for the weak people and it’s for the quiche eaters.”
That’s pathetic! If you say that, you don’t know what in the world you are talking about. Christianity happens to be reserved for those who are tough. Don’t sit there and call me weak or someone else weak at Fellowship Church. You’re the one who’s weak. You won’t even tell the truth about your condition. You’re playing games. You’re one of them. You’re not stepping up. So don’t ever say that. That dog won’t hunt, as they say in south Texas.
Jesus Christ was not some pale, frail, blue-eyed, skinny white boy. No, no, no. You have never met a man as tough as Jesus. You name the biggest, baddest guy out there in the athletic domain or in the squared circle, if you like wrestling. That guy will pale in comparison to the toughness of Jesus Christ.
I’m not talking about mean here. I’m talking about being tough. So all this stuff about Christianity being for people who are kind of soft and people who have this tender side…no, no, no. You’ve got to be tough because we bow the knee and make the tough decision to receive Christ, and we receive Jesus Christ our tough Lord and Savior who gives us the ability to be committed and to do the stuff. So the right they, man, they’re going to be tough.
They’re going to be honest, too. We’ve got to be honest. Can you imagine being in a relationship and you’re dishonest? We’ve got to be honest with Jesus to become a believer. We have to be honest with our friends. I’m not talking about honesty in a brutal way. I’m talking about speaking the truth, the Bible says, in love.
The right they love you and they love me enough to speak the truth in love to us. Do you have friends like that? Are you listening to people like that? Maybe this year you need to move away from the wrong they and go to the right they. But the wrong they want to keep you in the fray. The right they will keep you above the fray.
The right they are also encouraging. I want to be around encouraging people. Don’t you? I don’t want to be around doggie downer people.
“Oh, the glass is half empty. I don’t know if we can do it. I’m not sure; that wall is so big. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t know, you know.”
Man, I don’t have time to hang around with people like that. Yesterday I was driving to the office and I was with a friend of mine and one of our staff members walked across the parking lot and my friend said, “Man, you know what I love about that guy, Ed?”
I said, “What?”
My friend answered, “That guy is encouraging!”
The right they encourage me and they encourage you. They put courage in our lives. They’re positive. They’re uplifting. “You can do it. You can make it!”
People ask me all the time, “How do you hire staff members at Fellowship Church?” Well, first of all I say, “I hire people better than me.” Secondly, I say, “I hire people who are awesome, who are encouraging.”
They ask, “Well, how do you find people who are awesome and encouraging?” It’s very easy. Just go through a conflict and sees who’s got your back. Whoever is standing there, hire them! If you’re a business man or business woman, you’d better write that one down. We don’t hire for intellect. We hire for intensity. We don’t hire for head knowledge, we hire for the heart. The right they.
Are you listening to the wrong they or the right they? What did they influence you to do that you would not have done if they hadn’t been around?
The right they are also yielded to the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Lord. If you have to wonder if they are the right they, then they’re not. You will know if someone is the right they.
“I’m wondering if this girl I’m dating is a believer. I’m just wondering if he is Christ follower. I’m just wondering.”
If you have to wonder, they’re not. Now I’m not saying at all that Fellowship Church is packed with the right they. Most of us here are the right they, but there’s some wrong they here. But the right they are here and this is the place you find the right they.
Who are the right THEY? They’re people with “He” right in the middle of their lives. What does God want to do, what does God want to build in your life and mine? God gives us the ability to look for the right they. So when you find them, make sure you listen to what they have to say.