September 18-19, 2004
Good morning! How are you doing today? Pretty good? If you look in your worship guide you’ll see something that says “Questions” on it. Please take this out; this is your message map. You need this with you today as we navigate a very, very important subject matter. So make sure you have your message map with you. If you don’t have a pen or pencil, I’m sure that someone on your row has one. Usually ladies carry about 40 or 50 around in their purses. So let’s bow for prayer and then we’ll jump right into this exciting topic. [Ed leads in prayer]
I grew up in a preacher’s household. I’m a “PK.” My father pastors one of the largest churches in the world. He’s kind of a known Christian figure. He’s met with Presidents, and he’s met with corporate leaders; he’s met with athletes and coaches. And I kind of grew up in that environment. I remember one time when I was like 18 or 19, in one room with him I met Johnny Cash, George Bush, Sr., and Billy Graham. In one room! And I’ve been able to see a lot of these people. They’ve been over to our home, and I studied them. It’s been a great thing to be around leaders like that—leaders who had a lot of money and leaders who didn’t have much money.
I’ve also been able to take a lot of mission trips in my life. I’ve traveled to the Orient and around the world talking to a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures. And I’ve studied them. I’ve studied leaders—men and women—who were difference-makers. And let me stop and say something right up front. Everybody who’s hearing my voice is a leader. Everybody is a leader. So just turn to your neighbor and say, “Hey, you’re a leader.” Just say that right now. Just get freed up, “Hey, hey, I’m a leader. I receive it. I believe it. Yeah, I’m a leader.”
Anyway, in my research I’ve been thinking about something that leaders do and don’t do. And I haven’t told anybody about the research until about two weeks ago. Over the years I’ve been studying questions. Specifically, questions that leaders ask and questions leaders don’t ask. I’ve been blown away at the numbers of questions I’ve heard a lot of leaders ask—people who are successful, people who wield a lot of power, and who’ve got a lot of people reporting to them; people who have a lot of money. I’ve seen these people, up close and personal, ask a bunch of questions.
On the other hand, I could call out some names of leaders that you would know that I’ve been with who don’t ask questions. They don’t ask them. And that shocked me. Because it’s almost as if the more responsibility they have, the fewer questions they ask. It’s like they’ve stopped doing the very thing that got them to where they are—asking questions.
Are you a questioner? Do you ask people questions? You should. I should too. You know information that I don’t know; I know information that you don’t know. Your favorite subject to talk about is you. I know that because my favorite subject to talk about is me. And there are certain questions I can ask you and certain questions you can ask me. You can push those buttons and we can talk and share information. There should be a conversational cadence going on. I ask you a question, you give me an answer. You ask me a question, I give you an answer.
Question: Is the person doing the talking or the person doing the questioning leading the conversation? Answer: It’s the person asking the questions. If you don’t believe it, this week, just watch Conan, Letterman, and Leno. All they do is ask question after question after question after question. We gain knowledge when we ask questions. And every time we ask questions we are mimicking the majesty of God. God is a God who asks questions.
The Bible has—write this down—2,530 different questions in it. Questions that people ask God and questions that God asks others. The first question of the Bible was directed to Adam and Eve. God said, “Where are you?” He asked Abraham, “Is anything too hard for me?” He posed this one to Isaiah, “Isaiah, whom shall I send?” Then he goes to Jeremiah, “Jeremiah, what do you see, man?” I added the “man.” God didn’t say “man.” He said, “Jonah, aren’t you concerned about the great city of Nineveh?” Then in the New Testament, Jesus said, “Who do you say that I am?”
Obviously, God knows the answers. God’s not asking questions for information. He knows everything. He’s sovereign. He asks questions and he wants us to ask questions. He asks questions for dialogue, for communicative purposes. We have got to ask questions—questions to God and also questions to others. Are you a questioner?
This July, I was invited to Lake Michigan to kind of a little symposium with some leaders from around the country. I was sitting in this room with some men and women and I’m going, “Man, why am I here? I mean—whoa—this is, like, intimidating.” And the guy leading this symposium, if I called his name, a lot of you would know who he was.
So we were talking about our lives and stuff. And it came time for me to talk and I was like, “Okay. I’m Ed, pastor of a church in Dallas/Fort Worth and….” “Okay,” they said, “tell us about your leadership philosophy and what you’re doing as a leader.” And I began to talk. And then I said this, “You know, I’ve not read a leadership book in the last 15 years. I take that back. I did read one leadership book about 15 years ago, ‘The One Minute Manager.’ That’s it.”
The room just got silent. You could hear a pin drop. And the leader, this person that most of you would know, looked at me and goes, “You’ve only read one leadership book? That’s not good.” Then I went on to say, “Well, you know, a lot of these leadership books, I’m not drawn to them,” I said, “because they are full of answers…answers to questions that I’m not asking.” And here’s what I said. I said, “In my opinion, information without interrogation is an abomination. Information without interrogation is an abomination. I know a lot of people who read a lot of leadership books. And I ask them so many questions that I feel like I know the book. But I don’t read the book.”
I’ll say it again: Information without interrogation is an abomination. I’m all into observation. I’m all into information. But you’ve got to interrogate to really find out what’s going on, to learn the information. That’s why I love to ask questions.
Questions are organic. They’re living. They’re breathing. The word “question” means “asking.” The word “question” means “advice.” It comes from the word “quest,” which means “a journey, an adventure.” So every time, I’m going on a journey or an adventure, I’m learning something, I’m seeking something. So my tasks as a man made in the image of God, and your task as someone made in God’s image, is to go for the “ask.” Always – A. Seeking – S. Knowledge – K. ASK—Always Seeking Knowledge.
I should never stop asking and answering questions. Questions, questions, questions, questions. “But Ed, sometimes God doesn’t answer every question.” I know that. Sometimes he doesn’t. And that’s where faith comes in. So often as a leader, I’ll go through times of uncertainty. I’m not totally confident on what to do. I’ve done this; I’ve done that. But I just don’t know what to do. And God leaves me in the dark for a reason, so I’ll trust Him.
It was a major step of faith and uncertainty to start Fellowship Church 14 years ago. It was a major step of faith to move to the Irving Arts Center, then to go to MacArthur High School, then to buy 160 acres of land in Grapevine, when the church hardly had any money, from the Resolution Trust Corporation. That’s a monstrous step of faith. All of us were totally uncertain. To build a building this size? You talk about uncertainty!
We live in uncertainty. So understand that. There’s no way that I’m going to answer every question in a 30-minute talk. God’s not going to answer every single question. But we can understand after this talk the questions to ask and the answers. Because here’s what I’m going to talk about today, and probably as I get into this, I’ll have to conclude it next week. I’m going to talk about how we’ve got to ask the right people the right questions because when we do that, we’ll get the right answers. We’ve got to have the right people in our life asking the right questions. And then we’ll get the right answers.
Too many of us, though, ask the wrong people the wrong questions and we do the wrong thing. To understand who the right people are, you’ve got to ask a lot of wrong people the right questions. Then you will discover who the right people are to ask the right questions to, to get the right answers. You do. You do.
BIG, HONKIN’ BARRIERS
Sometimes, though, I stop short of asking questions. Sometimes, though, I just kind of hit a wall. I hit two big, honkin’ barriers in my life that keep me from doing the thing I should do. They keep me from being an organic questioner—a living, breathing person that’s always seeking knowledge. What are those barriers? They’re in my life and there are in yours, too.
The first barrier I want to talk about—a big, honkin’ barrier—is the weakness barrier. I don’t want to reveal my weakness. Fellowship Church, you know, we’re kind of known. And we get a chance to speak across the country to leaders. In fact, this March we’re supposed to go to Korea and talk to 40,000 pastors about leadership.
“Well, man, I’m Senior Pastor. I’m supposed to have all the answers, man. I’m supposed to know.” I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. And I find myself sometimes cowering, sometimes not asking questions I use to ask 10 years ago because I don’t want people to think I’m a card-carrying idiot. “If I ask that question, man, they’ll think I’m dumb. If I ask that question, they’ll go, ‘Wow, you mean Ed hasn’t figured it out?’” And you’re the same way too. Don’t act like you’re not. You’re the same way. “I better not ask this question in this business meeting. They’ll think I’m stupid. I better not reveal my weakness, man. I better not step out there.”
We’ve got to break through the big, honkin’ barrier. We’ve got to go for the ask. Our task is the ask. Is it about weakness? Yes, sort of. But it’s really about pride. You’re pride and mine. That’s what keeps us from stepping out there and going for the ask.
God taught me an incredible lesson about this in my life just recently. I was in a Starbuck’s doing some studying early one morning. I closed my Bible, put it in the briefcase, and was planning to drive to the office. Right before I walked out of Starbuck’s, I looked and saw someone, a young guy, studying his Bible. So I said, “Hey, man what’s up?” I had that caffeine buzz going on, you know? I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “Fine.” I said, “I see you’re studying your Bible. Where do you go to church?” He goes, “Uh, well, I’m a pastor of a church. I just started a brand new church here in the area.” I said, “Man, that’s cool! That’s great!” And immediately my heart went out to him. I mean, I said, “I feel your pain. You know. I’ve been there. It’s like starting a business. Wow!” I said, “Maybe we can talk one day about church and stuff.” He goes, “Oh, I’d love to. Yeah, I’ve heard of Fellowship Church,” and I cruised.
We set a meeting at the same coffee shop. We began to talk—I should say he began to talk—for an hour and a half. This guy talked to me about his philosophy of ministry and church and music and small groups and leadership and on and on and on and on. And then he turned and he began to critique Fellowship Church! The guy had about 85 people coming to his church. And, you know, I’m cool with that. I go, “Yeah, I appreciate that. That’s great. Yeah, I mean, we have a long way to go. We know we’ve not cracked the code.”
After an hour and a half I looked at my watch and said, “Hey, man, I’ve got to get to the office. I’ve got a meeting so…. I really enjoyed it.” And then as I was leaving, he kind of threw one little token question my way and I answered it “Yes” or whatever. Then I got in my car and when I was driving off toward the church, I said, “Lord, I pray that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever stop being a questioner.”
We’ve got to always question. And so often we’re so busy talking about ourselves—my deal, my job, my gifts, my hobbies, me, me, me, my, my, my—that we forget to stop and ask the other person about their life, to ask them where they are, to ask them their advice. Because, remember, people know more than you do. You know stuff that I don’t know; I know stuff that you don’t know. So I’d better question. Question and answer. Question, question, and answer. We’ve got to shut up and stop talking about ourselves. It’s like we have a big, honkin’ exclamation point after everything we say when we talk about ourselves. Bend the exclamation point into a question mark. Try it. You will not believe what happens.
When I think about weakness, I think of a guy named Gideon. In Judges 6, Gideon had this conversation with God because God said, “Gideon I want you to deliver the Israelites from those evil Midianites.” And check out what our boy said in verses 15-16: “Gideon asked, ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the least in my family.’ The LORD answered, ‘I will be with, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.’”
So crash through. Break down that big barrier of weakness.
Another barrier in my life that keeps me from asking questions I should ask, and it’s also a barrier in your life, is fear. Fear. We’re freaky about asking questions. We’re fearful.
When I think about fear, I think about Nehemiah. I read a book about Nehemiah called “High Definition Living.” I take that back. I must have read two books on leadership because I wrote that book on leadership. Yeah. I’m sorry. “High Definition Living,” the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah did something that was whacky. Nehemiah was a Jew and he was born under a regime where King Artaxerxes, this Persian King, dominated the land. Nehemiah was in exile. God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Nehemiah, I want you to go back to Jerusalem and do something that’s not been done. I want you to rebuild the city walls around this great, great town.”
So Nehemiah thought, “Well, Lord, man, you know I’ve got to walk in to King Artaxerxes’ office and ask him to do this? I mean, like—whoa!—you know?” And King Artaxerxes, back in this day, if he didn’t like you or if he was in a bad mood or if he didn’t think your outfit matched or if you had bad breath, he could kill you on the spot. No problem. That’s just the way it was.
Check out Nehemiah, in Nehemiah 2:2, “I was very much afraid.” I can identify with that. Nehemiah said that. Verse 5, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.” And God did an incredible work. God used the money that King Artaxerxes had to finance the entire deal, to finance the whole building project that Nehemiah headed up. And he rebuilt the city walls around Jerusalem. It’s a marvelous example of team-building and leadership.
Nehemiah did what? He faced his fear. He went for the ask. Always seeking knowledge. It was scary. He was tenuous. But he did it. So often we fear asking questions. Why do we fear asking questions? We fear the answer. “If I really ask the hard question, man, I get the hard answer in my business.” “If I really ask the hard question about my marriage, you know, I kind of know the answer. I’d have to change some things.” “If I really ask the hard questions about who I am dating, whoa! I might have to stop dating this guy or this girl.”
Some of you right now are afraid to ask questions. You’re afraid of the answer. You’re afraid of God’s answer. I’m here to tell you God’s answer is awesome. It’s unbelievable. It’s a great answer. It might not be fun initially, but eventually you’re going to go, “Whoa! What an answer!”
So think about these big, honkin’ barriers. Think about them at work. Think about them at play. Think about them in your relationships. Think about them even in your connectivity with God. What is keeping you from asking questions? We have to ask the right people, don’t we, the right questions to get the right answers. Say it with me. We’ve got to ask—that means you and me—we have to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers. One more time…we have to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers.
ASK THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Let’s unpack this statement. Who are the right people? That’s a good question. Who do I ask? Who do I go to? Who do I ask these questions to? That’s good.
First, we have to ask God. Ask him. What’s on your mind? What’s on your heart? Ask God. Life is full of decisions, full of questions. We need answers. I need answers and you need answers. Sometimes, I said earlier, God does not answer every specific question. But let me tell you something. He answers the most important questions. He answers those big questions. Ask God. Do you ask God before you make a decision? Before you make a move? Do you ask God for the answer?
What do we ask God? We say, “God, I want to ask you the content question. Is it in your word?” Because God’s written His word down. Before I do something, is it in God’s word? Is it a part of God’s word? If it is, don’t even pray about it; just do it. If it’s not, don’t do it; don’t even pray about it. Because God is going to tell us what to do in His word. It’s the content question.
The next question is the character question. “What is the character and nature of God?” God’s holy, he’s pure, he’s awesome. So ask, “God, I’m getting ready to make this decision, this choice. I have a question, and the answer should reflect your nature and character.” If it is pure, if it is holy, if it is just and righteous, I should do it. Green light. That’s the answer. If it’s not, don’t do it.
The content question, the character question, and then, the call question. We should live, as my friend Rick Warren has written about, a purpose-driven life. God has an amazing purpose for all of us, a great agenda for every person here. “God, does it fit your agenda for my life? Is it part of your will, your plan, your path for me?” If it is, do it. If it’s not, don’t do it. If it is, yeah, that’s the answer. If not, ah-ah-ah. Stop it. Stop it. So, ask God.
Number two, ask others. Ask other people. We should ask God first, but also ask others. Whenever we make a decision, whenever we come to a crossroads and we’ve got questions, we’ve got to ask other people. Who are you asking? Our task is the ask. Who are you asking? Because we need to ask the right people the right questions to get the right answers. But to do that, we’ve got to ask a lot of wrong people—remember—the right questions to find out who the right people are to get the right answers. Ha, ha! Who are the right people?
There are two groups of people that we usually ask. The first group is the group that I’ll call the sinful sympathizers. We all have sinful sympathizers in our life. And they are a group that always welcomes us. They’re always ready to give us answers. Sinful sympathizers. Let’s say, for example, you’re getting ready to bolt on your marriage. You’re getting ready to split and you have no reason why. Maybe you’re in an adulterous relationship and these sinful sympathizers say, “Hey, it’s okay. Divorce is great. Adultery is fine. It won’t really hurt the kids. It won’t hurt your family. It won’t hurt your life. Come on, come on, come on.”
Maybe you’re in the corporate world and you know to make this decision is going to cause you to operate in the gray area, to do some stuff that’s not really on the up-and-up. So the sinful sympathizers say, “Come on. You know, I’ve done that. Look at all the money I’ve made. Man, look what I drive. Look where I live. Come on, come on!” Sinful sympathizers.
I talked earlier about Jonah. God said, “Jonah, I want you to go to Nineveh to preach my truth. I’ll give you the words; great things will happen.” You know what Jonah said? “Forget you, God. I’m going the opposite way.” And the Bible says Jonah found a ship leaving toward Tarshish. There just happened to be a boat leaving toward Tarshish.
Whenever I rebel, whenever I have a decision to make, whenever I ask a question, whenever I think about the sinful sympathizers, there’s always a boat sailing away from God’s will. There’s always a boat leaving. And the sinful sympathizers are on it. They’re going, “Come on, come on, come on. Climb aboard. It’s going to be okay.” The sinful sympathizers. Who are you asking advice from? Who are your friends? Who are you running with? Who are you hanging with?
There’s another group—the spiritual empathizers. Those are the people I want to ask. Those are the people you need to ask. Let’s say you’re marriage is rocky. Let’s say you’re messed up in your marriage. Ask someone whose marriage is working. Ask someone who’s been through that junk, who’s been through the dark valley. Ask them. Ask someone who’s got it together.
Say you’re getting ready to make a decision in the corporate world. Ask someone who is doing it right. Ask someone who’s really walking the walk and talking the talk and leading with integrity. Ask them! Spiritual empathizers. They’ll give us great advice and they’ll help us and support us with the answer.
So ask God, ask others, then ask yourself. Talk to yourself. I talk to myself. You should talk to yourself, too. Do you talk to yourself? You have a question about life, whatever it is. Ask yourself this question. And I did a whole series a while back on this. It’s called “Multiple Choice.” Let me bring you up to speed on it.
The major question that we’ve got to ask ourselves is this. Let’s use me for example. I’m standing up here. Against the back drop of my past—my family, my calling, going to the public schools I went to, moving around a lot, playing some sports in college with a lot of wheels off people and then coming from that very wheels off environment and going to seminary. Wow! That’s a major contrast. That’s my past. Considering my past and thinking about the present, where I am today. The past and present, where I am today—Senior Pastor at Fellowship Church, married 22 years, 4 kids and all that. 6’1 and 185 lbs…. And in thinking about the future—where God wants me to go, what I need to do with my life—what is the best answer for me?
So, thinking about my past, my present, and future, what’s the best answer for me? But first of all, I’ve got to ask God, others, and then ask myself. You start doing that, and the answers will just leap out at you and me and we’ll do the right thing.
Man this is some heavy stuff. I want to go on to something else. But I can’t, because we’re out of time. This really brings the whole thing together. See the back of your outline? Next time I’ll do this. See 1, 2, 3, and 4 [on the outline]? I’m going to talk about four zones that all of our questions should fall into when we’re talking to God and others and ourselves.
And then, here is what’s really cool about this, I’m going to talk about the spin cycle that these four questions put us in. Because those big, green boxes, those are some scary boxes. You can look at any question and any answer and put them in these boxes, because we start off with these questions and these four zones and then we’re put into a spin cycle. And a lot of people are afraid of the spin cycle. But the spin cycle is amazing, because it will produce incredible growth in your life and in my life.
So if you are a corporate executive, if you are in some kind of blended family situation, if you are dating somebody, if you are thinking about making a big decision, make sure you bring this back with you next week because we will complete it. This grid is a template of pretty much every decision, every answer that we use here at Fellowship Church and that I use in my life.
And then we’ll talk about the right answers. See, I’ve already given you a blank. And I won’t fill in the rest. But what are the right answers. What do they look like?
Here’s the bottom line. The bottom line is that many of you are just one question away from a breakthrough. Many of you are just one question away from stepping up to the next level. Some of you are one question away from having your eternity sealed. Your task is the ask. It’s always seeking knowledge. Let’s pray together.