THE BEST AND WORST
JANUARY 11, 1998
I am going to ask you to do something this morning. Please look back over your shoulder for just a second. Now look back at me. In today’s message we are going to do just that. We are going to look back over our shoulder at 1997. Writers and TV hosts are doing it, aren’t they? Everywhere we turn these days we see the best and worst lists. Then these armchair experts follow up these lists with their predictions for the upcoming year.
During my research, I ran into best and worst lists concerning towing services, restrooms, face lifts, and even coffee. I hate to admit it, but I even lowered myself and perused the tabloids to see what they publicized as their predictions. I want to read a couple to you. Tabloid psychic, Athena Starwoman, predicts this for 1998. She says that OJ Simpson will be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. That is earth shattering, isn’t it? She predicts also that Prince William, that teenage heartthrob, will have many unusual accidents. I thought that’s what being a teenager meant—having unusual accidents.
Some other predictions: the stock market will rise and fall again several times. Government and civic leaders will take on platforms such as quality of life, ethics, integrity, and family values. That is pretty profound, isn’t it? And this last one I reserved just for the singles here. One psychic says that if you have been looking for a soul mate or a partner, 1998 is your year to meet that special someone. All right! You heard it here first.
Now all of this reading and research got me to thinking. What if God sort of came up with the best and worst list for your life and mine for 1997? And then, what if He followed it up with a bunch of predictions for the upcoming year? What would it look like? How would it read? Basically, God’s word, the Bible, talks about four major areas of life. I want to come up with what I feel is God’s best and worst and prediction list for our lives today. You won’t find this list in Time, Newsweek, or some tabloid. It is only found in the scripture.
The first area I want to hit on is an area where it really hurts, the physical domain. I am talking about the body. Most people are staggered when they realize how much the Bible talks about our physical being. The best for 1997, scripturally speaking, are those of us who ate sensibly and exercised regularly. Conversely, the worst were those of us who consumed a destructive diet and settled into a sedentary lifestyle. The Bible says from cover to cover that what we put into our bodies and how we use our bodies matters to God.
There was an Old Testament character named Daniel. During his teenage years, Daniel was deported from him homeland to Babylon. He had three friends with some weird names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Well the King of Babylon intended to use these guys in his court so he wanted to feed them from his table with rich, cholesterol-laden food. Daniel would have no part of that. Look what Daniel did. Daniel 1:8, “Daniel made up his mind he would not defile himself or his body with the king’s rich food.” Daniel stepped up and spoke up for his little group. He said, “King, I will make a deal with you. You give us just vegetables and water, but feed the other guys what they choose from your table. After a 10-day time period, let’s see who looks better and performs better.” The King told Daniel that he had a lot of guts and that he was on. Ten days later Daniel and his three friends with strange names, having consumed water and vegetables, looked better and performed better than the rest.
I am not going to bore you with all of the minute details of a proper diet plan because there is a plethora of books on the subject. You can read until your eyes get tired about the subtle nuances of foods that are good for you. I will say, though, based on the Bible that we need to think about what we put into our bodies.
Now this is the time of year when exercise equipment and health clubs are hawked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can’t thumb through the paper or surf through the channels without coming in contact with bulging biceps and buns of steel. They are everywhere. And this fitness frenzy usually lasts about six weeks until we drop the membership of the club and use the newly purchased health equipment to hang clothes on. Then we know that it is over.
Some of us even take it to the extreme and get into what I call body worship. Body worship is sad because most of us are chasing after unrealistic images. Those airbrushed images or those genetic marvels on the fronts of magazine covers are what we work out and diet to become. We think if we diet, work out, and wear our hair differently we will look like Tyra Banks or George Clooney. Well, I hate to rain on your party but it is not going to happen. Genetically we don’t look like that and we can’t be airbrushed. But sadly we have a lot of people with severe psychological and eating disorders because they are chasing after some Madison-Avenue-driven image that is not even real.
Some of you are asking why I am so fired up about diet and exercise. What is the deal? Do I want a church full of buff believers? No, that is not the case. I just want us to contemplate what scripture says regarding our bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you that you have received from God. You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore honor God with your body.” What an incredible verse. God’s word says that our bodies are a dwelling place for him. The moment that we receive Jesus Christ into our lives, He places the person of the Holy Spirit in us and our bodies become His dwelling place. In other words, don’t trash the temple. Take care of it.
In eleven weeks we are moving into our brand new facility, right across the freeway from Grapevine Mills Mall. There is a picture of it as you open up your bulletin. Now, what if I instructed you during the first weekend of services to trash our church. What if I handed out razor blades, cans of spray paint, and axes and told you to obliterate the building, to just trash it. You would say I had lost my mind. We wouldn’t think about doing that because the church reflects Christ and His relationship to us. It is that which is most near and dear to the heart of God. It is the most important entity in the universe.
We wouldn’t think about messing up our church. We will have security out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will have an alarm system, cleaning services. It is going to be a beautiful facility for decade after decade after decade to reach hundreds and thousands of people for the cause of Christ. We are going to take care of our church. We are going to take care of our temple. Yet, if the bold truth were known, many of us cut away and spray paint and trash our bodies with the junk we put into them.
The best or the worst? What is it going to be for you? Well God wants the best for you. And here is God’s prediction if you do the best, physically speaking. Romans 12:1, “If we offer our bodies living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, it will move us into new realms of worship.” There are a lot of misconceptions about worship. Worship doesn’t just happen when you lift your hands and sing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Worship doesn’t just happen when you hear a message or are motivated by a stirring drama. Worship also occurs concerning how we handle our bodies, how we present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. A lot of us are not giving Him a good, living sacrifice; we are giving Him a tired, overweight sacrifice.
Let’s move to the second area, the spiritual area. Here is what I believe God would say to us looking back over 1997, spiritually speaking. He would say that the best are those of us who put the pursuit of Christ at the top of our to-do list. On the other hand, the worst were those who decided to regress spiritually and cut off their interaction with God.
Now let me tell you what it means to become a Christ-follower. Once you bow the knee and open up the lid of your heart and ask Christ to come in, you have a personal relationship with Him. You see, Christianity is not just a set of ideologies. It is not just a creed or a dogma. It is not just voting Republican. It is more than that. Being a Christian is talking and living with God.
You see a Christ-follower has dozens and dozens of intimate interactions with God during the day that only the person and God are privy to. A person who knows Christ personally reads the Bible. This person knows that the Bible is a light that illuminates our path. It is a flashlight of faith that shows us what to do in marriage, how to rear children, what decisions to make in the marketplace. And people who know Christ know that it opens up windows of understanding.
Also, Christ followers schedule their lives around the church. They know that in the context of corporate worship God speaks profoundly and intimately. How many times have we walked out of one of these services saying to ourselves that we are glad we were present because the teaching, the song, the reading targeted us personally in a profound way even though surrounded by hundreds of others. We know that if we had not been present, we would have missed it.
If you experienced the worst spiritually in 1997 or want to in 1998, let me tell you how to slide spiritually. Let me tell you how to regress. First, cut your prayers in half. Don’t ever think about praying at meal times or at bed times. Don’t journal; don’t write your prayers down. Just do those sprinkler prayers. Don’t dive deep. Stay a long way away from the Bible. You don’t want to read the book if you want to regress spiritually, because if you read the book, it will show you what to do. If you want to regress, you want to stay in the darkness, not in the light. So stay a country mile away from the book.
Also get involved in sporadic church attendance. Don’t expose yourself to high octane services like we have around here. Don’t do that. Don’t have your children in Planet 45 or Children’s Church. Don’t have your young people in The Edge youth ministry. Don’t go to Singles Bible Study. Don’t even think about going to a small group. We have small groups that meet all around this area. If you do that, you will discover what it means to have Christian relationships. Stay away from that. Then you will go through the spiritual elective slide and you will kind of fall away from where God wants you to be.
Well, God doesn’t want that, He wants the best for you and for me. Here is His prediction if we choose the best for our lives. Matthew 6:33, “If you seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these things will be given to you.” Things like power, a true purpose for living, love, mercy, and a clear conscience. And quite frankly, I think it would be worth being a Christian even if there was no such thing as heaven just to have a clear conscience. But we know there is a heaven. I just want to throw that in. What a prediction. If we put the pursuit of Christ at the top of our to-do list, we will have all these things added to us.
We talked about the physical domain, the spiritual domain, now let’s hit the financial domain. Money. Our money matters to God. The best were those of us who spent conservatively and gave liberally. The worst were those of us who busted our budget and who threw coins at the cause of Christ. Many here did the best financially speaking. You realized that money is a gift from God and you are merely trustees of it. You don’t really own it; you just manage it.
Every year our church elects trustees from this congregation. One of their main responsibilities is to oversee the finances of our church. They know that it is not their money. They don’t get paid for it. They steward it properly. And that is the kind of view that we should have every time we make any money. We are just trustees of it. How are you doing financially? How have you done over the last twelve months? Did you live on the baseline of a budget? Did you save strategically and spend wisely and give liberally? Did you teach your children the value of living conservatively? Did you do that? Many did.
How about giving? Did you give liberally? God says that those of us who are Christ followers should give a minimum of 10% of everything we make to the local church. That means every deal, every transaction, every amount of interest made, we should give it to God’s church. God doesn’t force us to do it. He just challenges us to do it.
For a long time I was scared to teach about money. We live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area where televangelist wackos promise that if you give them money you will get back a million dollars. That is wild, non-Biblical stuff, so I kind of shied away from even speaking about money. I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But as I have become more and more a student of God’s word, I have realized how much Jesus talked about money. If I withhold teaching about it, I am withholding the blessings of God on your life. And if you withhold giving and spending and saving conservatively then you are going to withhold God’s supernatural intervening in your life. We have a great group of givers and savers in this church. Others have a ways to go.
A couple of weeks ago I did some number-crunching. I found out that it takes $85,000 a week for our church to operate. To pay for all of the semi-trucks to move us in and out of the high school, and our rent of the high school, to pay for the office space across the street, to pay for our staff and all of the programs, to pay on our $16 million building takes about $85,000 a week. We take in about $87,000 to $90,000 a week. That is incredible; it is great.
It takes a lot of money to make our church go. Let’s be conservative and say we have only 4,500 members. Let’s say, hypothetically, that the 4,500 members made below the poverty level, every one of them. Let’s say that they gave 10% of what they made to the church. If they did that our weekly receipts instead of being $87,000 to $90,000 a week would be $130,000 a week. It is incredible. So I challenge you one more time. When you withhold your gifts from God’s church, you are basically withholding God from supernaturally blessing your life.
I talked to some friends of mine who attend this church, and they said something to me that really helped me, financially speaking. They were talking about the importance of saving. They were talking about the importance of spending strategically and they talked about giving. They said that whenever they were blessed financially they had a tendency to hold onto it. I admitted that that was the same for me, that it was part of human nature. But they added that they now find it motivates them to give more to the church and that very act breaks the back of greed and selfishness. What a great word.
The best and the worst, financially, what is it going to be for you? Well listen to this prediction. The results of giving generously are contained in Malachi 3:10, “See if I will not throw open the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.” I don’t know about you, but I like that. I want to be blessed and I am blessed.
Let’s talk about the fourth area—relationships. Life is relationships. The best are those of us who realized and became acutely aware of relational authenticity. The worst would be those of us who stagnated relationally because of destructive friendships.
Now some of us have some friends who are not the best for us. These friends seem like good friends, but if we do some real study, we know they kind of hold us back. But we play games with ourselves. We say that this person makes us laugh. Another really listens to us. That person likes to travel, and I like to travel with him or her. Well, all of that is good, but what else do you have to put up with to receive those benefits? Ask yourself that question.
Relationships are either progressing or regressing. You are either moving forward or they are taking you down. How about your friendships. Are they healthy? The greatest friendships and relationships are those based on God. We are to have a lot of friends, but our closest companions must be those who have Jesus as a common denominator. After all, He is the author of relationships.
Everytime I think about friendships I think about David in the book of 1 Samuel. You remember that teenager who pulled the upset of upsets when he took down that terrible titan, the behemoth Goliath. This Hebrew hick, David, a sheepherder, overnight became the man, the toast of the town, the fair-haired boy. He was on the front page of every periodical, the lead story of every newscast. He was the man. King Saul was jealous because David was fighting his battles. King Saul was so jealous that he put a hit out on David, and for ten years David did the fugitive thing.
Saul had a son named Jonathan. He was David’s contemporary. You would think that Jonathan, who was heir to the throne, would have been jealous of David since he knew that he was anointed to be the next king of Israel. Yet Jonathan shows us what true friendship is all about. In the midst of this turmoil, Jonathan takes the initiative and he bridges a major chasm.
Think about the bridge he had to build. He had to go over a social chasm, an economic chasm, and yet he reached across and they became soul mates, best friends. Why? Because they had God, the author and creator of friendship in their lives. I challenge you, ladies and gentlemen, to do an inventory of your friendships. And if you have any that are pulling you back, back off from them. Pray about them. Talk to Jesus, the authority on relationships, and He will show you what to do.
What if, after you have lunch and go home and check all the messages on your machine, you find that you have one from Tiger Woods. Wouldn’t that kind of freak you out? It would freak me out. And what if Tiger said, “Hey, I am Tiger Woods and I am stopping my schedule for the next six months. I am not playing any golf, doing any appearances for Nike, no promotions. I am at your service. I want to help you become a great golfer and it is free of charge. Here is my number. Call me back.” How many golfers do we have here? Do you think that we would return that call? You better believe it! Tiger Woods is an authority on golf at a really young age. It would be ludicrous for us to say, “Tiger, I appreciate the call, but I want to continue to play my slice and just hack away.” That would be nuts, wouldn’t it?
Yet we have the world champion on relationships, the Lord Himself, offering Himself to us to try to motivate us and help us connect with the right people. Yet most of us say we will just continue to play our slice and hack away relationally speaking. The best or the worst? Again we have another profound prediction. Proverbs 13:20, “If we walk with the wise, we will become wise. If we associate with fools, we will suffer harm.” God wants the best for all of us here, relationally.
So think about your life physically, spiritually, financially, and relationally. Think back over 1997, and then think about these predictions. Now one more time I am going to ask you to look over your shoulder and this time wave goodbye to 1997. Now let’s look ahead to 1998 because God wants us to have a great ‘98. He wants us to experience the best.
Every time I speak it always comes down to the same thing, every time. It is our choice. It is our move. The ball is in our court. We either live out these predictions or not. It is either the best or the worst. What’s it going to be for you?