November 5-6, 2005
This past week I’ve been asking myself some questions. I think it’s great to ask yourself questions. But when I ask myself questions I usually stop with my own answers. And when I do that, my answers usually fall into the category of what makes Ed look good, what puts wind in Ed’s sail, what gives him significance?
But I’ve been trying to go deeper with the questions, so not only have I been asking myself these questions, I’ve also been asking God these questions. They’re some pretty deep questions. And when you ask God these questions, the answers that he gives you are really interesting. In this series over the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about some questions that I’ve asked God. And then I’m going to reveal to you some answers. And as I unpack this stuff I’m going to share with you about some details in my life that I’ve never shared before in the public forum. I’m going to use myself as a guinea pig, a lab rat, if you will.
And I think as I do that, several things will unfold. First of all, I think you will get to know be better, which is cool, I hope. Secondly, I think you’ll get to know yourself better, because I’m going to challenge you to ask yourself and God these same questions. And then thirdly, we’ll get to know the Lord better. And that’s the goal of this whole thing. So, what I’m going to talk to you about are some questions that I’ve asked God about myself. It’s called “Why I”.
Now, these answers are not one word answers or one sentence answers. They’re much more profound than that. And I think as I share with you the pilgrimage that God has taken me on, I think you’ll understand a little bit about where I’m going.
Today I’m going to begin with, I would say, the most basic question in life, “Why do I live?” Or you could say, “Why am I here?” We usually ask ourselves that question. Why am I here? Why am I alive? That’s a great place to start.
Well, the Bible challenges us to ask that question. In Lamentations 3:40 it says, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”
WHY I LIVE
So the Bible promises you and me, if we examine ourselves that will help us return to the Lord. Here’s the question—why do I live? Why do I live? I asked God that question about my life. And here’s where he led me as I wrote down some things in my journal.
THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE WANTS ME TO LIVE
The first reason why I live is because the God of the universe wants me to live. I mean, God made me in his image. He created me to live, not just exist. My life is not just about existing, taking up space and God’s grace on planet earth. My life is not about recreating, procreating, doing deals and dying. No. My life is much more significant than that. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
I grew up in a pastor’s home. My dad is a preacher, and people ask me all the time, “What was it like growing up in that environment?”
And I usually respond by saying, “Well, have you ever seen an aquarium?”
People say, “Well, yeah.”
And I say, “Well, that’s what it’s like growing up pastor’s home. People are always watching you.”
I can never remember a time in my life where I was not recognized by a bunch of people I didn’t know. When I was little, they wanted to hold me. Now they don’t want to hold me; they want to ask me questions.
So I grew up in that environment and at very young age, when I was eight years old, I became a Christ follower. Because I grew up in the church, because my parents are great Christians, I understood the fact as a young guy that I was separated from God because of my sin. I understood that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and I became a Christian in a fellowship hall.
Do we have any Baptists in the house? If you’re a Baptist lift your hands. I’m a recovering Baptist. Well, Baptists have this big, gargantuan room called the fellowship hall. Baptists say they don’t drink, but in the Fellowship Hall, man, they would get into a feeding frenzy! Baptists know how to eat! I mean they can eat and eat and eat. And in that fellowship hall in that Baptist church I became a believer.
And God, who had always been so tender and gracious to me at a young age, became very real to me early in life. And so I fell in love with the church and the people in the church. And as a pastor’s kid, I moved around a lot.
My father did something that was weird. Most of the time, if you know pastors, when they go from one church to the next, they always go to a bigger church with more people and more money. Dad always went the opposite route. He always went to a smaller church, which was very different. So we moved around a lot.
We moved from Irwin, North Carolina to Canton, North Carolina; from Canton, North Carolina to Taylors, South Carolina; from Taylors, South Carolina to Columbia, South Carolina; from Columbia, South Carolina to Houston, Texas; from Houston, Texas to Tallahassee, Florida; from Tallahassee back to Houston; and from Houston now to Dallas.
That’s a lot of movement, a lot of contrast. I had a good time moving because it taught me that people are people. And it taught me how to take some relational risks and to meet some different people. And that was a very exciting thing growing up.
When I was a young guy, I fell in love with basketball. Baptist churches usually have a fellowship hall and a gymnasium, so I played basketball a lot because I was at church a lot. And I think I played ball a lot because my father really enjoys athletics. And because he likes basketball and he was a very good player, I played and I became a pretty good player.
When I was in the 8th grade, I went to a junior high school in Columbia, South Carolina, that fed the largest high school in the state, Spring Valley. It was a huge 5A school. I was so good in the 8th grade that the junior varsity coach from the high school plucked me from my junior high existence and put me on the junior varsity team—as an 8th grader! So here I am, an 8th grade kid, 13 years old, playing basketball for the largest high school in the state. And I’m hanging around with sophomores and juniors. That was a huge contrast!
So at an early age, I had to make some major relational and behavioral decisions. For example, who would I run with and who would I stay away from? What would I put in my body? What would I not put in my body? Where would I go? Where were the places I would not go?
I was the only 8th grader in the entire junior high to play for Spring Valley and a lot of people knew about it. But I made a choice as a young guy to be very intentional about my friendships and relationships. I did not hang out with the popular crowd. I did not hang out with the jocks. I did not hang out with those people. I knew them. I was kind to them. But I only had two or three friends. And I felt a lot of loneliness going to the public schools I attended. I went to very, very tough public schools. They were economically diverse and racially diverse. There were also some very tense times in the Deep South.
So, I’m going to tell you something. If you’re a young guy or young girl, if you are single adult, God never asks you to sacrifice just for sacrifice sake. Never. Never. He never says, “Sacrifice, just because I want you to sacrifice and sacrifice.” Yes, God asks us to sacrifice. But remember, there are always blessings when we sacrifice. And if you don’t believe me, just look at me. You’re looking at the result of the sacrifices and blessings that God has brought forth in my life. You are looking at the results of the blessings. Because as a young person, I stayed away from that stuff. It would get me all messed up and wheels off. I didn’t smoke the weed. I didn’t have sex with all the girls. I did not do that. At a young age, I wanted to honor God. Now I was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I made that choice.
I played my 9th grade year and during my 9th grade year something significant happened in my life. This hot girl joined our church. Her name was Lisa. All the guys were like, “Man, have you seen this girl?!” And I was kind of intimidated to talk to her.
A mutual friend of ours, David “Bubbles” Swindler, gave me a note one day. I opened the note up and it said, “Ed, call Lisa. She would love to hear from you.”
So I called Lisa on the phone and we talked. And the rest, as they say, is history. Bubbles helped us make that love connection, you know. David “Bubbles” Swindler, what a guy! I found out later that Lisa did not put Bubbles up to giving me the note. He just did that on his own.
What’s so funny about it was that after Lisa and I had been talking to each other, dating for 3 months, I said, “Lisa, you might think I’m crazy, but I’m going to marry you one day.”
She was like, “Marry me? I’m going to become a flight attendant and travel the world! Marriage?”
But I persisted and pursued and now she’s my wife. We’ve been married for 24 years. That was quite an experience.
So during that time, I was playing more and more basketball. I had an opportunity after my sophomore year to attend an invitation only basketball camp. At this camp, the best players in the east converged in a small town in Georgia—Millersville. 250 college scouts were there to watch us play five games a day. I was fortunate enough to have several good games, so a lot of schools began to talk to me: Norte Dame, NC State, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, etc. So I’m thinking, “Man, I might have a chance to play college basketball! I mean, I might play major college basketball, because things are going well!” And I was dating this beautiful girl, who was a great Christian, and we were involved there at the church, and I’m thinking, “This is going to be awesome! I’m going into my senior year now, and this is going to be the best. It’s gonna be off the hook!”
Well, at the end of my junior year in high school, my father walked in and announced to us that we were moving to Houston, Texas. That was a big change. Houston, Texas—the land of cowboys and cactus, big hair and all that? Houston? “Dad, I’m going into my senior year. I mean I have a chance for a full ride. Houston?!”
And the more we talked about it, and the more our family prayed about it, the peace of God came over us and I knew it was the right thing to do as a young guy. I knew it. I knew God was in it. And it was a difficult thing to say goodbye to Lisa. We’d been dating for over two years. But we made the move to Houston, over 1,000 miles away. Now, I thought, “Okay, I can finish up my high school career and wherever I get a scholarship, Lisa and I will just go to that same school. Then we’ll get married.” That was the plan.
Now I want to talk to you again about this contrast thing. Talk about contrast! I grew up in a very, very middle class environment. We wore blue jeans and tee shirts to school. That was it. We moved from the Deep South to an area of Houston that was like Highland Park on steroids. Dad moved from a church in South Carolina that had thousands to a church that was running around 700 people. I was thinking, “This is really odd.” It was a culture shock for me.
Now I was going to high school with all these wealthy people. And to show you how ignorant I was, I remember asking someone, “What are those horses on people’s clothes?” They looked at me and said, “That’s Polo, man! Where have you been?” I remember seeing several cars that had these big hood ornaments, the round hood ornaments with things that looked like an upside down Y. “What is that?” “It’s a Mercedes. It’s a Benz!” I didn’t even know what they were.
That year in Houston was a very, very tough year for me because I had a coach that not only betrayed me, but betrayed my family. After 10 or 15 games I caught a severe case of mononucleosis. But pre-season, I was picked by Dave Campbell as one of the top twelve recruits in the state of Texas. Everything was going great, but I had to quit during the middle of my senior year. And if any of you know anything about athletics, you know, if you don’t play your senior year (at least most of it), you’re dreams are dashed. It’s history. Lights out. And a lot of schools that were talking to me backed off.
But because I played well in some camps and I did pretty well in South Carolina, the head coach at Florida State signed me to a full scholarship. So I spent a year in Houston, graduated there from the high school and then (I can’t believe my parents did this), my parents drove 1,003 miles to Tallahassee, Florida, and dropped me off in the middle of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I moved into a co-ed, privately-owned dorm. The basketball players had their own rooms with maid service. This dorm had a full bar on the bottom floor with hard liquor and everything. Lisa lived in the dorm, not with me, but with some roommates. And I met some pretty crazy people down there. Florida State Basketball—Division 1! I thought to myself, “This is it!”
My head coach, a really nice guy, was kind of an open guy, you might say. Our team was rated in the top 25 my freshman year and the top 14 my sophomore year. And our coach was known to recruit just incredible athletes. We had guys that should have played in North Carolina, Duke, UCLA. In fact, many of them did, but because of their criminal activity or drug abuse they were thrown out of those schools. And our coach would say, “Welcome! Come to Tallahassee. We’ll take care of you. Ed will keep you calm.”
That’s why he recruited me. I was a calming force. I could pray before every game and lead the team in prayer. It was awesome. In high school I was the star player. I scored pretty much when I wanted to. But Florida State was a different world. The two guys that played in front of me went on to play in the NBA. And as a freshman, I had a hard time even bringing the ball up court in practice, they were so quick. And then, if you ever made it around one of those guys, you had three guys from 6’9 to 7’2 who could jump out of the gym to throw your shot into the upper deck. So it was a rude awakening.
And I was really persecuted for my faith at Florida State. I was the only Christian on the team. 700 people lived in our dorm. Only 3 out of 700 went to church. And my teammates were like, “Man, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you smoke the weed with us? Why don’t you do the dope with us? We have all these hookers on the road and you don’t even have sex with them. You don’t even have sex with Lisa. What’s wrong with you!?”
Day in and day out I felt large levels of loneliness. I went through depression because it was just falling apart for me. Yet, by God’s grace and power, he gave me the ability to remain strong.
But every day before practice, I remember I’d get there early; I’d get all taped up and get my uniform on and I would go up this staircase to this little window overlooking our gym where we’d practice and I would say, “God, I give basketball, I give this whole thing, to you. I am in Sodom and Gomorrah. I don’t know why I’m in this hellhole. Use me, God, in any way possible.” I had to pray that over and over and over again every single day.
I met a guy on my team named Rodney. Rodney was the wildest guy on the team. He was a phenomenal athlete. Everybody was scared to death of him, and the coach would always put me with him on road trips. Rodney and I had a couple of discussions about my life and about Christianity, but nothing in depth. He was like talking to a brick wall.
My freshman year I sat on the bench pretty much the whole year. We’d play on ESPN or some other national television show and my mom would call and say, “Honey, I saw you. You’re hair looked great on the bench.”
And then, during the starting line ups on television games, I’d try to get to the end of the line so the camera could see me clapping for them. It was pitiful. But Lisa went to every single game and sat right behind me, staring at my back the whole game.
Rodney, though, my wild friend, was a prophet. Because one day he said, “You know what? I’ve got a good name for you—the Reverend! You act like a Reverend.”
So everybody on the team started calling me the Reverend. The Rev. He was a prophet, wasn’t he?
So, at the end of my freshman year there was an NBA player who came down to practice with us and play. He was really nice to me and gave me a lot of confidence and I began to improve. That summer I was able to play with a bunch of NBA players from Houston and I gained more confidence. And in my sophomore year, I won a starting position for the game against Auburn. I was starting and I thought, “Man, this is it! I’m starting as a sophomore. Our team is a top 25 team. This is incredible!”
I remember calling my parents and saying, “Mom and Dad, I’m starting at this game! This is going to be the ultimate.”
And I’ll never forget it. The announcer at the game said, “Starting at guard, number 12 from Houston, Texas; 6’2, 172 pounds—Ed Young!” I walked out on the court and I thought to myself, “This is it? I’m standing here in short shorts (this was the 80’s) with tube socks, trying to put a leather ball through an iron ring. So, this is my life. Wow, this is it?” It’s like God was saying to me, “There’s something more.”
I had an okay game. I did all right my sophomore year. I even got to play a lot in a few games. I didn’t play for 4 or 5 or 10 games straight, but I was there man supporting the team.
And during that year I went to this Bible study at our church and I remember the college pastor saying, “I’m going to challenge you to do something. I’m going to challenge all of you to pray that God would bring a non-Christian into your life.” I was like, “Pray to God to bring them into my life? They’re everywhere!” All these church people were like, “Oh, yeah, okay. Amen!” I just remember thinking, “If you only knew Rodney!”
Even our coaches were crazy. I’ve talked to a number of people who have played college athletics and the weirdest thing is that we had no training rules at Florida State. We’d take road trips and we’d have rental cars at our disposal. Can you imagine turning our team loose on Bourbon Street when we played the University of New Orleans with no curfew the night before the game? And I had to keep Rodney calm? Ugh. I can’t believe I was there. I really can’t. Only by God’s grace did I make it out.
Well, then this pastor said, “Not only do I want you to pray that God will bring a non-Christian into your life, I want you to ask God to give you the words to say to them about Jesus Christ.”
I thought to myself, “Now that’s a good challenge. I’ve never really shared Jesus with someone. And that’s pretty stout.”
So that night I went back to my dorm room, in Cash Hall, hit my knees, rested my elbows on that air-conditioning unit, looked out over a darkened parking lot, and I said, “God give me the words to say to these people you’ve brought into my life.”
The next day I walked into class with a friend of mine, let’s just say his name was Scott. We’re walking together and this guy goes, “Hey, Ed, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Man, you might get kind of mad, but I was in your room the other night and I took this notebook thing you had and I began to read through it.”
And automatically I knew he was reading my journal. And I write some pretty intimate stuff in my journal as I pray, so I was angry, “WHAT?! You read my journal without asking me?”
He said, “Yeah, man, just wait.” Then he said, “There’s something different about you. I’ve been watching you—the way you handle yourself, the way you treat Lisa.” And he looked at me with tears in his eyes and he said, “I want what you have.”
I was blown away. I just prayed for this opportunity the night before. So that night in Scott’s dorm room, through my stutterings and stumblings, I found the opportunity to lead him into a personal relationship with Christ. And that Sunday, Lisa and I took Scott to our church. And for the first time I saw church through his eyes. It was horrible. The music, the words—he couldn’t connect with it. The pastor was using Christianese and Scott was lost. He didn’t understand what was going on.
When Lisa and I were 19 years old, I didn’t realize it then, God was planning the vision and the style of Fellowship Church in our lives. What could have happened in Scott’s life if Fellowship Church had been in Tallahassee, Florida? I don’t know. I think his life would be different than it is today. Why do I live? Because God made me to live.
GOD HAS MOLDED AND SHAPED ME THROUGH A KALEIDOSCOPIC RANGE OF ENVIRONMENTS AND INFLUENCES
Why do I live? Because God has used a kaleidoscopic range of environments and influences in people to give me the impact that I’m having now in my life. From Florida State, I went back to Houston between my sophomore and junior years and I began to speak to a lot of students and do a lot of camps. And God began to tug at my heart. I felt this leading, this pull, this calling, if you will, to go into the ministry.
And I was like, “Okay, wait a minute. I’ve worked my entire life, since I was 8 years old, to play college athletics. And here I am.” I knew I was not going to be a star player, especially at Florida State, but I had a full ride. I asked God, “You mean I should give this stuff up?” And I was beginning to feel that leading. I just felt a disconnect, even from basketball, which was my identity.
I remember walking into my father’s bedroom one night and I said, “Dad, I think I’m feeling led to go into the ministry.”
And here’s what my father told me. He said, “Son, if you can do anything else and be happy, do that. Don’t go into the ministry unless it’s the only thing you know for sure that God wants you to do.”
Obviously, my parents never forced or coerced us to go into the ministry. You can tell by that interchange with my father. So I went back to Florida State, and right before my junior year, I just knew, “This is it. I’m going to give this stuff up.”
And God just spoke to my spirit and said, “Ed, give it up.” So, I walked into the coach’s office and said, “Coach, listen, I’m really feeling led. I need to go into the ministry, and Lisa and I are going to get married soon so I want to give up the scholarship.”
He was like, “Yeah! Now we can get a real player! Okay, see you later.” No, I’m only kidding. He was very kind to me and said to me, “Thanks for being here. I really appreciate your influence on the team.” And he said, “Do you want to stay here and help us out as a quasi assistant coach?”
And I said, “No. I need to go back to Houston and finish up and get married.”
So, I moved back to Houston, Lisa and I got married, and then I finished up at this small Christian school. Talking about a contrast! That was funny. Lisa and I got married and I finished up my undergrad. Then I was ordained into the ministry. They had this big service for several of us being ordained in the ministry. I was preparing to go to seminary for the next four years. After the service, all of us were standing down front and people were coming by to say, “Oh, we’re so happy. You’re following in your father’s footsteps. God bless you. We’re praying for you.” And all of a sudden this guy walks up to me, hugs me and says, “Ed, I’m just so proud of you.” And I’m thinking, “Who is this guy? I’ve never seen him before.” He said, “Man, I know you were a star player for Florida State and for you to give up your basketball career for the ministry is just awesome, man.”
I said, “I was a bench warmer. I only lettered one year. I only started 2 games. I was not a star.”
He said, “You’re just being humble.”
“No I’m not!”
And he walked off. And I said, “Lisa, who was that guy?”
And someone said, “I think he’s an attorney.”
I said, “Oh, okay.”
So, the next night Lisa and I are sitting there in our little apartment, newly weds. All of a sudden the phone rings at 10:30. I pick it up, and the voice on the other end goes, “Ed?”
I’m said, “Who is this? Excuse me, I don’t recognize the voice.”
He said, “I was the guy that got emotional last night. Anyway, tomorrow morning I’m flying out with George Foreman, the former heavy weight champion of the world, and a writer from Sports Illustrated, Gary Smith, and we’re going to an Olympic gold medal winner banquet. I wondered if you wanted to go along with us?” I said, “Hold on just one second. Yes! I’ll be there.”
Let me press the pause button for just a second. Ever since I shared the gospel with my teammate Scott, I was praying that high risk prayer consistently. “God you bring non-Christian people, disconnected people, de-churched people into my life and give me the words to say to them.”
So the next morning I find myself in first class with George Foreman on my right, the writer from Sports Illustrated on my left, and my attorney friend across the isle as we’re flying to Los Angeles. It was surreal.
When we land, this big limousine picks us up, we drive through Beverly Hills and pull up to this really posh hotel. We get out, the security is everywhere and then we walk up the back steps. And as we make our way into this little room, I look around and I see all these Olympic gold medalists—Bruce Jenner, Edwin Moses, etc. I was trying to be cool, but I was amazed.
And then George Foreman and my friend said, “Ed, let’s walk this way.” So we turned and walked this way and I see Mohammed Ali stand up, hugs George Foreman, and I’m standing there like with my mouth wide open. And my friend says, “Mohammed, I want you to meet Ed Young. He was just ordained into the ministry.” And Mohamed hugs me and then gets about 6 inches from my face and he says, “Are you a Christian preacher?”
I said, “Yes, Mohammed.”
He says, “I want to talk to you about Jesus.”
I said, “Okay.”
So I sat here sandwiched between George Foreman and Mohammed Ali. And Ali has his elbows resting on my knees. He was a gargantuan guy.
And to show you how God works: my father is close friends with Billy Graham and Mohammed had just been out to Billy Graham’s house. This is not in the press. Ali spent 3 hours talking with Billy Graham about Jesus Christ. So I knew that. That was a total God thing. There was a common bond there.
And as we began to talk Ali says, “Do you think Jesus is a white Jesus?”
I said, “Mohammed, Jesus was not white. You’re a light skinned black guy, and his skin tone was probably even darker than yours.”
And so we started talking on and on about difference between Islam and Christianity. I said, “Christianity is not a works based deal. The deal has been done. Islam, it’s all about do this, you can’t do that. It’s a different deal.”
So we went on and on. And George Foreman, of course, is a Christian, so we all talked and talked and talked. And then after this long conversation, Mohammed goes, “Why don’t you guys come over to my house?”
I’m like, “I’m ready!”
But my friend said, “No, no, we have to get back. Ed’s got class tomorrow.”
I said, “I’ll skip!”
So, when you pray that high risk prayer; when you pray that high risk prayer, you never know who God will put into your path.
I’ve discovered something. People are people, whether you’re Scott, or Rodney, or Mohammed Ali. White collar, pink collar, polka dot collar, or blue collar; people are people, and people need Jesus.
I finished up my seminary. That was four years of fun! Taking Greek and Hebrew and all the theological courses. In fact, my Hebrew professor came to Fellowship Church last night. He was talking to one of our staff members and he said, “I can’t believe Ed even passed! He was never at class.”
But I was married and working full time and going to the seminary, so he cut me some slack. Hebrew, man, that was tough. That was very tough. So after seminary I worked for my father’s church. And my father is an outstanding leader, and under his leadership and obviously from God’s grace, his church grew, at the time, to the largest church in America. And that was fun to be a part of that and to see what went on.
During that time I did hundreds of weddings and a lot of funerals. I even did some work on television and spoke a good bit when Dad was out of town. And I just began to feel a strong leading, a calling, to pastor my own church.
I said, “I want a church to be different. I want a church where anyone can understand what was going on, whether you’re a Hebrew professor or whether you’re a wheels off Florida State teammate.”
I wanted it to be understandable so people could hear and apply what was going on. And I began to study the Scriptures and see that God is creative. And I think the church should be the most created entity in the universe. Boring churches should be unique, not creative ones. Because look at Jesus. He was the most creative teacher and leader in the history of the universe.
So I began to study how he taught and we began to do things like that down in Houston. And then I met this church that was starting up in the Irving area of Dallas Fort Worth. Now here’s what’s so hilarious about that; I told all my friends, “There’s one place I’ll never go. I’ll never go to Dallas Fort Worth to pastor. That’s the belt buckle of the Bible belt with televangelists, seminaries, steeple on every corner. I’m not going there. I want to go to Miami, Las Vegas, Sacramento, or Toronto. I’m not going to Baptistland, USA. I’m not going up there. I’ve had enough of that. I’m not going there.”
Well, don’t ever say that to God. Don’t ever say that. There were 30 families that were starting a church in Irving and I met several people who were on a committee to find the pastor of a church. This church was in rented facilities and everything was projected. They didn’t have any staff members; not even a typewriter, to show you how long ago it was. It was 15 years ago.
So Lisa and I began to talk to these people. We really felt a connection and affinity with them. We prayed about it. I came up here, and there was a hill overlooking the TPC golf course in Irving and I prayed. And God just spoke to me and said, “I want you to do this. I want you to help this church. I want you to take this position.”
It seemed odd, again, a contrast. I was leaving the largest church in America and moving to Irving. Irving was a horrible place to start a church. I didn’t know it. 80% of church starts fail. And you would not want to start a church in Irving, because Irving was a flat-lined community. There was no residential growth. Any time you hear about growing churches, 99.9% of the time they’re around growing communities. I call it dumb growth. Here’s the church, there’s the steeple, open the door and see all the people. They just show up.
Well, in Irving, the people on this committee were great. The location, in my view, was horrible. But the facilities were awesome. We had a little office complex. And once we met there for a while and outgrew that, we moved to a fine arts complex right across the street. Once we outgrew that, we went to MacArthur High School and we had all this ample parking. So the facilities were great.
Anyway, we prayed about it, we said yes and to be boldly honest with you, the first time I saw the church everything in my flesh said, “Leave! You have made a major mistake.”
But the spirit of God said, “Ed, I want you to stay here. You stay here and you commit to this and you follow me.”
People ask me all the time, “ I would love to know about your plans for Fellowship Church over the years and all the long term…”
We’ve never had long term plans or anything. If you had told me 15 years ago that we’d be here, I would have gone, “Man, what are you smoking?”
We had no idea about what God would do. This is a total God thing. I thought it was a bad location; God knew it was a great location. I thought, “I don’t like this or that;” God said, “You stay with me.”
Fellowship Church is a complete God thing. We began to do some different things and we began to think about how Jesus taught 70% words of application, stories, illustrations, and 30% information. He always changed the way he spoke, so we began to change stuff in the church. And God began to bless it and people began to come to Fellowship Church from all over the Metroplex.
But there was something that I was ambushed by as a pastor. Here I’d grown up in a pastor’s home, and I had no idea of the stress and the anxiety and the pressure that my father was under 24/7. People are always looking at you, watching you, where you live, where you don’t live, where you drive, where you don’t drive, what you drink, and what you don’t drink. It is life in a fish bowl. And then people that you trust will stab you in the back. I never had that happen until I became the senior pastor. And a lot of people I trusted bolted on Fellowship Church. They bolted because they didn’t dig the fact that we weren’t reaching a lot of people. When you start a church, I didn’t realize this, you collect a lot of people who are disgruntled from other churches. They’re small fish in big ponds, but they want to be a big fish in a small pond. And once that small pond becomes a big pond, they become a small fish in a big pond and they don’t dig it.
So they began to leave. I almost left myself. I almost bolted after the first year. I went home to Lisa and said, “I’ve had enough. I’m sick of this. I didn’t sign up for this. I want to do something else. I’m tired of this. I’m out of here.”
But you know what? Through prayer and through seeking the mind and heart of God, God kept telling me over and over, “Ed, stay with me. You commit, you crash through this quitting point. You negotiate through the tears and this tough time and the dark valleys. You stay with me.”
And by God’s grace, Lisa and I did. God began to build Fellowship Church in even greater ways. And I’ve discovered every time you go through spiritual warfare there’s always an incredible blessing just around the corner. But most of the time we bail out right before the breakthrough. And I almost bailed, but I didn’t. Had I bailed, I would have missed the greatest ride in my life.
GOD HAS PLACED A CRYSTAL CLEAR CALLING ON MY LIFE
See, that’s the reason I wanted to describe to you about why I live. That’s the third reason. God has placed his crystal clear calling on my life. And this calling is a continual calling every single day. And sometimes the calling is tough. It’s very challenging, sometimes. Sometimes it’s taxing. But the call is there.
And over the years, as we grew, we said, “We’re outgrowing all this stuff. And we began to grow in Irving, Texas. It was a total God thing. And then we started looking for some land, and we heard about the Resolution Trust Corporation dumping land. And there was 159.2 acres this tract of land that they were offering. And they were offering a seal bid type scenario. These companies were bidding and they submitted sealed bids, and a lot of these companies could have written a check for the land no problem. But here’s little Fellowship Church saying, “Okay, here’s our bid.” And we bid 2.5M dollars. And amazingly, the guy that made the decision for the government was a believer and he picked our bid.
One problem though. We didn’t have any money. We found out we had to make a down payment, so our church prayed and went through this great time of sacrificial giving over and above our tithes and offerings and we were able to put a down payment on the land. But we still owed 1.875M on 159.2 acres in Grapevine. Grapevine Mills Mall wasn’t even a thought then. Johnny Morris hadn’t even considered putting Outdoor World over there. There was nothing out here.
A year later, without a sign on the property, we sold 22 acres for 1.875M dollars. Don’t ever sit there are tell me that God is not in the real estate business! You look at Fellowship Church and it’s a total and complete God thing. It really is. Of course, now we have this amazing facility. And on a good weekend we’ll have 20,000 people show up. And now we have three different satellite campuses. We have a television show that is nationally televised as well as in Europe. We have 9,000 pastors across the country and around the world who are connected with Fellowship Church. We have an opportunity to travel the world to talk about Fellowship Church. I have invitations right now to South Africa, to Australia and to London. It’s unbelievable! This has been a total and complete God thing. And I am just so thankful to play a part in God’s redemptive plan.
So I wanted to share my story with you. Now you might be saying, “Well, that’s a pretty unique story! Of course you’ll have a story. You’re the pastor!” Well you have a story that is just as unique and just as powerful and just as life-changing as my story. All our stories are phenomenal! Don’t ever sit there and say, “Well, I don’t have a story.”
Yes you do. Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever asked God that question? “Why do I live?”
Why do you live? You exist because God wanted you to. God has used every life experience, every environment, a kaleidoscopic range of environments in your life to mold you and shape you into the kind of person you are right now.
God has called you. Some have not answered the call, but God has called every single person here. And your call is unique just like my call is unique. Just think about it. Have you ever asked God that question?
I want to challenge you this week to just outline your life story. That’s what I did. Just outline your life story. And ask God, “God, why do I live? God, why am I here?”
Better yet, are you existing? If you’re just existing, you can really live by making the same decision I made in the fellowship hall several years ago. You can just say, “Jesus Christ, come into my life.” You can say that.
Have you shared your story with others? Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 28, “You shall be my witnesses.” What’s a witness? It’s just telling the truth about yourself, what you have seen, what you’ve experienced. Remember Lamentations 3:40, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”
Several weeks ago, something happened at Fellowship Church that has never happened in our history. Rodney, my Florida State teammate who nicknamed me “The Reverend,” sat right there. Right there. And Rodney emailed me the next day.
He wrote, “Ed, that experience changed my life. Thank you,” and he was thanking Fellowship Church, “for not judging me because of my past. I’m a different person because of attending your church.”
Why do I live? Because of people like Rodney. And you have Rodneys in your life, don’t you? That is why you live.