X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
October 21, 2001
Well, it was a typical Saturday. This was long before Fellowship Church had Saturday evening services. I was sort of exhausted from a long week of ministry and I was looking forward to spending a quality day with my family and my children. I was looking forward to having a great breakfast, hanging out with the kids and watching fishing shows for hours. Sure enough, that is what happened. This Saturday was a special Saturday. Throughout the day, as I was enjoying this fun time, I kept thinking to myself, “Ed, you are forgetting something. You are forgetting something important.”
Have you ever had one of those times, when you are doing life, and you say, “I am missing out on something. I am forgetting something in my schedule. I am missing out on a plan.”
But then I thought, “Well, I’ve just been so busy. I’m not really missing something.”
We had dinner. After we finished dinner, it was about 7:30 and Lisa and I were walking through the house. I noticed that one of the children had inadvertently knocked the phone off the hook. I took the phone and put it back on the hook. Once I put it back on the hook, it rang immediately. I picked it up and I will never forget the voice on the other end of the line. I’ll never forget the words.
This woman said, “Ed, where are you?”
I said, “Well, I’m right here in my house with gym shorts and a tank top. Lisa and I just finished a meal.”
The voice said, “You are suppose to be in downtown Dallas doing a wedding right now.”
I thought, “Oh, no. No. I’m going to get dressed right now and I’ll be there.”
She goes, “Don’t even bother. You are thirty minutes late and the bride and groom have already gotten a chaplain. You blew it.” Click.
I still feel bad about it. No wonder I no longer do any weddings. That’s the reason why. What was going on? I’ll tell you what went on. I experienced a serious case of vapor lock. I shut down. I missed it. I forgot about the plans, the agenda. I blew it. It was my fault.
A lot of us live life in vapor lock. Many of us are trying to do our marriages in vapor lock. We are trying to do our careers in vapor lock. We are trying to relate to our kids in vapor lock. We are trying to live this life locked down, shut down. We don’t really know it, but the Bible tells us we are in vapor lock.
We have been studying the book of James lately, the most practical book in the entire New Testament. James, 2000 years ago, penned this inspired piece of mail to Christians who were dispersed throughout the Mediterrenean world. Many of these Christians were living in vapor lock.
The Bible says from cover to cover some great things. Our great God tells us that he has a great plan for every person’s life. Theologians call it “the will of God.” Isn’t that something? God has an amazing purpose for your life and mine, a purpose that, if we could see it right now, would just blow our doors. It would knock our socks off. It would rock our world. That’s how incredible God’s plan is.
However, most are not experiencing God’s will and most are not experiencing God’s plan. Why? We are in vapor lock.
Today, I am going to go through the book of James, and I want to explain to you from his writings how we need to unlock our vapor lock. And then how we need to lock into God’s will and God’s plan for our lives.
I am going to talk about three areas that most of us find ourselves locked into. As I talk about these areas, I want you to play a little game with yourself. I want you to think about which area you are locked into right now.
So, if it is area one, say to yourself, “That’s me. That’s me. I am area one.” Or, if it is area two, say, “Okay, it’s not one. It’s two. I’m two.” Or, maybe it’s three. Maybe you will say, “Okay, it’s the third area, Ed. It’s not one or two, it’s three.”
Do that for me. I think it will really help.
Let’s pray before we begin this study. Father, thank you so much for bringing all of us here. We are here for a reason that is tailor made for our existence. God, your will is awesome. It’s incredible. I pray after this service that all of us would understand it and apply it into our lives. God, every time we open your word, we know that things happen. So, now use my voice box to communicate your message and your truth alone. I have nothing to say, God. You have it all to say. Use me now. In Christ’s name, Amen.
The Ignorant Camp
Three areas that we are locked into. The first one is an area called The Ignorant. If you are ignorant, if you are in that category, please lift your hand. No, please don’t do that. You will embarrass yourself. A lot of us here are ignorant concerning the will of God. I have been ignorant before concerning the will of God.
Here is what James says about people who are ignorant in James 4:13 and following, “Now listen,”—James is saying to listen up and don’t miss it—“you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’” James was talking to the movers and the shakers of his day. James was talking to the young people, the people who are really starting to be successful. This sounds pretty current with our culture, doesn’t it? But someone is conspicuously absent from the planning. Someone is missing from the agenda. Who? It’s God. This person had this whole planning thing down cold, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow,’”—that’s the schedule—“’we will go to this or that city,’”—that’s the location—“’spend a year there,’”—that’s the time frame—“’carry on business’”—that’s the activity—“’and make money,’”—that’s the result.
These guys and gals were saying, “Hey, I am independent. I can determine my own destiny. I can forge my own future.”
We are not independent. Who are we trying to kid? Do you think you are independent? Am I independent? Give me a massive break. God is independent. God does not have to depend on anybody or anything in order for him to make up his mind or do his deal. I am dependent. I was dependent this morning that the alarm would wake me up. I was dependent that my digestive system would digest the coffee and half a bagel I had before I hit the stage. I was dependent that my cell phone would work, as I called my brother this morning and prayed with him. I am dependent now. My heart is beating. I am a dependent person and so are you.
We are dependent. Who are we to say, “Oh, I can tell you what I am going to do. I can tell you what kind of money I am going to make, what kind of activities I am going to get involved in, and where I am going on this business deal.”
Let me stop here and tell you something. The Bible never says we shouldn’t plan. We have got to plan. Proverbs 6:6 says we have got to plan and that planning is good. But we have to include God. A lot of people are ignorant concerning God’s plan.
A lot of us say, “Okay, God, I am going to do my plan. I am going to have my agenda. Here it is, God. Now, God, you bless it.”
James says that is incorrect thinking. You are going to miss the will of God. It starts with God.
Why do we have some people here who are in the ignorant camp? A lot of us are in the ignorant camp because we don’t know. We are clueless concerning what God has to say about his will. We need God because life is a brief thing.
Let me just sit down and tell you why we cannot afford to be ignorant. We cannot afford to be ignorant because life is hard. If we are ignorant about the will of God, we are going to mess up because life is hard. Life is difficult. Think about how many decisions we have to make every single day, decisions about the family, about our lives, about the children, about finances. We need God’s help. Life is hard. I can’t be ignorant. God designed me. He wants me to live and do his stuff his way. I can’t do it by myself.
I was thinking about my life and the times I have really messed up. Each one of those times is a result of my being ignorant toward the will of God, just missing the will of God at certain times in my life.
I also need God’s take on life because life is, at best, unpredictable. Wouldn’t you say? You can’t predict life. You don’t know what is going to happen, nor do I.
Here is what James said in chapter 4, verse 14, “Why, you don’t even know what is going to happen tomorrow.”
There are thousands of people who died beneath the World Trade Towers who had plans, plans for lunch that day, plans for dinner that night, plans to do something with their kids that weekend. The plans were thwarted in an instant. Life is hard. Life is unpredictable.
Life is also short, isn’t it? It’s short. I don’t care if you dine on bean curd and carrot juice and live to be ninety years of age, that is nothing against the backdrop of eternity. We are going to live forever and ever in one of two places the Bible says. We live here eighty or ninety years? The Bible never tells us to number our years. We celebrate our birthdays. I just had my fortieth birthday and Lisa had a big party for me with some close friends.
“Oh, Ed’s forty. Lordy, Lordy, look who’s forty.”
The Bible doesn’t tell you to number your years but to number your days. We go back to our boy, James, in the last part of verse 14, “What is your life? You are a mist”—or in some translations it says—“You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
This is not saying that you are just a mist or a vapor. The Bible says we are magnificent mist and valuable vapor. Why? Because we have a blood-drenched contract that evidences that fact. We matter so much to God that, at the perfect time in history, he commissioned his son, Jesus Christ, to become a sin sacrifice for our sins. If we receive that, if we bow the knee to that, then we know Christ. Then we can see his plan and his will clearly.
A while back, I had lasik surgery. Prior to having lasik surgery, I was as blind as a bat. I needed contact lenses and glasses. A friend of mine from high school is an eye surgeon and he did the operation for me for free. You can’t beat free, can you?
After the surgery, he said, “Ed, that will cost you free.99.”
I said, “Thanks very much, Rick.”
Anyway, when he and the nurses helped me out of the chair, right after the surgery, and I am talking about seconds after the procedure, the first thing I saw was a clock on the wall.
I said, “Rick, I can read the clock. I can tell what time it is. My vision is clear.” It happened that quick, that rapidly.
Hey, man, woman, student, you bow the knee to Jesus Christ, you walk in his will, no longer will you have blurry vision. No longer will you have a hard time seeing God’s will. God will perform lasik surgery on you and you can tell what to do. You can make the most of your life.
But I will say it once again, life is short, so you need to make the most of the time you have right now. Billy Crystal, in the movie, City Slickers, had a hilarious talk about how short life is and I think Billy kind of sums it up. Check out what he had to say.
(Video clip of Billy Crystal in City Slickers)
That right there is an example of planning without God. That’s how futile and how wild life is. You know, what is so interesting is that it often takes a crisis, doesn’t it, to wake us up. It takes difficulty, just like this September 11th tragedy, for us to wake up and smell the coffee. It happened on a Tuesday, and that weekend we had over 21,000 people show up here at Fellowship Church. Why? People were asking deep questions. They were saying to themselves, “Life is short. Life is brief. I am just one heartbeat away, one germ away, one terroristic activity away from meeting God face to face. I better have a good vibe going with God, so I think I will go to church.”
I’m happy people are coming to Fellowship. Our numbers are way up and that is wonderful. But we are reminded so often of how short life is. Are you in the ignorant camp? Are you ignorant about God’s will and God’s agenda?
The Defiant Camp
There is also another camp, the second camp, if you are keeping score. Some of us are in the defiant camp. Some are in the ignorant camp and others are in the defiant camp.
Here is what James says about those of us in the defiant camp, verses 16-17, “As it is,” James says, “you boast and brag.” All these people, these independent people, who thought that they didn’t need God, were bragging of their autonomy. They were bragging about their plans.
They were saying, “I’m going to do it my way. Yes, God has a way, but I want my way.”
James says, “All such boasting is evil.” This word “boasting” in the original language, in the Greek, is a picture of a peddler trying to sell you something. Remember those Ronco ads years ago? It slices, it dices, it does just about anything. That is kind of the picture. Look at verse 17, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
So, just by hanging out, I could be sinning. If I see something I should do and don’t do it, I am sinning. Theologians call them sins of omission. This defiant person is someone who knows the will of God, they understand the will of God, they read the will of God, but then they turn their backs on God and do something else. I’ve done that before, have you?
What happens? What happens to the believer who defies the will of God? James was writing primarily to Christians here. This entire series is pitched to Christians. If you are not a Christian—I know we have many here who are not, and I’m glad you are in church—this is what happens to you when you become Christians. You can live in the will of God. Listen up, non-Christians.
But this is specifically for Christians. What happens to believers when we defy the will of God? I’ll tell you what happens. Before I tell you, I call these next two verses Tae-Bo verses. It’s going to hurt. Here is what happens. God disciplines us. We don’t like to talk about the discipline of God. God disciplines, the Bible says, those he loves. He doesn’t punish us. I didn’t say he punishes us. Jesus took the punishment for all of our sins on the cross 2000 years ago, all of our sins, past, present and future. However, God does discipline us.
Let me let this Scripture explain, 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them (believers) not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
Also Proverbs 3:12, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a Father the son he delights in.”
God disciplines us out of love. When he sees us defying his will, he will hammer us into submission. God does this and it is not fun to be disciplined. If you are a Christ-follower, if you claim that, and you are not feeling the loving discipline of God, you better check your spiritual EKG. I discipline my children out of love. I discipline them to help them, to correct them, to follow my will, because I am the Father and they aren’t. I know more about life than they do. God is the same way. I don’t like it, but it’s a reality.
“Well, Ed, how about God being a God of love and grace?”
He is. Yet, you cannot talk about the love and grace of God without talking about the judgment and the discipline of God. Conversely, you can’t just talk about the judgment and discipline of God, just beat people with hell, fire and brimstone and not talk about the love. There is a balance. God is perfectly balanced. His character is pristine. It’s beautiful. But remember, mark it down, download it, God disciplines those he loves.
The Reliant Camp
Some are in the ignorant camp and some of us are in the defiant camp. I am talking about the will of God. There is another camp and this is the camp that we all need to reside in: the reliant camp. A lot of us need to lock into the reliant camp. We need to be reliant on God, on his plan, his agenda, because it is awesome.
Here’s what James says in verse 15, “Instead,” in other words, don’t be ignorant, don’t be defiant, “Instead, you ought to say, “If it’s the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James is not talking about weak stuff like, “If the Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.” He’s not talking about that. He is talking about living in the will of God. He’s talking about interacting with God.
“Well, Ed, what in the world is the will of God?”
What’s God’s will? Because a lot of people don’t know God’s will. You don’t know how to find God’s will. God’s will is in God’s word, from Genesis to Revelation. I am talking about the Bible, the B-i-b-l-e. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s will for your life and mine is revealed. Here is what the Bible says about God’s will. Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
God’s word illuminates God’s will. It shows me what to do, where to go, how to act, how to talk, and I need it. Because life is unpredictable, life is short and we need it.
What does the Bible say about God’s will? Here is what the Bible says about God’s will. You can write this down. The Bible says that it is God’s will for all of us to be saved. See my thumb right here? I’ve written the word “saved” right there.
Some are saying, “Oh, that’s how he does it. He writes the sermon out on his hand. I got it. Must be a trick he learned in seminary school.”
No, just stay with me. It’s God’s will for us to be saved. Say it with me, one, two, three, saved. Here is what it means to be saved, the Bible says, this is 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV), “The Lord is…not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” It’s God’s will for us to be saved. There is no way we can know God’s will unless we know God.
Wednesday night at 1:15 am, or really Thursday morning at 1:15 am, I had the privilege of leading someone into a saving personal relationship with Christ. I was sitting in a house with a young couple and this guy who was about 27 years old was holding his brand new baby. We began to talk and I felt God moving.
I said, “Darren, what if I walked up to you and you had no idea who I was and I asked, ‘Darren, how does a person become a Christian?’ What would you tell me?”
He said, “Well, I would tell you that you need to take Holy Communion, be confirmed and get baptized and be a good guy.”
I said, “That’s your answer, right?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I said, “Darren, I hate to rain on your parade but, if I did those things, I would not go to heaven. I would go to hell. That’s not going to get me where I want to go. The Bible says that’s not it.”
He had kind of a puzzled expression on his face.
I said, “Darren, if you would like to, I would love to show you what the Bible says about how to get saved, how to have a personal relationship with Christ.”
He said, “Yes, I would love to know.”
I said, “The Bible basically says a couple of things. First of all, that we matter to God, that we are loved and God has a great plan for our lives. Secondly, the Bible says that man has a sin problem. We have rebelled against God. See your little son, there? No one taught him how to be selfish, he just knows how to sin. He is a little secret bambino sinner right there.”
He said, “Yeah, he is.”
I said, “Number three, God did something about our sin problem. He commissioned Christ to die on the cross for our sins and rise again, something we don’t deserve, Darren. Number four, it’s your decision. I cannot do this for you. You can’t do the deal for me. It’s your choice. You know, the Bible calls it being born again. Your son, Darren, has a physical birthday. You have got to have a spiritual birthday. You can’t just one day kind of gradually be born. You are either born or you are not born. The Bible says we have to be born again. We are born again, Darren, by simply saying, I’m a sinner, God, and I believe to the best of my ability that you sent Jesus Christ to take care of my sins on the cross and I receive that. So, Darren, if you want to be born again, you can do it by trusting Christ right now.”
He said, “Really?”
I said, “Yes. We can do it right here at 1:15 am on Thursday morning.”
He said, “Okay.”
We prayed right there and Darren got saved. He followed the will of God. I’ve got to ask you, are you saved? If you are counting on being a good person, a good Catholic, a good Lutheran, maybe your dad was a Baptist deacon, that is not going to get you where you want to go. Maybe you are saying you have more good marks than bad. That’s good but not good enough. You’ve been baptized. Good for you, but that is not going to get you where you want to go. You have got to bow the knee to Christ, receive him and give him everything in your life. That is how you become a Christ-follower. You are saved by grace through faith alone, the Bible says.
Another aspect of God’s will is we are to be spirit-filled. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:17-18, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine,”—When someone is drunk, what are they? They are intoxicated. They are controlled by the alcohol—“which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled (be drunk, controlled) with the Spirit.” Once someone bows the knee to Christ, what happens? Jesus comes in. He places the person of the Holy Spirit there. We defer to him and we listen to him. That’s spirit-filled living.
Now the third aspect of God’s will from the Bible is we are to be sanctified. What does it mean to be sanctified? Sanctified means to be set apart. It means to live a pure and holy lifestyle. In a couple of moments, we will come to your most favorite part of the worship service. We will pass the offering plate. I know it’s your favorite time. You love to give. I can tell. In your mind, when the offering plate is passed (don’t really do this), I want you to crawl up in the offering plate. The Bible says our lives should be a holy and acceptable and a pure offering before God as an act of worship. That’s being sanctified. That’s being purified. That’s living the life.
The Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified,” meaning consecrated, separated, set apart for pure and holy living. I am not talking about a legalistic trip. I am talking about a relationship. I’m talking about someone who loves God so much they want to live a pure life, because it is an act of worship to our Father.
Okay, I’m saved, I’m spirit-filled, I’m sanctified, but also I am to be submissive. That’s another part of the will of God. I am submissive. Have you ever seen those Subway Sandwich Shop commercials? The people who are heavy or overweight begin to dine on Subway sandwiches and they lose weight. I like Subway. That’s a good place. I want you to think about Subway and think about John 4:34, because Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of God.” So we have got to do the Subway thing. We have got to submit and subject our plans to the plans of God.
We have got to say, “God, you are God. I am not. I want to live in your will. I subject and submit my stuff to you.”
Then God can use you. The will of God is not a formula for frustration. Living outside the will of God will mess you up. That’s frustrating. Living in the will of God is true success. That’s liberation. That’s fun. That’s excitement. That’s adventure. That’s it. So be submissive.
Here is something else, the little pinky has the word “servant” written on it. I am to serve. So I am to be saved, to be spirit-filled, to be sanctified, submissive and I am to become a servant. What did Jesus say? If you want to be great, become a servant.
Let me read his words here, Matthew 20:27 (KJV), “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” We are to serve others. Christianity is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about others. We need to serve in the body of Christ. If you are a part of Fellowship Church, and you are not serving in a ministry, you are outside of the will of God. Let me say that again. Push the rewind. If you attend Fellowship Church and are not serving in a ministry, you are outside the will of God. We have got to serve.
That is what the Bible says about the will of God. Because when we have these five things down cold, what happens? We have a grasp on the will of God. We have a grasp on God’s agenda, on God’s plan. That’s what the Bible says about God’s will. But it continues. The Bible is the first big idea about God’s will.
There is another big idea about God’s will, wise counsel. If I am in the will of God, I am going to have wise counsel around me. I wish I could take about two or three hours and go through the book of Proverbs and talk to you about the value of wise counsel. We all must have people around us, I’m talking about a personal board of directors, who hold us accountable, who love us for who we are, not what we have or have not done, who will speak the truth to us in love. Often times, these are people who are a little bit, or maybe a lot, more spiritually mature than we are. We have got to have wise counsel.
Let me just read a quick excerpt from Proverbs. In Proverbs 19:20 (NASB), it says, “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days.”
The Bible, the B-i-b-l-e, we talked about the five aspects of God’s will. We talked about wise counsel. Also, the inner voice, the Holy Spirit of God, imparts to us the will of God. We have got to defer to him and we have got to listen to him as he leads and guides.
Just yesterday, I was talking to Lisa, and I said a sentence I should not have said to her. It was mean-spirited. It had some teeth to it. After I said it, I knew I had sinned and I felt the Holy Spirit of God saying to me, “Ed, shut up.” And I dialed down, because I was about to say some other things I would regret. I was totally out of line.
I said, “Lisa, I am sorry for what I said. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
As a believer, if you are not asking regularly for people to forgive you, I believe you are outside the will of God. We mess up. We sin, especially with this two-ounce slab of mucous membrane here. A lot of husbands need to go home and apologize to their wives. A lot of wives need to go home and apologize to their husbands. A lot of children here need to apologize to their parents. Teenagers here need to say, “Mom, Dad, I have been wrong.” Being submissive, we just talked about it, is part of the will of God.
So, I have got to submit to the authority of the Bible, seek wise counsel, pay attention to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and also, I love this next one, the last one, use common sense. Be a person who uses common sense. That’s the will of God.
What did Jesus say in Matthew 10:16? “Be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves” (CEV). I am going to use my common sense. God gave me and you a brain, so use it.
Here is how we mess up on the will of God. We say something like this, “Well, I have just got to marry him because he is a hottie and he is rich. Common sense tells me that. I know he is not a believer yet, but, you know, he might be the last train coming through my town, baby.”
Well, common sense might tell you that, but what does the Bible say? The Bible says, No. The Bible says that believers should not get hooked up with unbelievers, with someone who is not an on-fire or sold-out believer.
Or maybe someone will say, “Well, common sense tells me I should give five percent to Fellowship Church. You know, my accountant told me that would be best for me.”
Well, that’s good but you are outside the will of God. The Bible says at least ten percent, that’s the minimum worship requirement. See how we mess up?
Or people do this, “God told me, Ed, to tell you this.”
I say, “Whoa, time out. God told you that? Well, let me see if it lines up with Scripture, let me see if you are saved, spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive to authority, you are a servant, who is your wise counsel and how about the common sense factor? You know, maybe God didn’t tell you that. Maybe you had some bad sushi, if you live in Dallas, or maybe bad bar-b-que, if you live in Fort Worth. You hear me screaming.” That was a joke. I live in Tarrant County and am making fun of myself. I hope you got that. You know, Dallas and sushi, Fort Worth and bar-b-que. I thought it was funny.
We have got to live by the will of God. If you do all those things that I’ve just talked about, do you know what the will of God is after that? It is anything you want. That’s the freedom, the joy, the openness of living in the will of God. It’s anything you want, if you have those other things operative in your life. Your desires are his desires. His desires are your desires, because you are in sync with the Lord.
I like that. I saw a picture of my grandfather, a great Christian man, at the zenth of his life. He was strikingly handsome, a phenomenal athlete, a great speaker, a coach. He died twenty-five years ago and, today, his legacy is still going on and on. My grandfather, G. B. Landrum, did not have vapor lock. He was not in the ignorant camp or the defiant camp. He was in the reliant camp. He didn’t leave any problems back there in vapor lock. He was a vapor trail person. Do you know what a vapor trail is? You look up in the sky and see a jet flying by and, after the jet is long gone, the heat, the exhaust from the jet’s engines, meets the earth’s upper, colder atmosphere and it crystallizes into a jet stream, a vapor trail in the sky.
Now, as we are white hot for God, as we are living for him, as we are doing his will, we will emit some exhaust as we leave the planet. This exhaust, as it hits the cold, sinful atmosphere of the earth will crystallize and we, too, will leave a vapor trail. Rather than living in vapor lock, we will leave a vapor trail.
I have got to ask you, husband, are you leaving a vapor trail for your family by being the spiritual leader in the home? Are you loving your wife like Christ loved the church?
I have got to ask you something, mom. Are you leaving a vapor trail for your children? Are you leaving a vapor trail in your career? Are you leaving a vapor trail in your thought life? Are you leaving a vapor trail for your parents? Are you leaving a vapor trail for your children? Are you?
It all goes back to the will of God. We either live in vapor lock, or we leave a vapor trail.