X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
September 9, 2001
I think we have all seen the commercials, the pulsating music, the creative camera angles, the men and women, those athletes with perspiration dripping off their brow. They are all sporting Nike gear, Nike running shoes, shorts, jogging chutes and so forth. As the commercial reaches a climax, it makes us all sit on the edge of our couches, moving the Doritos and Diet Cokes aside, the screen fades to black and in little white letters, it reads, “Just do it.”
Nike has made billions and billions of dollars on this brilliant marketing strategy, “Just do it.” What does that mean? Why does Nike come out and say, “Just do it?” They say, “If you buy our gear and sport it and wear it, if you hit the turf, hit the field, hit the court, hit the pavement, you are going to “just do it.” “It’s about application,” Nike says. Are we doing it? As a culture, are we in better shape today than we were say ten, twenty or thirty years ago? The studies don’t reveal that. The studies reflect that there is more obesity today than ever before. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on exercise equipment that pretty much collects dust. Are we just doing it? Some of us are and some of us aren’t.
Over the past several weeks I have been thinking about this whole “Just do it” strategy. I thought to myself, Nike was not the first one to come up with this concept. This concept, this “Just do it” campaign was not conjured up by a bunch of high-paid advertising executives in some beautiful office suite in downtown Chicago. No. It was thought up by James, 2000 years ago, when he penned the most practical book in the New Testament, a book we have been studying lately. Just think, attorneys, James has a good lawsuit for plagiarism. He could sue Nike. I saw a couple starting to salivate a little bit. No, James is not here though. He is in heaven, so we can’t do that. But James could. James thought up this whole concept of “Just do it.”
Why did James say that throughout his book? Because this book of James is about an authentic faith. It’s about maturity. It’s about taking the Christian principles, the Christian data, everything we know about the Christian life and applying it. It’s easy to explain. It’s easy to agree with, but how are we doing on the “just do it” part.
The following comments over the next several minutes will be reserved for those who are believers. If you are a Christ-follower, if you have made the faith decision, this message is just for you. However, if you are outside the family of God, the whole thing is not for you. Now, I want you to listen for the future, because once you become a Christian, this is what you need to know. But this message in a nutshell is for those of us who are believers. It’s how to take all this information God gives us and apply it. James says that application is the key. That’s what it means, James says, to have a deep and maturing faith. Having said that, let’s see what our boy James talks about.
Before I get into the first verse, let me ask you this. What if the core of the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers just went out for pass after pass and, once they caught the ball, they just stood there. What if they just stood there? What if they didn’t turn up field and run, tuck the ball under their arm and go, what if they just stood there? It would not be pretty, would it? They would have gotten slammed game after game, and people would say, “What is up with the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers, this core of gifted athletes? What’s wrong with them? They just stand there once they make the reception?”
James says a lot of Christians do the same thing. Many Christians receive the word of God, we accept the word of God, and we just stand there. James says to turn up field and run, gain some ground. That is the linchpin of the whole deal.
In verse 21, he says, “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”—I think we all can see that in our day—“and humbly accept”—This word literally means “receive”—“the word planted in you, which can save you.” Throughout this text, James is going to say, receive the word, tuck it in and run.
Look at verse 22, “Do not merely listen to the word.” I love that word “listen.” You might want to circle it if you have a pen or pencil. The word “listen” means to audit a class. I remember back in college, I saw some people audit a math class. They were chilling out, “Who cares, we don’t have any tests, no accountability, we can just audit the class.” It was cheaper to audit the class. Scores of us audit church. We cruise in and say, “Oh, yes, I agree with that message. I agree with that song, the words. I love having my kids in children’s church and my students here at the Apex. That’s cool.” We have it on autopilot, though. We are just listening. We are just auditing. We are not really taking that information and applying it. There is no accountability, no testing. We haven’t really taken the step, taken the plunge to really get into it. We have not tucked the ball and run up field. James says, “Don’t do that. Don’t go there. Don’t deceive yourself.”
“Don’t merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Now, James uses the phrase, “deceive yourselves,” over and over again throughout this book. What does it mean to deceive yourself? It means to reach a conclusion by false reasoning. I reach a conclusion by false reasoning, if I think that information and Bible study after Bible study and class after class will constitute my spiritual maturity. James says, no. It’s great to hear, it’s great to listen, but the deal is the just do it part. The deal is the application. That’s maturity. That’s depth.
Jesus hammered this home in Matthew 7:24, “Anyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” The rains came. The creek started to rise. The winds hit. That house was there to stay. Christ said conversely, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” When the storms hit, when the creek began to rise, when the winds came, he was in a sand trap. The whole thing was obliterated. So Jesus says it, and James says it time and time again. The deal is application. Just do it.
So don’t merely listen to the word. Don’t audit the stuff “and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” There is a difference; I hope we understand it now, between listening and doing. This contrast is in James time and again. Listening and doing is like the difference between reading a menu and eating the food. Do you hear me screaming?
Several friends of ours, some close generous friends, have taken Lisa and I to probably the best restaurant we have ever eaten at, in our lives, The Mansion. How many people have ever eaten at The Mansion at Turtlecreek? Lift your hands. Don’t be shy. I have never had food that good in my life, lobster tacos, phenomenal stuff. Now what if, when I went to The Mansion, what if I had just read the menu? What if I said, “You know, I just want to read the menu tonight. I’m not going to eat. You tell Dean Ferring, forget the food, I just want to read.” You would say to yourself, “Ed is such an idiot! What’s wrong with Ed? He’s going to stop and just read it? Ed, eat the food!” As believers, we can listen all day and night, and hear and say, “Oh, yes, I agree with that. I intellectually accept that. I affirm that. That resonates with my spirit.” But it doesn’t happen for us, maturity doesn’t happen in our lives, nor application, until we eat the food.
Let me come at it another way. Suppose someone asked you and challenged you to build a deck on the back of your home. What if you said, “That’s a great idea. I’ve got the money saved up. We are going to build a deck and I’m going to do it in my backyard.” What if someone asks you that? So, let’s say you cruise over to Barnes and Noble and you buy a book by Bob Vela or someone like that, Ten Easy Steps to Build a Deck. You say, “This is cool.” So you read this book by Bob Vela, you highlight passages in it. You meet with other people who are also going to build decks. You have a great time. You sip coffee and discuss the stuff.
Maybe a couple of weeks go by and your wife asks, “Honey, have you started on the deck yet?” You answer, “No, baby, I have not started on the deck yet. But you would not believe what I have learned. You know the historicity of a deck? Let me read it to you. See this deck right here built in California? Was that incredible? Bob Vela, this guy has got it, honey.” Months go by. Your little son walks by and looks up at you and says, “Daddy, when are we going to have the new deck?” Suddenly, it hits you. It’s one thing to study it and download the information; it’s another to build it. You realize that building it is going to require a lot of work, and you might rather just sit there and study and sip Starbucks instead of going out and doing it. That is what James is talking about.
A lot of us want to highlight our Bible. But the question is, do we let the Bible highlight our lives? James says don’t deceive yourself, now. Do what the word says.
Speaking of all this listening and doing. I want to let you in on a little secret. James, as you probably know, is the master illustrator. This guy is unbelievable at all the illustrations. Do you remember a couple of weeks ago when I brought a baby bed on stage? James talked about being born again and the implications of a new birth. Then he talked about fishing. Remember I brought the fish I caught and I fly fished across the audience? He uses word picture after word picture. To hammer this point home, the listening and doing part, he talks about something we are all familiar with, a mirror. James compares the Bible, the Scripture, to a mirror.
We love mirrors here in Dallas/Ft. Worth. Just this morning, I’m fairly certain, most of us looked into a mirror. Some of us have looked at a multitude of mirrors already. We have looked at rearview mirrors, little makeup mirrors. Even walking into Fellowship Church, we saw our reflection in the window. James says, though, that a mirror is something that relates to Scripture, because the Bible is called a mirror. Isn’t that a cool thing? James develops this. He says, basically, that we have two types of people when it comes to mirrors. James says, the first type is called “the glancers” and the second type I’ll talk to you about later on is called “the prancers.” So are you a glancer or a prancer?
Let’s talk about the glancers. Look at verses 23 and 24, “Anyone who listens to the word and does not do what it says is like a man”—notice this is the word man, male, because a woman wouldn’t have this problem—“who looks at his face in a mirror.” This word “looks” in the original language means “glance.” Most men, let’s be honest, we don’t study ourselves like women do. We kind of glance. This is the picture of someone looking in the rearview mirror, or doing a quick glance as they walk by a mirror. James goes on to say that it “is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Isn’t that weird. You are a glancer if you do that. Let’s relate that to the Bible, because James is talking about a physical mirror and comparing it to the Bible. A lot of us want to glance at the mirror, the word of God. We don’t want to study it. We don’t want to prance in front of it. Why? Well, what is the purpose of a mirror? The purpose of a mirror is it shows us who we really are. It reflects back to us what we really look like, blemishes and all, wrinkles and all. Also, a mirror shows us what we need to change about ourselves. This morning when I got up, I thought to myself, I need to shave, take a shower, put some stuff in my hair to make it look okay, and, hopefully, this Johnny Cash outfit matches. I thought about that when I looked in the mirror, and so did you. You looked in the mirror, it showed you who you really were, and you said, “I’m going to make some changes. I’m going to make myself into whatever.”
Most of us know Rob Johnson and Vanessa Whitwell, the two talented singers and music leaders here at Fellowship Church. They are unbelievable. Okay. Here is what happens. Rob got up early in the morning several days ago and took a picture of himself. Here is what Rob looked like right when he got up. Look at that. Is that pathetic? Rob looks terrible. What if Rob had gone out and faced the day like that? He didn’t. He looked in the mirror and made some changes. Now, here is Vanessa early in the morning. Vanessa made changes, put makeup on and all that. Wouldn’t it be weird if we said, “I’m just going to look in the mirror and I’ll just face the world just I look like I do when I get up.” You have morning breath, drool in your mouth, rack head; you don’t look right. A lot of people want to glance at the word of God. We want to glance at it because we know, if we really look at it, it will convict us. We will see who we really are. We will have to make some changes and we are a little bit uncomfortable with that.
Isaiah 6:5, here is what Isaiah said, “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’”
In Luke 5:8, when Simon Peter saw this, he had a mirror moment didn’t he? “He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”
In Job 42:5-6, Job says, “’My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’”
The glancers do a couple of things. First of all, some of us do nothing when we look in the mirror. We will just glance and that’s it. Do you want to face the day looking like Rob or Vanessa did when they got out of bed? That would be crazy.
Glancers also do something that is really sly, really coy. Instead of doing nothing, they take the mirror and they move it, deflecting the image to someone else’s reflection. They say, “Oh, I’m much better than he is. I am a better Christian than he is. I am more moral than he is. Oh, I am better than her. I am much better than her. I am way up there. She is down here.”
The Bible says don’t judge others. Don’t look to the left or to the right. Think about yourself before God. Years ago, Lisa was having her hair styled. There was this hair stylist, a young lady in our church, just snipping away at her hair. She is in front of this humongous mirror. The hairstylist was cutting and she said, “Lisa, I just want to be honest with you. I have been going to Fellowship and I think a lot of people who attend Fellowship are fake. They are phony. They are a bunch of hypocrites.”
Lisa replied, “Well, everybody struggles in some areas. And I am sure we have our share of hypocrites.”
She said, “No, I am telling you that I know some of them and they act one way at Fellowship and another way when they are out and about the town. They are just a lot of fake people.” Lisa recalls then that this hairstylist looked at herself in the mirror and a kind of presence came over her. She stepped to one side and she began to look at herself in the mirror, with her scissors in one hand and a comb in the other. She said, “Lisa, forgive me. I have dyed hair, a fake tan, fake eyelashes, fake teeth, fake nails, nose job and other enhancements. Who am I to call someone fake? Who am I to call someone a hypocrite? Who am I to call someone phony?”
Before you even think about pointing the finger, look at yourself and study yourself. When I look at myself and don’t worry about you, I am way ahead of the game, because I have enough stuff to worry about just thinking about Ed Young. Now you would think someone like me, a pastor, would have this dialed in. You would think I would never ever struggle with blaming someone or moving the mirror? Just a couple of days ago, I was in a conversation with my lovely wife, and in a sweet and kind way, she pointed out something in my life that I needed to work on. Instead of owning up to it and saying, “You know, Lisa, you are right,” do you know what I did? I just moved the mirror. I brought up a friend of mine who lives in another part of the country, who is also a pastor, and I said, “Oh, well, I am much better than him. Lisa, I am better in this area than that guy.” Can you believe that? How sinful of me. How human of me. We want to just glance in the mirror, instead of taking a hard, honest look.
James says don’t be a glancer. That is a weak game. Don’t do that. Become a prancer. Just stand in front of the word of God, this mirror, and prance. I don’t mean go on some kind of ego trip, but I am talking about looking at yourself and continually staring to see those things that God wants to point out, so he, empowered by the Spirit, can change you.
Let’s go down that road for a second. Let’s talk about the prancers. Look at verse 25 of James 1, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom,”—the word “intently” means closely, that’s prancing—“into the perfect law that gives freedom.” Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? Perfect law giving freedom? It doesn’t make sense. Well, we will see in a second that it does. So if someone “looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue to do this,” James says, “not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” Is that cool? So I look closely, that means I look intently. I also look continually and consistently into the mirror, the word of God, and as I do that, this perfect law, this perfect mirror, will give me liberty. It gives me freedom.
We are to look regularly, consistently, strategically, and intentionally. How often do you look in the mirror of God’s word, semi-annually, Easter and Christmas Eve, weekly? That is not enough. What if you looked in the mirror just weekly? You have got to look regularly. Do you look into God’s mirror as much as you look into those physical mirrors? That’s a good question.
God puts a heap of requirements on our lives, doesn’t he? God wants everything from you and me, tax, title and license, the total package. Once we give it to him, here is what our great God does. God has all these requirements, but once we give our lives to him, what happens? The person of the Holy Spirit infiltrates our lives and the Holy Spirit works from the inside out, and he gives us the desires to do what God requires. So, if I do what God requires, and I follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, then I will have freedom. The Bible says, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So when I am doing what God wants me to do, what he requires, and my desires are synced up with that, if I acquiesce to the Spirit of God, then I am going to be the happiest, the most full-filled, most joyful person around, because my desires are in line with what God requires.
So we cannot do this stuff on our own. It’s a Holy Spirit thing. It’s a supernatural thing. It’s an inside job that occurs once we bow the knee to him. I hope we are tracking now. We are having these mirror moments, aren’t we? Some of us are glancers, “Oh, I am afraid.” Others of us are prancers. We must all become prancers. How do we do that? When you discover the physical blemishes and the stains and all that, you do something. You shave, get dressed, put on make-up, but the main thing you do is to take a bath, a shower. You bath regularly. That is what happens the moment someone becomes a Christian. Now we have many here who are believers. Some here are not.
Let me go back just for a second and tell you what occurred the moment you bowed the knee to Christ. When you came to that point in your life when you said, “I am a sinner before God. I am dirty. I am sin-stained. I have this body odor, this stench. I need to do something about it.” Once you realize that God sent Christ to die on the cross for your sins and rise again, and once you come to a point where you receive that, the Bible says that you are washed, that you are renewed, that you are purified. Your sins, past, present and future, are taken care of because of what Jesus did for you.
I have talked enough. Let me let the Bible explain. Titus 3:3-6, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”
I have said it once and I will say it again, that God does not grade on a cosmic curve. We are not saved by works. “But I am a Catholic.” Good for you. “I am a Baptist.” Good for you. “I’m a Pentecostal.” Good for you. “I’m Episcopalian.” Good for you. “I’ve been confirmed.” Good for you. “I’ve been baptized.” Good for you. “I’ve memorized sections of Scripture.” Good for you. Catechism is great, but that still does not make you a Christian. That is not going to make you a Christ follower. You are a Christ follower when you receive Jesus, when you receive his merciful grace-driven sacrifice. It’s nothing that you or I do. It’s when we receive what has been done, d-o-n-e.
If you think it’s something you do, just to be frank with you, you are going to go to hell. That’s what Jesus said. You are going to hell. You have got to come to a point in your life where you turn from your sins, admit the obvious, and receive Christ through his grace, through his power. It is nothing you can do. You have got to say that it has been done, Jesus did it, and I receive it. It’s not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through what? Titus 3:5 continues, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth”—that’s the ultimate bath—6 “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior”
My shower at home has a little showerhead that doesn’t put out that much water. I’m pretty tall and I have to kind of stoop a little to get up under it. But the other night, Lisa and I stayed at this hotel and the showerhead was a nice big, tall one. I could walk right up under it without any trouble. I love showers like that. You see, this shower we are talking about here to make us believers is not some little shower like I have in my house. It’s like a giant shower that just covers you; all of your sins, past, present and future are forgiven and forgotten, gone. Have you made that decision? Are you a child of God? Have you been washed? Have you been bathed by the Lord? That’s what makes you a Christian.
Well, you might be saying, “Ed, I have made that decision. I am a believer but, as I live my life after becoming a Christian, I still sin. I still mess up. I’m still dirty. What do I do?”
Let me explain it to you this way. Back at Florida State University, while playing basketball, I had a teammate who was not very fond of bathing. One day, after a three and a half hour practice, we walked into the locker room, and our practice uniforms were just hanging with all the sweat and perspiration. Everybody else on the team is getting undressed, and we are heading for the showers. This one guy, though, is changing from his practice uniform right back into his street clothes. Our All-American guard looked at him and said, “Hey, man, get some hygiene. You are stinking up the locker room and I am tired of guarding you. You smell. Take off your clothes and get in the shower.” Now I cannot mention this guy’s name because he might be watching on the internet, radio or television, and plus he is a lot bigger than I am, but he took that advice. He got some hygiene.
So once we become Christians, yes, we are washed. Yes, we are forgiven. As we live, though, we pick up this sinful stench, this body odor, we have got to get some hygiene. The Bible tells us how to get some hygiene. It says in 1 John 1:9 to confess your sins regularly and God will forgive you and cleanse you of all of your unrighteousness. Let me stop here.
I am not talking about becoming a Christian now. When we bow the knee to Christ, we are believers. That’s it, signed, sealed and delivered, to steal a phrase from Peter Frampton. Once we are saved, though, we are still going to get dirty. We must confess our sins and keep short accounts with God so we can walk in this great community with him. If we are not confessing sin regularly, we are walking in pseudo-community, which is not real fellowship with God.
For example, let’s say my father and I had a falling out. Let’s say I got mad at him and he did something to me that I hated and I say, “I am not going to go back to him. I am not going to apologize to him. I am just going to stay here in Dallas, and he can stay in Houston. I am not going to show up for any holidays. My father has really upset me.” Now, if that happened, am I still related to my father? Yes. It doesn’t matter what I become, I am always going to be his son, his boy. Now, this problem in our relationship, probably caused by me, is going to keep us out of fellowship, but it will not keep us out of the relationship. The same is true in the Christian life. Once you receive Christ, you are born again into the family of God and you are washed and forgiven and cleansed. You are a child of God. You cannot get out. You cannot be unborn. Once you are born again, that is it, signed, sealed, delivered. From that point, though, we still sin. Whenever we sin, we stain ourselves, kind of dirty up the mirror now and then, and it hurts our fellowship with God. Positionally, I am still in God’s family because of what happened, but I need to keep short accounts with him and keep clean. That is what we are driving at here.
So until we make these choices, until we say, “I am going to stop deceiving myself. I am going to hear it and apply it,” then we are just messing around. We are just talking.
A lot of us deceive ourselves. Let me get real specific here. For example, you might hear a message on generosity. Do you know what the Bible says about generosity? The Bible says we should be generous to other people. We should give to the poor. It says we should give ten percent of everything we make to the local church. That’s a scriptural principle. Most believers say, “Ed, I agree with that. I sign off on that. I want to be a generous person. I do not want to have a tight grasp of the things of the world. I am a Christian and I believe that.” But do you do it?
“Well, I agree with it.” Well, what if we put your tax returns on the side screens? Would they show that value? James says not to bring that weak stuff to him. Don’t deceive yourselves, Christians. Don’t say one thing and do another.
Maybe you hear a message for example, on humility. You say, “I agree with that. My spirit connects with that. Humility? I am a humble person. Someone complimented me the other day, and I felt embarrassed. I must be humble.” Well, put yourself in the situation where people are giving your peers or competition high fives and applauding them and saying good job to them, and suddenly you find yourself saying jealous things, saying things to put them down. Don’t deceive yourself. Just because you agree with it and get a little teary, just because you feel embarrassed doesn’t mean you are applying it.
How about when Jesus said to love your enemies? We all have enemies. What does it mean to love your enemies? It doesn’t mean to let them walk all over you, I’ll tell you that. It means that we should pray for our enemies. It means we should hope for the best for them. “You mean my ex-spouse?” “You mean my business partner who robbed me?” “You mean that jerk?” Yes. It’s one thing to say in church, “I agree with it. I affirm that.” But Christianity is not this pick and choose thing. It’s tax, title and license, the total package.
How about the church? Hebrews 10:25 says that we should go to church regularly, weekly worshipping with other believers. You say, “I agree with that.” Are you involved here at Fellowship? Are you a part of Fellowship Church? Do you revolve your weekend around this? Do you have your children in age appropriate teaching? Do you do that? Or, when a little bit of bad weather comes up, or you have an opportunity for a golf game, or a little trip, you say, “No, I’ll put the church on the back burner very quickly.” Don’t deceive yourself. Your walk and talk must coalesce.
If you know anything about the Greek language, the word “Nike” means “victory.” I love that. If we just do it, if we just apply this book, as we look into the mirror, we will have victory. We’ll just do it.