Last time, what did we say? God uses cantaloupes and money and the things of the world, the tangibles, to test us. “Okay, you say you love me,” God says. “You say I’m the man. You say you’re trusting me with your eternity. Show me the money.” God doesn’t need it and we don’t need it. Show God the money. God tells me that every time I’m paid, every single time I’m paid, “Okay, am I Lord, Ed? Am I really number one? You say, you preach about it, am I? Let’s see.”
Wow that’s some heavy stuff, but see, it’s all about blessings and it’s all about the stuff that God can unleash in your life and mine.
Number five: Generosity is all about maturity. Generosity is all about maturity. One of our twins was talking to Lisa the other day and Lisa was talking to her about becoming a woman and some of the changes that will take place. And she was listening, and she started crying, “Mommy I don’t want to grow up.” I talk about this. I talk about bringing the tithe. I talk about offerings, and I talk about maturing in Christ. And I feel like some of you are the same. “But, Ed, I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to bring the tithe and the offerings.” It’s just an observation.
Fellowship Church, no question, is one of the most spiritually mature churches I’ve ever seen. In fact we’ve got to be one of the top two or three most spiritually mature churches in the nation. You’re saying, “Ed, how can you say that?” Well, I’ll tell you how I can say that. You’re unselfish. There is a core here, man. You guys are so unselfish, you blow me away. It takes unselfish people to grow a great church. When I’m immature, I’m thinking about me. When I’m mature, I’m thinking abou—what?—others.
There is nothing like living on the rugged edge of adventure following the Lord. Excitement. Thrills, minute by minute. Knowing you are living at the center of God’s purpose and plan for your life. And relationships. Jesus is the author of relationships. He created the desire for the opposite sex. He instituted marriage. He gave us the gift of sexuality, the gift of communication, the gift of community. Look at the benefits of following Him. How long will you shop on the aisles of life?
Now some autonomous men and women are saying, “Oh, I hear you. And I will think about this maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow.” My five-year-old son, EJ, in anticipation of Christmas has asked me this question for the last five straight days. “Daddy, is today tomorrow?” I ask you the same question. I believe that God has asked me that question right now. Is today tomorrow? God wants today to be tomorrow. There is not a better time to have a new birth, a spiritual birthday in your life than on Christmas. But bowing the knee is up to you. I can’t do it for you. You have got to do it.
Dr. Richard Selzer wrote an account of an operation he performed in a classic book entitled MORTAL LESSONS. Let me paraphrase what he said about this operation. He said he was standing beside a hospital bed looking at a beautiful young woman post operative. I had removed a tumor from the left side of her face and I had to take out a nerve. I saw that her beautiful mouth would be palsied and drawn up for the rest of her life. I watched her young husband look at her.
You have gone through a marriage or two, a job or two, a house or two. And you are wondering on the Christmas Eve if there is something else out there. You are shopping for a Savior. I am going to challenge you to do something if you are in this position. I am going to challenge you to do what the Wise Men did years ago. The Wise Men were shopping. They were prosperous, brilliant, people well versed in the natural sciences.
The Bible says they shopped and shopped and shopped until as Matthew 2:11 says, “they saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshipped him.” They shopped until they dropped. The Bible also says in Philippians 2:10-11, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth.” So I ask you, there is not a better time in the world to put down the other knee and release your white knuckle grip on the cart. When you do that and allow Jesus to push your cart, that is when you have true position. You are adopted into the family of God. The word adoption in the Jewish culture is a strong word.
You see, back in Jesus’ day, you could disown a biological child. But if you adopted a child, you could not disown them. We have a change to be adopted into the family of God. Talk about position and influence. How about possessions? Once we come to know Christ and bow the knee to Him, we have true possessions. We can tap into His reservoir of strength when the rogue winds blow and the difficult days hit. Talk about adventure.
I’m a diamond in the rough. I’m fallen and fallible and ugly in my natural state. I’m sin-stained. And so are you. God is our authority. He’s placed authority structures in our lives—governmental authority structures, educational authority structures, spiritual authority structures. These people are used, either knowingly or unknowingly, as instruments to mold us and shape us into beautiful diamonds. Even at the dentist’s office.
So if I had this anti-authority vibe going on in a couple of days, I’ll miss what God wants to do through those people. Because God wants to always teach us and mold us and make us, every time we do anything. Because remember, God always works through authority.
Well Samuel is still whacking on Saul, check him out. He says in 1 Samuel 15:23, “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” Divination means witchcraft. Now why is Samuel bringing up witchcraft? That’s weird. Saul has dissed God. He’s messed around with authority. And now he’s bringing up witchcraft. What’s witchcraft? We learned it last time; witchcraft is trafficking with the devil. What makes the devil the devil? Rebellion. So when I’m rebellious, when you’re rebellious, we’re like the devil. And Saul was like the devil.
And now and then during the Christmas season we will go to a service like this and we will push our cart dangerously close to baby Jesus. We will look at baby Jesus but we don’t want to slow down too much because we will realize how empty we are. We look and think about Him and now and then some of us will pick up the Christ child. There is always room for a baby in the cart. We put the Christ child in the cart. We love having baby Jesus in the cart because He is harmless that way.
He is just a baby. And we can push Him around and still have the white knuckle grip. We can say, “Jesus you are so sweet, so kind, so nice.” We don’t want Jesus to grow up because then we are going to have to come to terms with the sin in our lives. We might have to realize some relationship is not right. We might have to come clean in a certain area. We will have to start telling the truth to others. We are all dressed up in our Christmas Eve attire. Everyone here looks great. Most of us match, in fact.
If our wives dressed us, we do. In a real sense, if we could see the real you, some of you are exhausted. The rubber on your cart is burned off. You still have that white knuckle grip on the cart of your life and life has knocked you down to one knee. You are hammered. You are stresses. You are guild-ridden. You are depressed. You are empty.
One garbage can is what I call the designer garbage can. It’s with—it matches the wallpaper, sometimes it’ll have painting on the side and people say, “Oh, that’s such a cute wastepaper basket.” And you throw items in the wastepaper basket every single day. Now, we have the big, industrial K-Mart, Woolco, Sam’s Wholesale Club, trash container outside and repeatedly-daily for many of us–we walk out and take the trash to the outside, garbage men come by and collect the trash, put it back inside.
We all do that. It’s a daily ritual. Now what if you decided to do this. “You know, I’m sick and tired of taking trash out ~ BLANK SPOT ON TAPE. Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. The first pig went out and built himself a house of straw. He was kind of the quick fix guy, just threw it up. He wanted a house. His brother built one pretty rapidly, too. He built one made of sticks. The little pigs who had built their houses out of straw and sticks were happy. Everything was done in a rapid-fire way.
Rumor had it there was a big bad wolf in the area, but these two little pigs were just skipping around saying, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf, the big bad wolf. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf, tra-la-la-la-la.” They looked over at the third little pig, their oldest brother, and this guy was building his house out of bricks. He was really working. He was toiling in the hot, boiling sun. And, I’m sure, they said to themselves, “What’s he doing? What’s wrong with him? He’s still working and we’re playing. Tra-la-la-la-la.”
Who are these guys? Who are these girls? Who are the people that formed the word of God? Because, folks, I’ll guarantee you something. If you attend the next couple of weeks— now I’m talking to myself, and, hopefully, I’ll be in attendance—as we study these major players, they will change our lives for the better. Because the Bible is a straightforward book. And that’s something I can identify with. Not only does it show someone’s strengths, but it also exposes their weaknesses-something that I can identify with and you can identify with.
The Bible does not try to broad brush or candy coat someone’s life. It’s straightforward facts. Today, we’re going to look at the life of a man whose name is Joseph. Joseph. So, take your Bible, if you have the Bible, and turn to the book of Genesis. If you don’t have a Bible, look next to the person on your right or left. Some of you singles, you can meet Mr. or Mrs. Right sharing the Bible. You never know. That’s how I met my wife.
Genesis 37. Genesis 37. The first book of the Bible. And in his account of Joseph, we’re going to look at some major players very quickly. We’re going to set the stage. Now, when you come to church, if you can, please bring the program-and that’s the word of God. If you see the Cowboys play, or the Mavericks, or the Rangers, it’s good to have a program. And how many times I’ve been to an athletic contest and I said, “Who made that tackle? 74. What’s his name? Who got that base hit?” If I have a program, I can follow along. So, the Bible is the program.
We worshiped together. We did it all in Panama City. But one of the main principles, one of the main rules that we give to all those students who attend our beach retreat or any retreat here is the Buddy System. I learned that from the YMCA. Remember those kind of weird commercials? Buddy! They’d be swimming in the pool and blow the horn, “Here’s my buddy” because you would swim, if you’re practicing safety with a swimming partner, with a buddy and the buddy could be a guy or a girl or whatever.
The Buddy System spiritually must be implemented if we’re going to be highly-disciplined individuals. We think the Christian life is a solo act. We think of ourselves like Pavoratti alone singing and doing the spiritual thing over here. “I don’t need to have accountability. I don’t need friends. I can do it myself”. That’s what we think. It doesn’t work that way! Christianity is not a solo act. The Bible says in Proverbs “iron sharpens iron”, “when you go to war you need counsel” and I encourage you to surround yourselves with one or two or three individuals you have a natural affinity with.
I’m talking about you’re close, you have the same interests, who will call you to the carpet, who will help you to become the spiritual champion, who will help you in times of need, who will pray with you, cry with you, who are there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and I thank the Lord that He’s brought me two individuals here in this church who are like that. They are my Buddy people. They are my accountability group or whatever you want to call it and they help me.
Secondly, we don’t take God seriously enough. God says stuff like this in His word. Job 8:21. “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.” Proverbs 14:30 LB. “A relaxed attitude lengthens a man’s life…” You know what research says.
It says that when we laugh more T cells are released, more immune factors are kicked in, our entire muscular system just chills out. The Bible says that laughter lengthens our lives. Are you laughing? If you are not laughing weekly, I mean a loud, bellowing, deep laugh, something is messed up.
Speaking of laughter and laughing about yourself, last weekend was a tough weekend for me because I turned thirty-five. After the Saturday night service some friends of mine kind of kidnapped me and took me to a restaurant for my birthday. I did get to choose the restaurant, Cafe Natura.
Now most of you if you know me well know that I watch my diet pretty closely. I am not a purist. I don’t eat and drink vegetables and carrot juice every meal, but I do eat like that a lot. That is why I chose Cafe Natura, because all the fat grams are out there in the menu and everything is healthy. You know I tell my wife often, “Lisa, don’t ever buy anything that is processed, with nitrites and especially, Lisa, stay away from baloney.
It will kill you.” Well the other day I walk in while the children are having lunch. Although I didn’t think that any of our children had ever seen baloney, LeeBeth had seen some at school and requested that her mother buy some. When I saw Lisa putting baloney on bread with mustard, I said, “Lisa, what are you doing? You are going to kill our children. Baloney is horrible for you.” She kind of started laughing at the time and later told some of my friends about the event.
Twister, Scrabble, Candyland, The Game of Life. They are obviously popular board games. But those games pale in comparison to the popularity of the Blame Game. We all play it. We are subtle about it. We do it behind the scenes without a lot of people realizing it, yet many of us are caught up and mesmerized by the Blame Game. We wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, take a shower and we carefully look for the pieces of the Blame Game, put the board in the Blame Game box, put it under our arms and head out into the world.
If we are fifteen minutes late to work, no problem, we blame it on the traffic. If our kid has problems in school, we blame the teacher or the principal. If we have any relational problems, especially a marriage difficulty, we blame it on our spouse. Our society is caught up in blame. Blamelessness has become an art form. Have you ever read those “Not Responsible For” signs? You hang your coat up in a restaurant and the sign reads, “Management Not Responsible for Harmed or Stolen Garments.” For those of us who fly around now and then, have you ever read the fine print on your airline ticket? It says that the airline industry is not responsible for delayed flights or missed connections. If you do happen to lose your luggage, yes, they will pay an amount, and only the amount, agreed upon around 1962 in some obscure conference in Las Vegas. Try parking your car in an expensive lot in downtown Dallas. You will see the “Not Responsible For” sign. If you car is stolen or damaged, they will not be responsible.
Our culture has two major people groups, the Blaming Boomers and Generation X-cuse. The Boomers bash their parents. They say their parents are responsible for the messed up condition they are in. The Xers say it is the Boomers, those wild and wacky and materialistic Boomers. That’s why the Xers are in such a mess. The Blame Game. Blamelessness is as American as the Constitution. Doesn’t the Fifth Amendment say that no one can make us blame ourselves for anything? I think it does.