What if, for example, my stomach said to me, “Hey, Ed, man, I don’t want to work anymore. I just want you to feed me.” If I could talk back to my stomach, I’d say, “Get to work!” In several weeks I’m going to Atlanta to speak before about 2500 young leaders, most being pastors—I get an opportunity to do that now and then.
And, now and then, these pastors will say to me, “Ed, I meet people in my church who come up to me and say, “Hey, I just want to get fed.” If someone ever tells you that, and I challenge these leaders, just tell them this, “Get to work!” You don’t grow just by saying, “Feed me, baby, feed me.” You grow and you’re blessed and you mature by getting to work. Just think, we’ve got some people right now who are sitting on the stands.
You’re sitting on your blessed assurance right now. And it’s time to leave the stands and hit the field. But if you are not using your God-given skill set within this context of a local church, you are keeping this body of Christ from being all it can be, of scoring more and more touchdowns for the glory of God. You are keeping it, you are holding it back. You’re stagnating it. Don’t let that be you.
I’m drafted, I’m signed, I’m gifted. Number four: Colossians 3:23, I’m coached. “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord.” See, I’m not speaking for you. I’m not speaking to try and impress somebody. I’m speaking for an audience of One. Every time I say, “God, I want to please you. I’m about you. I’m worried about your eyes, your agenda. You’re the coach.
You’re the man,” then my life soars. The moment I say, “Oh, I wonder what they’re thinking about what I said. I wonder what that group thinks. I wonder what these pastors over here think.” That’s when I mess up, and you’re the same way when you start comparing yourself to others. “I wonder what they think. I wonder what she thinks. I wonder how I look. I wonder…” It’s about God.
Let me tell you what a mature believer says. A mature believer says, “How can I help you? How can I serve you? How can I get outside of myself and do something for you? How can I work in the most important thing around: the local church?” The immature believer is the stomach believer. “Feed me, baby, just feed me. I don’t want to work. I’ll just sit and soak and sour. Just feed me.” I’ll say it one more time: get to work! Get to work.
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 Muhammad Ali stand up, hugs George Foreman, and I’m standing there like with my mouth wide open. And my friend says, “Muhammad, I want you to meet Ed Young. He was just ordained into the ministry.” And Muhammad hugs me and then gets about 6 inches from my face and he says, “Are you a Christian preacher?”
I said, “Yes, Muhammad.”
He says, “I want to talk to you about Jesus.”
I said, “Okay.”
So I sat here sandwiched between George Foreman and Muhammad 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 Muhammad 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.
“Ed,” Ryan says, “Wow, have you been spying on me? I’m a 27‑year old Christian male who has strung along a beautiful woman for 17 months. Every single description you gave of the single male fit me perfectly. I am definitely on the path headed toward weirdo’s‑ville. I was once great looking, in shape, had a large social group and worked diligently each day to reach my goals. As a result, I have a master’s degree and a great job. Okay, so what? I mean that means nothing now because I spend every single second of my spare time on the couch watching ESPN. I have one good friend that lives 250 miles away. I have pretty much lost touch with the rest of my friends because I never feel like doing anything. I just want to do nothing. That changes, though, when I’m with my girlfriend. When I visit her on the weekends we go out with our friends, go out with each other and live active lives. I become a normal person. Well, because of your sermon I might learn to be normal again because I proposed to my girlfriend 18 hours after hearing your sermon.
I had already planned to propose to her around this time but the whole ‘I’m not 100 percent sure’ thought was racing through my head. I was waiting for a burning bush. Fortunately your sermon was my burning bush. I can’t think of a more powerful and direct sign from God than your pastor preaching a sermon called ‘Just Get Married.’ Thankfully she said yes. I can’t believe she stuck around for 17 months. Anyway, take care and God bless.
Now, what does it mean to fast? A biblical fast is not dieting. Some of the women are like, “Oh girl! I’m going to fast because I need to drop a few.”
No, no, no. It’s not about that. Yeah, that will happen. But it’s for value, not vanity reasons. Fasting is not just going without food. Biblical fasting is a spiritual discipline of redirecting our appetite from the material to the things of God. Biblical fasting is denying our appetite to deepen our relationship with God. It’s all about our connectivity with Jesus Christ. That is why we fast.
And I’m here to tell you something, because I’ve been studying this, even in the lobby in the gorgeous hotel while the guy was tuning the piano. I’m here to tell you something. Things will not occur in your life or in mine or in this church until followers fast. I’ve fasted several times in my life. Yet, I’ve never fasted the way I’m going to talk to you and challenge you to fast today.
You might be saying, “Well Ed, I’m not a believer. I’m not a follower of Christ. I’m not even sure if Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I have doubts about the Bible. I saw this deal on the Discovery Channel the other day and I’m just not sure about everything.”
I want to challenge you to fast as well, because the issue of Jesus is too important for you to hydroplane over. Every day of the fast, ask God this question: God, if you’re real, reveal yourself to me. God, if you are real, if you are the real deal, show me that you’re real.”
Do you know living larger than life is in Scripture? John 10:10. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full.” Jesus said that. Now, the answer that I’m going to unfold for you today to deliver on the next level is going to shock some of you. It’s counter intuitive. It’s paradoxical. Because the world says to live large we’ve got to attain more and more and bigger and bigger. Yet, Jesus comes along and Jesus says something else. I’m going to talk to you about something you’ve probably never heard a message on before. And it’s found in Matthew 6.
If you have your bibles turn to Matthew 6:16. You’re going to feel a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when I read this verse. Hear is what Jesus said. “When you fast…” “Wait a minute! Surely he was talking about someone else. I mean, Ed, surely you’re not going there. You’re not really talking about fasting for like twenty minutes. Come on man!” “When you fast …” I’m just reading his words. In other words, followers fast. Jesus is assuming that those of us who tenaciously follow him fast.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do…” (The word hypocrite is the Greek for actor; an actor is being someone or playing someone that he or she is not.) “…for they disfigure their faces to show men their fasting.”
“Whah, whah, whah. I am fasting. I’m so holy. Feel sorry for me.”
Jesus said, “Don’t do that.” Fasting is an adventure.
I’m going to challenge every single person who is hearing my voice right now—whether you on the floor, the balcony, maybe in one of our over flow rooms—I’m going to challenge all of you to embark on a fast. Some of you are saying, “Where are the exit signs? How can I get out?”
So often we allow fear to tyrannize and paralyze us and it causes us to miss the process of joy. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
So, joy strengthens us. It enables us to do phenomenal things. But if we’re always weirded out about fear, fear can tyrannize and paralyze us. It can keep us from really revealing our true selves in relationships. Fear can do that.
“Man Ed, I’ve got fear. I’ve got fear.”
Well, I do too. So often we have to do it afraid. Just to step out and do it afraid. Just go over here and do it afraid.
“I’ve got fear.”
Well, so do I. Just do it afraid. Do it afraid. And when we do it afraid, what’s going to happen? Joy will ambush us. Joy will empower us. And we’ll discover that the fear was really nothing in the grand scheme of things. We were just concentrating on Poplar Street instead of seeing the true perspective that God wants us to see.
Paul says we’ve got to do the stuff. We’ve got to be the man, or be the woman. It’s not about the problems in life, because that’s the deal. The problem in life is the problem. We all have problems. It’s the power of God. It’s the power of joy.
What happened? Paul was changed to a member of the Praetorian Guard. Church history tells us that the Praetorian Guard was changed every six hours. So, think about it. The Apostle Paul got to share Christ with the entire elite Praetorian Guard. Think about it. Because Paul was under house arrest, he met the heavy hitters in Rome, people he would have never ever met otherwise. And he got to share Jesus with them. So, God used Paul’s chains to change the lives of others.
Think about education. All those areas do not support the only institution that Jesus ever built, the local church. The church is the hope of the world. Jesus didn’t say, “I’m going to build a hospital.” He didn’t say, “I’m going to build the school.” He didn’t say, “I was going to build a 501c3.” He said, “I will build My church.” That’s why people like you and me have to wake up and smell the espresso and invest in the next generation. How many of you have a checkbook? We all have checkbooks. I was thinking the other day, you know you can take your checkbook or my checkbook, and if we could hire a ghost writer, they could write a story about your checkbook and mine without even knowing us. Because in my checkbook and in your checkbook, you know, a ghost writer could tell, okay, this is important, this is not important, and this person is really into that. A story could be written.
Everybody these days is talking about authenticity. They’re talking about vulnerability. They’re talking about, “Man you’ve got to keep it real.” Well, the Bible has been doing that for thousands and thousands of years. And one of the ways that I can identify with scripture is the fact that not only does it show the strengths of people, it also shows their weaknesses; not only what they do well, but also their vulnerabilities. And we learn the same from the children of Israel. So check out 1 Corinthians 10:11. The Apostle Paul writes, “Now these things happen to them as an example,” them being the Jews, God’s chosen people, “and they were written for our instruction.” In other words, the pilgrimage of God’s people is analogous to where you are and to where I am. So they were written for our instruction. “Upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”
And I couldn’t help but think about our lives, because isn’t it true that so many of us spend so much time banging on one key, pounding on one key. We think, “Well if I lived in that area of the country, maybe with that climate or with that size house, then my life would have meaning.”
Or, “Maybe just maybe if I was just hooked up with that person in another marriage or another relationship, that would do it for me.”
Or, “If I had that job. Yeah, that would be great! With the corner office and all of the trappings and trimmings that go along with that.”
Isn’t it true that we spend a lot of time just pounding on one key? What did that guy do, though? That guy put together notes and sounds in a beautiful combination that made some incredible music. That transition is there for all of us; yet, isn’t it true that we spend most of our time going through the same ritual, routine and regimen 24/7 when we have an opportunity to play beautiful music.
We think, “I’m going to lose weight. I’m going to stop smoking. I’m going to change the way I do business.”
We make all of the promises. And we resolve to do this or that. I would argue, though, rarely do we get to the foundation of where we need to go. Many times we focus so much on the superfluous that we miss the significant. We get so involved in the junk and even doing good things that we miss the best thing. Today, I want to kick this series off by talking to you about something that will help all of us live larger than life.