Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People

How Are You Progressing in Your Quest for Personal Excellence?

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How Are You Progressing in Your Quest for Personal Excellence?

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How Are You Progressing in Your Quest for Personal Excellence?

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Our Father God and Elder Brother Jesus Christ are beings of excellence. They live in excellence; they design, create, and sustain excellence. As a spiritual family, excellence is family tradition. As we follow the lead of our Father and Elder Brother let’s pause and ask ourselves “how are we progressing in our quest for personal excellence?”

Transcript

[Randy D’Alessandro] Brethren, I’d like to begin my sermon today by asking a question. This question will help frame the remarks I want to get into as we progress through the material. Are you in danger of being mediocre? Are you in danger of being mediocre? Why would I even ask a question like that? Well, you know as a speaker – all of us who speak – we are influenced by the activities – by what takes place around us.

Every evening, when Mary comes home from work, we debrief. I’ll ask how things have gone where she works. She works for a very nice company. It’s not a real big company. It’s a small manufacturing company – about 50 people. What they manufacture is equipment for garbage trucks – that type of a thing. When the garbage truck pulls up to your house to pick up your trash, there are two arms that come out to grab the trash can and load it. Her company makes those arms, and her company also makes the large green bins, I don’t know what color they might color theirs, but they are normally green. And they are sold all around the world. Just this last week, some of her technicians went down to Uruguay to help them with an issue they had down there with some of the equipment. The equipment was good, but the customer in Uruguay was trying to modify it – unsuccessfully – and they had to send their tech staff down there to help them out. So Mary tells me about some of the drama that she sees at work.

And then, this last Thanksgiving, Mary and I went down to her niece’s home. She lives about two hours south, here in Illinois, right on the Iowa border. And it just so happens that two of Mary’s nephews own their own businesses. They are small businessmen. The one nephew is a landscape architect. He’s got thirteen employees that work for him. He has six greenhouses. He has a store. And, of course, he does all the landscape architecture and all that kind of work. The other nephew, never having gone to college – he’s one of these kind of fellows. And by the way, young people, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to college, but he has never gone to college a day in his life, and he’s in his early 40’s. But he also has, I think, thirteen employees. He learned the window washing trade from Mary’s brother, Brad. Whereas Brad, I believe, basically, works with washing windows on the ground floor, the nephew does high-rises and multi-story things – also washes buildings, in addition to that. He supplies each of his window washers with a company vehicle. He owns storage units – you know, those kind you see out there where you just pay the money and you put your stuff in. He owns a laundromat. He was making so much money, his money manager said, “You need something as a little bit of a loss leader,” so he started a candle-making business for his wife. She took that over and that’s been going great guns. So those two nephews – both of them are in their early 40’s – are doing quite well. But when we were sitting there talking about things, as they were discussing their businesses, I was intrigued by that. They were talking about some of their employees – not all, but a few of their employees – and how that, so many times, there is this entitlement mentality that surfaces. People believe that what should be considered a privilege is a right. One of the nephews said, “It was interesting. Just the other day somebody performed a task – a task they were hired to do – and after they performed this task, they kind of stood back and thought like they should have this great reward.” Well, the reward is they’re being paid. Brethren, the bad news…we could go through so many other examples – employees who come to work doing as little as possible and expecting, and demanding, the highest level of pay possible.

My son, when we moved into Michigan, he was starting his freshman year in high school. Right across the street from his high school was a CVS drug store. Brandon was 15 years old. He walked across the street, got a job. He knew how to work. He knew how to work hard, and believe me, that means an awful lot in today’s society. So, as Brandon continued to learn the ropes there at CVS, he eventually, within a year or so, was running the photo department there at CVS. Then after a couple of years – two or three years, I think it was – they made him an assistant manager. Now, in his case, no college. Now he has a degree. Again, young people, we want you to get your degree or get some training, but at that point, Brandon had no college under his belt. He did very well as an assistant manager, and then they gave him a small store in the southeastern Michigan area. That went really well. Again, no college. And then, I think he was 21 years of age when they gave him one of the biggest grossing stores in southeastern Michigan. Again, no college. But Brandon had a work ethic. He didn’t come to work and talk to a girlfriend or something on the phone. He knew how to work. He didn’t have an entitlement mentality.

But we find so many people today…. At the time, when Brandon got that one job, he was making almost twice what I was making. Again, at that point, no college. I kept after him. He finally got his degree, but the point I’m trying to make is, there are just too many people who expect to just show up and somehow, that should just be rewarded – that mediocrity is okay, that a low bar is okay.

The good news is that there is a cure for mediocrity. Mediocrity isn’t something that’s forced upon us. We bring it on ourselves. Negative habits produce negative results. And we’re seeing too much of that in today’s society. Now dictionary.com defines mediocre this way: of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate. Barely adequate.

Now why am I bringing all this up? As I was thinking about what Mary’s two nephews had said – and they both had employees that were just low bar type of guys – some of the things Mary says about where she works, I got to thinking about where am I spiritually. I’ve said to you so many times before. I give you a sermon, I give it to myself first. I was asking myself, am I barely adequate in my walk with God? Am I settling low bar? Am I settling for mediocrity in my walk with God? And that’s a question I would like to put to you today. I’ve been examining myself, and will continue to examine myself along those lines, but today I’ve got a question, and if you’re taking notes you might want to jot this at the top of your page. The question is this: How are you progressing in your quest for personal excellence? How are you progressing in your quest for personal excellence?

As I was doing some research, there was an article I ran across, by a Frank Sonnenberg. Frank Sonnenberg wrote the article, Mediocre Behavior is a Choice . It was posted on February 13, 2018, so it is a relatively new article. Sonnenberg is an award winning author. He’s written seven books and over 300 articles. He was recently named one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders and one of America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts. There are a lot of other things that we could say about him, but in this particular article, he listed 15 common habits of mediocre people. Now I’m not going to go through all of those, I’m just going to summarize just a very few of them. But again, let’s you and I look at this from a spiritual perspective. Now we see these common habits in people in our workplace. We see it in the neighborhoods. We see it in many different places. He writes in his article, he says: Mediocrity rears its ugly head when people have a poor attitude, misguided philosophy, or bad habits. Know the warning signs and take appropriate action that counter them . Then he goes through fifteen. Let me just go pick through a few of these.

Lack of accountability. You always have a clever excuse or someone to blame so that you can dodge responsibility.

Low expectations. You set the bar so low for yourself that you’re pleased with mediocre performance.

Getting something for nothing. You’re rewarded based on tenure rather than merit, so there’s no incentive to keep up with the times or to go the extra mile.

Lack of commitment. You dip your toe in the water because you’re afraid to go all in. The result is that a superficial effort leads to superficial results.

Craving acceptance. You lower your personal standards to win social acceptance and become a member of the in crowd . And the last one he has here is:

Apathy. You’ve been underperforming for so long you don’t even recognize excellence anymore .

Brethren, we don’t want society to rub off on us. We don’t want to be mediocre Christians. God did not call you and I to be mediocre. Now he ended his article this way, and I quote: Just as exercise conditions your body and makes you stronger and more resilient, the same holds true for your mindset. When there are no consequences for mediocre behavior, you can easily be lulled into a false sense of security — believing that mediocrity doesn’t matter. The problem is, when you think you’re fooling the world, you’re only fooling yourself. One day, when it’s important for you to put your best foot forward, you’ll learn that your skills have atrophied and you’ve lost your edge. You’ll come to realize that you’ve been coasting for so long that mediocrity isn’t just a bad habit — it’s who you are .

So brethren as I’ve made mention, we’ve not been called to mediocrity. We’ve been called to a life of excellence. So again, I ask the question. How are you progressing – how am I progressing – in our quest for personal excellence?

I’ve made mention to the fellows in Spokesman Club…. I originally wanted this to be a lecture for club. Club lectures normally go about ten minutes. Well, as I kept on adding, and adding, and adding, I realized this is going to be longer than ten minutes. So I told them Wednesday evening at Club that this was going to be the sermon for today.

I’ve got five sections – not five points – five sections – I want to cover with you, as I was putting my thoughts together and doing some research about personal excellence from a spiritual perspective.

Section number one: We are called to a life of excellence . We are called to a life of excellence. Let’s go over to Hebrews, chapter 3, verse 1:

Hebrews 3:1 Hebrews 3:1Why, holy brothers, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
American King James Version×
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus . There’s a lot there in that verse. “Holy brethren” – we’re special in God’s sight. We’re not perfect, but we’re special. We’re the called out ones. “Consider Jesus Christ,” it says – or Christ Jesus. So we’re holy. Hagios means to set apart – be separated – for Christ. Christians remain focused on our Leader. We, as Christians, are to remain focused on Jesus Christ – to emulate His example, to follow His life. Christ lived a life of excellence in all things. Christ never settled for mediocrity in anything.

Another thing we see here is that our calling is a heavenly one. Our calling comes from God Himself. Our calling is to become like God Himself. Brethren, God is a being of excellence. God lives in excellence. God designs, creates, sustains excellence. Our family tradition, spiritually, is one of excellence. Our gift to the world, as Christians, should be one of excellence. If you would, let’s turn to Ephesians, chapter 1, and verse 18.

Ephesians 1:18 Ephesians 1:18The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,
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The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints . “Hope of His calling.” Our hope is not a vague feeling that the future will be positive. We’ve got a hope that our future is going to be excellent – that God is going to engineer it that way. And it talks about the riches of the glory. Here we see pictured the highest value of this inheritance. It’s a rich inheritance. It’s a glorious inheritance. It’s an excellent inheritance. And this is all authored by an excellent God, Who is our Father, Who wants excellent children.

It was interesting, when I was doing the research for the sermon, I was looking at quotations regarding the subject of excellence. There is one here by Vince Lombardi. I think most mid-westerners, who follow football, know that name – especially, if you’re from Wisconsin, you know that name. For those who could care less about professional football – and I’m sure there are many of you in the room here today – Mr. Lombardi won five National Football League championships, including the first two Super Bowls. He died early of cancer. He had a tremendous winning attitude, which has been detailed in so many different articles, books, what have you. But Vince said this – and I want to quote: We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process, we will catch excellence. Notice the comment here: “we are going to relentlessly chase perfection. No, we’re not going to catch it, because nothing is perfect, but we are going to relentlessly chase it because, in that process, we will catch excellence.” So brethren, we have been called to a life of excellence. How am I – how are you – doing with our quest for personal excellence?

Section number two. Let’s take a look at God’s view – God’s view of personal excellence . Brethren, as you’re well aware, many times God uses the physical to teach us spiritual lessons. From one end of the scriptures to the other, we see physical things teaching us important spiritual lessons. We can look at the holy days as an example. With Passover, there are tremendous lessons spiritually to be learned from physical items. We’ve got the physical bread. We’ve got physical wine. But that teaches us about the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We’ve got Unleavened Bread, where we get rid of leavening, picturing sin, and bring in unleavened and we eat the unleavened products, picturing God’s righteousness. Again physical teaching us spiritual. We’ve got the Day of Atonement, where we don’t eat or drink physical things, which teaches us a profound spiritual lesson – that, of and by ourselves, we’re just so much chemicals, and without God, we would be nothing. Without at-one-ment with God we wouldn’t exist. We would die.

Now I want to build one spiritual principal – physical teaching of spiritual – to another principal we are studying in the book of Isaiah. In our study of the book of Isaiah, we’ve noted the overall purpose of Bible prophecy is to encourage us to change our lives as we read those prophecies and we see why those prophecies are in existence. Now there is a prophecy we want to take a look at. We don’t read this very often. But we want to take a look at it today. Revelation, chapter 21 – we read it from time to time, but not a great many times. Again, we’re looking at God’s view of excellence .

Revelation 21:1-3 Revelation 21:1-3 1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
American King James Version×
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth – for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city – new Jerusalem – it’s a holy city, a new Jerusalem – coming down from God out of Heaven – God has designed this, created this, sustains this – it’s from God – prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,” and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God .

Now, is there going to be imperfection here – Revelation, chapter 21? We know where we’re at in the plan of God – spirit being or nothing, right? Lake of fire has come and gone. God wants perfection. He wants excellence. Now again, we can’t be perfect in this flesh. But we can strive for excellence. Drop down to verse 11 – talking about New Jerusalem.

V-11 – …having the glory of God. And her light was like unto a jasper stone, clear as crystal. “Having the Glory of God. I made mention God lives in excellence. Dropping down to verse 18 – talking about how this city is made.

V-18 – The construction of it’s walls was jasper, and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass, And the foundations of the wall of the city were like precious stones. Then it goes through and lists all these precious stones. Verse 21:

V-21 – The twelve gates were twelve pearls. Each individual gate was one pearl. And the city was pure gold like transparent glass .

So what we see here – from this perspective, brethren – we see what God is creating. We see God’s perspective. And God’s perspective is one of excellence – excellence in who’s living in that city, excellence as to how the city is put together. The lesson for us today is this: We should be pursuing excellence – a superior quality of life in preparation for our role in the Kingdom of God.

Now you can take this section of the sermon and add to it – I didn’t want to take the time to do that – but take a look at how the Old Testament tabernacle was put together. Take a look at how the Old Testament temple was put together. See the various building materials that were used – finest quality. The artisans – God gave His special excellent Spirit to the artisans to make sure that things were done just so – not mediocre, not low bar – the highest possible quality. I ask myself, “Am I giving my best quality of existence on a daily basis to this way of life?” And you can ask yourself the same thing. Are we striving for excellence spiritually in our walk with God in all things? So, section two was God’s view of the import of excellence.

Section three, moving along. We’re fortunate in our travels through life. We’ve got mentors – mentors in excellence – their names are God, our Father; and Jesus Christ, our elder brother . Couldn’t ask for better mentors. A mentor is a trusted counselor or teacher, a senior sponsor or supporter. Now how do they mentor us?

Take a look at Luke, chapter 24. When putting my thoughts together for the sermon, I learned something I had not known before. There are all sorts of things I have not known before. Prior to my working with our Bible Study in Beloit – one of our in-home studies…. Both of our in-home studies, here in Chicago, are in Mark 10. One of the studies in Beloit is in Mark 13. But in one of the studies in Beloit, we’re starting the book of Acts. That’s going to take forever. If I have four or five home studies a year in an area, that’s going to take a long time. But as I was doing my research on the book of Acts, I was reading something from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary , which is one of the finest commentaries you can get. If somebody were to ask, “Randy, who wrote most of the New Testament? Which one guy wrote the biggest share?” I think on many occasions, I’ve said it was Paul. And you know what? That’s not right. Of all of the epistles, somebody else wrote more than Paul. Now maybe you’re thinking John. He’s got a gospel, he’s got epistles, he’s got the book of Revelation. Not John either. According to Expositor’s Bible Commentary , the person who wrote almost 30% of the New Testament is Luke. Luke is the longest New Testament book. Acts is the third longest New Testament book. Combined, Luke and Acts are about 30% of the New Testament. A little factoid there that I wasn’t aware of, according to Expositor’s… . I didn’t count words. Maybe somebody, who is a certain type of personality, will go back tonight and start counting words. I don’t know. But that’s what Expositor’s… has to say. But here in Luke, chapter 24, and verse 44, there is something we want to note – if I can get my Bible pages to separate here.

Luke 24:44 Luke 24:44And he said to them, These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
American King James Version×
He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written – notice Christ here is going to discuss the divisions of the Bible – which were written in the Law of Moses – one division – the Prophets – another division – and the Psalms – a third division – three divisions of the Bible.

Now I gave a series of sermons back in Ann Arbor – maybe I’ll do that here – where I went through each section – each of those three sections – showing how God constructed both – not only the Old Testament, but the New Testament. Perhaps I’ll do that again here. But in the Old Testament, you’ve got the Law, the Prophets, and here it’s called the Psalms. It’s also called the Writings. The Writings. As a couple of mentors, our Father, our elder Brother, have given us all of the scriptures, which mentor us. But I want to highlight one section – the section that’s called the Psalms, or it’s also called the Writings. And within the Writings, you’ve got a sub-group called the Wisdom Books. You’ve got wisdom literature. They would be the Psalms, the Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes and Job. All of these books deal with real life. God is mentoring us – again, using all of scripture – but in a very special way, these particular books.

Now, let’s take a look at John, chapter 6, and verse 45. We read verse 44 all the time – not as often verse 45.

John 6:45 John 6:45It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes to me.
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It is written in the Prophets, “and they shall all be taught by God . They shall all be mentored, if you will, by God. Therefore everyone that has heard learned from the Father – mentored from the Father – comes to Me . God, our Father, as a mentor.

We skip ahead to chapter 17 of John – John, chapter 17, and verse 8.

John 17:8 John 17:8For I have given to them the words which you gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from you, and they have believed that you did send me.
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For I have given unto them the words which you gave me. Jesus Christ came with a mission. His mission was to impart each and every word God wanted mankind to have. Christ inspired the Old Testament, but here we have the words dealing with Christ’s ministry that God the Father wanted Christ to give to the New Testament church. For I have given unto them the words which thou gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that you did send Me .

Now when I was going through the sermons back in Ann Arbor about these books and the basic meaning of each of the books, I went through every book of the Bible in that particular series. I just want to highlight what God gives us in some of these books that are considered wisdom literature.
The Psalms – the Psalms give us the heart and feeling of God’s law. God law is an expression of His character revealed in scripture as love. The book of Psalms, in particular, gives the whole heart, the feeling, the approach one needs to have toward God and His law. The Psalms express every emotion the believer encounters in life, be it praise and love for God, or anger, or any number of things. Psalms give us the heart and the feeling of God’s law. It’s a mentoring tool that God gives us.

Proverbs. Proverbs not only examines moral issues, it helps us deal with the ordinary matters of life. Sometimes people wonder, “I need to give a sermon. What do I need to speak on?” And I’ve said the same thing any number of times. I should always come back to the idea, “Well, every proverb is a sermon.” Every proverb is a sermon. Every proverb could be multiple sermons. There is so much in each of those pithy, little statements.

The book of Ecclesiastes makes us face our most profound questions and thereby bring us to a more genuine faith in God – very important as a mentoring tool.

The book of Job. The point of the book of Job is – one of the points of the book of Job is – to show that God’s objective is ultimately to lead those that put their trust in Him, and live as He directs. In the end, all believers who suffer, will be richly rewarded. Even in this life, the spiritual blessings will be great. Job, when you look at the book, he was all those things. So much was taken away from him and then later on things were added, but the spiritual was most important. So section number three was, we are mentored by God our Father and Jesus Christ our elder Brother.

Section number four of the five sections. God equips us to strive for excellence. God equips us to strive for excellence. In your Bibles, you can be turning over to Daniel, chapter 5. We covered this when we were going through the book of Daniel. Here you see the last day of Babylon. Babylon is about to walk into history here. A new king sits on the throne of Babylon, Belshazzar, grandson of King Nebuchadnezzar. He’s throwing a great banquet – probably throwing this great banquet, because the Persian army has surrounded the city, and Belshazzar wanted to throw this great, big party in an effort to boost morale. So he throws this tremendous party. It would be the night – the last night of the Babylonian Empire – it would fall to the Persians. The date, according to historians, was October 12, 539 BC. Now, if you’ve got a holy day calendar, which I do – one of you in this room gave me one, where I can calculate a holy day in any year BC, AD, whatever. I went back to October 12, 539 BC and found that, yes indeed, it was the third day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Interesting.

So here in chapter 5 of Daniel, we see the handwriting on the wall and the king, Belshazzar, is really upset by what he’s seeing. He doesn’t know what to do with this. His counselors don’t know what to make of this. Finally, the queen comes in and says, “Wait a minute” and then she gives him some advice – verse 11. Daniel 5.

Daniel 5:11 Daniel 5:11There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;
American King James Version×
There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the Spirit of the holy God. Now how did she know that? Well, I don’t know how she knew that other than just by watching and knowing Daniel over the years. Perhaps God was just simply inspiring her to say this. In any case, it was true. A man in your kingdom, in whom is the Spirit of the holy God. And in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods – what did we say? Excellent wisdom – were found in him. And King Nebuchadnezzar – your father, the king – made him chief over all the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers . Verse 12: Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in him. Brethren, you and I have the same excellent spirit. It’s called the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit of God. Verse 14:

V-14 – I’ve heard of you , the king says, that the spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you . So we see here that God gives us an excellent Spirit. If He didn’t want us to strive for something, He wouldn’t give us this excellent Spirit. Correct? He’s given us a tremendous tool – His Spirit.

Let’s now move over to 2 Timothy, chapter 3 – more equipment, so we can strive for personal excellence. 2 Timothy 3, verse 15:

2 Timothy 3:15 2 Timothy 3:15And that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×
…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures . Holy Scriptures – writings that are unique to God – that are excellent, that are infallible – the true words and thoughts of God. …the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation . These words are enabling words and, in this case, that’s a positive thing. It’s a powerful thing. These words enable us. Verse 16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God…. Does God give us anything that is not excellent? All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness . There we’ve got a formula – how we can be the best possible, excellent Christians. Verse 17: …that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work – thoroughly rigged out. Thoroughly rigged out. So God gives us His Holy Spirit, He gives us His Holy Scripture so we can understand the Bible, so we can strive for personal excellence.

Romans, chapter 2, and verse 18 – no, let’s start in verse 17:

Romans 2:17 Romans 2:17Behold, you are called a Jew, and rest in the law, and make your boast of God,
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Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law . Paul, here, is saying that God’s word is not only a record of God’s will, it’s a road map to excellence. It’s a road map to excellence. So God has equipped us to strive for excellence.

Let’s pause a moment. Let’s gather ourselves. Where have we come to at this point in the sermon? I’ve asked the question: How are you, how am I, progressing in our quest for personal excellence? We’ve looked at four of the five sections I’ve got in my sermon. We’ve seen that God has called us to a life of excellence. We’ve seen that God has a viewpoint in terms of excellence. We’ve seen that our Father and elder Brother are mentors of excellence. And we’ve seen how God equips us to strive for excellence. One section left, number five.

All the other things we’ve discussed, to this point, shows what God does. He does an awful lot for us. He calls us. He sets an example for us. He mentors us. He equips us. Section five is something we’ve got to do. We’re in a partnership here. Section number five is this: We need to diligently do the work of striving for excellence. We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work. God’s not going to do this for us. He’ll help us. He’ll mentor us. He’ll give us tools. But there are things we have to do.

Again, as I was preparing the material here, there was a couple of fellows I want to quote. Most of you know both of these men. Probably all of you know the first one. Colin Powell. Colin Powell – retired four star general, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 65th Secretary of State in this country. Colin Powell said this about excellence: “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it’s a prevailing mentality.” If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you need to develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it’s a prevailing mentality in little matters. Brings to mind some scriptural principles, doesn’t it? The mustard seed? Little mustard seeds – where Christ said, “Be faithful in little and I’ll give you much.” Colin Powell didn’t know, but he was quoting biblical principles.

Somebody else a number of you may now – probably not all – a fellow by the name of Pat Riley, NBA – National Basketball Association – coach – regarded as of one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. Won five championships in his profession. Pat Riley said this regarding excellence: “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” It’s the gradual result of always striving to do better. So as you and I are thinking about our quest for personal excellence, it’s not as though you’ve got to start off on one big jump and you’re at the top of Mount Everest. It’s gradual, you take it a little bit at a time.

So how do we do this? Let’s look at Matthew, chapter 5 – some pointers here in Matthew 5. We’re going to diligently seek excellence. Notice what Christ has to say here. Beatitudes. Matthew 5 – beautiful beatitudes – Matthew 5, verse 6.

Matthew 5:6 Matthew 5:6Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
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Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled . Hunger and thirst. To diligently do the work of striving for excellence, we must have it as our heart’s greatest desire. Is your heart, is my heart’s greatest desire to be excellent in whatever – you fill in the blank. It’s got to be our heart’s greatest desire. We hunger and thirst for it.

In 2 Corinthians, chapter 7, we see a description of what it means to repent – what it means to change, what it means to overcome. Now certainly we can apply this to striving for excellence. We want to overcome being mediocre. We want to overcome settling for the low bar – for the least. Notice what it says here – 2 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 11:

2 Corinthians 7:11 2 Corinthians 7:11For behold this selfsame thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it worked in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
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For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner – you sorrowed in an excellent manner – what diligence – we’re talking about being diligent in our striving for excellence – what diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire – vehement desire. So we combine two of those seven steps in repentance – diligence and vehement desire. If we want excellence, we’ve got to want it – and really want it – and work for it.

Something else, another pointer to look at is found in 1 Peter, chapter 1, verse 13:

1 Peter 1:13 1 Peter 1:13Why gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
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Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ . “Gird up the loins of your mind.” Barclay’s Daily Study Bible says this: He tells them to gird up the loins of their mind. This is a deliberately vivid phrase. In the east, men wore long flowing robes, which hindered fast progress or strenuous action. Round the waist, they wore a broad belt or girdle, and when strenuous action was necessary, they shortened the long robe by pulling it up within the belt in order to give them freedom of movement. The English equivalent of the phrase would be to roll up one’s sleeves, or to take off one’s jacket. Peter is telling his people that they must be ready for the most strenuous mental endeavor. They must never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith. They must set to, and think things out, and think them through .

Now that was kind of an interesting phrase to me. People have a way of sometimes turning a phrase. “They must never be content with a flabby and unexamined faith.” Do we have, do I have, do you have a weak or a flabby and unexamined faith? Have we gotten so used to so many blessings that we have in God’s church that we take them for granted?

So it must be our heart’s greatest desire, it must be our mind’s greatest desire, as we saw there in 1 Peter. And the last thing – there is many more things I could say, but the last thing in terms of being diligent – is we must really, powerfully work for it. We’ve got our mind’s desire – our heart’s desire – but we’ve got to work for it.

Years ago, I went to the Feast in Toledo, Ohio. I won’t comment on the Feast in Toledo. Let me just say, it was kind of like going to Oconomowoc. Those of you who have been there know exactly what I’m talking about. But I remember so clearly the fellow who was running the Feast – the two years I was there – was Dale Schurter. And he was giving an example. And I remember this example to this day. And my son brings it up every once in awhile. He was talking about riding in the rocking chair position. Now how many of you know what that means? Riding in the rocking chair position. Okay, a few of you. Driving down the road – and a few of us drive too fast – me and all the people who raised their hands – you find a couple of semi-trailer trucks. They’re going down the road more than the speed limit. Maybe they’re going down 80 miles an hour; 90 miles an hour. You realize they’ve got their CB going, and they know where the police are, and so you get in between the two trucks. That’s the rocking chair position. You just get in there and you coast along with them. As Christians, we can find ourselves in a spiritual rocking chair position. Wonderful congregation here in Chicago – a lot of growers, overcomers – but, if we’re not careful, we can kind of merge in with the group and think, “Well, because everyone else is growing, I’m going to be growing. Because I’m taking up a chair – because I’m sitting here – I’m just moving along with the group into God’s Kingdom.” Well, maybe we all are. But that kind of thinking can be dangerous. All of us, as individuals, have to give an accounting for who and what we are before the Great God. We can’t find ourselves in the rocking chair position.

Let’s go to Colossians, chapter 1, and verse 29.

Colossians 1:29 Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.
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To this end I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily.

“To this end I labor.” The word labor here means to toil and struggle in labor – to work to the point of exhaustion, fatigue and pain. It is a picture of an athlete struggling, agonizing, and pushing himself well beyond his capacity in order to achieve his objective. I ask myself, “Am I doing that?” I ask you, “Are you doing that?” Are we toiling and struggling in labor, and working to the point of exhaustion, fatigue and pain? There is a concept here. We’re getting to a concept. I don’t want any of you burning out, but on the other hand, I don’t want you, or me, or any of us just sitting on the sidelines, drinking a cold drink, and thinking, “Hey, I’m going to be in God’s Kingdom.” It doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to labor powerfully.

The word working , here in Colossians 1:29 Colossians 1:29 Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.
American King James Version×
energia in the original. It means energy and efficiency. It’s only used of superhuman power – that’s according to the Woods Commentary . When the individual has gone as far as he can, Christ steps in and infuses energy and power for that individual. So we labor. We work. We’ve got God’s help. We’ve got all that He does for us. But we have got to be diligent ourselves.

Now what is the reward that you and I have in our quest for personal excellence? Our reward is membership fully in the family of God. There is going to come a day when Jesus Christ returns, we will be resurrected, I don’t know what our thoughts are going to be right after we are resurrected. Knowing my personality, I’ll probably think, “I made it! I made it!! Thanks be to God! – quite literally. I made it.” Membership in God’s family – God’s excellent family.

One last quote from Vince Lombardi, and then one scripture, and then we’ll be done.

Vince Lombardi said this – and I quote: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence. What’s the quality of our lives spiritually? Let’s think on that.

Last scripture – Malachi, chapter 3, verses 16 and 17.

Malachi 3:16-17 Malachi 3:16-17 16 Then they that feared the LORD spoke often one to another: and the LORD listened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought on his name. 17 And they shall be mine, said the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him.
American King James Version×
Then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another. And the Lord listened, and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him – you’re in that book – the book of life – for them that feared the Lord, and that meditate upon his name. “And they shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts. “In that day, when I make up my jewels” – I make them My special treasure – “I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him . “I will make them My jewels. I will make them My special treasure.” You and I don’t typically think of ourselves as a special treasure or a jewel. And yet that’s how God views us, as we accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as we strive, with God’s help, with Christ’s help, with all the things They do for us – in partnership with us – as we strive for excellence. So the question is, brethren – a good one I believe – one I need to keep on asking myself, and I hope you keep on asking yourself: How are we progressing in our quest for personal excellence?