#128 Live Life At Its Best—Part X (09/05/04)

Message by: Robert H. Schuller

Live life at its best ... that's the title we have given to a series of ten messages and concluding this morning. This series is based on Galatians 5:22 where St. Paul writes," "The fruit of the Spirit ..." What does he mean, "fruit"? Fruit is the result of someone who lives in the Spirit of God. What kind of "fruit" does a personality produce if the Spirit of Jesus Christ controls the personality? "The fruit" (powerful word) of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, and finally, the last word is self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
Who needs control?

Now let's look at that word control. If we want to live a satisfying and successful life, we have to deal with that word called "control." There is an intuitive inclination in human beings to try to control their world and that is important. When we have the power to control, we can become quite convinced we are in complete control. Especially if you are the CEO, the top corporate chief, the head of the corporation or you are the chairman of the committee, then you have a very powerful job and you feel you are in control. Obviously that is necessary in order to be creative and constructive. We need enough control so others cannot obstruct our creativity and frustrate us with obstructionist devices or decisions. Yes, in that we need control. That is true.

The most important control

But, I challenge you this morning that the most important place to have control is over yourself! There are people who do a lot of maneuvering in their life trying to control others, their spouse, their children, their neighbors, their fellow employees ... but they don’t spend much thought controlling themselves. And so we have a world where in this country, alcoholism is still very rampant. Drug addiction is a major problem. Obesity is an epidemic. It is tough and challenging to try to control yourself.

Then there are many people who are morally neutral. They don't want discipline and self-control in the moral realm. They want to be free. "Don’t tell me what to do." "Don’t interfere with my pleasure." "Let me do my thing!" That challenge first enters into the human being during adolescence, and becomes a very strong compulsion in the teenage years. "No one tells me what to do? " What is self-control? It is not being arrogant, haughty or egotistical. Instead it is focusing on who you are and what God's plan for your life is and should be, and what kind of life does God want you to live? First of all you need self-control to determine your own value system.

Only you can impose self-control. Your father can't ... your mother can't ... your spouse can't ... your boss can't. That is the one area where it all stops with you alone. If you don’t have self-control, it is nobody’s fault but yours.

Self-control: The Mark of Leadership

You can read all kinds of books on leadership and listen to lectures on leadership. I've shared and written my thoughts about leadership, but the last word on leadership ultimately comes down to self-control. That is where you make the decisions. Then your destiny is chosen and captured by your self-control. If you have self-control, you are on the path to progress, purpose and success. Jesus said, "... the narrow way is hard and tough, (that’s self-control) but the broad way leads to destruction." (Matthew 7:14)

No person lived and showed self-control like Jesus Christ. There is a Bible verse that I preached on perhaps 50 years ago which really inspired me. It says, "Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 8:51) He knew what would happen. He knew the crowds would throw palm branches and applaud Him on that day, which has become Palm Sunday. They would want Him to be king ... to be the "top man." If Jesus had ever been an ego driven person ... and He never was ... He would have fallen for it. He could not have resisted it. But he did not take the "fan power" that was thrown to Him. "Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem," because He had a job to do. He had a calling to fulfill. He had a divine commission that had to be lived out on a cross.

Who killed Jesus? Nobody did. He gave His life. Not suicide, but sacrifice. You say, but God took His life from Him. God did not take the life of His Son, Jesus. On the cross. Jesus said, "Father into Your hands I give My soul." (Luke 23:46). Jesus Christ had the ultimate self-control. Nobody took it from Him. That is ultimate self-control.

Ultimate Self-control

When Jesus came to Jerusalem, He rode on a donkey. What humility. When He stood before Pilate, His silence and His posture showed complete self-control. When He was brought before Herrod, again, no panic, no anger, no argument ... He was quiet. That’s self-control. You can’t measure the self-control of a person more effectively than to see Jesus respond when He is verbally attacked face to face ... Jesus remained quiet. Then when His disciples slept in the Garden and He knew the soldiers were coming and they would take Him, bringing Him to trial and then to the crucifixion, He admonished them, but He did not get angry with them. He said, "Could you not wait and watch with Me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40) Jesus could have lashed out with anger, but He did not. He could have been bitter, but He was gentle. And His first words were, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). That is ultimate self-control! Experience that in Jesus Christ. He was divine, He was not just human.

Self-control: We need it to accept our God-given calling. We need self-control to protect ourselves from manipulation and intimidation of the cultural pressures that are around us all the time more for you than for me. You live a tougher life than I do because people know who I am and they know what my profession is, so they don’t invite me to improper or evil activities that are going on. I am not submitted to the pressures you are. You need self-control because God is counting on you, every one of you, to be a bright light in a dark world. He is counting on you to be people of faith, to encourage those who live with you and work with you. God needs you and you cannot ... must not ... be manipulated. You must not be intimidated. You must not yield to pressures. You must have high and honorable values. You have to set your goals. Then you must manage your goals. That starts with self-control.

Self-control Over Life's Hurts

Then you need self-control to accept and overcome life’s hurts. This is a very unusual week for me filled with intimate moments with two wonderful members of this church. I have two happy events, for two people who have meant a lot to me in my life. They are members of this church and good friends. One event will be a funeral where I’ll say goodbye to one who has been like a brother, but yes, even a funeral can be happy when you know you belong to Jesus Christ. The other event will be a wedding where I’ll perform the marriage of a wonderful young woman to her chosen man for life. Both of these people are exceptional examples of self-control.

The funeral will be for Vern Dragt. You've heard about him. I've written about him in my books. For 48 years Vern has supported and encouraged me. Listen to his story. He was a young man, could have become a professional athlete. When he got married, he needed to earn some money in a hurry so he got a job as a plasterer. Then suddenly he was struck down with polio and all his plans had to be put aside. Instead, he spent several months in an iron lung. Some of you have been in a prison, probably not imprisoned in solitary confinement, but there is nothing that imprisons you like an iron lung.

Vern lived through that. Because of his self-control he did not become bitter nor lash out. He did not become depressed or have suicidal behavior. He survived it, by his possibility thinking, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ. When Vern got out of the iron lung, he had to recuperate and be rehabilitated to get a new job, even though he was very, very handicapped. He was forced to get a new career and he became an accountant. Meanwhile, his wife became a sales person and became one of the greatest, most successful saleswomen in the world. The first sales check she got was $80 ... and she took $8 of that $80 and gave it in the offering plate of their church. There are people who say they can’t afford a tithe, but I reply that you can’t afford not to tithe. Every time the Dragts would earn some money, ten percent went to the Lord. He and his wife, Lavon, gave most of the money for the very first ten acres where the Tower of Hope stands. Later in his life Vern would give a million dollars for the Dragt Gymnasium for our young people. They also supported me when I needed the money to launch the television program. The ten percent gift to the church grew to where their gifts would add up to millions of dollars. At nearly 80 years old, in spite of his polio and handicap, Vern continued to say, "The Lord comes first and God is good. He promises to bless and God has really blessed me."

That is called self-control! Not being controlled or manipulated or intimidated by your fears and negative thinking because your self-control is controlled by the positive faith of Jesus. That changes everything.

I was in Houston when I got the call that Vern was dying and he lived only one more hour. His family surrounded him. He was ready to go. When I talked to Lavon, his widow, I was crying. "I said, "Lavon, I just lost the best friend I’ve ever had outside of my family. I mean no one has done more to keep my faith alive and make my dreams come true and keep my hopes up more than Vern and you, Lavon." She said, "I just lost my best friend too. When you talked about gentleness in your sermon last Sunday on television, challenging us to be ‘gentle giants,’ I must tell you, Vern was my gentle giant."

The Narrow Path of Self-control

Self-control:It is the narrow path that Jesus talked about that leads to life, abundant and eternal. Lack of self-control is the broad way that ultimately leads to destruction and many go there. I am asking you this morning not to walk out of this church without realizing that you must deal with the issue of your own self-control. You need to deal with it.

No one else has the power to give it to you. No one else can make those decisions for you. You and you alone will make the ultimate decision that will define your life and your destiny.

Self-control Leads to a Gold Medal

The other happy event this week is a wedding for someone special whom I have known for many years. She was a young girl in this church when she decided she was going to be a gold medal swimmer in the Olympics. She practiced possibility thinking to dream her dreams and make it happen. And no one surpassed her. She made the Olympics, not once, but five times she won a gold medal in the swimming competition.

I’ll not soon forget the night I watched the opening of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta on television as the Olympic contenders from all over the world paraded into the Atlanta arena carrying their flags. There they stood and waited in the middle of the arena as more and more athletes paraded in until finally they were all there ... fifteen thousand. One Olympian would be chosen to enter the arena carry the burning torch, run down the track and give it to Muhammad Ali, the greatest Olympian of all, who would then light the large Olympic flame. Everybody was trying to guess which of all these Olympic stars would be chosen for that high honor. I wasn’t prepared when out came our own Janet Evans! I was crying with joy and pride as Muhammad Ali took the torch from her and reached up to ignite the Olympic flame. A few weeks later Janet Evans, back home, came here to her church running down the center aisle with her Olympic torch. It was her way of saying thank you to all of you for all your prayers; they really helped as she worked hours and hours and hours and hours.

Self-control: The Path to Prosperity

Janet Evans has now completed her university studies, and in her last year, she met a wonderful student there. He was also graduating and this coming Saturday night I’m going to hear them repeat their wedding vows!

Where does the path of self-control lead? It leads to prosperity, it leads to peace, and yes, it leads to the pain of self denial. Some of you are in despair, depression, and are despondent. Some of you are in pain through chemotherapy, through amputations. I know many of you are, and I’ve been praying with some of you. What you need is self-control to hold the faith, to keep seeing possibilities in the worst of times. That’s what Jesus Christ gives.

I remember a man who went through a horrible experience. It was terrible. He was not a believer when he said to me, "I have three choices now on how I can deal with it. (1) I can use alcohol. That will take me through. I don’t know what it will do to me, but I think it will help. (2) I can commit suicide. I am thinking about that, or (3) Schuller, I can become a believer, take God into my life and this Jesus Christ to be my Savior. That’s the third option. That is the one I’m going for!" And he took Christ in his life and Christ walked with him through his pain, through his grief, his tragedy.

Yes, self-control. You make the final decisions on what is going to happen with the one life you have to live. Self-control. Where do you get it? Well, nobody has got it all the time. We are still humans. But I don’t know where you can get it except the church. This institution is established by Jesus Christ to tell us about faith and about God. You become like the people you hang around with. I’ve spent my life hanging around a person called Jesus. He has given me enough self-control so that I’m not ashamed of who I am. He will do the same for you. Become a believer! He will give you self-control.

It is a decision. There is a hand in your heart. I’m asking you to raise it and say, "I’m accepting You, Jesus Christ, I need more power than I’ve got. I’ve blown it too often, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want You to control me and then I will be on the path to living life at its best ... abundant and eternal!


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