Five things Christians cannot do without the church
Article copyright by Bob Rogers
As a hospital chaplain, I often meet people who believe in God but don’t believe in the church. Some are angry with the church, and many just don’t have any motivation to be connected to a church. They are fed up with the hypocrites. I get that– I have been one of those hypocrites, and perhaps you have, too. They are tired of church fights. I get that, too. One guy told me, “I can catch hell at home; I don’t need it at church.”
Yet I submit that we need the church. (I’m talking about the people, not a building. The early church met in houses, and many churches meet in homes today.) In fact, there are at least five spiritual practices that a Christian cannot appropriately do without the church.
1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. Romans 12:5-6 talks about how we are all part of the body of Christ as we have different gifts. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ. Prophesying, teaching, serving, giving, leading, showing mercy, and so many other spiritual gifts are either done among members of the church or together with members of the church.
2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). We are told to serve each other, teach each other, feed each other, pray for each other, encourage each other. I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers. No wonder Hebrews 10:25 commands believers not to forsake gathering ourselves together, but instead to encourage each other.
3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there. God is real in private prayer, but this is a clear scriptural promise that God is present in a greater way when we pray together. No wonder the Psalmist proclaimed, “Better a day in Your courts, than a thousand anywhere else!” (Psalm 84:10).
4. We cannot appropriately pray the Lord’s Prayer without the church. Jesus gave us this beloved prayer, found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-6, as a model on how Christians should pray. The repetition of the words “our” and “us” throughout the prayer is constant reminder that Jesus taught us to pray with other believers and for other believers. While a Christian may certainly pray this prayer alone, we cannot continue to pray this prayer with sincerity and remain alone.
5. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. It says in 1 Corinthians 10:17 observes that by sharing the bread of communion, Christians are expressing their unity: “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.
Christ died for the church.
Christ is the builder of the church.
Christ is the head of the church.
Christ is the shepherd of the church.
Christ is the groom for His bride, the church.
Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!
You can get into spiritual shape
Article Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Once I met a guy in the gym who had muscles of steel. I was amazed when he told me that he used to be fat, until he decided to get into shape.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Many of us are spiritually fat. But just as my friend got physically fit, you can get into spiritual shape. Here’s how:
I. Put your heart into it.
Dotsie Bausch was riding a mountain bike one day when a group of competitive road cyclists flew past her. Dotsie chased them and stayed on their heels for two miles. That night, she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team. Her heart was all in. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” You must put your heart into it.
II. Remove hindrances.
In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense.
In the spiritual life, sinful obstacles block us, too.
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!
III. Exercise your spirit daily.
There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Healthy athletes have a balance of both. Likewise, you need a balance of spiritual exercises, often called the “spiritual disciplines.” These include Bible reading and prayer, but they also include meditation and memorization of scripture, service and stewardship, worship and witness. A healthy spiritual life develops from regular practice of these spiritual disciplines.
As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
In 2008, I was about 35 pounds overweight. I was breathing hard just walking to the second floor. My pants were too tight. I didn’t like how I looked. I made a decision to change, and put my heart into it. It was a lifestyle change, as I got serious about exercise, eating right, and sticking with it. Over a year, I took off the weight. Today, nine years later, I have maintained my lower weight and healthier lifestyle.
I had tried fad diets before, but I finally had success when I kept my focus on a goal and stuck with it.
In a much greater way, the same principle applies to your spiritual life.
How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?
The difference in success and failure
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Above are photographs of fans of the pro football team, the New Orleans Saints. One is a photo of Saints fans in 1980, when the Saints were consistent losers. The fans wore bags over their heads and called the team the “Aints.” The other photo was taken in 2009, when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and fans chanted, “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?” What a difference between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!
Scripture gives us a powerful example of the difference in success and failure in the story of Joshua and the Israelites in the first and second battle of Ai. After their great victory over Jericho, when the walls came tumbling down, The Book of Joshua, chapter 7, tells the story of how they went up to the small city of Ai with only a small army of 3,000 men, and were soundly defeated. When Joshua cried out to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told him that the entire nation was suffering the consequences of the sin of one man, Achan, who had hid for himself some of the loot from Jericho which was supposed to be sacred to the Lord.
Joshua and all of the Israelites took drastic action, destroying Achan and his family, and then went up a second time to fight Ai. The Book of Joshua, chapter 8, tells how this time, they involved the whole Army, and devised a battle tactic that tricked the men of Ai into chasing a small Hebrew army. When the men of Ai abandoned the city to pursue the Israelites, a larger Hebrew army of 30,000 attacked the city, burned it down, and then both armies attacked the men of Ai from both sides, catching them in the middle with nowhere to run. It was a total victory– all of Ai was destroyed. Afterwards, Joshua took the people to Mt. Gerizim and Ebal and read to them to law of Moses and had them repeat the blessings and curses that Moses had told them to repeat.
For many years, my father, U.S. Army Chaplain Robert H. Rogers, preached a message on this passage called, “The Difference in Success and Failure.” Here are some important lessons that this story teaches us about the difference in spiritual success and spiritual failure:
HOW TO FAIL SPIRITUALLY
1. Belittle the task God gives you. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “Don’t send all the people… since the people of Ai are so few…”
2. Leave God’s work to a few people. In Joshua 7:3 they said, “but send about 2,000 or 3,000 men to attack Ai… don’t wear out all our people there.” The attitude of spiritual defeat says, “I don’t need to share the gospel or minister; that’s what we pray the preacher to do.”
3. Rest on past laurels. Victory at Jericho did not guarantee victory at Ai. Just because you have experienced spiritual victories in the past does not guarantee victory in the future. Celebrate the past, but don’t linger there.
4. Do no more than necessary. They were lazy, trying to get by with minimum effort to conquer Ai. Spiritual losers are apathetic like that, lacking passion for the word of God.
5. Ignore the slide into sin. This is very important. Notice the gradual slide into sin in four steps. Achan confessed in Joshua 7:21: “I saw,” “I coveted,” “took,” “concealed.” First he saw the gold and silver, then he desired it, then he took it, and after he took it, he hid it. This is exactly what I did in major sin in my past. I saw something, then I desired it, then I acted on that desire, and then I tried to hide my sin. People rarely plan ahead to get addicted to drugs or commit adultery and embezzle funds. Instead, they fall slowly into temptation. We cannot ignore those early warning signs against sin.
6. Ignore sin in your midst. This final caution is one that we Americans struggle with, because America is highly individualistic. We red in Joshua 7:1, “The Israelites… were unfaithful… Achan… took some of what was set apart, and the LORD’s anger burned against the Israelites.” How is it that God held all of Israel accountable for one man’s sin? This is the Biblical concept of corporate sin. Because we tolerate sin in our midst, and turn a blind eye, we are all complicit. Don’t you think somebody saw Achan hid the loot in his tent? If we fail to address sin in our own families, our own churches, and our own nation, we we fail spiritually.
HOW TO SUCCEED SPIRITUALLY
1. Become deeply concerned. When they were defeated by Ai, Joshua 7:6 tells us how Joshua responded: “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell before the ark of the LORD…” We, too, must become deeply concerned about sin and spiritual apathy.
2. Depend upon prayer. Joshua 7:7 tells us that Joshua expressed his concern by prayer. He didn’t run out and get the latest book on “10 Easy Steps to Church Growth.” Instead, he knew it required the hard step of humble prayer. This is a lesson he had to learn again, as we read in Joshua 9:14 that he and the Israelites failed to inquire of God in prayer in the matter of Gibeon, and they were deceived. We must depend on daily prayer to succeed in the daily spiritual battle against sin.
3. Remove sin from your midst. Joshua 7:10-11, 24-26 tells the graphic details of how they discovered that Achan was guilty, and they stoned Achan and his family to death in the valley of Achor. The judgment seems harsh to the modern reader, but it is a reminder that sin cannot be taken lightly. Jesus warned that if the right eye causes you to sin, to gouge it out, and if the right hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Matthew 5:29-30). Yes, the wages of sin is death– that’s the harsh reality of sin. But the good news is that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
4. Follow Godly leadership. After facing the sin, it says in Joshua 8:3, “So Joshua and the whole military force set out…” Joshua chose to be obedient to God, and the people chose to follow his godly leadership.
5. Enlist everyone for God’s work. The word “all” is repeated frequently in these two chapters. Joshua 7:25 says, “all Israel stoned them…” Joshua 8:3 says, “the whole military force set out to attack Ai.” Joshua 8:11 says,“All those who were with him went up…” At the first battle of Ai, they sent a small army of 3,000 against a city of 12,000 and were defeated. At the second battle, they went over 30,000 to ambush the city from behind, while an army of 5,000 attacked and withdrew, then attacked again in a well-planned tactic to entrap Ai. This required the involvement of all of the people. Families and churches that involve everybody in the spiritual battle will win every time.
6. Re-commit to God. Joshua 8:30-35 tells how they went to Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal and renewed their covenant with the Lord, to obey His laws. If we wish to see a lifestyle of continual spiritual victories in our own lives, we too must continually return to God’s Word and pledge ourselves anew to faithful obedience. The end result for them was the conquest of the Promised Land. What will it be for you and me?
How do I develop patience with difficult people?
Copyright by Bob Rogers
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” Galatians 5:22
You have probably heard the saying, “I like my church (job, family, or fill in the blank with whatever else) it’s the people I can’t stand!” No wonder we say, “Patience is a virtue.”
When studying the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), people generally agree that one of the most difficult characteristics to develop in our lives is patience. There are two different words for patience in the original Greek language of the New Testament; one word means patience with circumstances, and the other means patience with people. The word used in Galatians 5:22 means patience with people; thus the 2011 revision of the New International Version translates it “forbearance.”
It may be easy to be patient with kind, sweet people. But how do I develop patience with people who try my patience? Here are some guidelines from other scripture:
1) I must remember that I am a recipient of Christ’s mercy, and follow His example. First Timothy 1:16 reminds me, “But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” Yes, the starting point of patience with others is to remember how Christ is patient with me. I am a sinner deserving Hell, but God patiently called me to faith, and He continues to work with me and develop me, even as I struggle and fall along the way. Since Christ has set this example for me, I should be motivated to follow His example, as a testimony to the gospel.
2) I must help those who are struggling with weaknesses. Romans 15:1 says, “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” If I am strong in a certain area of my life, I must be patient with those who are weak and struggle in that area. We have a tendency to be patient with those who have the same struggles we have. God calls us to be patient with those who are weak where we are strong. After all, they may be strong in another area where we are weak, and we will desire that same patience from them.
3) I must not keep a scorecard. In the love chapter, Paul says, “Love is patient… is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). If I keep score of how many times I’ve been wronged by another person, I am much more likely to snap and lose it. I must ditch the scorecard.
4) I must accept people as they are, not as I want them to be. Ephesians 4:2 says, “With patience, accepting one another in love.” Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on… patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another…” My irritation with others is often a result of unfair and unrealistic images that I project on others. While I want others to do better, I must decide that I will love and accept them as they are now. It helps to remember that I want others to love me with my faults, as well.
5) I must not quarrel. Second Timothy 2:24-25 says, “The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness.” Notice that this passage does not say that we cannot disagree. It is in the context of talking to opponents, people with whom we disagree, that the scripture commands patience and gentleness. We must learn to disagree calmly, without raising our voices, and without attacking the other person.
6) I must be quick to hear and slow to speak. James 1:19 commands, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” It is human nature for me to not truly listen to what another person is saying to me, because I am focusing on what I will say in reply. I would display patience and avoid many unnecessary quarrels if I would slow down, focus on what the other person is saying, and then reflect on what I heard before I said a word. Whenever I practice this communication tool, I am allowing the spiritual nature to rule over the human nature.
I’m praying daily to bear more of this fruit of the Spirit. Please be patient with me as this fruit ripens in my life. How about you?
(If you see a video ad below this post, please understand that I have no control over these ads, and that I do not necessarily endorse the product.)
What is a healthy church?
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
Recently, Outreach magazine published its list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.
But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we do not find a list of fastest-growing churches. Not many numerical reports are even given, other than the 3,000 baptized at Pentecost (Acts 2:41) and the fact that the number had grown to 5,000 a little while later (Acts 4:4). After that, numbers are rarely given. We don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?
It’s time to change our terminology. Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.
1. Leaders who equip
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)
Healthy churches have leaders who equip their members. The best test of the leader is that he has followers who learn from his teaching and example. Healthy churches have leadership that inspires the overall congregation to follow Christ and serve their community.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”
Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.
Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.
Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.
If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.
2. Members who serve
“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)
Healthy churches have members who serve. Don’t join this church to sit back and be entertained. If that’s what you are looking for, please go somewhere else. We need members who serve.
The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.
It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
Rick Warren asks, “If you are not involved in service or ministry, what excuse have you been using?
Abraham was old; Jacob was insecure, Leah was unattractive; Joseph was abused; Moses stuttered. Gideon was poor; Samson was codependent; Rahab was immoral; David had an affair; Elijah was suicidal; Jeremiah was depressed; Jonah was reluctant; Naomi was a widow. John the Baptist was eccentric; Peter was impulsive; Martha worried a lot; the Samaritan woman had five failed marriages; Zacchaeus was unpopular; Thomas had doubts; Paul had poor health; and Timothy was timid. God used each of them in his service. He will use you, too, if you stop making excuses.” (Rick Warren’s Daily Devotional, Day 357)
Healthy churches have members who serve.
3. Unity in the faith
“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)
Healthy churches are united. Unhealthy churches are divided. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”). I heard about a pastor who was called to a church with only 51% voting in favor of his call. A year later, they fired him. It was a unanimous. The pastor said, “I finally united the church.” Of course, that’s not the way we want to unify the church, but the church does need to be united.
Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!
4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness
“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)
Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth. And it is true that healthy churches should have numerical growth. However, there are churches that have numerical growth but they are not healthy. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.
Imagine a church board meeting with Jesus. Pete calls the meeting to order, and says, “Jesus, we’ve been following you around for some time, and we are getting concerned about the attendance figures. Tom, how many were on the hill yesterday?”
Tom answers, “Thirty-seven.”
Pete says, “It’s getting ridiculous. You’re going to have to pep things up.”
John says, “I’d like to suggest you pull off more miracles, but more people need to see it so our crowds will get bigger.”
Pete agrees, and adds, “Publicity is essential, and you tell half the people you cure to keep it quiet. Let the word get around.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Judas adds, “I’d like tos ay that if we are going to continue to meet in this upper room, we ought to do something about the carpet…” (Adapted from Richard K. Wallarab, Christianity Today, January 17, 1979.)
Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.
Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.
5. Teaching that provides stability
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)
Another great sign of a healthy church is that the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by heresy and false teaching. If some clever teacher comes into the church and tries to lead people astray, a healthy church recognizes it right away and puts a stop to it.
A decade ago, we had a powerful wind storm blow an oak tree on our youth building. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.
6. Honest and loving relationships
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)
Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.
Years ago, The Betty Ford Story aired on television. It was a movie that told the story of the addiction and recovery of Betty Ford, the wife of President Gerald Ford. At one point in the film, there is an emotional scene where the family is sitting together confronting Betty Ford. Her son says, “Mother, you are destroying yourself; you are destroying this family, and you are killing yourself. Mother, you are a drunk; you are an addict.” His mother was infuriated. She told her son he was being very disrespectful and said, “How can you say these things to me? I am your mother!” Her son said, “Mother, I can say it because it is the truth.” As hard as it was, this confrontation was the catalyst for the establishment of the Betty Ford Clinic. (Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations, p. 333-334)
A healthy church is a place where people speak the truth in love. Relationships are honest and loving. We don’t play games or try to please people, but we go out of our way to love people.
7. An environment that encourages involvement
“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)
Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”
Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds into flight. The whole nation was shocked. An investigation revealed that it happened because of one inexpensive O-ring. There were one million components in the space shuttle, but that one part destroyed the whole. Like the seemingly insignificant O-ring, one person failing to take his place in the church keeps the whole from being healthy. (Richard Swenson, Margin, 1992, p. 48)
A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?
How to Get into Spiritual Shape
At age 16, Gabrielle Douglas became one of the most inspiring athletes at the 2012 Olympics in London, winning the gold medal in gymnastics and becoming the first African-American to win the gold medal in gymnastics. She wowed the crowd with her skill, and then gave all the glory to God. But as young as she is, it still took years to get there. She began training at age 6, at the encouragement of her older sister.
Athletes like Gabby Douglas inspire all of us, because we appreciate the dedication they put into training their bodies to excel. But the Bible teaches us that this same principle applies in even greater ways to our spiritual lives.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
We should training our spirits, getting into spiritual shape, but how?
I. Put your heart into it.
Dotsie Bausch was a runway model, but she developed a severe eating disorder. She felt like her life was out of control, and went to a counselor who suggested that she do something new in her life. So she started riding a mountain bicycle.
One day she was riding around Griffith Park in Los Angeles when a group of guys flew past on road bikes. Dotsie chased them. Her heart was pounding, her legs burning, but she stayed on their heels for one mile, then two miles. These guys were competitive cyclists, but she was keeping up with them on a clunky mountain bike, no less.
That night she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team, and became the seven-time U.S. National champion.
Dotsie also went to church, started studying the Bible, and found a ministry helping over 70 women she mentors overcome eating disorders. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Just as Dotsie had a life-changing experience that caused her to put her whole heart into physical training, so we need to have a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ that causes us to have a new desire to get into spiritual shape.
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel?”
Exodus 40 tells how they consecrated the tabernacle by anointing everything and everybody in it, and then it says after they did that, the glory of the Lord filled the place. Don’t you want the glory of the Lord to fill your heart? When you have a heart-felt desire to follow God, when you desire it more than anything, and you are willing to make a public statement of it, being baptized, saying publicly you are a believer and proud of it, that’s when things start happening. That’s when the glory comes down.
II. Remove hindrances.
In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense. The defense tries to stop your drive. It tries to block your way. It tries to get you stuck on the field. It tries to keep you from scoring. In football, it’s called the defense. In your spiritual life, the defense is the demon-fence. The old devil wants to stop you. And guess what? Part of that problem is in your own life. The Bible calls it the “flesh.” You have a flesh nature at war with your spirit nature. If you ignore the flesh nature, it will trip you up.
Ezekiel 18:30: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment.”
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
God has given you a spiritual football, but you have to remove the hindrances. You need an offensive line to block for you. You need to learn how to run around the defenders. You need to learn how to get up and go again when they knock you down. Listen to me! This will require making some hard choices. It may be painful. But you must do it. Do it now. Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!
III. Exercise your spirit daily.
There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Some people just do cardio and they are all skin and bones with little muscle, and some just lift weights and have bulging muscles but a fat stomach and they can’t up the stairs without breathing hard, but the most healthy people do both. In a similar way, you need a balanced daily exercise that includes both habits, or actions, and your thinking.
Daily habits. Just as a person must exercise daily to get into physical shape, you must exercise spiritual disciplines daily to get into spiritual shape. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” And what is that discipline to bring ourselves under control? We need to practice the daily habits like Bible reading, stewardship and resisting temptation.
Some people say, “But I don’t like to read, so I don’t read the Bible.” If you don’t like to read, do you like to hear? Get the Bible on CD and listen to it driving to work. If your heart’s desire is to hear from God, this does not have to be a problem. Many people say they don’t like to read, yet they read text messages all the time! God has a message for you in this text!
Read small portions of the Bible, like one chapter a day. Get an easy-to-read translation. I preach from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which is easy to read and is accurate. If you need something very easy to read, I would recommend the New Living Translation.
Stewardship involves giving of yourself to God. That includes your time, your talent, and your treasure. God deserves it all. Give him a regular portion of your time in worship at church. Give him a regular portion of your talent by volunteering to serve. Give him a regular portion of your treasure by tithing from your income to support your church financially.
Romans 8:12-13: “So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to living according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
This reminds us of the importance of resisting temptation. You must make it a daily habit to say “no” to temptation. It is going to come. That is guaranteed. So make a practice of living according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.
Daily thinking. Many of the spiritual disciplines focus on the mind. Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on earth.” Set your mind on God. Romans 8:5-6: “For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.”
You have a choice of what you are going to think about. If you constantly turn over problems in your mind, you are going to worry and get depressed. If you constantly meditate on God’s word and talk to Him in prayer, you are going to grow stronger and be lifted up.
We need to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and worship. Prayer and meditation can go hand in hand with Bible reading. Many Christians find that the best time for this is early in the morning, when their minds are fresh. Read over the scripture, then ask yourself some questions: what is God saying to me? Is there a promise to claim? A sin to confess and forsake? A resolution to make? A truth to learn?
Then on Sunday we need the spiritual discipline of worship with other believers. We benefit from the fellowship and Bible study as well. And in the worship service, as we come together, we get the spiritual lift that we need for that week.
IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Baseball pitcher Philip Humber had a great career in college, and was drafted by major league baseball. Then came elbow surgery and six years of failure. Three teams gave up on him. Then the Chicago White Sox took a chance on him. His first time to pitch, he threw two pitches at two hitters who both got hits. When he got on the team bus, he said, “Why did you put me here, God? To embarrass me some more?”
A Christian, Humber finally said he had to relinquish control and focus on God instead of worrying about what others thought of him. Then in April of this year, he pitched perfect game against the Seattle Mariners, winning 4-0.
Humber says that whenever he walks off the mound, he prays that God will be glorified. “As Christians, that’s really our mission. Wherever we at, whatever we’re doing. That God be glorified in what we’re doing.” (J.C. Derrick, “Perfection,” World, April 21, 2012.)
Hebrews 12:2: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
Philippians 3:13-14: “Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world. In 2009, he ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. When he runs he focuses on just one thing: the finish line. As you grow spiritually, your focus is Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and God’s call go reach your goal in heaven.
1 Peter 2:21: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so you should follow in His steps.” Jesus is your role model. He’s your example. Learn everything you can about Jesus. If you’re new to reading the Bible, read the gospels. Notice how he treated people. Notice how he talked. Follow His example, and you will grow spiritually strong.
Four years ago, I weighed 225 pounds, and I decided it was time to get into shape physically. The same principles we have talked about today spiritually, I saw happen physically in my life.
When I got in shape physically, it all started with a decision. I was huffing and puffing to walk up the stairs. My pants were too tight. I had enough of that. I got serious about getting into shape. I put my heart into it.
When I decided to get into shape, I had to change some things in my life. I had to change some of my eating habits. I starting eating baked and grilled instead of fried foods more often, and eating more fruit and vegetables. I started going to bed earlier and getting up earlier to exercise.
I began to go to the YMCA five days a week. When I started exercising regularly, I started rotating between cardiovascular exercise and weight-lifting.
And when I started getting into shape, I focused on reaching goals. When I started, I weighed 225 pounds. Now I weigh 195 pounds. I could barely lift 80 pounds on the bench press. Now I can bench press 175 pounds. Riding a bicycle 2 miles was a huge chore. This summer, I rode a bicycle 44 miles.
Now, I’m excited about that, but I’m more excited about my spiritual life! The greatest day in my life was the day I gave my heart and soul to Jesus. And while I am far from perfect, I have seen how God has helped me grow as I decided to remove hindrances in my spiritual life and develop those habits of obedience. It has been a continual growing process. I remember as a seventh-grader getting serious about reading the Bible, and I began the habit of reading the Bible from cover to cover. Then in the tenth grade, I sensed God calling me to preach the gospel while on a youth choir trip. In college, I discovered more about my spiritual gifts as I learned to service and exercise my faith in church ministry. As a young pastor, I was asked to preach a sermon series on prayer, and I had to confront the fact that my own prayer life was shallow, but through that I grew in my prayer life. Then later in my experience as a pastor, I became even more bold in sharing the gospel and personal witnessing.
Am I where I need to be? No, I’m not. God has much work yet to do in me. But I thank God that I’m not where I used to be. How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?