Fitness – Team Work – Playing the Game

jStark3Charles Spurgeon once stated: “A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats (Spurgeon)”

What Charles Spurgeon said is serious and should *rock the membership of churches, church boards, pastor associations, and quite frankly… the graves of our founding fathers. Many, far too many churches have become lighthouse clubs instead of lighthouse stations. Meeting to entertain as Charles Spurgeon phrased it; not meeting to exercise our Christian duty, our spiritual gift(s) and to bring in the poor and needy souls from the neighborhood.

*At minimum it should disturb church boards enough to take inventory and assess their church goals and attitudes.

The Olympics, yes even those in London, 2012, can be a solid set of lessons for all God-centered churches and Kingdom Minded men and women. Every Olympian has three things in common:

1. They are physically fit and work at it daily.
2. They understand that they are part of a team
3. They know their role, team position and in what part of the Olympics they are qualified to compete.

No one can compete, that is, expect to be competitive, if s/he is not Physically fit to compete. It is all part of preparation for the event.  How does one prepare? Practice – practice – practice, but there is more too being prepared. I recall as a youngster joining the Boy Scouts of America. The Scout Motto, at least in the 1950’s was “Be Prepared”. We spent many a weekend and during our weekly scout meetings learning and preparing for life, survival skills, personal hygiene, respect for authority, listening then doing, exercising, and becoming prepared.

The Apostle Paul and others in the Bible use physical activity (sports) as an example of how we are to live the Christian life. A few examples include:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)

You were running the race well. Who cut in on you and stopped you from obeying the Truth”? (Galatians 5:7; ISV)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Sometimes rather than run the race we simply sit in the stands, sometimes cheer; even offering suggestions as to how the athlete or team could have done better. We sound like the expert but in reality have never left the rocking chair, pew, stadium benches or *quit somewhere along the way.

*Quitting? I recall the story about an Olympic runner from Britain in the 1992 Olympics.

Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed all his life of winning a gold medal in the 400-meter race, and his dream was in sight as he ran in the semifinals at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. He was running the race of his life and was nearing the finish line when all of a sudden he felt a sharp pain go up the back of his leg. He fell face first onto the track with a torn right hamstring.

As the doctors were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet and began hopping to the finish line. When he reached the stretch, a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands, brushed aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Yes, I do,” said Derek. “Well, then,” said Jim, “We’re going to finish this together.”

And they did. Fighting off security men, the son’s head sometimes buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd rose and clapped and wept.

Derek didn’t walk away with the gold medal, but he was a winner because he did His best. In a sense, he also didn’t “walk” away from his sense of duty to finish the race just as the Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:7. Paul never intended his words in 1 Corinthians 9:4 to mean if we can’t win the prize, then give up. God measures us by our effort. Quitting, never getting out of the start gate or off the star-blocks is not an option.Finish Banner (clipping path included)

Go back to 2 Timothy 4:7. The Apostle Paul is speaking in the past-tense meaning he did his best while he could. We know from history that Paul would become one of the first Christian martyrs of the Roman Emperor Nero. Paul also knew that not only his career, but his life was about over. His race had been run. This is why he speaks in the past-tense in this verse. He didn’t quit. His race was over. He was in prison soon to be executed. He ran and hobbled at times to the very end.

The passage in 1 Corinthians 9:24 has been, and continues to be, used as an excuse by pew-dwellers to remain on the sidelines in our Christian living and the use of their Spiritual Gift within the local congregation. I must ask him or her to read 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14; Romans chapter 12; Ephesians chapter 4; and 1 Peter chapter 4. Each of these chapters tells us to USE our gift from the Holy Spirit while on earth; to live a life worth living; to be Kingdom Minded.

Being prepared or “fit” in a spiritual sense means to be studied in the Word and having a prayer life with both being daily exercises. Studied in the Word is much more than listening to a Sunday sermon or daily (hopefully at the minimum) devotions. Being studied means at minimum knowing the scriptures required to lead another lost soul to Christ and being a true lighthouse for God; a lighthouse that , like in Matthew 5:14 cannot be missed.

“Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill or mountainside cannot be hidden”.

The second common fact of all Olympians is that they understand that they are part of a team. The Olympian may be in a solo competition, but s/he did not get their alone. There are those who gave financial backing, moral support and let’s not forget the trainer(s). There are the members of the Olympic team who encourage and assist with another’s training when needed.

Christians have the same responsibility within the local church. We may not be the one actually running the race, but our spiritual gift may not be that particular role. But we have a role and that is not to be a spectator.

Here is my very brief point on TEAM WORK: It is possible for a church to get too dependent on pastors, and then we forget that we are really part of a team called the Body of Christ. If we think that the minister is the player, God is the coach, and the congregation is the crowd of spectators, we’ve got it wrong; very wrong and there is no scripture to support such a thought. In reality and as God/Christ ordained it, the whole congregation, those claiming to be believers, is the team, the pastor is the coach – God is the team owner and the local neighborhood and the world itself is the audience. I might suggest that the real question is – are you a member of the team?

If you are not a Christian; i.e. a member of the team (body of believers in Christ), you are not even in the race. You have no hope to stand in the victory circle to receive your crown of life. I encourage you to give your life to the Lord today, by *believing in Jesus, turn away from your sins, confessing your faith in Jesus and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.

*To believe that there is/was a Jesus, that there is/was a supreme being; i.e. God, is in itself is not enough. Even demons, fallen angels, believe there is a God, Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ (James 2:19). You will have eternity one way or the other. The only option is which eternity? Heaven or Hell? Blunt? Yes, but we are not talking about the Olympians at this moment. We are talking about your future… after death. Denial of such a thing changes nothing. If I am wrong, then that is it; it is all over. If you are wrong, well… eternity awaits your arrival, but which one?

Getting back on track; Christians are to be an active member of a local church body and team. We must use our spiritual gift within that local body of believers and let others use their spiritual gift(s). We are not all an eye or a foot, but we are all a functioning member of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Occupying several square inches of a pew or seat in a local church, even if it is every week, is not a demonstration of our faith as true believers. James tries to make this clear in his Epistle by telling us that faith without works is dead. The word faith in the Greek, pistis, means to give credence to our claim; wearing the uniform of our team; using our Spiritual Gift(s) for the church/kingdom.

The word ‘dead’ in the Greek as written in James 2:17 is nekros. It means… It doesn’t really exist. I have a particular love for how the NIV writes it: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  In other words… our faith without works to demonstrate our faith is not very convincing to those around us (the audience) yet alone to our own being. Put in an Olympic or any other sport term, simply stating that one is on a team does not demonstrate that s/he really is on that team. Where is the evidence?

Christ gave up his human life as a sacrifice for our eternity with Him in Heaven. He is the only passage. John 14:6 and John 15:13 make this very clear. This may be a poor comparison of His sacrifice for us but I recall a news story from 1987:

On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people.
One survived: a four-year-old from Tempe, Arizona, named Cecelia. News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name.

Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go.
Nothing could separate that child from her parent’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death.

Such is the love of our Savior for us. He left heaven, lowered himself to us, and covered us with the sacrifice of His own body to save us.

Finally, knowing our position on the team: Can one imagine the looks on the faces of fans, coaches and other Olympic competitors if Michael Phelps, the great USA Olympic swimmer, was seen lined up for the 1500 meter foot race or the pole vault? Neither sport is one for which he is qualified. We must know our position in Christ and within the local church body. As believers, we all have specific roles to play. However a foot is not an eye just as a great swimmer, though physically fit and wearing the uniform of the team he represents is not the one we want running the 1500 meter foot race or the pole vault. Neither are his or her gift or talent.

Bible study keeps us spiritually fit. The Apostle Paul tells us how to be a team. But as disciples on earth and the working body of Christ, God tells us what the game is and our role through the spiritual gift(s) of each believer. Alas, EVERY BELIEVER has what his and her responsibility to and in the Church… YOUR CHURCH. Don’t get caught up in image building responsibilities. One spiritual gift is not superior to another. The Apostle Paul writes on this but the passage in Matthew 6:1 comes to mind:
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Matthew, talking directly to the Jews at this point but inferring it to all, is saying, if we want the prime jobs of recognition in any church body so that others will oooh and awwww at our position, we have already been rewarded. God owes us nothing additional once in heaven.

Let me conclude this written message by citing something I recently read on the Internet published by Grace Communion International. I know little about them but in this following quote, they have it right.

“We have come to a greater awareness of the spiritual gifts God gives his people. We understand from Scripture some basic points:

• Every Christian believer has at least one spiritual gift, usually two or three.

• Every believer should be using his or her gifts to serve others in the church.

• No member has all the gifts, so we need each other.

• No [single] gift is given to all members of one local body/church. (emphasis mine)

• God decides who receives which gift(s).

Every member ought to be involved in some ministry, some area of service (“ministry” refers to all types of service, not just pastoral work). Every Christian should be using his or her gifts to serve others “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:10)”.Support

In other words, our role (3rd point) on the team is to support one another.

-Dr. jStark