Feel unequipped to sort through the nuances of Bible translation?
Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Truth statement: I am in much better shape now than I was in my 20’s and 30’s. How did I pull this off? Simple: I found my motivation. Let me tell you the story.
When I was thirty-two, I had a bulging disc in my lower back (between L5 and S1 to be exact) from playing basketball. If you’ve never had such an injury with sciatic nerve pain screaming down your leg, well, let me tell you…it is no picnic. On the back end of surgery, my doctor told me the key to preventing this from happening again was exercise. I didn’t want to experience that again, so I began my exercise regimen in1992. I found my motivation. While I don’t particularly enjoy exercising, I always ask myself, “What’s the alternative?” The alternative is to put myself in a place where I have another back injury or worse. So, I strap on my tennies and get after it. This has worked for me for over 25 years now.
Paul was trying to pass on a similar message to his young prodigy, Timothy. He said, “physical training is of some value.” No kidding. When you exercise regularly it helps your blood pressure, your heart rate, increases your energy level and endurance, heightens your mental acumen, builds up muscle, helps control your weight, helps you sleep better, feel better, and best of all, it enables you to pick up and stay up with your grandkids. People who consistently train physically, win more. I know if I stop exercising, I am intentionally and knowingly reducing my chances of experiencing these outcomes. Each morning I say to myself, “I can either spend my entire day feeling guilty I didn’t exercise or I can get it done in 30 minutes first thing in the morning, check it off my list and walk through my day guilt free.”
Paul said physical training is of “some value.” A better translation would be, “value for a little while.” A disciplined regiment of exercise improves the quality of your life and often the duration of your life on earth. But it pales in comparison to eternity. That’s why Paul follows this admonition up with an even greater one – “but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Spiritual training not only improves the quality of our lives now, but carries on with us into eternity.
Paul said to the folks in Philippi, “whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Anybody want to experience peace? Then practice your faith. God tells us when we are still, we will know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). Knowing God might have its benefits, you think?
The list of assets from practicing our faith is massive:
· We have joy in spite of our circumstances (John 15:9-11)
· We make better decisions (James 1:5)
· We are better people to be around (Galatians 5:16-23)
· We’ll live in the center of God’s will (Romans 12:1-2)
· We will be more successful (Joshua 1:8)
And the list goes on…
Spiritual discipline is like prayer. Bible study, offering my time and engaging in community can sometimes be like strapping on a pair of tennis shoes and taking off on a 5K run in the cold. We often want to take a pass for sitting on the couch with a bag of potato chips watching a show on Netflix. I get it – I love potato chips (salt and vinegar are my favorite) and I love Netflix (particularly if it has at least five seasons to watch). To find my motivation, I ask the same question –
“So what is the alternative?”
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? Galatians 5:7
Paul loved to use the metaphor of running a race to describe the journey of the Christian life.
In his letter to the believers in Jesus who were living in the city of Galatia, he told them they were running a good race. That meant they were making progress, growing, on track, pointed in the right direction, winning.
Then he asked them, “Who cut in on you?” When a runner intentionally cuts in on you, they’re trying to take over your lane, slow you down, throw you off track or even cause you to fall. Back in chapter three verse one, Paul posed the same question in a different way. He asked, “Who has bewitched you?” Putting the two questions together, we might say that a person is “running off at the mouth” telling lies about Christ and the Christian way of life, and you are believing it. They’re “casting a spell” over you. When you take the bait, it throws you off track in pursuing the good race that leads to freedom and spiritual prosperity.
For the Galatians, it was the Judaizers. These were early Jewish Christians who were opposing Paul by persuading Gentile believers that they needed to follow the laws of the Old Testament, including being circumcised, in order to truly be a Christian. It’s really hard to believe that we can be freed from our sin and inherit eternal life in God’s presence purely on an act of grace through faith in Christ, but it is totally true. Anything else, Paul says, is a “different gospel – which is no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7). The Galatian believers needed to reject this distraction as a lie and get back on track moving towards the goal line.
What ways are people “cutting in” on believers today who are running a good race?
Here are a few of the dominant and persuasive voices of our day that are derailing numbers of believers:
• “You have to be stupid to believe there is a God.”
• “When you die, you just die. There’s nothing else.”
• “The Bible is a book of fiction and fairy tales, not a book inspired by God.”
• “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
• “Oh, nobody believes that anymore.”
These are the modern day Judaizers who draw us off track with God:
• The boyfriend or girlfriend who isn’t interested in spiritual things.
• The college professor who makes you feel small for believing in God.
• The addiction that draws you slowly down a dark path.
• The group of friends who won’t let you belong if you don’t do what they do.
• The co-worker or “friend” who is jealous of your success and life.
• The adult who abused you and convinced you that you are unlovable.
• The voice in your own head that believes you’re out of God’s reach.
How do we prevent others from cutting in on us and derailing the good race we’re running?
1. Know what you believe and why it matters.
Here are the top ten questions every believer needs to be able to answer with deep conviction. We have clearly and concisely answered these questions in the first ten chapters of the Believe journey. The challenge is to know these ten key ideas like the back of your hand.
a. Who is God?
b. Does he care for me?
c. How do I come into a relationship with God?
d. How do I know God and his will for my life?
e. Who am I?
f. How does God accomplish his plan on earth?
g. How does God see us?
h. What about the poor and injustice?
i. What is God’s call on my life?
j. What happens next?
2. Practice your faith with the discipline of a winning athlete.
When you engage your faith and practice the disciplines that Jesus modeled, it embeds the ten key truths deep into your heart. When a belief takes up residence in the heart, not just in our heads, it will shape us into the kind of person God intended us to be from the very beginning (Romans 8:29). Here is a list of the key practices found in the Bible:
a. How to worship God
b. How to pray
c. How to study the Bible
d. How to establish priorities
e. How to live a sacrificial life
f. How to live in community
g. How to use my spiritual gift
h. How to use my time
i. How to manage my money
j. How to share my faith
This is the focus of the second ten chapters of Believe. The goal is for every believer to not only know about these key disciplines of the Christian faith, but to be functionally competent in their practice of them. Every day that you practice your faith, you’ll get stronger and wiser. So the next time someone tries to cut in on you, you won’t let them. You will have the sense about you to spot their scheme, and you’ll have the skills to overtake them and stay focused on your goal – to win the race set before you.
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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Discipline is just plain hard.
Discipline to eat right
Discipline to exercise
Discipline to floss
Discipline to plan ahead
Discipline to do our homework
Discipline to practice
This struggle certainly carries over into our spiritual lives. With the busyness of our day and crowdedness of our lives, it’s hard to maintain the discipline to pray, to worship, to attend a small group, to read the Bible, or to regularly offer our time to someone in need.
The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us some excellent advice on how to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. We each have our own race to run that is different from everyone else. Where do we find the strength to finish our race with dignity and victory?
1. Be inspired by those who finished strong before you.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. What does that mean? The writer is referring to the list of people he just mentioned in the previous chapter. People like Moses, Abraham, Rahab and Joseph. Each person had a different race marked out for them. Their journeys were filled with extreme difficulties. And yet, each one finished strong and have gone down in history as people who accomplished great things.
The writer gives us an action step: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Weights: A winning runner wouldn’t carry a backpack full of rocks. As a matter of fact, runners that win races strip themselves of every weight possible, wearing the lightest clothing, the lightest shoes.
Entanglements: A winning runner would never run with his or her shoes untied. He wouldn’t run with a group of people that would trip him up.
Make a list of things that weigh you down or entangle you in your spiritual race. It could be a variety of things – a relationship, a location, the wrong influence, a wrong goal, an addiction, a bad attitude or negative thinking. Once you identify it, get rid of it. This will lighten your load and make the race much more doable.
2. Fix your eyes on Jesus
Jesus is the supreme example for us to follow. The race set before him was truly great and yet it included his crucifixion. How did he make it? He saw the finish line – sitting on the right hand of his Father, exalted, knowing he had made a way for all people to come back into a relationship with God. While he was experiencing his most intense pain and disappointment, he went to the finish line in his mind and it gave him the strength to endure the struggle now.
Someone once said, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either necessarily. But their disliking is subordinate to the strength of their purpose.”
When you struggle to apply discipline to your physical fitness journey, close your eyes and think of the finish line. Think of being at your ideal weight, having more energy, feeling good emotionally and physically, having clothes that fit better, taking a hike up a mountain to see a breathtaking view without losing your breath.
When you struggle to apply discipline to your spiritual fitness journey, close your eyes and think of the finish line. Think of the exhilaration of living out your God-given purpose, of experiencing the blessings of God, of impacting so many people along the way, of knowing you lived a life that was pleasing to God. The saints of the Old Testament and Jesus himself will tell you from their own experience, this will set you apart and give you the boost of discipline you need to see it through.
Beginning in January, Westside Family Church will begin a new series centered around the 10 Key Practices found in the Bible that will equip us to win at life. I have written this blog to encourage and inspire you to fully engage with us on this journey.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
When I was in my third year of college, I decided to sign up for our small Bible Colleges racquetball tournament. There were three flights – A, B and C. The A flight was for the best players. I believed I had a strong chance to win the A flight, but I was going to sign up for the C flight for two reasons: 1) While I am an excellent athlete with insane hand-eye coordination, the truth is I’ve never played a game of racquetball in my life. I did play a little tennis; how hard can it be? 2) I really, really like winning and I would most definitely dominate in the C flight. My plan, win the C flight in my junior year and then win the A flight my senior year, going out as the reigning champ (to all the young people reading this blog, it’s important to set goals…yes it is).
(to all the young people reading this blog, it’s important to set goals…yes it is).
The first thing I did was go shopping. You must dress for success. Stepping onto the court looking like a pro intimidates your opponent. I purchased a navy-blue pair of shorts with the Spalding brand stitched in white. I purchased a white colored shirt with the Spalding brand stitched in navy blue. I added two white wrist bands and a white head band. I doubted that in the C flight I would even break a sweat, but I was going for the look. To finish things off, I bought a powder blue racquet. Didn’t want to be all “matchy, matchy” with the navy-blue outfit.
The day came for the tournament. I hate to brag, but I looked good. My first opponent turned out to have on a pair of dirty white tennis shoes, loose fitting black shorts and a raggedy t-shirt that was torn at the bottom, exposing his oversized belly. Before I went into the court, I turned to Rozanne and said, “I won’t be long.”
The game was best out of three.
The first match, he won 21-3. That meant I had to win the next two games, or I would be eliminated in the first round…in the C flight. I had to come up with a different strategy. Since I was in better shape than my opponent, I decided to try harder, move faster. As this guy just stood in the middle of the court, I ran all over the court like a chicken with its head cut off. Within a few minutes the second game was over. I lost 21-5. Eliminated in the first round in the C flight. With bruised ego in tow, I walked out of the court hyperventilating, leaned against the wall, and slid down to the ground. Not knowing what to say, Rozanne patted me on the head and we went home.
Why did I lose the game? It’s simple. My opponent actually knew how to play racquetball.
he learned the techniques,
he was disciplined.
I on the other hand only looked good.
The same is true in the Christian life. We can’t just come in our Sunday best to church once a week and expect to win at life. Paul says in the verse above, we need to go into “strict training.” We call these Spiritual Practices or Spiritual Disciplines. This is the full focus of Westside Family Church beginning on January 6 in the new year. Our staff team wants to take on the role as your personal spiritual trainer to equip you to live the Christian life with success. Here are just a couple of our training sessions:
· How do I honor God in the way he deserves?
· How do I grow by communicating with God?
· How do I study God’s Word?
· How do I keep my focus on Jesus amidst distractions?
Does training work? Let’s fast forward several years after my miserable racquetball debut. I eventually picked up the racquet again and really learned how to play. Result? I won a bunch of tournaments…while still looking good, I might add!