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Today's Headline: "Church Proposes New Fitness Center"
Scripture: 1 Timothy 4:6
Track 48 of 52 in the Sermons from 2003 series
Running time: 27 minutes, 58 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, November 30, 2003
"Today's Headline: Church Proposes New Fitness Center"
Copyright 2003 G. Charles Sackett

Not too long ago one of my former students, who now works for a publishing company sent me this book "Running Past Fifty". I don't think she meant miles per hour.

It starts with this interesting chapter on all the benefits of running. I thought I'd read some to you. Not because I think you should necessarily take up the sport. Running, it says, is profoundly simple yet offers a virtual barrage of benefits to its devotees - strong heart and lungs, strong legs, low blood pressure, lower than average body fat, low resting heart rate, increased energy reserves, increased bone density, higher brain function due to regular exercise induced oxygenation of the brain, regular doses of psychological equanimity, greater physical confidence and self-esteem, less overall physical degeneration. However, it's not a cure-all.

Then it just goes on to taut some benefits. Thirty percent decrease in a chance for heart disease. Ah, delaying or preventing certain cancers and then a rather lengthy list of all the things it does for you psychologically.

Paul knew all that, or at least apparently seemed to. He wrote over in 1Timothy, Chapter 4. If you have your Bibles we're gonna look at this text together for a little while this morning.

1Timothy, Chapter 4. We're just gonna pick up the context in Verse 6 where Paul is making reference to some things in the first four or five verses that he has suggested that Timothy teach. He says in Verse 6, If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 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.

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

Bodily exercise, he says, has a little profit. There is some value to doing bodily exercise. However, he says, the real value, the real important thing is in training for righteousness. Training for godliness. In fact, what I think he's suggesting to us is that spiritual disciplines, spiritual training, training for godliness has eternal value, not just fleshly value.

When I was in Oregon, I met my first real runner. Those were in the days when I loved to make fun of runners and so Dick was just the object of a lot of my affection. This guy ran rain or shine. Now, where I lived in Oregon, that meant rain. Always! A hundred inches a year and he was out running in it all the time. And his claim was, he was going to live to be a hundred years old and I could only think of one real serious question I wanted to ask. Why would you want to do that? Ah, if that is your sole goal in life, just to be a hundred, I thought--well okay, but, there's surely got to be more to live for than just being a hundred. As if somehow that marks out some accomplishment. You know, it didn't seem to change his life much. He was in pretty good physical health, but as far as the rest of his life went, it didn't seem to me that it was much different than any of the other people who didn't know Jesus. His marriage had just as many troubles as anybody else. His children had as many troubles as anybody else. His physical health didn't seem to be making all that much difference anywhere except in his own little world of physical health.

Paul seems to understand that there was something about the exercise of our spirit in the area of godliness that had eternal value. Value, he says, in this life and in the life to come.

Let me set a context for this. Our core value around here that we're trying to help all of us understand is this. We value the spiritual disciplines as an expression of our relationship with God. It's another way of us trying to say to you that we think that these things that we do in order to discipline our spirits are important that they reflect a relationship that we have with God but that they also have something to say about the development of that relationship.

It comes in this context. Our vision statement is that we will be a community of faith where every member looks like Jesus.

And so the spiritual disciplines not only become a core value, but the spiritual disciplines become a strategy whereby I get to become more like Jesus.

In the Christianity 201 class that we offer around here, the book that we use is John Ortberg's "A Life You've Always Wanted". I couldn't recommend that book more highly if I wanted to. If you want to get a start in the area of spiritual disciplines, I think that is the place to start. And in it, he gives this definition of what a spiritual disciplines is intended to be and to do.

He says, A spiritual discipline is any activity that can help us to gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it. That is the goal I presume. That becoming a Christian is not so that you would have something to do on Sunday morning, besides sleep in or read the newspaper. That you really entered into this relationship with Jesus because you wanted something to happen in your life that would make both a present and a future difference. Well, a part of that is becoming like Jesus and the disciplines are designed to help us become more like him. Now I don't have time to define all of the various disciplines because as you'll note in his definition, it is any activity and that means there's a whole list of them.

I just want to give you one potential list that comes from Dallas Willard. Willard is a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California who writes widely in the area of spiritual disciplines. He talks about two particular categories; disciplines of abstinence--in other words, things that we do without and disciplines of engagement--those things we enter in--those lists are supposed to be up there where you can see them.

That's quite a list and I'm not wanting to overwhelm you and say you have to be doing all of these things all of the time. I just want to introduce them to you so you see them. The idea, for example, of practicing solitude--getting alone--away from the distractions of this world.

The practice of silence where literally, you choose not to speak, so that you can learn to listen.

Fasting--which, by the way, doesn't necessarily have to be only of food. There could be great value in you fasting from television or fasting from a number of other things that would enable you to have some time and some space for God to go to work in your life.

On the other side, areas of service that you engage in that discipline your spirit. The entrance in to celebration and worship. The practice of meditation or Journaling in your life. Well, you begin to get a hint.

I'm going to attempt to illustrate two or three of those as we go through. What I'm suggesting is, there are a lot of ways for you to begin to practice the presence of God in a way that he has a chance to interact in your life and help develop in you the kind of transformation into the nature of Jesus that you'd like to have in your life. Some of those will work better for you than others.

Well, let me just suggest some things to you if I may. I want to make this as practical as I know how.

First, we exercise in the quietness of our closets. One of the things that is so abundantly clear in scripture is that one of the things that a Christian does is that they pull themselves aside from the distractions of the world. They enter into a private place and they have a relationship with God that gets developed in that quiet place. For example, the whole idea of the prayer closet--Matthew 6, where he tells us we're to go off by ourselves, get into a lonely place and spend some time just talking to God. Now for some of you that would be a strange experience.

Some people find it very difficult to have that kind of specific time and place. I highly encourage it. I would think that you would want to have that kind of place in your life, but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming amount of time, ten minutes of dedicated prayer first thing in the morning.

On the other hand, let me just suggest to you that Brother Lawrence (Laurence)? who was a Catholic priest, probably three or four hundred years ago, made a practice of just simply being in the presence of God at all times. He talked about praying when he peeled potatoes or when he worked in the garden. Translation--when you walk around that's a good time to pray. When your out doing your morning exercise, that's the time to pray. When your driving down the road, that's the time to pray, especially if your driving with me. There's a lot of prayer said when I'm behind the wheel. A time and a place, where you sit down maybe, with a prayer list and you simply spend some time walking through, asking God to deal with issues, listening, if you can, to what God might have to say to you. The practice of solitude.

Luke 5:16 makes this interesting remark about Jesus. He often withdrew to lonely places to pray. We live in this hectic, busy world. Everyone of us lives in this, well, frankly, it's a rush of chaos. There's a time to pull away.

My good friend Neil (Neal)--some of you have met him. He's preached here for us before. Neil had a practice, up until last year and he's trying to recapture it. Every Thursday afternoon, for about three hours, he would slip away from school and go to Weldon Springs over near Clinton and spend about three hours in just solitude. Sometimes he walked, sometimes he journaled, sometimes he read, sometimes he prayed but it was just him and God alone. Some quiet, peace-settling kinds of time to learn how to listen.

Maybe you can't get three hours in an afternoon to do that. I do it when I run. I like to run by myself because that gives me time for just solitude. Some people do it when they drive. They are forced to be a their car all the time so they shut off the radio and they shut out the world and they use that as a time of solitude.

There is the issue of fasting. Again, you don't have to just fast from food. I do have an acquaintance that I probably will not give his name, because I'm not sure he would want that out. But, his family used to fast together once a week and they would combine their fast with the discipline of service. They would take the money that they would normally spend on the one day's meals and they would use that to send to somebody to feed the hungry.

Journaling--the simple practice of sitting down with your Bible open and a notebook and simply walking through the text and asking the text questions and letting that text speak to you while you write down various ideas. That's one form of Journaling. Let me just model it for you for just a second.

I'll just take a moment. Look in your Bibles at Titus, Chapter 2:11 - Titus, Chapter 2, Verse 11. This might be a sample of just a few minutes of sitting down with your Bibles studying scripture and Journaling some ideas. Titus 2:11 says,. . . . . .the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Here is a sample journal entry on Titus 2:11-14. Verse 11 - God's grace must be absolutely incredible that he's appeared and brought salvation to us all. Verse 12, Am I saying "No" to ungodliness. Is there a part of me that is not ignoring the passion of the world? Have I learned how to live a self-controlled life? I might find myself writing in my journal something like this. What's the difference between being self-controlled, upright and godly? That's a question I need to pursue in my life to see if there are wider arenas than just my own personal life involved here.

Now, you can just walk through that text, make observations, ask questions, use that as a study guide. It's just a chance for you to write some things down as you think about scripture. Another kind of journal entirely, is not necessarily related to study, but simply a reflection on your own spiritual life. How did your day go? Where did you do well? What kinds of things caused you to struggle?

Well, we can talk more about that. Let me offer you a second observation. We exercise in the company of our friends. Not only is there this quiet place, but I live in a community of faith and I frankly discover I don't do very well when I try to do all this on my own. You don't happen to know whether I keep a quiet time or not unless I tell you, or, you ask.

You don't know whether I fast. There's no way to tell, not if your doing it scripturally, which means, not necessarily broadcasting it. So somehow we need to find ourselves in a relationship with other people where there's accountability about these disciplines. It's the value of the bridge community and here's an advertisement. If you don't have a small group that helps hold you accountable and helps you practice the disciplines, you really need to be a part of one of those groups. Maybe you have a self-formed group already that you meet with. That's well and good. Maybe some group you're a part of already meets that need. That's fine. But, if your trying to live like a Christian by yourself, let me encourage you to plug in to one of the bridge communities where there's an opportunity to deal with each other at a relationship that stirs our faith.

What are some of the things that we might do together? In fact, between you and me, if you promise not to tell anybody else, I find it a lot easier to pray with people than to pray by myself. There's something about that community availability that's helpful to me.

There is this story. I'm sure it's apocryphal, but there is a story of an African village, that, in the process of becoming Christian, encouraged everybody to have quiet times and so they would all have quiet times so that would all go find their place in the forest to pray and of course, when they went day-after-day-after-day, they might have marked off a path and so you kind of knew where everybody went and then the village would say, your path is getting overgrown with weeds whenever they didn't continue this process. There's something valuable about having somebody who reminds you that you need to keep this up.

The whole issue of solitude is a rather fascinating thing. Did you know you can do solitude together? Neil used to take a van-load of students with him to Weldon Springs and they would meet together as a group, discuss what they were going to do for the day, and then, scatter. But the fact that there were several of them out there at the same time served as an accountability process and then when they came back together they had a chance to kind of talk about what God was doing in their life. It kind of mixed this community-in-solitude experience together.

Small group worship. One of my favorite experiences in life, one of the things I treasure most are the small groups that I've met with as a faculty member at Lincoln--just worshiping together. We're thinking now, five males who can't sing, so singing was not a dominant part of our worship, but a chance to share together.

I think of service as a friend relationship. One of my favorite things to do is to take my children to a service project. Some of the best memories I have, have been in the inner city of Hartford, CT with one of my children along by my side, as well as, some of my students, doing Habitat for Humanity, for example. Or, just simply cleaning up the streets or working at the community center with children or fixing breakfast for fatherless kids. There's something about that, that helps you begin to sense--this is the kind of life that Jesus might want me to live.

Well, we exercise our spiritual life in the quiet of our closet, in the company of our friends. We exercise in the presence of our congregation. This whole experience we have on Sunday morning is an exercise in spiritual discipline. You've heard me say this before. It's not about being in the right place at the right time. Unless that right place is in the presence of God. We come together in shared worship. There's something about all of us being here together recognizing that we're in the presence of God in worship that enhances my spiritual life. I realize that you are contributing to me and I hope, what happens in our worship--I hope that the experience that we have in here of studying scripture, of praying , or sharing, of praying, encourages you to take that home.

We use the songs that we sing because they're the kinds of things that you can carry with you all day long in your heart.

We gather around this table. We do thin as a community and it struck me just the other day, we've been having this interesting conversation recently about the Lord's Supper at our Elders meetings and with our staff. Been wrestling with, what do we do at the Lord's Table that helps people understand the significance of the emblems, that helps understand the significance of the event and doesn't allow this weekly event to become something fairly common. And it struck me one day that it's been about 35 years since I sat at this table for the very first time. Haven't missed very many weeks in the intervening time and I kinda forgot what it was like to sit at the table for the first time, ya know? But I remember as a pagan, wondering what in the world this was about. And I remember the first time I took the Lord's Supper in a place where they did it differently than they did it at the church where I became a Christian. And, I remember thinking, this is an awkward moment. Well, as I began to process that, I began to wonder how many of the people who attend Madison Park Christian Church are sitting here on Sunday morning wondering, what do you do with all that time? I mean, it doesn't take long to pick this up, put it in your mouth, pick it up, put it in your mouth, then the tray is gone and then what do you do for the next three to five minutes while you wait for everybody else? Our encouragement to you is, use that as a time to pray. Use it as a time to meditate. Use it as a time to think. Use it as a time to reflect. Use it as a time for confession.

Once in a while, we don't do it very often, about once every four or five weeks, we will actually have the team use lyrics. Most of the time, it's just instrumental. We do the lyrics for a reason, because those lyrics often help us meditate. They provide words for us when we don't know what to say. Now, for some of you who have been in church for forty or fifty years, you don't need us to provide you lyrics. You've got all the lyrics you'll ever need, but you know, for the person whose here for the first time or second time, those lyrics often become the only thing they know what to do during that space of three or four minutes which seems like an eternity when there is nothing else to do but sit in the pew and wait.

We actually practice meditation in here. Did you know that? You may not realize it, but we actually meditate every Sunday morning. Meditation is a good Hebrew word. It means, to chew the cud. Now for those of you who grew up on the farm, you know what that means. That's what that cow does with that grass, over and over and over and over again until they get all the value out that is supposedly in there. It's not the kind of eating that I prefer--huh--swallow it once is good for me.

But, do you ever notice in newer, contemporary music, there's a lot of repetition? Some of you find that as a real struggle. You've said it once, that's enough, but for some people, that repetition is meditation. It is mulling that over in your mind, over and over again--it's thinking it through one more time. It's having an opportunity of saying it again and to draw out of it the nourishment that comes from saying to the Father, I love you, I love you, I love you.

Now, I understand that for all of us, this worship, this shared worship experience is very different and yet, what we're hoping happens in here is shared worship encourages you in private worship, encourages you in the worship that happens in your small groups. We exercise in the presence of the congregation in the preaching of the word, which is the shared discipline of listening as we all try to hear what it is that God is saying.

Well, let me hasten. We exercise in anticipation of the throne of God. Did you notice that in this text? That this is. . . . . . . . . . . .of a future. See, what we're doing here is the very thing we're going to be doing there. Experiencing worship--being in his presence--celebrating--having an opportunity to meditate. We do this because we honestly believe that as we become like Christ, we will have a greater anticipation of what it means to live in his presence.

I don't know about you. I decided one day that I was going to run a marathon. I didn't run out the next day and do 26 miles. I went out the next day and did one lap around a 300 meter track and I about died!!!! and so. . . .I walked home and a couple of days later I did it again. Now, I've heard that same story at my house when it came to piano lessons. You know when our kids first started taking piano lessons, 30 minutes seemed like an eternity to them and to us. Some of you have had that experience. I'm sure a teacher must feel that way, as well. But you know, when they became seniors in high school and it became time for senior recitals, it wasn't 30 minutes, it was three and four hours of practice as they got ready for the event.

You know I'm suspicious that as we first start in this process of getting ready for heaven, five or ten minutes of prayer, three or four minutes of meditation may seem like an eternity. One day it will be and personally I want to be ready for it. I want to be prepared to spend my time in the presence of God looking as much like Jesus as I possibly can.

Spiritual disciplines carry eternal value. They get us ready for heaven. They're for this life, but they are also for the life to come and I know they sound a little overwhelming. Not asking you to do them all, just asking you to do one or two while you start.

As I got up and ready to leave the house yesterday morning to go run I happened to run into this magazine. It was laying there on the counter and I noticed the hearing on this. It says, "Bad Weather Always Looks Worse Through a Window - Get Out There" You know that's true. It's been my experience every blustery morning I ever got up to run. It looked a lot worse through the window than it was once I got out the door. I know that sitting here you could feel absolutely overwhelmed by the thought of trying to learn to pray and fast and practice solitude, get involved in service and get involved in worship and celebrate but what I'm suggesting to you is it looks a lot worse through the window.

What we're inviting you to do is not try to do them all, but to make a commitment today to do just one. To say, I will dedicate myself for the next week to just try to find ten minutes every day to pray and if your really ambitious, maybe you'll take on two. You'll say, I'm gonna only spend ten minutes praying but I'll carve out five minutes to read my Bible and write a few notes.

Now for those of you who are a little further in the journey, maybe what you're saying is, I need to add some service to my discipline or you know I've never really thought about practicing solitude. Maybe your sitting there thinking, ya know I didn't know there was so much to this, I'd like some more help with this. And we'd love to give you those kinds of help, either through resources like Ortberg or Foster or Willard or through our 201 class, which you should be involved in or just in some personal interaction with each other about how to practice these disciplines because the goal is not to practice the disciplines. The goal is to become more like Christ. The text says, we exercise ourselves to godliness and what this church needs to be is a community of people who look a lot like Jesus so that once that transformation begins to really occur in all of us, it will begin to impact the world where we work and live and raise our families and go to school. So let me offer you that challenge, to just pick one discipline and commit yourself to that discipline, to grow in it and to become like Jesus.

Father, we're grateful that you've made it possible for us to know you. That you've given us ways that we can exercise ourselves in such a way that we can become more like your Son and I thank you for a church that has committed itself to providing the means for that to happen--small groups, classes, worship, resources. And, I pray that we begin to take upon ourselves the look of Jesus, that the world will know that we have been with you. We pray this in his name and for his sake. Amen

We're offering you the same basic privilege and that is to get to know Jesus. This morning we've talked about how to get to know him better, to look more like him, but some of you are still wrestling with simply getting to know him. I want to encourage you in the journey. If you've got questions, ask them. If you're ready to go one more step in the journey and you just need somebody to take you along, come and talk to us and let us help you. But, encouraging all of you to let this song become your driving force. It is the reflection of who we are trying to become as a congregation of people so I'm trusting that what we're about to sing can become your heart's voice to the Father.

Let's stand please.