Jeff Bartell

A "bottom line" kind of guy

It’s not personal, well, yes it is

I am inspired by my friends that have the discipline to eat right, exercise regularly and keep themselves physically fit.  I am amazed at their zeal to recruit others to fitness, inviting them to work out and encouraging many to consider better dietary habits.  I have benefited from the influence of friends with that level of discipline.

At the same time, as a pastor my mind can’t help but wonder why some individuals with that level of demonstrated daily discipline (sorry for the alliteration!) can’t seem to apply those disciplines to their spiritual lives.  Honestly, back in January when I first verbalized that thought, it took a quick U-turn and came back to smack me right in the face.  Has that ever happened to you?  While I was wondering how others could apply discipline in their physical lives but not their spiritual, God reminded me that I was exercising discipline in my spiritual life but not my physical.  That did it.  I decided, right then and there, that I needed to take care of myself and quit worrying so much about everyone else’s struggles.  Thank you, Lord, for that reminder.

But wait a minute, I am a pastor.  I am supposed to worry (OK, OK, “be concerned” – it’s more spiritual) about the spiritual well-being of our church family.  That’s my role.  So what’s a guy to do?  Besides the fact that I have been praying fervently about this for several months now, I decided to go to the scriptures and better understand what course of action I need to take.  The first thing that I needed to do was establish the biblical standard that God was asking of all of us.

So, today I preached a message that has been rolling around in my head for at least 7 months now.  God compares physical fitness to godliness, which I am calling spiritual fitness1 Timothy 4:7-8  But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.  I made some comparisons which I think are appropriate, for example…

Knowledge alone of fitness is not enough.  We need to apply the knowledge to get the benefits.  I have known about proper diet, nutrition and exercise for over 15 years, but until this year, have been consistently overweight and out of shape.  Knowledge has to be applied.  Many Christians suffer from an abundance of head knowledge that is rarely applied, rendering them “out of shape” – spiritually speaking.

Fitness is not a one-time event, it’s a lifestyle.  It’s not something that you can check off a list because you “completed” it several years ago.  The day you quit eating right and exercising is the day your fitness level begins to slide.  When we talk about “discipleship” and the need to continually grow in Christ by living our lives together and putting into practice our existing knowledge, many scoff and ignore the admonition thinking that “I’ve already done that.”  (referring to a time in their past when they competed some set of Bible study lessons that had the title “Discipleship” on the cover)

The problem with preaching a message like this to a large crowd is that inevitably some may think I was speaking directly about them.  People who I know personally may conclude that since I know a little more about their personal situations that I was aiming at them from the pulpit.  That is not true.  In that sense, this message is in no way “personal.”  I was not taking 50 minutes of time from 600 adults to preach to a handful.  That would be inappropriate and downright unfair.  I never do that.  The truth is that most all of us need to hear this message.  I know I needed it.  I heard a preacher say once:  “If you’re rubbing the fur the wrong way, maybe you need to turn the cat around!”

On the other hand, this message was intensely personal.  I think God takes it personally when we refuse to exercise our God-given gifts, talents and abilities to pursue spiritual fitness.  God wants us all to be “fit” and able to carry out whatever task He might call us to do for his glory.  Since all our lives are inter-connected in the body of Christ, we are all affected by one another.  When some refuse to grow, develop and participate, the entire body suffers – it brings us all down.  We need one another.  I, for one, feel it.  In that sense, this subject is highly personal.  It is personal to God and it is personal to me.

I can only imagine what Paul the Apostle was thinking when he penned 2 Corinthians 11:28  Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.

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