A Future Together
part 2

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In February 2003, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock began an experiment that would later become the basis for his documentary, "Supersize Me." For 30 days, Spurlock vowed to eat nothing but McDonald’s food – all three meals. He exercised very little, only walking around town – but nothing strenuous or regular.

Spurlock began his experiment weighing 185 lbs. At the end of 30 days, he had gained 24.5 lbs. During the experiment, Spurlock’s liver and heart were not as healthy. Family, friends, and physicians urged him to change his diet immediately. Spurlock survived his 30-day experiment, but it took him 14 months to lose the weight he had gained.

Spurlock’s film caused McDonald’s to drop its Super-Sized menu. They also added healthier choices to their menus. Spurlock claimed that he made the movie to highlight the growing epidemic of “obesity” in the United States.

Thanks to Spurlock and many, many others the incontrovertible evidence is before us – diet and exercise matter. If one eats too much or eats poorly and exercises very little or not at all, then we know what happens. It isn’t a mystery. It shouldn’t really shock us. Did we really need a film to convince us that eating McD’s for 30 days probably isn’t the best diet? If you want to get healthy there’s no mystery to that – eat right and exercise more. That’s really all there is to it.

We understand this when it comes to our physical health. But do we realize that it is pretty much the same when it comes to our spiritual health?

If the goal of diet and exercise for our physical bodies is to maintain our health, then there should also be some sort of goal when it comes to diet and exercise for the soul. Paul described that goal in Galatians 4:8-20.

Christ Formed in Us ...

  1. “Straining at Gnats, Swallowing Camels” - (legalism vs. formation) – Paul was very concerned that the Galatians were not getting the right sort of spiritual diet and exercise. They has resorted to legalism which is the spiritual equivalent of quick fix weight loss treatments. Legalism is the mistaken and arrogant attempt to focus in on rules and codes. Very often legalism attracts us by causing us to focus on things that we can do to get it right. Jesus encountered this sort of thinking among the Pharisees. Matthew 23:23-24 – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”
    1. Legalism is a neurotic focus on our ability to keep rules
    2. Spiritual Formation is focusing on becoming more like Jesus
    3. Being like Jesus means having the ability to recognize what’s important to God rather than what’s important to us. Notice what Jesus’ weight issue – justice, mercy, faithfulness.

  2. Teaching to the Test rather than Training for Life (information vs. formation) – Spiritual formation involves more than simple information. One of the first groups in Christianity to be labeled heretics were the Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that salvation could be achieved by knowledge. If you knew the right things, if you had access to information, then you were among the saved.
    1. The Gnostic tendency is still with us. Knowledge is a good thing – much better than ignorance. It is rewarding to learn. In a culture where knowledge is emphasized it is easy to describe our faith in terms of “what we know.”
    2. But it doesn’t really do us any good to know the names of the 12 apostles if we lie to our mom. Are we more like Christ when we articulate a doctrine of church government or are we more like Christ when we treat our neighbors with love and respect?
    3. Paul warned Timothy not to be distracted by those who thought of faith in terms of teaching to the test. (1 Timothy 4:6-8, The Message) “Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we've thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We're banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.”

Training for Godliness

  1. Discipline – Being a disciple means learning to be a discipline. Richard Foster wrote a book about 25 years ago that has become a modern classic. It is titled The Celebration of Discipline. Foster rediscovered the classical spiritual disciplines: prayer, study, meditation, worship, fasting, service, silence. Christian authors had not focused on such things in years. Critics claimed that these spiritual disciplines were in danger of becoming “works righteousness.” But Foster pointed out that was absolutely contrary to the spirit of the disciplines. The disciplines are training for godliness. We cannot expect to godly people “when it counts” if we are not training in godliness every day.
  2. Trials – Godliness counts when the difficulties arise. Rather than see these as setbacks to faith or misfortune, this is where our training goes to work. 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1.)
  3. Cord of Three Strands – One of the best bits of advice that’s given to people who are trying to change their health through diet and exercise is: Find a friend. We take encouragement from others and we give encouragement to others. A well worn lesson about spiritual formation builds on the image of Ecclesiastes 4:12 – A cord of three strands is not easily broken. The wise teacher is saying that we don’t do well on our own. We need each other. The lesson built on this cord of three strands suggests that each of us has in our sphere of influence: mentors, peers, and students.
    1. Who is your influence? Who helps you become more like Christ?
    2. Who do you influence? Who could you help become more like Christ?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 9 March 2008

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