A Spiritual Life Check-up

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Are you married? Do you love your spouse? Do you have children? Do you love them? You have parents? Do you love them? What about brothers and sisters? How do you prove you love those closest to you? Providing for them is one way. Let me give you a simple but very revealing test of the quality of your love. When was the last time you went to see your GP? I don’t mean because you were sick. When was the last time you saw your GP for a health check? You know, blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, kidney function, glucose, PSA, etc. Its free so, no excuse.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

Assuming you have visited your GP recently, do you have an annual health checkup? Do you know the date of your last one? And your next one? Is it in your diary?
You service your car. Which is more important?

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

And assuming your GP has prescribed some medication to assist with cholesterol or high blood pressure, do you take them daily?

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

If you really love those closest to you, I suggest it is more important having an annual health check highlighted in your diary than remembering their birthdays or your wedding anniversary. It shows you care more about their future than about your past.  Proving you love those closest to you may mean making a phone call tomorrow morning. But before you do, lets explore how the Apostle Paul understood the need for a health check, a spiritual health check-up for himself and the church in Colossae.

“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)

See the link between what Paul endured in his physical body for the sake of Christ’s spiritual body? Lets observe,

Our Burden: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ.
Our Goal: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ.
Our Delight: Security in the Faith of Jesus Christ.

  1. Our Burden in Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ

“I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness…To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.” (Colossians 1: 25, 29,  2:1)

I wonder if you have ever aspired to become a pastor or evangelist? Most young believers do at some time or another. We are enthusiastic and thankful to Jesus and we want to serve him. We feel like giving up everything to become a missionary or pastor. If that is you right now, if the Lord is asking you, then please come and talk to me. If you are not sure but open, our apprentice scheme is designed to help test a call to ministry. We are seeking two or maybe three right now to start by the Summer.

Most Christians, however, come to appreciate that they can and should serve Jesus full time in their home, or their community or in secular employment. God has given each one of us a unique combination of personality, gifts, preferences and talents. He has given them to us to know him and make him known. We are all called to glorify him through the church in the world. But what is your image or your expectation of a vicar or minister? Is it shaped by Dawn French in the ‘Vicar of Dibley’ or perhaps the exploits of Tom Hollander who plays the Rev Adam Smallbone in BBC 2’s ‘Rev’?  For a reality check we see in Colossians, the Apostle Paul’s burden for the believers in Colossia. They had an image of this Apostle they had never met. They had expectations of him that may not have been realistic. So Paul writes,

“I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally… For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit” (Colossians 2:1, 4)

The Message translates the verse like this:

“I want you to realize that I continue to work as hard as I know how for you, and also for the Christians over at Laodicea. Not many of you have met me face-to-face, but that doesn’t make any difference. Know that I’m on your side, right alongside you. You’re not in this alone.” (Colossians 2:1, The Message)

Paul writes about his struggles on behalf of the churches in Colossae and Laodicea. As we know from his other letters he was burdened by the needs of other churches too, spread right across Greece, Turkey and Syria, but he does not mention them here. Without mobile phones, email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, it would have been much harder for the Apostle to stay in touch with his friends and family. This inevitably led to occasional misunderstandings and frustrations.

On occasions, as is implied here in Colossians 2, there were false assumptions or unrealistic expectations. Paul uses a strong word to describe his work on their behalf – ‘contending’. It is the same word used to describe the stress of an athlete in a race or competition. It speaks of his deep commitment, his dedication. It sounds like they felt neglected or uninformed.  They were in danger of being deceived by pastors who had another agenda. Where was Paul? What was he doing? When he writes in verse 4, “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” (Colossians 2:4), it suggests they were in danger of being deceived by false teaching. Which is why Paul emphasizes “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit.” (Colossians 2:5). Paul was an itinerant evangelist, a church planter, a writer, and pastor teacher. At times he stayed in the same place for several years. At other times he was constantly on the move planting churches. Every pastor is different, just as every church family is unique. And here lies the tension between roles and expectations. Even though they had never met Paul, he wanted them to know how hard he was working on their behalf.

He says, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you.” And I want you to know, that I am contending for you too, even when I am away. As you know in 2015, I took a year’s sabbatical from international ministry.  In January this year I visited Cairo to give some bible teaching and preach. I will be returning in July and again in August. We are also planning to launch CE in the DRC in September. On the back wall there is a summary of my international ministry over the last 40 years. Some of this is public and you can read about or watch videos about these projects on my website. But some is below the radar in countries where the church is persecuted. To paraphrase Paul, “Whether I am absent from you in body or not, I am present with you in spirit and also usually accessible 24/7 by mobile phone, skype or email.” And like Paul, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you.” The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ.

  1. Our Goal in Ministry: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:2-4)

Three observations take us to the core of being a Christian.

2.1 The Knowledge of Jesus is our Priority

“in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ”

The gospel is not a secret but it is a mystery. The gospel, the good news of the saving work of Jesus is there for those with eyes to see, from the very beginning of God’s revelation in Scripture. As we saw in our recent sermon series “Christ in all the Scriptures”, the person and work of Jesus Christ is revealed in every book of the Bible. In Scripture history, we find God progressively revealing more and more about the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, King of the Jews and Saviour of the world. This was certainly Jesus own understanding of the purpose of Scripture.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” (John 6:39)

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

There is no substitute for the reading of Scripture every day. Jesus answered the devil, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). We should read the Bible until we see the smiling face of Jesus on every page. For until we do, we have not understood it as God intends for the Bible is His story. The knowledge of Jesus is our priority.

2.2 The Understanding of Jesus is our Goal

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” (Colossians 2:2)

Our goal is not simply to have read the whole Bible, or even to read it once a year. That is a good priority but it is not our goal. Paul’s goal was their encouragement and unity in Jesus. The expression he uses is the idea of being knit together in love. He clearly imagines a strong bond between these believers, even though he has not met them. His goal is their growth. And their growth will come as they understand more of Jesus and God’s will for them.

That is why our weekly bible study groups that meet in various homes or the Tuesday CBSI, the Thursday ladies fellowship and Saturday morning men’s group are central to what we are as a church. If the goal of ministry is that we are growing in our understanding of Jesus, let me ask you, as you look back this year, do you feel you are growing to know Jesus better? The knowledge of Jesus is our priority. The understanding of Jesus is our goal. Because, thirdly,

2.3 The Wisdom of Jesus is our Treasure

“Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. We live in a materialistic world that equates treasure with material wealth. God gave us people to love and things to use. But we have reversed his values and love things and use people to get them. It is rare to find wisdom valued more highly than wealth. The Lord encourages us to value knowing Jesus and his wisdom above all earthly treasure. When you think about giving a gift for a birthday or an anniversary, we inevitably make a decision on how much you can afford. Think about the value of the gift and what it can do for the one receiving it.  Then remember what you treasure most. Is the wisdom of Jesus your greatest treasure? The irony is that it is not diminished the more we give it away. Quite the reverse. The more we give, the more will be blessed. The wisdom of Jesus is our treasure. So far we have explored,  The Burden of Ministry: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ. The Goal of Ministry: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ

  1. Our Delight in Ministry: Security in the Faith of Jesus Christ

“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2:4-5)

Paul was rejoicing because of two things: Their discipline and their stability in the face of opposition. Paul was saying “I’m so glad you are hanging in there.” He wasn’t advocating a new liturgy or a slick organisation structure. He is using military terms. In their ‘discipline’ they resembled an army. Their common dedication to Jesus made them like a compact military unit. The word ‘discipline’ means holding position, serving in their appointed place, together as a team. Earlier I challenged you to think about how having an annual health check shows you care about those closest to you.  Well, starting today, we want to show we care about your spiritual health in the same way. You should have received a copy of the Spiritual Life Check-up[i].

As your pastors, Simon, Will and I am responsible for your spiritual health in much the same way as your doctor is responsible for your physical health. Often, unless a disease so overcomes us that our doctor or pastor is made painfully aware of it, there is no regular time when I can sit down with you and discuss the health of your spiritual life. Therefore we are requesting an appointment with you – annually. I am requesting that you do the check-up questionnaire not as a test, but as a tool for diagnosis, so that we might know your “blood count” and decide together on a proper diet and exercise program that will bring about your best spiritual health.  Since pastors (or doctors) can help only if we allow them, this is entirely voluntary, but I am suggesting that you:

  • Set aside an hour of uninterrupted time in which to thoughtfully answer these questions.
  • Keep your answers only to yourself, to be shared with God alone and maybe your spouse.
  • Make an appointment with Simon, Will or myself for a half hour spiritual check-up in the next few weeks.
  • We will ask you three questions –
  1. When did you become a Christian?
  2. How is your Christian life going – are you encouraged or discouraged, and do you have any problems or questions that are holding you back?
  3. What are you doing to serve the Lord in the church family and in the world – what are your gifts and/or how can we help you find and use them?’
  • You are then at liberty to raise anything that you want to discuss confidentially in the light of your spiritual life check-up.
  • Trust God to use this to help you grow in your walk with the Lord.

We look forward to meeting up with you soon. Please phone to make an appointment. Because as we have seen from Colossians, Our Burden: Contending for the Church of Jesus Christ. Our Goal: Growing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ. Our Delight: Security in the Faith of Jesus Christ. Lets pray.

“Dear Lord Jesus, from your wisdom, please guide me and give me, each day, that which is best for me, for your glory, for the building of your church and the extension of your kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen.”

 

 

[i]   Dennis L. Wayman, The Spiritual Life Check-up: Discovering spiritual illness must precede the cure  http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1983/fall/83l4088.html

Wallace Benn, The Baxter Model: Guidelines for pastoring today. http://www.fows.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79%3Athe-baxter-model

 

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