The results on the playing field are largely determined off of it. In sports, in work, on the battlefield, even in our relationships, much of our success in the moment of engagement is determined by the work we did or didn’t do preparing ourselves for it. In short, being prepared requires preparation. This is just as true when we step out to serve in ministry. How can we prepare ourselves to serve well to give our best to others and experience the satisfaction of play well?
Good morning everybody. How are you doing? Awesome. That’s pretty enthusiastic for a rainy, November Sunday. So for those of you that don’t know me, my name is Mike Hipsley. I’m the pastor of Teaching in Discipleship here at Lifepoint. I’m so glad that you’re here. We are wrapping up week four of our series ‘Out of the Bleachers’. For those of you joining us in the video cafe or streaming online we’re so glad that you’re joining us today. And what we’ve been doing over the last four weeks, with this week included, we are looking at what it means to get out of the bleachers and into the game, and that’s an athletic analogy, obviously.
So what’s that look like for church? What that means is we believe that every person that it is at church has a role to play beyond just sitting in the seats taking in the Sunday service. Every single person should be getting out of those seats and finding ways to engage with their church community, with the community at large, to serve others – that God has a role for all of us to play. And even if you’re here today just kind of trying to figure out who Jesus is and you’re not quite sure there’s a role for you to play too, you know Jesus’ disciples. They followed him for a few years before they believed in him. So you can belong before you believe at church. That’s an incredible thing. We believe that God has a role and a place on the field for everyone to influence others to find and follow Jesus, and God gives us talents. He gives us gifts that we can use to serve others that build us up and build others up as well. God gives us the opportunity to grow by calling us to get outside of our comfort zone, to get our hands dirty to try new things, and here’s the thing at Lifepoint. Like there’s so many people here that serve week in and week out. They get their hands dirty they’re using their gifts and their talents. And if you’re serving here on a regular basis – or even on an unregular basis, but you’re serving – thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for getting out of the bleachers and into the game. And for those of you that haven’t made that decision yet, we’d love for you to do it. There’s a role for everybody. There is something for you to do here. There are so many ways to get on the field. To get out of the bleachers and get into the game and here’s a few for us to consider: (Video)
Okay, so maybe not the best examples. Well the whole point of that is to kind of focus in on a reality that we can get out of the bleachers and onto the field in ways that aren’t contributing at all. In fact, they can be a positive hindrance. That’s not something that anyone wants to do. If we’re going to take the time and effort to get out of our seats and get into the game to start serving, we want to do it well. We want to be on the field and look like we belong. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being out on the field and looking like you don’t belong there. That happened to me my junior year of high school. I ran track, and for the most part I was a thrower. I threw shot and disc, but occasionally I would run. And the beginning of the season I was running, and then through the middle of the season the coach wasn’t really putting me in ’cause I was slow. Yeah… so, that’s why I threw. Anyway, so we went to this meet towards the end of the season. I hadn’t really been running so I only brought my throwing shoes. I didn’t bring my spikes, and so we get to this away meet, and Coach says “Hey you’re running the 4×4 relay” because the guy that normally runs it is not here. And I was like “Oh OK.” So the only shoes I had other than my throwing shoes (which you cannot run in ’cause they’re just flat and smooth) were a dark green pair of Chuck Taylors. Our uniform was gold and navy blue. And so I walked out onto the track in high top dark green Chuck Taylors, ready to run a 4 by 4 relay. Slowest 400 I ever ran, and for those of you that grew up in the generation where Chucks were the athletic shoe, I’m surprised you can still walk. Because whoever decided that was an athletic shoe had never run in them. Because it was the most painful 400 I had ever run. But it was – I was actually laughing a little bit before the race ’cause I knew how out of place I looked. I didn’t look like I was game ready. It didn’t look like I was ready to be out on the field. And that’s what we want to do. We want to look like we belong. We want to be ready to play, and to make our best contribution – and that’s what I want to talk about today in our service. I want to ask a question: Are there things that we can do that will help us get ourselves game ready? Are there things that we can do to get ourselves game ready, so that when we get out on the field when we start serving, and when we’re engaged in ministry with other people we’re doing it well. Here’s the thing, if we’re gonna play we want to play well.
Herm Edwards was the coach of the New York Jets in the early 2000s, and it is at an infamous press conference where one of the reporters was like we notice it’s such a big deal that you guys lost. What are the things you can take away? And Edwards just lost it – he just went off, and it’s a famous quote. He said, “You play to win the game!” Any coach or athlete knows that. You play to win the game. That’s why you’re out there. If you’re gonna play you want to win, and I think what might surprise a lot of people is that the Bible expresses this exact idea when it comes to living the Christian life, to follow Jesus. That you play to win. So if you have a Bible turn to the book of 1 Corinthians. It’s a letter by the Apostle Paul who is the person most responsible for why we’re all here today. He spread Christianity throughout the western world.
If you don’t have a Bible you can go to the Welcome Desk. We’d love to give you one for you to read and for you to use. It’s yours to keep. We’re going to be looking at 1 Corinthians Chapter 9, and we’re just going to get one verse. This is verse 24. Paul says “Do you know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? So run in such a way as to get the prize.” We play to win the game. Now one of the things that we probably need to clarify here with this passage is what does it mean to win the prize? What was this prize that Paul is talking about? Because a lot of people approach this passage or this scripture, this verse, they say well the prize clearly means heaven. Well, I don’t think that’s what Paul is talking about at all. Because here’s the thing. Paul’s writing to a church. He’s writing to believers – people that have already put their faith in Jesus and are already going to heaven. So if the prize that Paul is talking about and following Jesus isn’t heaven, what is it? What’s he talking about? This week we’re really deep with this and, in fact, we’re going into January coming out of Christmas we’re going to do a series called “Running To Win”. It’s almost like we planned it. And we’re going to look deeper at this concept but just for today’s purposes what the prize is really simple. The prize of following Jesus, of living the Christian life, is living a life that matters both for time and eternity. So that the things that we spend our time in, the things that we live our lives for, matter both in this life and in the life to come. I think that connects deeply with what Jesus said is the greatest commandment – that we spend and direct our lives towards loving the Lord our God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength, and to loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we direct our lives in that way we will get to the end of the race and we will win the prize because we will have run well and we will hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is the prize of running the Christian life. It’s not heaven, it’s about getting to heaven and going “I did it! I ran well. I lived a life that matters.” But you know this verse what Paul is saying, “Run in such a way as to win the prize” is also kind of a warning. Because what it means is that we can run in such a way that we don’t win the prize. You can follow, you can be a believer in Jesus and be going to heaven and still waste your life. And then Jesus talks about this in one of his parables called the Parable the Talents, whereas three servants the King gives certain amount of money to and then two of the servants invested and they get a return. They take what’s given to them and they invest it well, and one of the servants doesn’t. He takes what was given and just buries it, he makes no use of it so there’s no return at all. And that servant is chastised and treated very harshly. And what that’s really all about is not about whether or not we go to heaven. It’s about what we’ve done with what God’s given us, and did we get out of the bleachers into the game and use what God’s given us to benefit others, and to love God, and to love others? So how do we win the prize? How do we get to the prize? What do we do? Are there ways that we can position ourselves so that we play well, that we’re game ready? Because I think there are ways that we can be game ready, and one of the things, and we’re going to look at some kind of sports analogies but how does an athlete get ready to be in the game? We kind of apply those to Christianity.
So one of the things that we can do is we can train. Training is an essential part of being game ready. Whenever I think of training I think of the Rocky movies. And we all know that Rocky 3 is by far the best movie. It’s the one with Mr. T and there’s this scene – every Rocky movie contains these training montages where you see people exercising to music – and there’s one where Rocky’s getting ready to fight Mr. T and they’re both training. And Rocky’s kind of lost his edge, and he’s not taking his training seriously and there are all kinds of cameras and music and lights and he’s not really trying all that hard. He’s not training well. And then it flips over to Mr. T and he’s like he’s sweating constantly. He’s grunting and he looks constipated all the time and you can just tell that he’s training, and training, and training. And then when they get in the ring Rocky gets his butt kicked… because he didn’t train. He wasn’t ready, wasn’t ready to be in the ring with the other guy. And I think how we can carry this over is there’s a principle here, that no matter what gifts or talents we have or were given, if we’re not using them, if we’re not investing in them, if we’re not developing them, they don’t do us or anyone else ever any good whatsoever. And you know in sports and academics and art, and our child, we know this like. We know in order to be ready for the field you’ve got to train. Any athlete knows that. Any artist knows that if they want to perform well they’ve got to hone their craft. They’ve got to practice, they’ve got to develop. All of us that have jobs, we’ve been trained. We’ve done training. We’ve gotten ready for those vocations. The school was constant training. It’s constantly getting better and ready for the next step. We know that training is part of developing our gifts and talents and it’s incredibly important to being game ready. Why would we think it’s any different when it comes to serving others and living the Christian life and following Jesus? And if we keep reading in 1 Corinthians, right where we were go to the next verse 1 Corinthians 9:25 we see that this principle is in play. Paul says in verse 25 “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.” So this Crown that Paul is talking about, that’s the prize. That’s the same thing we were talking about in verse 25. Because the prize that was given to a runner in the ancient world was a Crown – was a symbol of their victory. So again, that carries over. The crown here is having lived a life that matters, living a life that exemplifies loving God and loving others. But Paul also tells us is that in order to do that it requires training. You go into strict training. Following Jesus, living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident, and we even see this in Jesus’ life. Before Jesus began his ministry, what did he do? He went out into the desert for 40 days to fast and to pray and then he was tempted. He went through trials to get himself ready for his ministry. Well, Jesus had to train to be ready to get out on the field. What would make us think that we don’t? And then but why, why do we need to train? Because training is uncomfortable. It costs us time, it costs us energy, it hurts. Why would we want to do that? Because of the effect of training see what training does is training allows us to do little things that we can do now that over time will build to let us do bigger things that we can’t do now, but can do later. By pushing ourselves, by struggling against things, we can increase our ability and our capacity. For instance, if I want to run a marathon, I’m not ready to do that. I couldn’t just go right out and run 26.2 miles right now. But I could run one, and then maybe the next day I could run a mile and a half. And over time I could slowly – by pushing myself just a little bit more each time – I could slowly build up the capacity where I could run 26.2 miles. I’m not going to, it’s way too far. But I could, that’s how training works – doing little things now that will allow us to do big things later, and I think that principle applies when it comes to following Jesus and living the Christian life well. The first thing that happened in my journey with Christ was I had to find out who he was, and so that was the first challenge was figuring out who Jesus was. And after I put my faith in Jesus I had to learn okay, how do I live with him? How do I live in a new way now that I’ve become a new creation? And I had to learn how to read the Bible, and had to learn how to pray, and I got into small groups and there were people that were investing in me and they talked about these things called gifts, and I identified that I have a teaching gift, and slowly I got these little opportunities to teach here or there, and I built that up and I kept learning. I’m still learning today. I try to get better every single time. Every single time I preach there’s someone that evaluates me and gives me feedback. I’m constantly training. So where are you in that process now? Where are you in that training process? What are you learning? What are you developing? Where are you out in the field, in the game? How are you serving and how can you get better? I think that’s a question we constantly have to ask ourselves, and the Bible talks about these things that God gives us that help us train. They’re called spiritual disciplines. There are things, little things, that we can do now that get us better later. Things like Bible study, joining a small group – where we’re being encouraged by others – or serving, getting out there and using gifts and making our lives about making our time at church or in the community about other people. There are all kinds of opportunities, short term missions trips that put us outside of our comfort zone in other cultures.
Spiritual disciplines are given to us so that we can train so that we can be more ready to be in the game. So training is essential to being game ready because we don’t live life well by accident. We’re not going to naturally move towards the great commandment of loving God, and loving others. It’s not our default. We have to train for that. But there’s something else that athletes do to keep themselves game-ready other than training. They also have to stay healthy. Staying healthy is essential to being game ready. In athletics, training helps get us ready to be on the field. Staying healthy keeps us there. There’s nothing worse than putting in the time, the sweat, the energy, the effort, to train and then having it derailed by an injury because you can’t stay healthy. In 2016 I trained for four months to run a half marathon. I was getting up at 4:00 in the morning to run long-distance runs almost every week. Three days before the race I got bronchitis. I was so mad. I trained so long for that and then I couldn’t run because I got derailed. I didn’t stay healthy. You know in church we talk a lot about training, and training is usually not missing in the church world. But the idea of staying healthy often gets ignored. You know some of us here at Lifepoint we need to think about hey how do I get out of the bleachers into the game? And where do I start serving? But here’s another thing that’s probably going on. Some of us might be serving too much, maybe doing too much. You can over train and in the church world, you can over-serve. There is such a thing as doing too much for Jesus. I experienced this in 2015. Completely burned out, I was going and going and going and constantly ramping up to do more and I just hit a wall, where I couldn’t do anything more. I just ran out of energy. It was awful. Like you can do that, it happens. There are things that could happen. I remember I was talking with a guy that was in one of my Bible studies and he was new to the faith and he had joined three different small groups and he was serving in four different areas. I was like dude, you got to slow down, like, that’s too much. You’re going to burn out. You can’t sustain that. He had something every single night of the week involving the church and I was like “Dude, get a life”. That’s coming from a pastor. So you go do something else. And I think you see this principle in Jesus’ ministry – this idea of staying healthy. Return to the Gospel of Luke and look at Luke chapter 5 as Jesus’ ministry was ramping up we see something that becomes part of what Jesus did. Luke 5:15-16 says this. “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so the crowds of people came to him to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and pray.” Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed… and what’s fascinating to me is that as the need was increasing, as the crowds were pressing on Jesus, as his ministry was becoming more and more famous and popular, as more and more people were seeking him out, Jesus made time to withdraw to lonely places to pray. He didn’t let the pressures dictate what he was doing. He maintained his spiritual health. Because for Jesus his relationship with his father was non-negotiable. His spiritual health was a non- negotiable. Because Jesus knew something. If he wasn’t connecting with the father, if he wasn’t keeping himself spiritually healthy, over time his ability to respond to all the need would diminish. It can look good at first, we can do all these things and engage in all this activity. But if we don’t keep ourselves healthy, if we don’t keep our fingers on the pulse of our spiritual health, we could eventually run out of energy and burn out. So if Jesus needed to stay healthy, we need to stay healthy. So here’s a question: How are we prioritizing our spiritual health? What are we doing to stay healthy? What are things we can do to stay healthy? Just like God gives spiritual disciplines that can help us train, things that we can do to get us ready to be on the field, God also gives us spiritual disciplines that will keep us healthy, keep us spiritually healthy. Things like solitude and silence, getting away, withdrawing from it all, Sabbath – taking one day a week where we just take our hands off our life and say God you get to meet the needs of the world for today, I’m going to take my hands off and trust in your good and then you’ve got it covered. And we just rest and replenish. Prayer… fun… having fun with people… we need these things. I need these things. You need these things. So which of these are you doing? I’m exploring Sabbath right now. Are you spending any time in your week in silence, or in solitude, or resting and just connecting with the father so that when it comes time to get back on the field you’re ready to go? So training helps us be game ready, helps us be ready and learn how to love God and to love others well. And staying healthy helps us to stay on the field so that we could maintain that so that we can continually try and bring our best to others to love them well to love God well. I think there’s one more important thing that I want to close with, and it’s real intangible, but I think it’s the most important of them all. That as we’re training and as we’re working to stay healthy we need to be prioritizing attitude over ability. This is essential. We’ve all seen, or know of or heard of athletes or stars, actors, people that are excellent at their craft, but they make it all about them. It’s all about their personal stats, whether or not they’re getting the ball. It’s all about their spotlight, and it’s really annoying. Like we don’t respect those people. We might respect their talent, but we don’t respect them, and probably most of us have had classmates or coworkers or teammates that are like that. You know, the coworker that you know, they’ll stab you in the back as soon as look at you. Or another teammate that’s all about them. I had a buddy that went to Med school and he said you know you never left your work out, you never left the project out because it was such a cutthroat environment where the other students would sabotage you. It was all about them. See no matter how many prayers we’re getting, no matter how much solitude, how many Bible studies were part of, how much training we’re doing, how much we’re doing to work on our health, we can still make following Jesus about us if we’re not careful. It can look good on the outside, but it could be really bad in here. And the example that the Bible gives us is the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the most religious people of Jesus’ day. They did all the outward things. They gave their money to the church and they memorize scripture and they knew scripture back and forth and they knew all the rules and they practice Sabbath and they practiced silence and they practice solitude they did all the disciplines – all the things we talked about. And what did Jesus say about them? “You whitewash tombs. You look good on the outside, but inside there’s death and decay.” Because they missed the most important part – that attitude is more important than ability. So what does that mean? Like we know what it means out on the athletic field. What does it look like in ministry? What is that temptation to make it about me look like? You know my gift is teaching, and so I always want to teach and I’m part of the men’s Bible study, the teaching team for the men’s bible studies on Tuesdays, and the temptation for me is to want to teach all the lessons because no matter what we’re teaching I want to talk about it. But here’s the thing I know. Is that there are other teachers that need their gifts developed, that need that platform the same way that other people gave me smaller platforms as I was developing. So what I do is I try and make sure that I am only teaching once or twice in any given session so that others can develop. Because it’s not about me. God didn’t give me the gift that I have for me and for my spotlight. That’s not what it’s about. So that’s a crucial question I think we need to ask. How are my talents and gifts serving others? How are they directing the spotlight away from me and onto others? You know Paul addresses this very thing later on in 1 Corinthians. Joe last week talked about spiritual gifts and one of the key chapters on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, it talks all about spiritual gifts. But Paul realized that with spiritual gifts there is a danger that with the gift that God gives us there’s a danger because we can make it about us. So he ends chapter 12 in verse 31 with these words: “Now I will show you a more excellent way.” And he pulls back the covers and he shows us what serving is all about. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (we’re not going to read all the passage, you’re just going to read a little bit of it) says this, “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love I’m only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. If I have a faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” What Paul is saying is we can have all these gifts and talents and we can work and we can do all these spiritual things, but if the core of what I’m doing isn’t about loving God and loving others, if that’s not my heartbeat, if I’m not prioritizing attitude over ability, it doesn’t benefit me. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Because you’re going to get to the end of your race and you’re not going to have done it well. Because you’ve done all the outward things, but inside you missed the most important thing – which is love. The most excellent way to do things out of love. See the gifts that God gives us, the talents that he gives us, they’re meant to be experienced and expressed in love for the good of others, to glorify God and to bring his love to other people. And Jesus set this example with his life. Two weeks ago John McCants talked about what Jesus did in John 13 where he took off his outer garment and he took the position of the lowliest servant and he washed the dirt and the grime and the feces off of the feet of his disciples. He took this low role, the most gifted human being that has ever lived took the position of a servant out of love for his friends – and here’s the thing. There’s nothing better than that. There is nothing better. There’s nothing that brings me greater joy than when I see when I use my gifts and it brings other people to life, where they see God more clearly or where they connect with the father in ways that they never have. That is where life is found. That’s the secret – attitude over ability. Our abilities are meant to be expressed in love for others, and I think the discipline that gets us there, that keeps us focused on that, is to get out of our own way and to get our hands dirty. Sometimes it means serving outside of our giftedness, and just doing things that need to get done for the good of others, maybe so that others can have a break. So there are three things that I think we need to do to stay game ready. One is training, which teaches us how to serve and gets us serving well. The other is staying healthy, which keeps us serving well and keeps bringing our best to others by keeping an eye on our spiritual health. Then above all, kind of surrounding all of that is prioritizing attitude over ability, so that we’re serving for the right reasons – that our heartbeat really is focused on loving God and loving others. That’s what getting out of the bleachers and into the game is all about.
So every week as we’ve done this we’ve invited everyone, encouraged everyone to kind of find a way to get out of their seats and to serve here at Lifepoint. This week is no different. This week is a little different one way though, and it’s a single opportunity. I want to challenge all of us to serve in some way, shape, or form during the Christmas services. And the website’s right there, you can just go to the website look at the opportunities. If you want to a more direct route you can go to the Welcome Desk and find out what the opportunities are. If you want to serve in Children’s, talk to someone at the check-in desk, they’d be happy to talk about what you could do, but if you serve at Christmas and take this opportunity you kind of get to experience different things. You could train. You might have the opportunity to try something you’ve never tried, to see if maybe there’s a role or a fit here. And it’s just one service so there’s no pressure. You get to try something. It’s also a way that you can help others stay healthy. There’s a lot of things that have to happen, and there are some people that serve, you know, all eight services at Christmas. Well, maybe you could consider stepping in for one service so that they could get a break. You know one of the temptations of Christmas is to make it all about us, and I understand that the season gets crazy and there are office parties and there are gifts and there are all kinds of things that happen to make the holiday super hectic. But here’s an opportunity for us to prioritize attitude over ability – to jump in and to serve. So I want to encourage everyone to come to one Christmas service and enjoy with your family but also serve during one Christmas service so that others can enjoy with their family. Make Christmas as one simple way that we can make Christmas about others and not about us. It’s a simple way that we can serve our community.
So to close this series I hope that it has encouraged you to get out of your seats and serve somewhere here at Lifepoint. I hope you’ll choose to follow Jesus into the risk and into the excitement and into the joy of what it is to serve and to be part of what he’s doing at our church, and in our world. So let’s close together in prayer.
“Father God, I thank you that you sent your Son to show us how to do this, to show us what it looks like to love you with all our hearts, all our soul, all our mind, all our strength, and to love others as ourselves, and you call us into that when we put our faith in you, you open up the doors for us to live a life that matters, to live a life that matters both here and for all eternity. That we have the opportunity to focus our life, our time, our talent, our gifts, on things that matter, on people, loving others and loving you. Father, I pray that each one of us would find our heartbeat set on that and that we would pursue that, we would get out of the bleachers into the game, determined to be game ready, to stay healthy, and to make sure that we’re prioritizing loving you first. We pray all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Think of moments in your life when you have been successful or things you do really well. How much work have you put into those things?
Think of a time when you underestimated the preparation you would need or simply just underprepared – what were the results?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. What is Paul talking about? (Hint: It’s not salvation). How does this passage connect to our sermon series?
What are your spiritual gifts? Natural talents? What are you doing to develop them?
Read 1 Timothy 4:7-8. What does training in godliness look like? What are the specific things that we can and should do?
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