(Audio Transcription Below)
Two months have already passed us by, you now have 9.5 months to train for the 2024 Summer Olympics. You are all going to watch some part: track and field, basketball, rowing, swimming. Right now, the athletes who plan to compete in those games are on a training schedule which will land them in the best shape of their lives so they can compete for a gold medal.
Challenge Yourself: What two or three events do you want to be in peak shape for? Spiritual, relational, financial, physical shape?
Accountability: Write it down and share it with someone. Share it with me if you like and I will check in and see your progress.
Core Training: Think of the book Run to Win as our training guide for the year. Seventeen core exercises to keep yourself, your soul, in shape so you might run to win.
One of the most memorable things I got to do this summer was travel to California and walk in the Redwood National Forest. It’s like visiting the Grand Canyon. You can talk about it and show pictures, but it’s not the same as being there. Redwood trees can grow as high as 350 feet and over 20 feet wide; some are over 2,000 years old. Imagine a redwood sprouting in North America the day Christ was born! It’s mind blowing!
One thing I learned is redwoods have a shallow root system. They prefer to grow near each other rather than alone. When they grow near each other, their root systems intertwine and help strengthen the core of the tree. If they grow alone, they easily fall over!
God has built people like redwoods. We are most stable and at maximum strength when we grow near one another. The forest God provides for our growth is the church. In order to grow, we must prioritize the church. Just like an Olympic athlete prioritizes their time in the gym, a Christian man must prioritize their time in church.
I want to give three reasons it’s important to prioritize your church:
Humanity was designed for worship. Everyone is a worshipper, the question each of us must answer is what will you worship, not whether you will worship. The Westminster Confession of Faith asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” In other words – the chief end of man is to worship! In Matthew 2, the wisemen ask “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.” They were transferring their allegiance to Jesus.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:13-18
Caesarea Philippi – we don’t feel the meaning or weight of this location, but this city was notorious for pagan idol worship. It would be like saying today that we were going to Las Vegas. The pagans of Jesus’ day believed their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. The water was a symbol of the underworld and they thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves. The cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of hell. To entice the return of their god, Pan, each year the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats. This is the location Jesus uses to ask his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” In other words, “Who will you worship?” Peter answers correctly – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus says “I will build my church.” The church is the group of people who turn away from idols and worship Jesus.
So, one reason we must prioritize our church is to remind ourselves, to call us back to our worship of Jesus. It was theologian John Calvin who famously said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” We must have regular attendance to church to keep calling us back to the one person worthy of worship – Jesus Christ.
2. Church: Called out Ones
The Greek word for church is ekklesia, it refers to an assembly of people. It is a compound word: ek– out and kaleo – to call. So the church is an assembly of called out people.
We have been “called out,” we have been assembled together to live differently in this world. Do you remember the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11? After recording all these men and women of great faith, the first word of chapter 12 is “therefore.” He’s building on the Hall of Faith, saying “Now, it’s your turn.” We have been “called out” and assembled together to run an entirely different race than the world’s race. That’s why he says in verse 1 “Lay aside the weight of sin” and in verse 14, “strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”.
I love how Tim Challies talked about the importance of seeing ourselves (the called out ones) as God sees us: “The local church is central to God’s plan for the world…it is the hope of the world. Much of what God means to teach the world, he teaches through the local church; much of what he means to display to the world, he displays through the local church; much of what he means to accomplish in the world, he accomplishes through the local church. No ministry can outshine it, no program can replace it, no power can topple it. The local church is God’s plan, and he has no backup.”
3. Encourage one another – we can’t do church alone
Just like the redwoods, we can’t grow by ourselves. According to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16, all hell is going to break loose against those who live for Jesus. Thankfully the “gates of hell” power structure will not prevail, but there will be pain and challenges. We are not built to withstand those challenges alone.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
Church is an assembly of people, not you alone sitting in nature. Sitting alone in nature is fine, maybe even healthy, but it’s not Church, it cannot replace church! When your faith is “swerving,” you need another person to hold the wheel! This is one of the purposes of Iron Leadership. Men can easily drift into either living on the surface or living solitary. We must have brothers beside us who can encourage one another.
Two words of encouragement:
- Make church a priority – especially if you have children. They are watching you. They see what you make a priority. They are likely to copy you. So often dads make sports or other activities a priority and that will filter down to your children.
- Find a way to serve – Those who serve find it easier to stay connected. Tim Challies said, “You actually run your race better when you spend time training others, when you invest in them and help them run well.”
- When you think of church, what comes to mind? Is it more positive or negative? Why?
- What or who is a primary competitor for your worship? What about church helps you refocus your worship on Jesus?
- As part of the church, you are the “called out ones.” It is your turn. In order to run well, in order to represent the Lord well, what do you need to “lay aside” or “strive for”?
- Who or how has the church or a person in your church experience been a spiritual encouragement to you? What do you need to do to make the church more of a priority?
Iron Leadership Materials: