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Discovering Life's Purpose

Part 3 of 4: "Getting In Shape"

The "Get In Shape Industry," as I refer to it is a multi-billion dollar industry. And I call it the get in shape industry because in my mind this includes all the different businesses associated with the weight loss companies, and the exercise and exercise equipment industry.

Today, especially here in America, people are fixated with how their bodies look. But are we focused on looking good or getting in shape? There is a difference you know. Looking good is focused on outward appearance, where as getting in shape is focused on getting ones whole self more healthy.

Physical appearance and health are important to many people, so in response, companies have responded to meet this need. And today, one can even avoid the drudgery of diet and the sweat of exercise by going to the doctor to be nipped, tucked, or otherwise enhanced or reshaped.

Well God is concerned with us getting in shape too, but God's concern is how we are shaping our lives to be more like Christ.

In our Epistle reading this morning Paul says in chapter 8 verse 29, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be formed to the likeness of his Sonů"

In Eugene Peterson's The Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible, He translates the biblical text as, "God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Sonů"

In other words God wants us to shape our lives to be more like Christ. And this is our third purpose of life, and the purpose we discuss today. We are created to become like Christ.

Let's review our purposes in life so far. Our first purpose is to bring pleasure to God. Our second purpose is that we were created to be part of God's family. And today, our third purpose is, we were created to become like Christ.

From the very beginning, God's intent was to make us like his Son Jesus. Our destiny is to be more like Christ. And in all of God's creation, only humanity is made in God's image. What an honor and privilege this is.

The Bible tells us that all people, not just the faithful believers, possess part of the image of God. But the image of God within us is damaged and woefully out of shape because of sin. So God sent Jesus on a mission to help us get into shape, to restore us to the full image of God, the image we've lost.

So what does the full image of God look like? Simply stated it looks like Jesus Christ. Jesus is the model we ought to attempt to mirror, not physically, but spiritually, and in the way we live and relate to others. How many people today look at magazines in awe of how people look, wanting to look more like them? This is especially true of teenagers today who see the likes of Britney Spears or other cover models, and wonder how they can look like them. You also have the lean and mean action figures that boys want to emulate.

As a result folks dump thousands of dollars into exercise equipment that become clothes racks, exercise club memberships whose membership cards become book marks, and still others turn to plastic surgery for a quick fix, believing that all will be well in life if I can just look like someone else, or just look better in the eyes of others.

Now there is some goodness to this idea, because looking good helps us feel good, which in turn helps our self-esteem. But we need to be careful to not get so fixated on our looks that we allow how we look drive our thinking. Looks are only skin deep. God goes deeper then skin and muscle when he looks at us. God looks at our hearts.

The truth is God created us in his image and God desires us to be more like him, so he sent us an example to follow, his Son Jesus.

Now learning to become like Jesus takes time. We can't simply go get spiritual surgery, or take a spiritual pill and all of a sudden be like Jesus. In our Gospel reading we heard the story of the mustard seed, which is the smallest seed a farmer used. Jesus used this parable to illustrate that the kingdom, and all of us, will start out small but over time will grow and produce wonderful results. And growth takes time, it won't happen the day you plant the seed.

If you work out with weights, the same idea holds true of developing our physical bodies. You can't lift weights one day and expect immediate results. Developing physical muscle takes time, as does spiritual muscle. We've all learned that over the years, a key to living a long healthy life is being in good physical shape. Well God desires us to live a healthy spiritual life as well, so that we can enjoy eternal life, not only in the future but right now.

As I was thinking about this message this week I considered what it takes for people to get into shape, physical or spiritual. And as I reflected on my own struggles with getting into shape I came up with four keys for becoming more like Christ. There are probably more that folks can come up with but I want to share these four keys with you today. " Attitude " Environment " Intention-alty " Commitment

Attitude Now lets face it, for many Christians, we have an idea of what it takes to be more like Christ, but the problem is we approach it with the wrong attitude. We look at our faith as a pile of "Do Not's" rather than a guideline of healthy living. And when non-Christians look at the faith they see a restrictive faith because of the limits it seems to place on lifestyle, versus the more liberal secular society they're familiar with.

When we struggle with a healthy physical life style we look at all the things we can't eat instead of focusing on the good things we ought to eat.

God didn't give us the Ten Commandments because he didn't want us to have fun; he gave us the Ten Commandments to keep us from hurting others and ourselves. God didn't give us the beatitudes to make us feel like we need to feel guilty because we live a pretty good life; he gave us the beatitudes to help us understand that life is more than accumulation and selfishness.

If we have any hope of becoming more like Christ we have to begin with our attitude. We need to develop right thinking and look at the reasons why God wants us to live a certain way. These so-called restrictions or "Do Not's" we find in the Bible are there to keep us from getting hurt, or from hurting others. Out of love God wants to protect us, his children, his family. We ought to take a closer look at all the blessings we receive by becoming more like Christ, joy, peace, hope, and eternal life, for these are the things of a truly healthy life.

We learned last week that God is a God of love, so we ought to approach our faith with an attitude of love, and because God loves us we ought to want to grow and serve him with the same love. Focus attention on these rather that those perceived negatives.

Attitude is very important and really drives our thinking in all aspects of our lives.

Environment The second key is environment. The environment we live in and work in is so important. If you are trying to lose weight, but you work in the mall in a fast food court, what are the odds your going to lose weight?

Certainly the same is true of wanting to be more like Christ. If you live and work with people who have no use for Christianity, or worse yet bad mouth the faith, what are the odds your going to grow in faith? Now some might see this as an opportunity to grow because they're seeing the alternative first-hand, or they see it as an opportunity to convince others that Christianity is the way to go.

But lets face it many Christians are very much like the mustard seed and haven't grown strong enough to be able to live in an environment that's counter to the Christian life.

We need to pick and chose the environments we hang out in carefully, because our environment will tempt us and will influence our thinking. We see this truth played out time and time again in our society.

If you are a recovering alcoholic the last place you want to go is the bar. Same is true of those wanting to become more like Christ. We need to be in environments, which are conducive to growth, and we ought to avoid frequenting places that stifle our growth or send us backwards in our walk with the Lord.

The circle of friends we chose is important to our ability to grow in Christ. We ought to be wise in selecting the people we hang out and associate with.

Intention-alty I'm not sure this is even a word, but what I mean by Intention-alty is that we ought to intentionally seek to become more like Christ, not just sit back and see what happens.

Many folks today, because of the pace of our society want a special pill to take to lose weight, a shot to take to become more muscular, or what have you, and they want to just simply sit back and watch it happen.

Getting in shape doesn't work that way no matter what some infomercials might say. Getting in shape, whether physical or spiritual, requires work, making the right choices, and engaging in intentional exercise.

For example, being intentional means using the right exercise to work the right body part. If you are trying to buildup your biceps, you don't do sit-ups.

The same is true of building up your faith. If we want to learn more about the healing power of Jesus, we ought to read the Bible, not watch some TV evangelist hitting people on the head. We have to be intentional about what we're doing and why we're doing it.

Also, being intentional means being purposeful about the choices we make. When losing weight we have choices to make, do I chose the cookie, or do I chose the carrot. Well to be like Jesus do we pick Sunday School and Bible Study, or do we pick TV and the Internet.

Lets face it our lives are full of choices, but are we intentional about the choices we make, or do we let feelings, emotions, or the pressure from others dictate the choices we make.

Commitment And the last key for becoming more like Christ is to be committed to it. Not just for the short-term but for the rest of your lives. To me this has to be the most difficult key, and is the key, I believe, that drives all the others. For anyone trying to lose weight, commitment, and the ability to stick to it for the long haul, can be very difficult.

The same is true of becoming more like Christ. Sticking to it, being committed to it over the long haul is tough. There is no Jesus pill we can take, no Jesus machine we can purchase, and no Jesus plastic surgeon we can go to. No becoming like Jesus is a life-time process of discovery, a journey of high times, and a journey of low times, yet it's a journey that has eternal significance.

There are times when it's easy to get bored with reading the Bible, attending Bible Study, or even going to Church. We hear this all the time from our neighbors, our kids, and our family.

Unfortunately, to address this concern some have gone the route of turning worship into a fast-paced entertainment hour, complete with reclining chairs and espresso machines. But like the fad diets, and the fancy exercise equipment, this type of "cheap faith" fades over time.

Now this is not a slam against more contemporary ways of worship, because true worship has many different styles. As a matter of fact I enjoy contemporary worship myself. I'm talking about the events that claim to be worship but are nothing more than a concert with side acts and feel good messages.

The only real way to develop commitment, especially a commitment to be more like Christ is to understand how becoming more like Christ is relevant to our lives. The issue isn't creating an experience that gets people lathered up in an emotional frenzy, only to come down later back to the place they were. The real issue is showing folks how the Christian faith and Jesus Christ are relevant to their lives.

How is becoming more like Christ relevant to me, what does it mean for me, how will it change my life for the better, and so on. These are the questions people want answers to, not where is the espresso machine or whose the headlineing band at worship this morning.

Developing commitment is tough, commitment to be more like Christ is not always easy, and we shouldn't sugar coat this truth. And the rewards of such a walk are truly wonderful, and we shouldn't hide these from folks either.

If we have a proper attitude, hang out in the right places with other Christians, be intentional about our spiritual exercise, and really commit ourselves to the task, then we are fulfilling God's third purpose for us, which is to become more like Christ. We all can get in shape for Christ's sake if we put God first in our lives.

Amen

Next Week, Part 4 of Discovering Life's Purpose Becoming a Point of Light