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FIRST-PERSON: No spiritual participation trophies

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CHATSWORTH, Ga. (BP) – At the end of the season in youth league sports, everybody gets a trophy. From the first-place team to the last-place team, the coach hands every kid a shiny piece of plastic that says, “thanks for playing.”

In a recent Wednesday night men’s meeting at our church, the speaker made an important point: There are no spiritual participation trophies.

But I must confess. As a pastor, I’ve done many funerals where I felt like I was handing out a spiritual participation trophy.

Death is a horrible thing. It’s time to bring comfort to a family and to point them to the Gospel. I’m not God, just the messenger. I don’t determine the eternal fate of a human soul. That’s between them and Jesus.

But I’ve done many funerals for people who were members of a church, attended somewhere between semi-frequently and frequently, and were morally good. But there was no passion for Christ, no participation in prayer, no witness of the Gospel, and no urgency for the lost. I would describe their lives a spiritually mediocre.

So in the funeral service, I offer kind words, but the whole thing feels a lot like a 5-5 team gathered in the corner of Pizza Hut at the end of the season getting participation trophies.

If a man follows Christ, he will not – he cannot – be satisfied with being spiritually mediocre.

The speaker pointed us to Colossians 3:10.

“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

If a team goes from mediocre to champion, from participation to first place, they have to work at it. If we grow in our identity in Christ and our relationship with Christ, we have to work at it. The Spirit renews us in the image of our Creator, our Savior, as we grow in our knowledge of Him and our love for Him. We need time with Him in His Word.

So what’s your plan? For some of us, we need to make more time to be in the Word of God. For others, we need to work on making our time in the Word of God more meaningful. What’s your plan?

Change your clothes, change your life

In Colossians 3 we see the principle of “put on” and “put off.”

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (verse 9).

Growing in Christ is like changing clothes. You have to take off old things so that new things can be “put on.” But there are a lot of us who are just trying to “put on.” We forget to “put off.” We aren’t changing. We’re just adding.

There is a great scene in the classic movie “A Christmas Story.” Mom is about to send Ralphie and his little brother Randy off to school in the cold and snow. Do you remember what your mom told you about dressing for the cold? Dress in layers! Mrs. Parker takes layers seriously. She puts so many layers on Randy that he can’t lower his arms. He can barely walk. When he falls on the sidewalk, he’s like a bug on its back wobbling, trying to get up.

Your plan for growth in the knowledge of God must include a lot of “put off” if there is to be meaningful “put on.” Otherwise, you’re just adding layers and eventually, you will become overwhelmed and ineffective – a spiritual “tick about to pop.” Your walk with Christ is not something you add to your life. It is something that replaces your old life.

If you’re going to spend more time in the Word, what are you not going to do? Don’t just start – stop!

There are no spiritual participation trophies. Don’t be satisfied with a mediocre spiritual walk. Make a plan to grow in the knowledge of God and He will work to conform you to His image.

Brian Branam is pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Chatsworth, Ga. He writes at BrianBranam.com.

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