Grieving 

(Dedicated to Jonah)

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  Number 21:8 (NIV)

It feels like I haven’t written in ages.  It feels that way because, frankly, my life has been torn apart by confusion, pain and grief.  The past week has felt like an eternity … in part, because the pain is sometimes such that it literally takes my breath away.  And even when I can breathe, I haven’t much to say.

Pain can be like that.  Whether it’s pain brought on by unfortunate circumstances, by your own bad choices, or by someone else’s wrong-doing, pain can be like that.  Almost overwhelming.  Grieving the loss of what you had or wanted or wished for … wanting to cling onto what isn’t really there, giving you no choice but to let go … wishing you could turn back time and change this course in your history.  Trying not to drown.

But as I sit and wallow in all of this, God speaks.  God, in His goodness and mercy, continues to love and to speak in His still small voice … and He says to me simply “look up.”

Look up, like the Israelites did to the snake on the pole that Moses held as they wandered in the desert.  Look up, like Jesus tells Peter as Peter begins to sink because he’s looking too much at the wind and the waves instead of looking at Jesus.  (See Matthew 14:29-30). Look up, as we all must, to the cross of Calvary and bow and wonder at what the God of heaven has done for us.  Look up.

What does all this have to do with health and fitness?  At first, I wasn’t sure.  But I guess it’s because I must officially acknowledge that our lives and bodies will pass away.  Try as we may (and we should, by the way, try hard to steward our bodies well, just as we steward so many of God’s gifts) … but try as we may, these bodies will suffer and pass away.  We will hurt and experience great pain and much grief.  There will be wind and waves — many scary and seemingly overwhelming waves.  There will be sorrows that “like sea billows roll.”  (It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford, 1873.)  But even then … especially then … God says, “look up.”

I don’t know what you are going through or where it hurts, but I do know this: God’s loving voice says to you and to me “look up.”  “Look up at Me, and you will live.”

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With Hands Lifted High

“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.”  Lamentations 3:41 (KJV)

This verse comes in the context of repentance.  The nation of Israel was in exile, being disciplined by God.  Jeremiah (the author of Lamentations) was pleading for God’s people to “turn again in repentance to the Lord” (v. 40) … & to lift up their hearts with their hands unto God.

Among other things, what strikes me in this passage is the plea to lift their hearts and hands to the Lord.  To return not just their devotion and affection, but to turn their physical selves back to the Lord.  It echoes what I believe God wants — all of us.  Yes, God wants our hearts.  But He also wants our physical selves.  He wants all of us.

For decades, the church has (at best) forgotten about including our bodies in our devotion to God.  (At worst, it has vilified the body as pure “flesh” and intentionally excluded it.). But I believe God wants more.  I believe God wants all of us … and I believe Scripture as well as the history of God’s people reveals that.

When God first set the nation of Israel apart as His people, He gave them laws that covered all aspects of their lives.  As it pertains to their bodies, the Torah included detailed descriptions of what foods to eat and not to eat, what to touch and what not to touch, where to go and where not to go, when to rest and when not to rest, etc.  God included the body — our physical selves — in His description of how His people should live.

The early church carried forward this belief that God wanted all of us.  Although the coming of Christ set us free from the food laws and other aspects of the Torah, we were not set free from loving God holistically.  The early church promoted this idea by making Gluttony and Sloth two of the seven deadly sins.  (Catch that?  Two of seven.  Almost 30% of the deadly sins pertained to food-intake and exercise.  Hmmmmm.). (See also posts dated 5/7/14 and 5/9/14, Nourishment as Worship 2 and Exercise as Worship 2, respectively.)

So, with this in mind, I plea for every Christ-follower to join me in lifting our hearts and our hands up to God in heaven.  Together, let’s return health and fitness to the realm of the sacred … because God made it sacred and declared it good.  And He is worthy of all of us!

Victory

“But the people who know their God will firmly resist ….”  Daniel 11:32b (NIV)

Have you ever tasted victory?  The thrill is achieving, of conquering, of overcoming?  There’s no other feeling quite like it.  Knowing that you beat whatever it was and came out on top.  Sweet victory!

But victory often comes at a cost.  Victory usually comes after hard work, serious investment and continued dedication.  Any kind of race — especially the big ones like a marathon, triathlon, or iron man — requires tremendous training of the body and mind.  Weeks and months of training, working through injuries and pain, learning to fuel the body properly, getting adequate rest, denying body and mind of things it might rather pursue in the moment, etc.   Just completing the race is a victory of sorts … and it comes at a cost.

Other parts of life are like that too.  We all face trials and temptations of various kinds and sizes.  Things that get in our way, make us stumble and fall, draw our eyes and our hearts away from the true and right things that (deep down) we really want.  Sometimes the things that lure us are actually good things, but as the Lord says, they are not the best.  (See e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:12). And the victory of saying “no” — while ultimately sweet — hurts.  Sometimes it hurts deeply.

Victory can be bittersweet.

I don’t know what you are going through right now.  I don’t know where you are seeking victory (or where you may be tempted to admit defeat).  But I can tell you that I understand.  I can affirm that sometimes it hurts.  A lot.  I can also tell you that it is worth it … that the Lord will provide a way out and the strength that you need.  The God we know is waiting to supply what we need to resist.  That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but it does mean that you will taste the (bitter)sweetness of victory.  It does mean that you will feel the joy of the Lord’s good pleasure upon you (as well as your own satisfaction that you did it).

So the next time you see a runner cross the finish line, with tears running down his face, collapsing in pain and relief … remember the bittersweetness of victory.  Remember the bittersweetness of God’s own Ultimate Victory … and praise the Lord for each and every victory He has enabled you to experience.

And may that fuel you to continue pursuing victory-in-Christ in whatever your face today.

Pain

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28 (NIV)

For the past several months, I’ve been negotiating some pain.  Every time I go for a run, I am left with aching pain in my right hip socket.  Come to find out that my pelvic girdle has somehow shifted and my right hip is slightly out-of-place.  So now I have to work in getting my pelvic girdle and that right hip back in alignment.

And so it is with our souls.  God often uses pain to show us that something is out-of-place.  Maybe it’s a long-standing issue that still needs work.  Maybe it’s something that has recently gotten out of alignment in our perspective or internal world.  Maybe it’s just good old-fashioned growing pain.  But God uses pain.

Truth is, I hate pain.  Internal or external, I hate pain.  It messes everything up. It’s uncomfortable and debilitating, and it hurts!

But, as I work on my hip and sit though my pain, I am reminded that maybe it’s time to consider pain from a different vantage point.  Maybe it’s time to consider pain as the beacon pointing to where I need to focus my efforts right now.  Maybe it’s time to see pain as an ally to getting me to where I truly want to go.

Maybe it’s time to remember that God uses pain … because He loves us and doesn’t want us running our race with a limp.