The Ties that Bind

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:36 (ESV)

There are reasons why, in my opinion, treatments like chiropracty are sub-optimal as stand-alone treatments.  That is because in most cases, especially with long-standing issues/problems, the body has adapted to the problem. The body and its muscular and skeletal structures have adapted to the problem such that the body now actually prefers the problem. Once corrected, the body will return to its “deformity,” if you will, without systematic reworking of the entire body systems.  Without massage therapy, PT, and specific exercises to support the chiropractic adjustments, the body will return to its deformity because it has learned to prefer it.

So it is with the heart, the mind and the soul. Our psyches, hearts and desires adjust to our distortions learn to “prefer” them. We learn to adapt, growing comfortable in our erroneous thinking or anxious feelings or wandering heart … and our “adaptive self” becomes a place or comfort, security and protection. We no longer know who we are or would be without our contortion — e.g., without our anxiety, our OCD, our longings, our shadow-self, or whatever. We get to a place where we don’t know who we would be apart from this distorted way of thinking or being. Changing our perspective is simply not enough because other parts of our hearts and minds have adapted to “prefer” the deformity as well.

Strange as it seems, we begin to prefer the way things are because that is what we know.  Especially when we have known it for a long time.

To loosen the ties that bind, we need to be able to let go of who we know ourselves to be and to be willing to become someone new. Just as, in the physical realm, in order to change our physical stature … in order, for example, to no longer see the hunchback in the mirror … our whole body needs to learn to hold itself differently.  So too our hearts and minds need to learn to make many adjustments in order to see and to be differently.  It is a process, not an event.  It is a systemic, interrelated, ongoing process.

But it can be done. There is One who can make all things new. (Rev. 21:5). There is One who can supply all the grace and strength we need.  (2 Cor. 12:9, Phil. 4:19)  And He wants to — He wants us to be set free!  (Isaiah 58:6). But we need to be willing and ready to see ourselves differently … to hold ourselves differently … to live & move & have our being differently than we now do.

We have to be ready and willing to let go of the old (no matter how familiar) and work towards the new.

Are you ready?

Lent

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)

Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. The day when a lot of people choose to “give up” something for the Lenten season.

What’s interesting to me is that most people, including myself, usually give up something that they know is bad for them. Something that has begun to have too much power and sway. Whether it’s coffee or chocolate, t.v. or technology, alcohol or annoying habits — we choose to give up (at least for the season) some behavior that has destructive power.

What’s also interesting to me is that a vast majority of the things “given up” have to do with the body. Not all, but the vast majority of the things “given up” for Lent have to do with how we are mistreating or not-honoring our bodies. Whether it is something we keep ingesting (as in food or drink), or something that keeps us stuck in unhealthy patterns (e.g. keeping us sedentary or compromised) … we tend to release things that hinder the potential of this gift of body.

This is interesting to me because it means that somewhere, deep down, we know that this body of ours — this one body we have been given — IS a gift from God that needs to be honored and cherished. Deep down, we know that it deserves better. Deep down, we know that God has given us something spectacular — that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) — and that we are not honoring the gift as we should.

And if we are not honoring the gift properly, we aren’t really honoring the Giver properly either.

Which leads to the second reason I find our Lenten habits interesting. When Jesus spent His 40 days fasting in the wilderness, it wasn’t to give up something that He was doing that He knew was bad for Himself. It was to prove His dependence on God alone. It was to prove that God alone was sufficient. Jesus didn’t need to look to anyone or anything else but to God alone. Even Satan didn’t have anything to offer Him that was better than what God had to offer!  (See e.g. Luke 4:1-13).  Jesus fasted in the wilderness because God alone was enough.

So when we choose today what to “give up,” may we choose not only to honor the gift by giving up something that harms it … but may honor the Giver by replacing it with the all-sufficiency of God.  May we honor the gift and the Giver by trusting in His provision and power alone.

Strength-Training

“The Lord strengthen and protects me; I trust in Him with all my heart.”  Psalm 28:7a (NET)

“Will you trust Me in the shadow as well as in the sun?'” God said to me. “Do you not yet know that inner strength comes in and through the struggle?”

Strength comes through the struggle.

Yes, it does. And the same is true for strength-training. In order for our muscles to grow stronger, they need to be progressively overloaded. In other words … to get stronger, muscles need to be systematically and repetitively loaded beyond the point at which the muscle is normally loaded. Plain English? A muscle needs to repeatedly work against resistance to a point of fatigue. Then the muscle repairs and grows.

This is how God made us. As we struggle to lift a heavier weight, our muscle is growing stronger.  It is one of His principles in this world.  And when we struggle to get through trying times, we get stronger in spirit too.  (See also “Growing Stronger” post (8/10/15) and “Growth” post (6/24/14)).

So every time I weight-train these days, I think about growing stronger. I think about all of me growing stronger.  Because, rest assured, the thought and intention I put into my weight-lifting routine is nothing compared to the thought and care God puts into the “shadows” He allows me to go through.

“Will you trust Me in the shadows as well as in the sun?” He asks.

Yes, I will Lord.

And with You by my side, I trust that I can and will come out stronger on the other side.

The Body is More

For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”  Luke 12:23 (NLT)

Our memories are not just stored in our minds. I know it sounds hard to believe, and sometimes we wish it was that simple. If it were, we could simple blocks things out of our minds, or we could ask God to wash our minds clean and memories would be gone. But it isn’t that simple. God made us as integrated beings, and as such, our memories are not just stored in our minds. Our memories are also stored in our bodies.

That’s why, for one thing, a certain touch or movement can bring back a wave of emotion or thought. It happened to me in yoga today; the movement of my body released a memory and the feelings attached. And this is just one example of how memories are stored.

Scripture has told us all along that our bodies are more than food and clothing. Our bodies carry the very essence of who we are, of who we have been, and of who we will and can be. Our bodies are vessels of more than just the ornamentation we put on the outside. Our bodies carry not only our stature and our presence, but also our memories and dreams and fears.

And God — the One who holds us — does too. In the 56th Psalm, it says that God keeps track of all my sorrows. “You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Isn’t that beautiful!?  God, who carries me and my body and life, also carries my memories, sorrows and tears. And He treats them with tender, loving care.

Shouldn’t we?

Your body is more than clothing. It carries much, much more. And it is worthy of the very same tender, loving care that the Father gives.

The Things That Remain

“‘Well done, my good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'” Matthew 25:21 & 23 (NIV)

We all have struggles.  We all have things that are difficult for us.  Things that we wish were different.  Things we wish we could change.  One dear friend of mine has MS.  Another dear friend has chronic insomnia.  Another has breast cancer.  We all have things we wish we could change.

I too have things in my life that I wish were different.  And to those things, the Lord had a personal word for me yesterday.  His word was this:  focus not on the things I have denied you;  focus instead on the things I have given you, and steward them well.  

What’s ironic about His Word to me is that it very similar to the message I give all the time.  My ministry is to remind people that God has given each of us an amazing gift called the body, and your own body is a gift to be cherished and cared for with its own unique crafting in mind.  I’m constantly telling people that loving the body you have been given is a way to love the Giver — a valid way to worship.  That spending time and energy wishing it was different is not a response of gratitude, but love and stewardship is.  And yet, in other ways, I find myself needing God’s gentle reminder to focus not on what He has denied me, but to focus instead on what He has given me, and steward it well.

It can be hard sometimes.  I have friends who are single and deeply want to be married.  I have friends who are childless and deeply want children.  I have friends whose kids have autism, another with a child who is partially paralyzed, and another whose child is battling brain cancer.  It can be hard to keep our minds off of those things that He has denied … but I know that if you asked each of my friends, they would, even still, acknowledge that God has been good to them … particularly if they focus not on that which God has denied them, but stay focused on what He has given them and work to steward it well.

And so, will you join me?  In all aspects of our lives, will you join me?  With our bodies and our hearts and our minds and our souls, to focus not on what He has denied us, but to focus on what He has given … and to steward that well.

Because He is a good, good Father.  And I want to show Him that I know it too.

Christ Alone


“This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by’ you, ‘the builders, that has become the cornerstone.’  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:11 (NET)

I am not a yogi.  But I do practice yoga.  Once a week, on average.  Yoga is great for my body, but it also teaches my mind and my spirit things.  One of the things it is teaching me is to let go of self.  Because sometimes I make mistakes in my yoga practice.  Sometimes I have an off-day, for example, and I have trouble finding my focus and my balancing series suffers.  On those days, I have a choice:  to get frustrated and upset with myself or to let it go.  To accept my frailty and imperfection, learn from it, and let it go.  Or to beat myself up and continue in the falsity that I can do all of it right.  Because I cannot focus on this posture if I’m still beating myself up over the last one.

And so it is with the rest of life.  I make mistakes.  Sometimes big ones.  I make mistakes and I fall down and I sin.  At that point, I have a choice:  to beat myself up because I am “better” than that (Ha!) … or to accept my fallenness, turn to the love and grace of Jesus, let it wash me clean, and move on.  You see, even self-flagellation about mistakes and sins and missteps is an exercise of self.  Yoga reminds me  to see my mistakes — to accept them and learn from them — to bury them in Jesus’ wounds — and to move on with deep, deep gratitude.  Deep, deep gratitude, profound humility, and exorbitant praise.

You see, the God of the cross is not a God who then demands perfection.  He knows me better than that.  He is a God who loves me, who knows all about me, who knows my story, and loves me anyway.  He loves me enough to provide me with a  way out of my mess.  He loves me enough to give me Jesus.  And Jesus gives me the chance not to rely on myself, but to rely on Him.

And so, as I rely on Jesus — on Christ alone — I am choosing to let it go.  Not to reside in the past, but to pursue God and focus on Him more and more in each present moment.

Abundance

I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10b (NET)

(Dedicated to Kim)

I spent the first part of the Christmas holiday sick. Just a winter cold, but still sick. And I struggled to get past the sickness of my body to let my mind and spirit relish in the joy of Christmas, As I struggled, I was reminded of what another Christian theologian once wrote: “Sickness makes it impossible to avoid the reality of our bodies. When I am sick, I am not a mind (or soul) with a suffering body; I am the suffering body.”

And then I learned that my dear friend Kim is battling breast cancer. As I listened to Kim and her process, I was again clearly reminded that God made us as integrated wholes. Kim’s battle is much more than a physical battle in her body; it is a battle in her body, mind and spirit. It is a battle that involves all of her.

God Himself is triune — three parts in one indivisible whole. And He made us in His image. Yet many Christians have come to believe that we have bodies … not that we are, at least in part, bodies. But there are times, like when we are sick, when we are reminded that we are integrated bodies. God made us that way. The health of one aspect of myself affects the other aspects of myself. The health of my body affects my mind and spirit. The health of my mind affects my body and spirit (as seen, for example, in people with brain damage.). And the health of my spirit affects my mind and body. An integrated whole.

In the miracle of Christmas, Jesus came to give us life in all of its abundance. And, given the way God made us, I firmly believe that abundant life has to include all aspects of how God made us. Abundant mind, body and spirit.

So as I prepare to have my friend Kim over for dinner tonight, I am hoping to encourage and lift her up in mind and spirit … knowing and trusting that the health of her mind and spirit will help to foster abundance in her body.

And as I prepare for a new year, I ponder anew where God wants to see greater abundance in me.

Faith Exercise 2

“So Moses thought, ‘I will turn aside to see this amazing sight.  Why does the bush not burn up?’  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him … ”  Exodus 3:3-4a (NET)

As we walk through this season — a season dripping with meaning and pregnant with power and purpose for life change — we are also bombarded by so much busyness.  So many tasks and chores and stress.  And all those things that bombard us have the tendency to drown out the meaning and the potential for purpose and power.

Moses had many responsibilities too.  He was out shepherding a flock — and while that might sound slow and peaceful, it is actually a very stressful job.  Looking for food and water for the entire flock, keeping track of the multitude of sheep, staying on constant lookout for predators, protecting the sheep, inspecting each of for injuries or parasites, getting them to a safe place to rest each night, etc.  Moses was busy.  But he noticed the bush that burned.  He had the awareness to notice the bush that burned but was not consumed.  More importantly, Moses took the time to turn aside and look.

Taking the time to turn aside and look is a faith exercise.  It is an act of faith because it means setting aside the lists of tasks and responsibilities, and trusting that all will be well if you choose to focus on the things that really matter.  It means putting first things first, and letting the rest fall as it may … and resting in the knowledge that what matters most was tended to.  And that is enough.

The meaning of Christmas and the purpose and power provided through the Christ-child awaits for each of us … IF we can slow down enough to focus on what really matters.  And I pray that each of us will exercise the faith to do so.

And as you begin to turn toward the ritual of New Years resolutions, know that it too can be more than a meaningless ritual.  It too can be a practice of turning aside.  It can be an opportunity to strengthen your resolve to put first things first in the new year.  It can be the chance to put a step of faith behind a seemingly “small word” from God.  It is a time to choose to obey.

Is it for a healthier new year?  Is it a commitment to give God all of you in 2016?  Is it a desire to turn your body into a temple for the living God?  Every “small word” carries the seed of change and growth — but we need to participate.  So,  despise not the day of small beginnings.  Just begin.

What if Moses hadn’t turned aside to look?

 

Anew

“Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!   Praise the Lord!”  Psalm 150:6

Last night we held one of our Spin Therapy classes.  It’s an amazing cycling class that very intentionally incorporates mind and spirit with the work the body is doing.  Every time we have one of these classes, God shows up big time.

One of the things that I loved was that we discussed how important the breath is to exercise … and how the words the Bible uses for breath can also mean spirit … and therefore, then each time we breathed, we thought about inviting the Spirit in.

I also loved watching how God met individually with each person in the class and spoke to them personally and intimately.  Many came to tears at one point in the class (and not because their legs were hurting!)  God touched each one deeply and uniquely.

And I loved how the whole class erupted with applause at the end of the hour together — not because their instructor was such a good instructor — but because they had met with their Maker and worshipped Him holistically — body, mind and spirit.  They had met with God in a fresh way, and He touched them.  (The truth is that connecting with God in new ways and in new environments can open new synapses and pathways in the brain to truly experience God afresh and anew.  And who doesn’t want to experience God anew!?)

But today, the part that is sticking with me the most was the portion of the class where we all started singing “Jesus” … “Jesus” in appropriate response to the song on the CD.  A room full of virtual strangers, exercising and singing in chorus:  “Jesus … “Jesus!”  It was unprompted and uninhibited … an individual yet collective sacrifice of praise.  Gives me chills right now to remember it.

And brings a new perspective to today’s verse:  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Functionality

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

Inconvenient truth? I’m aging. And so are you. We are all aging. But at some point, the effects of aging seem to accelerate and become increasingly evident. And yet, inside this inconvenient truth is a gift — the gift of clarity.  The gift of clarity and power and purpose behind  why I do what I do.

Exercise and fitness is not about vanity and looking good. Oh, perhaps has been at some point in my journey … but exercise and fitness is about faith and functionality.  It’s about honoring God and remaining available.

As such, the discipline of exercise is like the discipline of a daily quiet time with God.

When we meet with God every morning, we connect with the source of Life — the source of all Power and Truth and Love.  We get plugged into God.  Nice as it is, the point is not just to have a precious oasis with God; the point is to connect with God so that we can bring Him into the rest of our day … into all aspects of our life.  The point is to connect with Him so that we can be more engaged and effective in the rest of our day.

When we exercise our bodies, we are exercising to keep our bodies functional and effective.  Two effects of aging are a loss of muscle mass and a loss of flexibility.  As a result, we lose mobility and functionality. But if we exercise & stay fit, we can maintain strength and mobility; if we keep th discipline of exercise, we can maintain flexibility & good functionality.  We carry the results of exercise out into the rest of our day and all areas of our lives, making us more engaged and effective.

The discipline of the Quiet Time and the discipline of exercise.

Both are meant to bless us, yes … but even more so, both are meant to help us be a blessing to God and to others.  Both are organically connected with the whole of our lives: relationships, struggles, opportunities, uncertainties, etc.

We should use them both more faithfully.

It All Starts Here

Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it!”       Psalm 139:14b (NLT)

If only.

If only we knew it so well, our world would be a different place.  For I believe Psalm 139 lies at the crux of our spiritual formation.  And until the church can get it right, we cannot be our biggest and brightest to the rest of the world.

Psalm 139 talks about how intricately and intimately God made each of us and knows each of us.  It speaks very practically about the love God has for us and how that love has been expressed in the wonderful creations that we are.  “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex — how well I know it!” (Ps. 139:13-14). And this isn’t the only place God expresses this sentiment.  One of my favorites is Ephesians 2:10, where we are called God’s workmanship, God’s masterpiece, God’s poiema — God’s poem.

But we don’t know it.  By and large, we don’t know that at our core.  Because if we did, we would value ourselves differently.  And if we valued ourselves differently, we would interact with ourselves differently.  If I value the masterpiece that God made in me, I will honor it and care for it and learn to love it — for no other reason that because God made it for me and gave it to me, and it is wonderfully made.  And if you believed it, you might interact with yourself differently too.

I’m not talking about arrogance or self-love in that way.  (Arrogance, by the way, is often a cover-up for insecurity, anyway.)  I’m talking about a deep knowing that God created me carefully and thoughtfully, and that God loves me more than I can ever comprehend.

And once I know these truths — that God made me a wonderfully complex masterpiece — then I can start seeing and knowing you as a wonderfully complex masterpiece … and I start interacting with you with more honor and dignity.  And then the church — oh what a beauty the church would be!

But it all starts here.  How well do you know the wonder of God’s workmanship?

How much do you really believe that God loves you?  How much do you really believe that you are God’s poem?  Your actions toward yourself and towards others reveal the answer.

The Air We Breathe

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Look, I am about to infuse breath into you and you will live. … I will put breath in you and you will live.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.”  Ezekiel 37:5-6 (NET)

Have you ever exercised until you were almost out of breath?  Have you ever had the breath knocked out of you?  If so, you have experienced the preciousness of breath.

Because otherwise, we take breath for granted.  Breathing is as natural as, well, the air we breathe.  And yet, when God formed mankind, He “formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).  Paul reiterates in the book of Acts that God Himself gives life and breath to everything and everyone (Acts 17:25b).   And the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that when these bodies die, “life’s breath returns to God who gave it.”  (Ecc. 12:7b).

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for breath in both Ezekiel 37 and in Ecclesiastes 12 is the word ruach which can be translated either as “breath” or “spirit.”  Also, the Greek word for breath used in Acts 17 (and elsewhere in the New Testament) is the word pneuma which also can be translated either as “breath” or “spirit.”

Hmmmm.

Maybe the Spirit is as essential to our being as is breathing.

Maybe our very being is more integrated with God’s being than we might image.

Maybe God is not closer than the air we breathe; maybe His Spirit IS the air we breathe.

Maybe when we breathe, we invite the Spirit of God in to give us life.

So the next time you are working out and begin to notice your breath, use it as a prompting to notice the Spirit.  And the next time things get hard, and you are tempted to hold your breath — breathe!  Especially then, breathe.

And when the resurrected Jesus appeared to His disciples, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”  (John 20:21b-22).

Turning Evil Into Good

As far as I’m concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil.”  Genesis 50:20a (NLT)

I was meeting with a friend yesterday who had injured himself during his workout the day before.  He laughed because it was an unfriendly reminder for him to listen to his body and honor its “voice.”

God is amazing that way.  He can turn pain into good.

He can turn pain into good, especially if we let Him.

Whether it is pain we bring upon ourselves (like my friend who pushed himself too far at the gym) … whether it is pain someone intentionally or irresponsibly inflicted upon us (like Joseph’s case as recorded in Genesis) … or whether it’s the evil one (who lurks around looking for someone to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8)), inflicting pain as we are tried and challenged and tempted.

In any of these cases, God can and will use the pain for good, if we let Him.  God is amazing that way.

Like in my friend’s case, God reminded him to listen to his body and “honor” its voice.  Who knows?  Maybe God has some unexpected things for my friend to attend to while he is in a slower, recovery mode.

Or if someone has inflicted deep wounds upon you, God promises to heal and restore and bring purpose and meaning out of it.  It takes time and much work, but if we open ourselves fully and continually to the great Healer, He will heal.

Or if we’ve been tempted, God can also use it for good.  Maybe to reveal an area of weakness … maybe to surface a deep, old wound that still needs His healing … or maybe to reveal that more work is needed in an area you thought was done.

So whatever the issue you face, I want to encourage you to look confidently at it and boldly speak into it that God WILL use it for good.  Then buckle up and get ready to partner with God in His healing work.

It it may not be easy, but it will be good.  God cannot make anything but good.

Purpose in Every Step

So I run with purpose in every step.  I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”  1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (NLT)

A few months ago, I started teaching kickboxing again.  I taught it years ago and started missing it, so we brought it back.  Much of a cardio kickboxing class is punching and kicking into the air.  Within each class, though, I bring out the mitts and paddles.  I bring them out so that the participants can feel and experience an actual punch — actual contact — and therefore experience the need for purpose and power in each punch and kick.  Experiencing the actual purpose of each movement allows for greater purpose to be given in each practice punch and kick.  The goal is not to aimlessly fling arms and legs around, but to have an intended target, a strike-zone … focused effort and power and purpose in each movement.

And so our lives should be.  Focused.  Intentional.  Filled not with flinging arms and aimless energy, but with purpose and power in each step.  This is what God, through the words of Paul, is suggesting.  To live aware and alive and intentionally, with purpose in every step.

Sometimes it is hard to live that intentionally.  We get tired.  We get hurt.  We lose focus or get discouraged.  We are, after all, still human and in a fallen condition.  But if we know Jesus, we get up.  Because with Jesus, we have Hope and we have Life in us.  We get up, and we continue pursuing purpose in every step.

Being disqualified is not an option.

And so we continue on, training our bodies, our minds and our souls.  Regaining our Focus.  Remembering our Purpose.  Submitting all of who we are to the only One who can truly transform us.  Offering ourselves as living sacrifices … and trying not to crawl off the altar.

Purpose.  In each step.

The Gift of Body

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all He created.”  James 1:17-18 (NIV)

When most of us hear that verse, we think of people or blessings or opportunities or even material things, but do we ever think about the more basic and integral parts of our lives and realities?

Whether you acknowledge it or not, your body is an amazing gift, given to you by your Heavenly Father.  And He gave us an incredible gift int the human body!  It can grow itself, heal itself, alert you of pain or injury or allergies.  The human body has eleven very intricate and complex systems.  The muscular system alone is amazing, not to mention the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the neurological system, etc.  And human eye is astounding in form and function!  God gave people an incredible gift in these bodies; a gift of creation that God called “very good.” (See Genesis 1:31)

Do you see your body as very good?  Do you treat it as something very good?  Do you cherish it as a good and perfect gift from your Heavenly Father?

I give my kids gifts sometimes.  I love my kids, and I try to give them things I think they need or will enjoy.  Suffice it to say that I know when they love the gift I have given, because they cherish and care for it.  I also know when they don’t.

As humans living in a world riddled with fallenness, some of us have ideas of what a “perfect” gift should look like — an idea undoubtedly shaped, at least in part, by the fickle and unrealistic views of the culture around us.  Others of us live more physically impacted by the world’s fallenness, whether it is through disease or aging or tragedy.  And cherishing the body becomes more challenging.

But the encouragement is this: our bodies are still amazing.  And they are a good and perfect gift to be stewarded well in this lifetime.  God made your body and breathed His life into it, and He renews your breath every day.  And God is not fickle or unrealistic, but constant and sure.  So, as long as God gives us breath, let’s thank Him and honor Him and praise Him for the gift of body … and care for it as someone who appreciates such a good gift!

The Word Became Flesh

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14a (NIV)

Have you ever stopped to ponder that statement?  Of course, it’s a truth that changed the world and all of history … but it is also a truth that should also change the way we live and the way we understand and interact with our bodies.

Jesus became flesh and indwelt a human body.  This means that God found the human body something worthy enough for the Living God of Universe to indwell.

And that’s totally the opposite of what I’ve learned about the body from church (meaning the church at large, not any particular church).  My experience has been that the church has taught us that the body can’t be trusted.  Through its silence on the subject and even through its words, the church has taught that the body is bad.  In fact, the only teachings I have heard from the church about the body is either (1) a whole bunch of “don’ts,” and/or (2) that the body is flesh … and flesh is bad.

Really!?

This isn’t just semantics.  God created the human body, and He called very good.  In fact, He made us in His image!  (See Genesis 1:27-31).  Can we do bad things with our bodies?  Of course!  (Just as we can do bad things with our minds and our souls). Does that make the body inherently bad?  No.  No it doesn’t.

Remember, the Word became flesh.

How many sermons have you heard that tell you what you should do with the body God gave you (instead of what you shouldn’t do)?  I’m not sure I have heard any.  And we all learn better through encouragement and training toward how we should behave and act, as opposed to constant nagging about how we shouldn’t.

I’m just saying.  The Word became flesh.  The Living God indwelt a human body that He made and found worthy.  Shouldn’t you view it similarly?

Oppositional Training

“[T]he land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys ….” Deuteronomy 11:11 (NIV)

If you’ve done any strength training, you’ve learned the principle of oppositional training. To really strengthen any muscle group, you have to strengthen the opposing muscle group. If you want to strengthen your biceps, for example, you need to also strengthen your triceps. If you want to grow your quadriceps, you also need to grow your hamstrings. To train effectively, you have to train in opposition.

Interestingly, the rest of life is like that too.  We cannot have pleasure, for example, without pain (otherwise it would all seem the same and all feel neutral). We cannot have highs without lows, or as the writer of Ecclesiastes so adeptly put it, we cannot have laughter without tears or dancing without mourning (see Ecc. 3:4).  It is the order that God created.  We cannot achieve great heights without going through great valleys.

Problems arise, of course, when we ignore the principles of oppositional training. When we want large biceps, for example, but don’t like the triceps exercises … so we don’t do them much. Not only do we become out of balance, but we can’t achieve the results we really desire when we deny the way in which God made things.

Of course, I see myself in this paradox frequently. I would much prefer to avoid great pain, sadness, loss or mourning.  I’d much prefer avoid, deny, repress or run away from that side of life.  But I am learning that even God’s Promised Land had mountains and valleys … and that in His economy, I cannot avoid one without losing the other.

So I am learning afresh the principle of oppositional training.  And it’s hard.  It’s hard to sit in the hard places and remain present and not to rush through or ignore it.  It’s hard.  Really hard sometimes.  But I want the other side.  I endure the valley because I want the mountain-top.  And I strive to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, my example … who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.  (Hebrews 12:2b).

Focus

“It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger.  He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the One who is invisible.”  Hebrews 11:27 (NLT)

We don’t have a dog (yet?), but every time I’m at any of my friend’s house that have dogs, I love to watch how the dogs behave in the kitchen.  It’s like the dogs have been trained to watch their master’s hand.  Watching and waiting for the moment when a morsel of food may come their way.  Watching and waiting for a crumb to fall from their master’s table.  Then running to gobble up whatever the master has offered, then waiting and watching for more.

Every time I watch this, I wonder if we are as watchful and attentive to our Master’s hand. And what makes it even more impressive is that no dog-owner has ever intentionally trained their dog to behave this way in the kitchen.  The dogs have trained themselves.

So I must ask: Have we trained ourselves to watch and wait for God’s hand?  Have we trained ourselves to respond automatically and enthusiastically when we see our Master begin to move, and do we enjoy His offering to us only to wait and watch for more?

It takes training to watch and wait for God.  It takes training to wait and to move only when we see our Master move.  It takes training to act as if we know that there is a world of difference between His strength and my own. And waiting to do it in His strength and power and timing.

And, just like in the physical realm, training is not a one-time deal.  Training requires practice and repetition.  Lots of it.  Training requires doing it over and over again, each time learning from our mistakes and tweaking our performance.  It means watching and waiting and then acting on promptings … and sometimes falling down, but getting back up because we are keeping our eyes on the One who is invisible.

So where’s your focus these days.  May it be true for you and for me that our focus is increasingly on our Master’s hand.

 

Food-session

Why pay money for something that will not nourish you?  Why spend your hard-earned money on something that will not satisfy?  Listen carefully to me and eat what is nourishing!”  Isaiah 55:2 (NET)

Would you put maple syrup in your car instead of gasoline?  “But it tastes better!”  Maybe so, but the car won’t run on maple syrup.  In fact, you might end up ruining your car!

Look around.  That’s just what we (as a society) are doing.  Filling our mouths with for that tastes good, but does not provide us with the nourishment we need.  Food that ends up ruining the marvelous creation that God made.

Food was meant to be fuel for the body.  Food was intended to serve the body and provide it what it needs for optimal performance.  But our society has completely inverted that formula.  For many, the body is at the mercy of food.  We are food-obsessed.  The pleasure of our taste-buds has taken first priority, and nutrition and nourishment have taken a back seat (heck, they may even have been tossed out of the car by now)!

Join me in the fight against this obsession with food (our “food-session,” for short).  Reclaim the body as God designed and intended. Reclaim food as fuel — as nourishment for your body — and not as the destroyer of God’s good creation.  Reclaim God’s intended order that food is for the body not the other way around.

It’s going to be a tough fight.  I have a 8-year-old and a 6-year-old.  I tell them often that we eat for our bodies, not for our mouths.  On certain days, I have them look at “My Healthy Plate” and tell me what categories of intake they are lacking for that day.  Our kids are surrounded by more than junk food; they are bombarded by crap-food (pardon me).  Sometimes it’s distressing, but all the more reason that we cannot give up the fight.

Will you join me?  There’s still time to make a difference and show our Lord that we really do value the very good creation He gave us.

The Process of Purity

… Let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit.  And let us work toward complete purity because we fear God.”  2 Corinthians 7:1 (NLT)

If you ever wondered if God cared about the body, read Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.  Paul’s message is clear : It matters to God what we do with our bodies!

First of all, God created our bodies, breathed life into them, and called His creation very good.  (Genesis 1:26-2:7)

In doing so, He has given each of us a unique and individual gift (our own body) to grow and steward and care for every day of our lives.

And He made it clear that it matters to Him how we care for it.  For the nation of Israel, God gave many laws about what to eat, what not to eat; what to touch, what not to touch; when to work and when to rest.  And for the church, Paul echoes the principle of devoting all of who we are to the Lord — that the body also matters in our devotion to God.

So as I aim to raise the value of returning health and fitness to the realm of the sacred, I constantly have to evaluate my own progress in that journey.  And, as it is with the other aspects of ourselves that we devote to God (e.g., mind and soul), the process of devoting my body to God IS a journey.  And real journeys generally do not go up and to the right all the time.  Some seasons are better than others; some harder.  Sometimes it’s two steps forwards and one step back.  Sometimes it’s victory in one aspect with defeat in another.  And my journey is the same.  I just pray that it’s always moving forward….

So as you examine your life and your whole-life devotion, remember that God wants all of you. Don’t stop at considering just what might defile your soul, but also … as Paul reminds us … what might defile the body as well.  And when things go wrong (because they do), don’t let the evil one use it to beat you down.  Remember that God is the author of process … that Jesus understands our weakness … and victory has already been won for us (although we have yet to lay hold of it).  Just get back up.  Seek to learn what it is you need to learn, and never give up.  In our weakness is His strength.  We just need to find it.

If you are like me, you want to devote everything to Him.  I like to say, “All of me, all for you.”  That’s the goal, but I fall down.  And God in His love and mercy responds to my cries for forgiveness and lovingly picks me up.

Someday I’ll get all the way there, but He will have brought me home by then.  So until then, I’m in the process ….