Shining 2

 

You have said, ‘Seek My face’…”  Psalm 27:8a (ESV)

The funny thing is that we tend to seek God’s face only when we are in a casual, relaxed place — when we have lots of time & little pressure bearing down on us. It’s then that we seem to find the space to be with God and know Him just for His own sake.

At least that has been true for me.

But one of the things that I hope I can carry out of my gym time is the discipline to seek God’s face when I’m tired and stressed … or when something challenging is pressing upon me.

There’s a temptation to turn away from God when we are exhausted or stressed. Or, if we do turn to Him, to turn only to seek His help. When under pressure, we tend only to seek God’s hand. Rarely in our exhausted and overwhelmed places do we turn to God just to seek His face. (Or at least that’s the way it has been with me). But the truth is that His face is what I really need in those moments, not His hand.

What I really need when I am exhausted and overwhelmed is to know Who God is and what He is like … and to rest in Him.

So as I seek His face in the gym … while I’m tired and sore, pushing heavy resistance and completing long runs … I am praying that I am also training my heart and my mind to seek His face when I’m tired and overwhelmed in other aspects of my life.

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Spiritual Obesity

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself.  Do what it says.”  James 1:22 (NIV)

Obesity continues to be a growing epidemic in the US. That’s no news flash. But for clarity’s sake, here are a few recent statistics: the US’s obesity rate continues to rise with a recent study finding 35% of adults obese (& another 34% overweight) and 17% of children obese (& another 15% overweight). And childhood obesity is a devastating phenomenon. Not only are we raising an overweight/obese generation, but we are also raising a “physically illiterate” generation. This means that the upcoming generation is beginning to lack the fundamental movement skills, confidence & desire necessary for physical activity … & this leads to a chain of inactivity that has life-long consequences. (E.g., if a child does not learn fundamental movement skills in the first 5 years of life, this child will have poor motor skills and coordination in elementary school, less movement confidence in the tween years, etc.). Add to that the amount of sedentary time our kids have (a 2010 study found that the typical American kid spends 7 hours per day in front of a screen), and we have a growing problem. The reality of he movie “Wall-e” is not far behind.

We are already experiencing the monetary drain that obesity and poor health has on our country. And we are just beginning to discover the many social and psychological distresses that obesity causes (depression, anxiety, decreased productivity, etc.). I am certain, too, that obesity also has spiritual side effects. God created us as integrated beings, and the decline of one aspect of our beings inevitably effects the others.

That being said, we are arguably a “spiritually obese” people too. As consumers focused more on consumption than production or distribution, we list this way in our spiritual lives as well.

If obesity occurs (in otherwise healthy & balanced people) primarily by consuming more calories/energy than one expends, spiritual obesity occurs by consuming more spiritual information than one puts into practice.  In both instances, it is more input than output.  Does God want us to read the Bible, go to church, consume Christian literature and participate in Christian activities? Sure. But He wants us to do those things SO THAT they change us. He wants us to take the input SO THAT it produces output. We are intended to be His hands and feet. Just as He made food for our physical bodies to consume and use for energy, movement and output … He gives us spiritual food for us to consume and use … not just for consumption purposes … but to change us so that He can use us to change the world. The amount of spiritual consumption that I and the others around me have consumed is to the proportion that world-wide revival should have happened years ago. But it hasn’t. Instead, many of us have consumed for consumption sake, and we are spiritually obese.

So my prayers are changing. For myself and for others. Obesity, in general, means there has been more consumption than necessary. It doesn’t matter whether it is food consumption, spiritual consumption or whatever. Perhaps we should focus on consuming only consume what is profitable for us. More isn’t always better. I only need more input once I’ve used the input I have already received.

For me, I’m fairly trained in eating what my body needs and in using what food energy I consume each day … But I cannot say that my spiritual consumption has the same exchange rate. So my prayers are changing. Prayers that I become increasingly effective at using all the spiritual input in my life. May I begin to see spiritual input as something that is meant for me to use, not just consume. May I grow in the self-control to first use what He has revealed to me before I keep asking for more and more revelations. May we not just be hearers of the Word, but doers also. May we curb the obesity epidemic in our lives, Lord, in all areas.

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?

 

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.

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!

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.