Losing Crutches

“No manna appeared that day, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan.” Joshua 5:12 (NLT)

Have you ever wondered what the Israelites felt like when the manna stopped coming? If you remember, after the Israelites escaped from Egypt and miraculously crossed the Red Sea, they began to disobey and fall away from God. As a result, they were left to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the disobedient generation passed away. During all that time, God fed them in the desert by giving them manna every morning.

Have you ever wondered what it felt like when the manna stopped?

If it were me, I must admit that I would be afraid that God was upset with me or that I had done something very wrong.

But the truth is that God took away the manna because He was pleased with the Israelites. The Israelites had just crossed into the Promised Land, had just circumcised the existing generation & had reestablished the covenant ceremonies — most notably celebrating the Passover for the first time in decades. God was very pleased with the Israelites. And the manna stopped the next day.

Sometimes we cling to crutches. Sometimes we hold on too long to things that we needed when we were weaker or less mature … but no longer need as we grow. Sometimes it is time to lose the crutches.

God gave the manna to provide sustenance when His children were in the desert with little to no provision. But once they entered the Promised Land — a rich, fertile land, flowing with milk and honey — they no longer needed the manna. God had given them plenty of provisions in the Promised Land.

So He took away the manna.

Sometimes we need to let go of the crutches. Like when we encourage our toddlers to let go of our fingers as they are learning to walk. It is because we love them that we take away our fingers — because it is ultimately for their good that they learn to walk on their own. Because we believe in them and want them to grow strong and capable.

God too was pleased in the Israelites. He believed in them, wanted them to grow strong and capable, and provided all that they needed. So He took away their crutches.

And maybe He is asking you to let go of some crutches too. Maybe you are holding on to something you used to need but is now really holding you back. Will you let it go?

Because I know God loves you and believes in you and wants you to grow strong and capable. Will you let Him take away the manna so that you can eat from the crops of Canaan?

The Word Became Flesh 2

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory — glory as of the only begotten from the Father …”  John 1:14 (NASB) 

In this season, I have been thinking a lot about the birth of Jesus. The manifestation of God on earth. The eternal Word being made flesh.

In the birth of Jesus, God Almighty came to dwell in a human body.

Then I fast forward the story in my mind to the part where Jesus paid the price for our sins in His body. Where His body was whipped and beaten and crucified to atone for our transgressions.  It was Jesus’ earthly body that was abused, sacrificed and killed for us.

Then I fast forward to the part of the story when Jesus was resurrected. And I notice that His body — His dead body — disappeared (it was no longer in the tomb) … And Jesus appeared in a different, resurrected body.

Was the old body gone?  Was it absorbed into the resurrected body?  Was it fodder for His resurrected body, but just transformed?   Maybe.  I don’t know.  (But I do know that Jesus showed Thomas the nail-holes that remained in the hands of His resurrected body.)

This is a mystery for another day.  But here’s what it all tells me: that our bodies matters to God.

If Jesus is our example, His story shows us just how much our bodies matter to God.  Jesus was God in a body; Jesus’ body bore the penalty for our sins; Jesus’ body was resurrected and transformed.

If Jesus is our example, His story shows us how much our earthly bodies can be used to redeem & transform lives and bring unimaginable glory to God. If Jesus is our example, then His story shows us how much our bodies are part of our stories … and that God longs to use them for His glory and purposes.

In Faith and In Hope

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength ….”. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Philippians 4:13 is a great verse to toss around in the Faith & Fitness arena. It’s motivating, inspiring & grounding … and it reminds us of why and for Whom we do what we do.

But have you ever been at a point in your journey when you are not sure you can go on. Have you ever been in places or circumstances that are so oppressive that you aren’t sure you have the strength to continue?

I was serving with my kids the other day at Feed My Staring Children — an amazing non-profit that feeds the innumerable kids who are otherwise starving to death around the world. And on the wall was a Philippians 4:13 sign made by the hands of some of these children. And I wondered: can I do all things through Christ & His power? Can I really? Could I really … if I were one of these children?

The past year or so, for me, has been one of the best AND one of the hardest yet. There have been moments when I have wondered how this Philippians-4:13-thing is supposed to work. When I get to the end of myself and am so exhausted and empty and have absolutely nothing left to give. When I want to say “I can do everything through Jesus’ strength” … yet I cannot. And I am reminded of those kids and that sign. And I cry.

So I bought the sign. It is not a slogan or a feel-good verse. It is gut-wrenchingly painful sometimes.

But I bought it to remind me that if they can, I can. I can get up the next morning in faith and in hope that only Christ can give … and I do my best. And trust God for the rest.

Growing Pains

“I pray with all my heart; answer me, Lord! … I cry out to You; save me!”  Psalm 119:145a-146a (NLT)

Have you ever watched the parents of a young baby (or been one yourself) as they oversee their young one learn to roll over?  If so, then you know how hard it can be to watch your baby struggle over and over again in learning how to do things (like roll over, hold up her head, or begin to crawl).  To sit by and just watch as they struggle over and over … all the while, resisting the urge to help them or do it for them.  It’s hard.

But we know that if we help them … if we rescue them from the discomfort of learning and achieving these milestones on their own … we ultimately handicap.  By rescuing them out of the struggle, we are actually doing them a disservice.

I was working with a chiropractor the other day whose practice actually centers around “relearning” these basic early movements that we either didn’t learn or didn’t learn appropriately.  Perhaps our parents rescued us too frequently from our struggles, or perhaps we never learned to crawl, or perhaps we were rushed into certain stages too quickly.  Any of these have muscular and structural implications for our long-term well-being.  So, in many cases, we have to undo or relearn some very basic movements.

And all this makes me think of God.

In the Psalms, we watch David beg God to rescue him over and over.  Often today, people ask why God isn’t rescuing them or the world from a particular struggle.  Sometimes, I too wonder why I haven’t been rescued from certain struggles.

Maybe it is because God, in all His wisdom, knows that if He rescues us, He would actually be hurting us.  Maybe God, in all His love and kindness, actually restrains Himself from rescuing us … because He wants us to be fully functioning more than He wants us to be temporarily relieved.  Maybe God, because He loves us so much, suffers with us through the growing pains … so that He can celebrate with us at a later date.

David seemed to know that only God was the Author of all that is true and just.  David’s trust in the Lord was unwavering, even when he wasn’t seeing God’s rescue.

So may your trust also be unwavering … and mine … as we struggle through whatever growing pains the Lord allows.  “Be strong and take courage,” reminds David, “all you who put your hope in the Lord!  For He has shown His unfailing love.”  (Psalm 32:24, 21 (NLT))

 

Pondering

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us …. .. Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)

One of my favorite verses.  Hebrews 12:1.  It has been one of my favorite for years.

And yet God keeps showing new things.

This time, it’s the little “and.”  Not the big “And,” but the little one.

For years, I think I’ve overlooked the first “and” … with the result of thinking that only sin is what God is asking us to throw off.

But it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong — sin definitely slows us down. As the verse says, sin “entangles” and therefore keeps us from running our race well … or sometimes from even running at all.  Sin needs to be thrown off.

But then there is the “and.”  Let us throw off everything that hinders AND the sin….

There are things that hinder us that aren’t necessarily sin.  God wants us to throw off those things too.

Maybe it’s a negative attitude.  Maybe it is fear.  Maybe is a bad habit.  Maybe it’s as simple as inertia.  But it is holding you back.

Whatever is holding me back from what God wants to do in and through my life — those are the things God wants me to throw off.  It doesn’t have to be “sin.”

And so I ponder.  What is hindering my pursuit of God physically … mentally … emotionally?  God wants all of me.  What might be hindering me from giving all of me to Him?

It doesn’t have to be “sin.”

Won’t you ponder with me?

Forgetting

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:13b-14 (NIV)

I love this verse. It’s one of my life verses. God so often speaks to me through it. And today is no different.

Today, He speaks about forgetting.

Forgetting the past. Forgetting what is behind.

I don’t think God means for us to totally forget.  At least, I don’t think He wants us to forget in the sense of losing the lesson. Our mistakes, after all, always hold potent lessons for us … and I think God wants us to remember and to learn the lessons our past can teach us. But He does want us to let them go. To bury them in the sea of His mercy. To let Jesus wash them away, as far as the east is from the west.

Competitive athletes learn to do this well. Competitive athletes learn to let go of mistakes so that they can focus on the present. Competitive athletes cannot perform well in the current play, for example, while still beating themselves up for the error they made in the prior play.  They have to learn quickly how to let it go — yet learning from it — and move onto the next play.

Or so I’m told. Not being a competitive athlete myself, I am told that’s how it is.  Personally, I have learned this lesson at a much later stage in life, and I’ve learned it best through yoga. Learning to be present and stay present in the current posture; letting go of the prior posture (whether I did it well or poorly) and staying present in the current one. Whether proud or regretful of the past, I am learning to let it go.  And to stay present with God in today’s moments.

So may we learn to forget as a competitive athlete.  Holding onto the lessons, releasing the rest into the sea of God’s mercy. Washed away by the blood of Jesus.  And pressing on toward what God has called us to do and to be.

To Heal

“This is the kind of fast I want.  I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke.”  Isaiah 58:6  (NET)

Jesus came to heal, to set free, to redeem.  The heart of the Almighty is to heal, to grow, to set free, to redeem.  The Bible is emphatic that God is making all things new.

What’s cool to me is that our bodies were designed with the same objectives in mind.  God made our bodies with His eternal attributes in mind.  The bodies that God designed for us are, for example, designed to heal — they are able to heal themselves from wounds or injuries inflicted upon them.  The body, for example, is constantly renewing itself — the skin renewing itself every 28 days, liver every 5 months, bones every 10 years, etc.  God made our bodies in ways that reflect His amazing glory!  Even though imperfect and aging, they still constantly reflect some of the glory of the One who made them.

And, by and large, the body does this automatically.  Cells respond immediately to start forming blood clots, for example … to bring extra blood and nourishment to the injured area… to swell and protect the injury  … to being the healing process.  No arguments, no negotiating, no denial.  Just immediate action to heal and renew.

And thank God for that!  Because if the other aspects of our lives are any example, most of us would be totally out of commission due to innumerable accounts of denial and refusal to accept that we have been hurt.

To be healed means you first need to admit you are hurting.

To be renewed means you first need to accept that you need renewing.

To be set free means you first have to acknowledge that you are truly in captivity.

To be redeemed means you first believe that you need a Redeemer.

May we see more fully the inherent beauty of being healed and renewed such that we eagerly embrace our brokenness.  He IS making all things new.  Will you join Him in His work?

 

Cramping Up

“So Jacob named the place Peniel (which means ‘face of God’), explaining, ‘Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived’ … but he was limping because of his hip.”  Genesis 32:30b-31 (NET & NLT)

I went for a run today. Part of the way through, my left calf started to cramp up. Dehydrated? Maybe.  Still recovering from a prior workout? Probably.  Should I slow down our walk it out a bit?  But if I constantly accommodate for every ache and pain, I’ll never getting stronger.  Should I push through it?  But what if it’s really injured, or if I end up really injuring it?  Then I’ll be out of commission for a longer period of time.

The Christian journey can be like that, can’t it?  How are we to interpret events or circumstances that come our way?  Is God telling me to slow down or change directions?  Should I read the circumstances as a cautionary flag?  Or maybe he is trying to build perseverance and endurance in my character?  Maybe I need to look to Him for strength to push through?  How do I know how to respond or react?

I ask Him.

I ask the God who knows every cell of my frame & who loves me beyond my wild imaginings.  I ask Him what I am to do.

Sometimes He tells me.  Other times I have to try, in faith, what seems to be good and true.  Sometimes His answer is in accordance with conventional wisdom and knowledge.  Other times, it is completely counterintuitive. Sometimes I never really know.

And sometimes it is simply because He wants me to walk with a limp — for reasons of His own.

And I trust Him.

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.

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?

 

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).

Growing Stronger

“‘You don’t have enough faith,’ Jesus told them. ‘I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.'” Matthew 17:20 (NLT)

Faith is like a muscle. The more you use it and exercise it, the stronger it grows.  I have yet to move a mountain (so my faith must still be smaller than a mustard seed), but my faith is growing. It is a muscle I want to grow and develop and use to its utmost.

God made our bodies covered with a myriad of muscles. If you’ve never admired the muscular system, I’d highly recommend it! It’s an amazing thing. Layers and layers of muscles — some large, others tiny — each with a specific purpose and role.  But God also designed our muscular system with this principle: muscles are to be used, and if they aren’t used, they atrophy. If you don’t exercise them, they dwindle. And the more you exercise, the bigger and stronger they grow.

And so it is with faith. The more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Sometimes we face circumstances where we can choose to step out in faith. Other times, we find that circumstances have come upon us that give us no other choice but to exercise faith. But either way, we end up with the chance to develop our faith muscle.  We get to find and tap into a muscle that perhaps we haven’t used in years, but as we do, we find it grows.  And in the end, that’s a gift.

Faith is like a muscle.  Perhaps one day the mountain will move.

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.

Cherish Life

“God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.  He created the earth and everything in it.  He gives breath and life to everyone in all the world.”  Isaiah 42:5 (NLT)

God is the creator of life.  He brought living creatures into the world and breathed His life into dead soil to make the first man.  Life is personal to God.  It precious to Him.

And so it should be precious to us.

That’s why I love organizations like Feed My Starving Children (www.fmsc.org) — an organization that seeks to feed both body and soul of the millions of children around the world who are starving.  Literally starving.  These are kids who would love to grow and develop and play and celebrate life.  They would love to use the body that God has given to them and discover its potential … but the lack of food resources has stunted their ability to do so.

Those of us in the “developed” world have more than an abundance of opportunities to care for the bodies God has given to us.  We have an abundance of food resources … and yet many of our bodies remain neglected of what they really need.  Most of us have the ability to care for our bodies well, but choose not to (by action or inaction).  Oh, how the children of the underdeveloped world would love to have the ability to care for their bodies as we do.

So here’s my plea: cherish the life that God has given you and don’t squander the opportunity you have to care for it.  And while you do, seek opportunities to help those who can’t.  Life is precious.  Cherishing it is a choice.

True Confessions

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

True confessions?  I am a fitness enthusiast.  I like working out and examining what I am eating and learning how to do both better. I enjoy learning about how God made the body and exploring how it responds.  I am enthralled by the potential God built into the body and rejoice when I see people discover the gift that God has given us in the body.

But the truth is that I am enthralled by God more.

With anything we love and hold dearly, there is always the danger that our love for it will supersede our love for God.  It’s a tension we must learn to navigate throughout our lives and about many different things.  It’s not that God wants us to love only Him and nothing else.  God made us to love, and He holds love above all other characteristics (see e.g., 1 Corinthians 13:13).  He wants us to love; loving people and ideals and is part of our DNA.  But one thing should always remain — that we love God more.  Whether it’s our kids, our spouse, our jobs, our life-calling, or whatever, it’s good to love those things … even to love them deeply … but we must love God more.

So as I examine myself, my heart and my loves, I return to this truth:  I love God more.  And I pray and I ask that He helps me keep all things in service to my love for Him.  That love for God is what fuels me and drives me and beckons me to everything else I love.  That love for God is what all my other loves point to.  That love for God and His glory remains my ultimate objective.

Yes, I am a fitness enthusiast.  But my ultimate objective is not health and fitness.  My ultimate objective is Christ-likeness.  May I never forget.  And may the pursuit of health always be within the greater context of loving and honoring and bringing glory to the One who made me.

Input

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”         Luke 6:45 (NIV)

I was meeting with a friend the other day and telling her more about ShemaFit.  As we discussed the goal of stewarding our bodies well, she exclaimed that many do not know how to care for this body God gave us.  As I thought about her comment, I knew she had spoken some truth.  So perhaps it might be helpful to break down the idea of stewarding the body into three general categories: Input, Output, & Restoration.  All three components are critical health and wellness.

Today, we start with Input.

What goes into our bodies has a huge impact on what we can expect out of our bodies.  It’s just like Jesus’ warning to guard what goes into our hearts and minds — for whatever we allow as Input will directly affect our Output.  If we want to care for this body and steward it well, we need to guard the Input.  Here are a few reminders:

  • Monitor your food groups every day.  At least half of what you eat every day should be fresh fruits and vegetables.  (The fresher the better — meaning not canned, jarred, frozen, dried, etc.  Second best would be fresh frozen.) Only one-fourth of your Input should be grains.  (This is a challenge for many people I know.). Whole grains are best.  That leaves one-fourth or more of your input from protein.  Aim for lean protein  like fish, chicken, and turkey.
  • Watch your sugar intake.  This can be challenging in modern society because so many things are processed and packaged, which often means hidden sugar.  So, here are three helpful hints — avoid obvious sugar intake, avoid processed foods, and (if you can’t avoid processed foods) learn to read labels intelligently.
  • Pay attention to yourself.  One of the amazing things our body can do is to tell us what bothers it.  Pay attention to signs of food allergies or sensitivities.  Become curious about what makes your body work well and what makes it perform poorly.  Pay attention to what it is telling you and respond in kindness.  If you are like me, my sinuses do not respond well when I eat dairy.  So I avoid dairy products.  I still love ice cream and cheese, but I generally don’t eat them because I’ve learned that it hurts my body.

Bottom line is that it’s about learning to love and be tender to this amazing gift God has given you.  Treat it well because, just like the heart, out of it flows the springs of life!  (See Proverbs 4:23.)

Stretching

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle into desolate cities.” Isaiah 54:2-4 (NIV)

Recently, I’ve started teaching some stretching classes again. It’s such a good practice to get into — the intentional stretching and lengthening of muscles.  One of the things I remind the women in my class is the truth that we lose flexibility as we age … & as we lose flexibility, we lose mobility. Our joints are restricted from their normal maximum range of motion because the surrounding muscles are too tight to allow such motion. So by losing flexibility and then mobility, we become less able to respond to the demands life puts on us. To the extent I can help it, I don’t want that to happen to my body.

And I don’t want that to happen my soul either. Our souls can also become inflexible. We can get too comfortable, too stiff, or too brittle to respond to God’s call on our lives. We can refuse to lengthen and stretch and grow … & by doing so, we can impede God’s work not only in our lives but also through our lives to the world and others around us.

Just as I tell the women in my stretch class that it takes time and repetition to stretch tight muscle groups, I am reminded it also takes time and repeated intentionality to open up & allow God to do new things in me and through me. Just as it takes practice for muscle memory to develop and for muscles to expand, so it takes spiritual practices to allow God to stretch us in new ways and to new heights.

God has a wonderful plan for our lives. He has great things He is going to accomplish, and He wants to use us to do it! May we stay malleable and flexible enough to always respond to Him!

Long-term View

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

You know what my least favorite part of parenting is? Disciplining my kids.  It’s really hard for me sometimes to go through the struggle, opposition and upsetness (is that a word?), and all the while maintaining a calm and positive composure. But when I do it right, I’m focused on my kids’ development and what’s best for them long-term. I want them to learn the things that will benefit their future lives.

I wonder if that’s how God feels when He disciplines us?  Part of Him hates disciplining us, but He loves knowing what we can be in the long-term.  He loves the fruit He sees in our lives when we are trained by it.

Exercise can be like that. Sometimes there are days we’d rather be anywhere else but working out, but the long-term view keeps us there. Just today, I was NOT in the mood for doing bicep curls, but hope for future benefits kept me there.  The discipline of working out is a faith exercise.  (See July 9, 2014 blog entry.)

God has formed so much of life to grow our long-term view. Exercise is one. Parenting is another. Faith, of course, is the ultimate one.  Most of our journey on earth is aimed to grow us and form us and benefit us for eternity.  Most of this part of the journey is to prepare us for what is to come.

So how’s your long-term view?  Does momentary pain prevent you from long-term gains?  Does immediate inconvenience keep you from future benefits?  I pray the promise of discipline for you and for me.  Try using exercise as a platform to grow your long-term view … and allow all of yourself to be trained by it.

Choosing Wisely

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” 1 Corinthians 10:23a (NASB)

We all gravitate towards the things we like … the things that are easy for us … the things we prefer. And we all tend to avoid the things we don’t like … the things that are hard for us … the things take more work. It’s part of human nature. That’s why Paul reminds us to choose wisely.

The same is true in regard to caring for our bodies. Maybe you are into eating well, but not into exercising … or vice-versa.  Perhaps you love cardio-training but not resistance training. Perhaps you are great at working your body but not at giving it the proper rest it needs. God gives us the freedom to choose — to decide how we spend our time & energy in stewarding what He has given us. Yes, it is lawful for you to do your sixth cardio workout of the week … but perhaps it would be more profitable to do some resistance training … or even to rest your body. Yes, you can work out like a fiend and then go”reward” yourself with a burger & fries. But perhaps it would be more profitable to reward your body with what it really needs (like proteins, fruits & vegetables).

For me, I need reminders to choose wisely about as many things as I can. So, here’s your reminder:

All things are lawful. But not all things are profitable. Choose wisely.

Growth

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character develops our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

Growth is hard. Any kind of growth is hard work. Whether we are trying to grow new muscles, learn new things or grow aspects of our character, growth is hard. I think that’s why Paul chose to remind us of the benefits of growth in this passage of Romans. He knows that growth is hard. Whether the growth is forced upon us as a result of circumstances or whether we are choosing to grow and train in a particular area, we need reminders of the end game. We need reminders of the ultimate goals and objectives we desire for ourselves. We need reminders of the goals and objectives God desires for us.

I don’t know about you … but when I am training to grow in a certain area, sometimes I get tired. Sometimes, usually when it’s getting really hard, I want to quit … or slack off … or “adjust” my goals. I begin to doubt if I really want what I am pursuing or whether it is worth it. But the truth is, those are the moments when I need Paul’s words the most. That’s when I need to remember that the hard moments are the ones when strength of character is forged, if I will just press on. These are the moments when I can, if I choose, become closer to my true self — the self that God made and desires for me to be. These are the moments over which I can rejoice, if I simply don’t quit. (And, by the way, the hard moments are not the best moments to consider adjusting goals. It’s wiser to wait until we are out of the hard spot and more sober-minded.)

Growth is hard. But the outcomes are good. Rejoice!