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.

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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!