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.

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).

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 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).

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 ….

Grieving 

(Dedicated to Jonah)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training 

“I press on ….”  Philippians 3:14(a) (NIV)

Some days are like that.  Seasons in life can be like that.  And sometimes it seems that all of life is like that.  Requiring me simply to press on.

Sports training and conditioning can be like that too.  Whether it’s for a triathlon, marathon, or plain-old health improvement … some days we just need to press on.  We need to make ourselves run the required miles for the day, swim and bike for the day, or simply just get up and go to the gym even when we don’t feel like it.  Why?  Because we know it’s all cumulative. We know that, ultimately, we are in pursuit of a bigger goal and that we might not reach it if we let today’s feelings get in our way.  We press on for the goal (of the triathlon or marathon or whatever it is).

Spiritually, we are in training too.  Life on earth is a training ground for what is to come — a victory that Christ has already won for us, and yet (in some inexplicable way) we partner in and participate in as we journey through life.  We press on … sometimes even when we don’t feel like it … because ultimately we want to prove ourselves grateful and worthy of all He has done for us.  We want to be faithful to the One who created us and gave His all for us.  We keep doing what He has told us is right and good (and avoiding the opposite), because He has told us it pleases Him.  And we want to please Him.

So today, I press on.  I press on, even though it’s hard today.  I press on because I know that one step forward and two steps backward is really one step in the wrong direction.  I press on, as Paul says, “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

And I hope you press on too.

Death

“Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13 (NET)

January has brought much death to our family circle.  Thus far, we have lost two people close to us and have two more in the hospital. January has highlighted the frailty and fragility of the human body and the truth that it will, one day, give out on us. In fact, each of the illnesses and deaths we have encountered have been, ultimately, the result of the body ceasing to function properly and giving out.

Which leaves me again to wonder why, as Christians, we don’t hear more about taking care of this amazing body God has gifted to us!? We hear a lot about stewarding our money and our time and our talents … but what about stewarding this gift of the body? If the impact we can have for our Lord in this dark world is limited by how long our bodies hold up, then why don’t we cherish it and care for it and treat it with love and respect?

In Hebrews (above), the writer was speaking in metaphorical terms.  He was encouraging us to keep moving, accepting the Lord’s discipline of us, and using it to make us better and stronger for Him.  But I believe that taking care of our physical bodies and strengthening our them can have both short- and long-term value for the kingdom. How?  In the short-term, it is an act of worship. It is stewarding and caring for one of the most amazing things He has entrusted to us.  In the long-term, it can improve and lengthen the time we have in this world to shine for Jesus.

Yes, our bodies are temporal. But goodness, so is our money, our time and our talents … & we steward those, don’t we? Your body is here for your entire journey, so strengthen the things that remain so that it may not be put out of joint, but rather healed and used by our Lord.