Embodied Souls

“The body is … for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” 1 Corinthians 6:13b

Have you ever thought about what it means to be an embodied soul? Have you ever wondered why we are embodied souls? That we are each more than our physical bodies … and yet we are more than our spiritual souls. We are both-and; physical and spiritual. Have you ever wondered why?

Why did God create us as embodied souls?

And if you believe Scripture, then you know that we will also be embodied souls in the afterlife. Have you ever wondered why?

Jesus was also an embodied soul. He was the embodiment of God Himself. And Jesus” body paid the price for our redemption.

Not only that, but most of Jesus’ earthly ministry was attending to others’ physical bodies: healing bodies from pain, illness & disease; feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty; clothing the naked & freeing people from the chains of prison or paralysis. Jesus spent an inordinate amount of time tending to people’s bodies.

Today’s society suffers from an exorbitant amount of illness. We all know that we live in the biggest health care crisis ever. If we are honest … honest with ourselves and each other … then we will also admit that most of our illness stems from a lack of bodily movement (aka exercise) and poor food quality and nutrition. We are sick because we don’t move be enough or eat well. We are sick because we aren’t caring well for our physical bodies.

I cannot day for sure why God made us embodied souls. But I know that He did, and I know that God does things with purpose. I also know that Scripture is full of stories about Jesus demonstrating great care for the human body.

Shouldn’t we?

Shouldn’t we too demonstrate great care for the human body, starting with our own and with the bodies of those we love?

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.

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?

Shining

Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  Psalm 27:8b (NIV)

One of my favorite things to do when working with clients, is to help them remember why we do the things that we do.  It’s so rewarding to bring people back to the fount of their motivation & their heart’s desire.  It’s also such an honor to be able to help people shape their motivating force.  To point them to Jesus, and encourage them to seek His face.

Because in the exercise and fitness world, God’s face isn’t always so obvious. People exercise and work out for many reasons, some of which revolve around vanity and other worldly pursuits.

But we exercise to honor God.  We exercise to thank God for the bodies He has given us and to steward them well. And while we work out, we seek His face.

Seeking God’s face is wholly different than seeking God’s hand.  Seeking God’s hand is easy. We do it all the time. We ask for His helping hand, His wisdom, His strength — we ask for His intercession on our behalf. But when we seek His face, we seek simply to be in His presence. We seek to see Him more clearly as He is, and to absorb more of Him.  That’s all.

When I go to the gym, I am submitting my body to the work it needs.  But when I go, I also submit the rest of me to the Lord — to seek His face, to hear His voice, to gaze at the only One who can really heal & change & grow me.

And I trust that … just as Moses’ face shown brightly after he met with the Lord on Mount Sinai (see Exodus 34:29) … all of me might shine a little brighter for His glory with my workout is done.

Health

“Dear friend, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is.”  3 John 2 (NLT)

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t wish for good health — for themselves and for the ones they love.  A body that works well, that functions and moves as it should, that is not plagued by illness and disease.  I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t long for that.

And yet, I have met many people who are not willing to do what is required to be healthy.

Granted, we live in a world that is working against us.  Especially in America, we live with endless obstacles of GMO’s, processed foods, “modern conveniences” that keep us from walking or working or moving, largely sedentary jobs, and much, much more.

But we still have choice.  We still have choices about what we do with our spare time, what we put into our mouths and what we prioritize.  Culture can flood the market with as many unhealthy options as it chooses, but it cannot take away our choice.

Just like God never takes away our choice.  God wants us to love Him and follow His ways, but He does not force us to.  He allows us to choose.  He allows us to choose who and what we serve.  He allows us choice … because He knows that our choices will reveal our true desires.

So it really comes back to us.  Do we truly want to have good health?  Enough to do what is required?

Enough to eat less junk food?

Enough to eat more vegetables?

Enough to move your body every day?

Enough to listen to and attend to the needs of your body?

Enough to listen to Him?  So that He can heal us?  So that He can heal us and bring us to health?

He can, you know.  It’s right there:

      H e a l t h

Do you see it?

Do you want it enough to do what is required?

He is more than able.  It’s your choice.

Distractions

“But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’” Luke 10:40 (NLT)

If you have ever built or remodeled a home, you quickly learn that every choice, every decision, forces you into a whole new universe to learn and understand. Whether it’s about flooring or countertops or even grout, every decision opens up a universe of options and things to consider. It can be exhausting.

As I continue to venture down the road of health and fitness from a faith perspective, the same thing happens. The expansive detail that exists about exercise … about food and nutrition … about supplements … about rest … and about all the various sub topics under those broad topics … can be overwhelming.

Lately, I find that people want to talk about the topic of food and diet. GMOs, gluten, sugar, fat, hi-protein, lo-carb, paleo, vegan, clean, etc. etc. There is so much to consider within the food topic alone that it can be all-consuming to figure out.

But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be all-consumed about what I eat. I want to be all-consumed with Jesus.

Do I want to eat healthily? Yes. Do I want to care well for the temple of the Holy Spirit that is my body? Yes, I do. But I don’t want to be obsessed with it. I want to be obsessed with Jesus.

So I weed through the information I can, and I do my best with it. I trust God to lead me and guide me even when I don’t know or understand it all … because, after all, He is the One who made me and continues to remake me … and He is in control of all things. I trust Him to honor my desire to please and honor Him with my body, even if I make under-informed choices.

At the end of the day, all He asks of me is to do my best and trust Him with the rest.

And so I do.

Because of all He has done …

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you.  Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind He will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship Him.”  Romans 12:1 (NLT)

“Offering our bodies to God” is something we don’t talk much about.  We talk a lot about offering our hearts, or our souls, or even our minds.  But our bodies?  It is so foreign to our thinking that it even sounds funny.

But God wants it.  He wants all of us.

And just in case you might think that the word for “body” might, in its original language, mean something broader than our physical body — it doesn’t.  I checked.  The original word is soma, and it means, precisely in fact, the physical body, the flesh.  (In later years, it also took on the meaning of the body of Christ, but again, in the very physical sense of Jesus’ followers being the tangible extension of Jesus on earth.)

God wants you.  He wants your physical body — your flesh — too.  Will you give it to Him?  Will you make it holy and acceptable for Him?

I was reading in Jesus Calling the other day, and it said: “The free will I bestowed on you comes with awesome responsibility.  Each day presents you with choice after choice.  Many of these decisions you ignore and thus make by default.”  (Jesus Calling, September 18)  In other words, God allows me to make innumerable choices each day; many of those opportunities I am not recognizing as such and therefore am not making the choices I should.  I am giving away my choice to habit or thoughtlessness or other people (or worse).

And for so many of us, the body suffers as a result.  The choices we make (or don’t make) about what we are going to feed our bodies … the choices we make (or don’t make) about exercising and strengthening our bodies … the choices we make (or don’t make) about caring for and sanctifying our bodies.  The many choices we don’t make that make our bodies unhealthy, undignified and unglorified.  We, as a church, have forgotten to give our bodies to God.  We, ironically called the body of Christ, have forgotten to make our bodies holy and acceptable to Him.

“Every day presents you with choice after choice.”  So be careful then, how you live … making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  (Ephesians 5:15-16).

By the mercies of God, I urge you to offer your bodies to God …

This is your true and proper worship.

Journey On

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My loving eye on you.  Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come with you.”  Psalm 32:9 (NIV)

This past Spring, I had the opportunity to talk with middle schoolers about what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made by God, and how to live in the reality that each of us are God’s masterpieces. And as I continue to sit in this vein of Truth, God continues to speak.

There is only one “me” in the universe, and there will only ever be one “me” … and there will only ever be one “you.” Just as no thumbprint or no snowflake is exactly alike, there will never be someone just like you. Only you. Only me.

And because of that (and other factors), there will only be one journey like mine. I have a unique journey, and God wants to walk my journey with me. He cannot walk my journey with anyone else, because my journey is the only one like it. “I cannot walk this journey with anyone else,” God said to me yesterday. “This journey is just ours, and I want to walk it with you.”

This journey —  your journey —  we get to co-create together,” He continued. “You and Me. We create this together, because I have allowed you to co-create your journey with Me.” And as I reflected, I knew it was true — not only in the realm of life-choices and decisions, but even in a much more minute, existential way — the food I eat, the structure and composition of my body through exercise, etc.  (See, Quantum Physics (5/19/16 entry) & The Body is More (1/28/16 entry) for more).

As I looked at the path behind me, I could see many places where God was evident and others where He was more hidden, yet still present; I could also see the impact of many of my own decisions — both good and bad.  As I looked ahead to the path yet trodden, a sense of eagerness and anxiety arose in my stomach.

Looking ahead to the yet-created part of my journey, I knew that God was inviting me to co-create the journey in an even more intentional way.  In a deeper, richer, all-encompassing way.  Yes, in the macro — in the life-choices and decisions … but also in the micro — how I live and breathe and eat and move and grow.

God, in His glory, grants us the power to co-create ourselves and our journeys with Him — whether we know it or not.  Whether we choose to embrace it or not, He has given us the power to co-create our journeys, and we exercise that power every day.

Exercise it wisely and intentionally.

Exercise it in the macro and the micro.

Embrace your God-given creative power.

And do it with Him.

Every day.  Every moment.  Every breath.

Quatum Physics

“For in Him we live and move and have our being.”  Acts 17:28a (NIV)

I never studied quantum physics in school, but I am starting to… despite its intimidating aura.  And as I wade into this vast topic, I am learning that there are some basic principles that underlie all of quantum physics.  The first is this (in laymen’s terms):  everything in the universe has both a particle nature and a wave nature.  Said differently, everything in the universe has a static nature and a moving nature; everything has a form and an energy.  In this sense, God created everything as an oxymoron — everything has two truths about it that seem not to go together.  Isn’t God cool!?

As I reflect upon this, it immediately strikes me that we, too, were made according to this principle.  We have both a particle/static nature or form … and a wave/energy nature or form.  We have body and soul.  God made us that way.  Even quantum physics would agree.

And yet, the Western church at large generally ignores one part of how God made us.  In my experience, the church tells me that only my soul matters to God & that I should focus all I can on developing my soul.  I wonder what God thinks about our neglect (or abuse) of our particle nature?

Add to that the truth that God allows us to be co-creators with Him.  On the macro-level (as in the course of our life choices) — yes, we partner with Him.  But also on the micro-level (which is what quantum physics addresses), we partner with Him too.

Take, for a given, that God holds each of us & our atoms together as a whole (which I increasingly believe, because neither quantum physics nor any other  scientific approach can fully explain how I am held together, yet separate and apart from you or from this computer or anything else).  As God literally holds my very being together, He also allows me to partner with Him in my very existence.    Because every cell in my body is going through its own life-cycle (e.g., dying, reconstituting, generating or regenerating), whatever I ingest are the building blocks for my ongoing constitution.  God is partnering with me even in what He holds as my physical form.  What I eat and drink comprise my constitution; if and how I exercise affects my constitution, makeup, metabolism and potential.  The “me” that God is holding together on a moment by moment basis is greatly influenced by what I contribute.

Given that we very literally live and breathe and have our being in God … because God very literally holds us and our particles together … our daily participation in the co-creation of our own life is a sacred activity.  I believe God thinks so too.

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 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?

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 ….

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.”

Gifts

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give ….” Luke 11:13 (NIV)

I have been blessed with two amazing children. While I am trying to raise them so that they are not attached to worldly things, I do enjoy giving them gifts. Giving good gifts brings joy to me and to them.

However, when I give them gifts, I am often met with varying reactions.

  • Occasionally the gift is rejected … or worse, thrown across the room. My heart sinks.
  • Sometimes the gift is courteously received but then sits on the shelf collecting dust. My heart is saddened, but relieved that at least some level of respect was shown.
  • Sometimes the gift is loved … at first. Then as time goes on, the kids tire of the gift. I sigh, wondering what they might treasure.
  • Other times, however, the gift is really loved. I know when the gift is really loved, because the gift is cared for, treasured and loved no matter how long they have it.

God has given us an amazingly good gift in our bodies. Our bodies are so incredibly intricate and complex (see e.g., last week’s entry Fueling & Cleansing). I often wonder how God experiences our response to this amazing gift He has given us. Do you think He thinks we love it!? What do our actions toward it reveal about our true response?

If you have kids, I know you’ve experienced this: your kid wants a new (fill in the blank toy) because he trashed the last one. And you think: ” you’ve got to be kidding!? Why would I buy you a new one when you couldn’t take care of the old one!?”

Hmmmmm….

God gives good gifts. He has given you an awesome gift for you to care for, grow and steward. Show Him how grateful you are!

Fueling & Cleansing

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:14 (NIV)

The human body is an amazing creation, comprised of 11 different systems. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about two of them — the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system. These two systems work together to fuel and to cleanse our bodies. Oxygenated blood is pumped by the heart throughout the body, providing oxygen and other nutrients to the body’s tissues. The body uses these elements to produce energy. Simultaneously, the blood carries away waste from the body’s tissues — waste like carbon dioxide and metallic by-products. Deoxygenated blood returns to the lungs, whereby carbon dioxide is removed from the body and blood is reoxygenated.

Amazing , isn’t it!?

When we exercise, our blood and our breath are increasingly important to continue the fueling and the cleansing of our body and its tissues. The body needs more oxygen to meet increased energy demands, which it turn produces more waste to be carried away. The blood and the breath are critical to our life and to our performance.

Funny how the same is true in our spiritual lives as well. Even there, the blood cleanses — that is, of Christ carries away our impurities and sin — while the breath of the Spirit fuels us for good works. (The same Greek word pneuma is used in the Bible to mean both breath and spirit — see May 13, 2014 post, Breathe.)

So the next time you are out on a walk, think about the work of the blood and the breath … and thank God for providing both!

War

“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must … shoulder your cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

I met yesterday with a friend who lives with chronic pain. It’s a world I don’t live in, and one that I want to better understand. I get injured and sore and occasionally have odd aches and pains, but I don’t live with chronic pain.

Jesus encountered many people with chronic, debilitating conditions. He healed many of them. (Oh, to have the faith and the power to do that for my friend!). But whether He healed them or not, Jesus loved and understood and encouraged all of them. He saw them, heard them, empathized with them and encouraged them.

The truth is, we live in a fallen world. And the fallenness of that world and the sin that pervades it affects all of our lives. Some of us are affected mentally, others emotionally … and people like my friend are affected physically. And those “wounds” so-to-speak become part of the “cross” we each must carry. We all have different burdens to carry and consider as we run our race towards Jesus. (See Hebrews 12:1.) They are some of the defining characteristics that make each of our “races” unique and our own.

My friend tells me that living with chronic pain leaves her feeling “at war” with her body much of the time. And as she was describing this to me, I felt great compassion for her. Much of the time, she experiences her body as the enemy. Now, as I write this, I pray that the Spirit might turn my compassion for her into personal compassion for herself. (And, I am convicted that we all have areas of our lives for which we also need greater self-compassion.)

We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Even if we live with debilitating conditions, our bodies remain awesome creations of God. Our “races” just look different. Harder? Perhaps. Definitely different. And stewardship looks different too.

So I am praying for my friend today and for everyone who is living with chronic pain or other debilitating physical conditions. And while I pray for healing and relief, I also pray for encouragement and self-compassion … and for endurance to run the race set before them …

As we all run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

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.