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?

Shining 2

 

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

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

At least that has been true for me.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Thirst

“I lift my hands to you in prayer.  I thirst for You as parched land thirsts for rain.”  Psalm 143:6 (NLT)
Water is an amazing thing.  An adult human is made up of at least 60% water, and every living cell in the human body needs water to keep functioning.  Without water, a person can only survive a few days.

Have you ever been thirsty?  I mean really thirsty?  Perhaps you’ve gone on a major hike or attended a spin class without your water bottle?  Or maybe you have run a long race and, after passing up one water station, eagerly anticipated the next one?  Or maybe you’ve been dehydrated while sick, with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth (that feels more like a cotton field)?

Or maybe you’ve seen an animal or a person who has been deprived of water for such a long time that they need that water like it’s their last breath?

Sometimes we need God like that.

Actually, we need God like that all the time … but we don’t feel the need for Him that acutely all the time.  (Kind of like with water ….)  At least that’s how it is with me.

But the older I get and the longer I go on this journey, the more I learn that it is God I truly thirst for.  From time to time, I turn other things that appear to offer refreshment or replenishment.  But it’s a mirage.  And I get frustrated, hurt and disappointed.  And, every time, I am reminded that it is only God that can satisfy my thirst.

To find my refreshment from God Himself — that is my true heart’s desire.  To thirst for Him — the God of heaven and earth — as a parched land thirsts for rain.  And to thirst for Him all the time.

So I have placed Psalm 143:6 and Psalm 42:2 around some of the major water sources in my home.  Particularly by the fridge in my gym.  Because I want to be reminded, especially in those moments when I am hot and tired and recognize my thirst, that it is God for whom I really thirst.

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.

Navigating

“A wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother.”  Proverbs 10:1 (NLT)

 No one wants to be a fool … but sometimes we do foolish things.  At least I do.  Do something foolish once?  Let me learn from it.  Let it make me better.  Fortunately, I have a Savior that covers me and my foolish choices.  But to continue in a pattern of foolish choices?  Well, then, perhaps the shoe fits … and I should wear it.

But we never want to admit this, do we?  We always have excuses and justifications for the choices that we make.  And yet, objectively, we make foolish choices all the time.

Take, for example, choices I see (and sometimes make) in the fitness arena:  you don’t want to miss your workout, so you workout anyway even though you are sick or injured.  Or this one: you don’t have time to work out regularly, so you work out extra hard when you do make it to the gym.  Neither one of those choices is very wise, but sometimes we choose one “offense” to avoid another one.   And sometimes the other offense is actually worse than the first.

This happens in other areas of life too.  We forego the piece of cake, then end up eating a bag of chips later.  We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so we speak untruths.  We tend to our children’s needs and, in doing so, overlook our spouses’.  We strive to be true to someone else, so we end up lying to ourselves and living in untruth.

The ways of wisdom are hard to navigate sometimes.  It’s hard sometimes to determine better from best … or to decide which is the lesser of two evils … or to take the time and have the vulnerability to open up to a third possibility.  No one wants to be a fool, but finding the way of wisdom can be challenging sometimes.  Sometimes the best choice is different than it first appears.

I pray that I might always learn from my mistakes and foolish choices and sin.  But more than that, I pray that I might learn the ways of wisdom.  To honor God.  To be true to others and to myself.  To serve everyone I can in the proper order of service.  To always speak the truth in love.

And sometimes, to eat the dang piece of cake!

 

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).

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).

Renewal

“Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.”  Ephesians 4:23-24 (NLT)

I was in yoga the other day, and I noticed how much my self-talk has shifted since I first started doing yoga.  How much kinder and encouraging and understanding I was … instead of criticizing and judging myself so much.  The owner of the studio tells me she sees that all the time.  She says when people start yoga, they often can’t use the mirror to look themselves in the eye, but after a time they begin to reflect their own gaze.

There is a power to our thoughts and inner mental talk.

ABC News published an article earlier this month entitled 10 Rules Fit People Live By.  The essence of the article was that fit people focus on positive thinking — they have trained their minds and attitudes toward the positive — they have learned to control their thinking instead of letting their thinking control them.  (See http://abcnews.go.com/Health/10-rules-fit-people-live/story?id=31053726).  I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s interesting how the wisdom of the world sometimes echoes the wisdom of God, isn’t it?

God has told us all along that there is great power in our minds.  He tells us that in Ephesians, in Romans, and elsewhere.  He tells us that our minds and thoughts and attitudes need to be renewed … but instead of using worldly wisdom, God teaches that it’s His Spirit and Scripture that needs to renew us.  God’s Spirit and the “cleaning of God’s Word” are the optimal tools to renew our thoughts and attitudes.  (See Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:23-24, Ephesians 5:25-26).

So the next time you are working out, check your self-talk.  Arm yourself with a verse or two to allow God’s Spirit and Word to renew and refocus your mind. Consider praising Him because you ARE fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), or remember that you CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13), or claim the truth that you too are being made new (Revelation 21:5) and want to join in to the process.

And may God renew your mind … and your body and soul for His glory!

An Offering

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 (NIV)

If you are anything like me, there are days when you really look forward to your workout … then there are other days you’d much rather be elsewhere, whether it’s tackling the pile of work or the list of to-do’s. But regardless of your mood, I’d challenge you to offer your workout time as an act of worship. Say to God: “Lord, here I am to worship and to meet with You. Here I am, ready, open, available to hear from You … to meet with You … to bring myself, my thoughts, my needs, my desires … and lay them at Your feet … or to be quiet and hear and receive from You. As I do my part to care for this amazing gift of body that You made and designed just for me, I trust in You to be the one who cares for the whole of me — to strengthen, restore and heal me. I offer this time to You. Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.”

It has been my experience that every time I offer my workout time to God, He is faithful to meet me … and the time spent becomes more than physical workout time. It strengthens my body, mind and soul. The sweat releases impurities from more than just my physical body, and I am stretched in my entire being.

As this new year begins, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Offer your workouts to Him and for Him … and, regardless of your mood, He will meet with you. This is a spiritual act of worship.

(For related discussion, see also Posture of Prayer entry, 7/22/14; Exercise as Worship 2 entry, 5/9/14; and Exercise as Worship 1 entry, 4/11/14.)

Form First

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)

In exercise, form comes first. Whether you are an Olympic swimmer, a yoga guru or a weekend jogger, your form matters. It matters a lot. How you do your exercise — the motions and mechanics of your body movements — affects the results you receive (or fail to receive). Moreover, if your form is wrong, you can end up hurting yourself or someone else.

Take weight-lifting, for example. When you lift weights, form is paramount. Any decent trainer will tell you that. Correct form is more important than the amount of weight you lift, and correct form is more important than the number of repetitions done. Why? Because if your form is wrong, you not only fail to exercise the muscle group you desire to exercise, but you also run great risk of injuring yourself … or someone else.

And so it is with love. Love is paramount to followers of Jesus. Love comes first. If the things we do and the things we say are not rooted and grounded in love, then they can be harmful. If our practices — even seemingly good ones — are motivated by something other than love, after time we can end up hurting ourselves … or someone else. Just as we constantly check our form as we workout, we constantly need to check our motives and intentions. Are they based in love?

So the next time you are working out, pay attention to your form … and use it as an opportunity to consider the “form” of your heart.