Oh, I know, the Democratic National Convention is going on. And last campaign was all about “Yes We Can.” I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s the case.
I’m not going to weigh in, because it’s time for Fitness Friday.
And that means no politics, just pain (with eventual gain).
Speaking of weighing in, I punched 15 pounds of fat in the face over the last 5 weeks. Yay!
So what that means is I had way too much on me already, and so a slight diet change and a lot of plain old boring exercise got the job done. Now that the easy part of getting started is done, I imagine I will have to push it harder to make more progress.
My body rebels at the thought.
Good thing my mind is here to tell my body to shut its mouth. (Shut it, mouthbreather!)
I’ve mentioned before that I spent a couple years as an indoor cycling instructor. I had a friend who was a regular, and he told me the Spin class is awesome and challenging. I said something along the lines of “Psssh… you’re sitting in a room riding a bike to nowhere. Is that even a workout?”
I went to one class and got destroyed. But I fell in love. This is a workout, more than any other, where it’s all up to you. You’re only working out as hard as you make yourself work. You’ve got the resistence knob. No one (usually) comes and turns up your resistence for you. You’ve got to bring it all by your lonesome. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and you might as well have stayed home on the computer (in my case) or couch (if computer doesn’t work for you).One of the instructors that inspired me to pursue that certification had a favorite phrase. Every time he told us to spin that resistence knob to the point that our legs started screaming, he would growl out this sentence:
You can do this. Be strong. Your mind gives up long before your muscles give out.
This is nothing new. The concept of willpower is not a recent discovery to the world of sports.
But sometimes we need reminders.
It’s not always what you don’t yet know that defeats you. It’s what you know but don’t live out.
This is true in many areas of fitness. It matches up with everything I’ve heard from distance runners. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, because you know you can keep going. I know sprinters probably get tempted to quit when they’re getting ready for their next interval. I’m sure that lifters hit a moment just before muscle failure where it’s easy to think, “I’ve worked pretty hard. These last two reps probably don’t matter.” Or is that just me?
Apart from physical therapy, no one’s going to come move your muscles for you. No one’s going to run behind you and push you along. You might not have anyone around when you hit that wall and feel like giving up, so you won’t hear an encouraging shout or a friendly challenge. All you’ve got is the little voice in your head saying, “Your mind will give up long before your muscles. Be strong.”
This isn’t just an athletic concept. This applies to all of life.
When you are learning somehing new – piano lessons, perhaps, or economic theory, or whatever floats your boat – you have the choice. You can apply yourself and push hard. Or you can take the easy way out
Emotionally, when life is hard, you can follow the path of least resistence and sulk about how unfair it all is. Or you can rise above, and remember that your mind wants to give up before you really get to the point where you can’t go on.
Spiritually, you can be content with where you’ve been, with the comfortable, with whatever you’ve done before. Or you can pursue the something more that you know is out there waiting
Building any form of discipline will take work. Good news! You are up to the task. You are strong. Yes, you can.
Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.
About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)
The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.
My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.
Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”
Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”
David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.
Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.
Who am I to argue?
The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)
Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…
Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”
In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”
In the future as “through the ages” I will “sing of His love for me.”
I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.
Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)
And here’s the lyrics –
1 I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
2 He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own; He bore the burden to Calvary, And suffered and died alone.
3 When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see, ’Twill be my joy through the ages To sing of His love for me.
Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love
How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!
How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! (Psalm 133:1 MSG)
As a parent of four, I can sure relate. Our soon-to-be thirteen-year-old usually gets along with her eleven-year-old brother. They team up and torment our soon-to-be seven-year-old, who tags along after them constantly, just hoping to be included in whatever they’re doing. And he generally gets along great with our one-year-old, although he’s not really old enough to help take care of him. Helping out generally falls on the older two, who flip-flop between viewing their baby brother as the best plaything in the world…
Mommy, can we take Judah out and set up the kiddie pool and put his swim trunks on and let him play in the backyard?? Pleeeeease??
…to the most frustrating and despised chore ever.
You feed Judah. No, you! No, I’ll go clean up the dog droppings, so you have to take care of Judah.
There are some days that shatter nerves like glass, and then take the nerve stumps and run them over the glass repeatedly. (I take my wife’s word on this, as I miss most of those days by being at work dealing with the Air Force version of the same problems.)
But there are those days when everyone seems to get it… when the kids work together, or play together, or just plain get along nicely. Days when my daughter defers to the little brother she normally ignores, and chooses to play the game he loves. Days when my son offers to clean up a mess without being asked. Days when our ears are filled with the laughter and joy of children instead of the screams and cries of a war-zone.
Days when we’re not six separate people fighting it out in a house, but a family sharing our lives together in a home.
This morning, our worship team gathered together to sing. We got everything plugged in and set up, and then started a song. Suddenly no one could hear the keys, and none of the background vocals had working mics. This led to about an hour of scrambling and searching for the culprit. Our sound techs are awesome servants and were all over it. The rest of the team finally gave in to the delay and began practicing while the audio issues were being fixed.
We got through the first practice run of our set. Problem areas were addressed. Individual parts were discussed. All the timing and solos got worked out. Still no keys or background vocals.
Then keys started working through the house audio, and we practiced a couple of the songs a second time. Soon, the sound tech tested out mics for the background vocalists, and we were all in the system.
We finished a second run through a few songs, but this still seemed more technical preparation than anything else, until we got to the end of the last song we practiced. All the parts came together, and it seemed like we were able to get past the details to really worship Deity.
The song ended, but the music and the singing–more importantly, the worship–continued.
There are few things like that moment when a group of individuals playing or singing at the same time turns into something both less and more.
In an instant, ten separate people become one collective team. That’s the “less.”
The “more” is how those ten individual offerings of talent and heart do not simply add up, but build on each other and multiply.
When we as the lead worshippers on stage are able to get to that place, there’s a much better chance for the several hundred individuals in the sanctuary to likewise become both less and more.
I don’t know if secular bands experience something similar. I assume so. And I imagine there’s something powerful when they hit that sweet spot at a concert, and the audience really connects with the music too.
All I know is that it’s powerful to join together with a single focus and a single purpose.
If it’s been a while, I suggest you find that thing, that single worthy ideal deserving of your attention. Find that connection with like-minded individuals, and together become less so that you also become more.
And if you’re in Omaha, and that worthy thought around which you want to gather is the glory and goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ, well, I know a place for that.
I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.
But first, I want some caffeine and some water.
So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.
So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.
“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.
Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.
Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”
Lukewarm is sickening.
So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?
I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.
I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”
Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.
If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”
Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:
That question is, “Whose?”
Whose demands are to be met?
Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?
I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”
This is what Jesus Christ wishes.
I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.
He says plainly what He desires.
I WISH YOU WERE HOT.
Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.
The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”
God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.
But let’s be clear here.
That is not hot.
There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”
My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?
I watched her the next time, and found the problem.
“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”
Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.
Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”
What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.
There’s a problem with that.
It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.
(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)
When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.
We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.
We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”
Are we past-tense or present-tense?
If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.
If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.
If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?
If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.
You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?
“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”
That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.
Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.
Far beyond any concept of “enough.”
He doesn’t aim for that.
Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.
On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.
It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.
Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:
“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”
What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?
Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?
Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?
My coffee has been heating up while I type this.
I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.