Winsomely Weird Wednesdays

“Fitness”

November 13, 2019

Welcome & Dismiss Kids to Kids Club

Songs – #201 “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched” & #259 “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”

Testimonies – What’s a meet up you’ve had with another member or with a non-believer lately that has been encouraging?

Teaching

Recap & Intro

We’re talking about how we as Christians are supposed to be a peculiar people. We’ve been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13). So let’s not keep living like we did. Ephesians 5:7-11 – “Do not become partners with [the world]; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” We’ve been trying to expose the world’s way of thinking about Authority, Purpose, Speech, Relationships (btw, did you see the recent news that Emma Watson is ‘self-partnered’?), Conflict, Drugs, Alcohol, Bioethics, Entertainment, Work, Money, and Possessions. And show a better way, a more beautiful way – God’s way, motivated by the gospel.

Today we are looking at the topic of Fitness – physical fitness, exercise, working out, health, body image…

Obesity

Is obesity a sin? It’s actually hard to find verses in the Bible about this. I first thought of that story in Judges 3 about Eglon, the wicked king of Moab. It says he was “a very fat man.” And left-handed Ehud hid a sword on his right thigh and got a private meeting with him and thrust the sword into his belly. “And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out.” It’s a disgustingly intriguing story… but it actually doesn’t make a clear moral pronouncement against obesity.

The closest I could think of was Deuteronomy 31:20 where God predicts: “When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.” I think a link could be made between excessive consumption and spiritual lethargy.

But we have to also be careful about judging people who are overweight. It may not always be directly due to laziness and sin. Genetics may be involved. Poverty and food justice issues may be at play. I’ve heard of someone who was repeatedly sexually abused as a child and then ballooned to 400lbs as a defense mechanism to try to make himself unattractive in the hopes that that would make the abuse stop. So we never know all that is going on.

But I think we can agree that it is in general not a good thing to be overweight. It’s often connected with lack of self-control and food idolatry. It increases your risk of heart attacks, makes you feel yucky overall. And it’s just not winsome.

Several years ago there was a story in the news about a study showing that Baptists were by and large LARGE. I think it was in response to the Baptist insurance company no longer automatically covering Baptist pastors because they were overweight and high risk. And I remember hearing a Baptist leader here in Chicago say that he was contacted by a reporter for a comment and he said he would do it, but said no pictures please… because he was a bit portly himself. It’s not winsomely weird to be known as the pudgy people.

Obsession with Fitness

But I don’t think that’s our church’s issue. I don’t think we have an obesity problem in our body. Actually, we’ve got a lot of fairly fit people. And so I think we need to come at it from the other side and ask what might be ways that we have bought into the world’s perspective on fitness. Our center-city culture is one that seems to not have a problem with obesity but rather an obsession with fitness. How are we to be different?

So let’s think: what are some sinful ways the world approaches physical fitness?

It can be a form of self-salvation. At my gym there is this big plaque right in front of the treadmills that says:

What is a Workout?

· A workout is 25 percent perspiration and 75 percent determination. Stated another way, it is one part physical exertion and three parts self-discipline. Doing it is easy once you get started. [so far so good, I think we can agree that exercise can be a fruit of the Spirit of self-control or discipline]

· A workout makes you better today than you were yesterday. It strengthens the body, relaxes the mind, and toughens the spirit. When you work out regularly your problems diminish and your confidence grows. [okay, mostly good; working out has physical, mental, and emotional benefits; I heard a trusted pastor once say that a lot of times depression can be cured by breaking a sweat 3x a week; but the self-confidence thing starts to make me concerned]

· A workout is a personal triumph over laziness and procrastination. It is the badge of a winner – the mark of an organized, goal-oriented person who has charge of his or her destiny. [this is where it starts to sound a little like Joel Osteen and verge into godless self-help territory; we are simply not in charge of our destiny and when working out makes us have too high a view of our own works, this can get spiritually dangerous; it can get close to self-salvation]

· A workout is a wise use of time and an investment in excellence. It is a way of preparing for life’s challenges and proving to yourself that you have what it takes to do what is necessary. [again a mix of wisdom with this idea that we have deep within us the power to change ourselves; the next one makes this explicit:]

· A workout is a key that helps unlock the door of opportunity and success. Hidden within each of us is an extraordinary force. Physical and mental fitness are the triggers that can release it. [no, hidden within each of us is a sinful desire to be autonomous and self-determining; we are not good at the core and just need a trainer to help us release that; we are sinful and need a Savior; and here it is:]

· A workout is a form of rebirth. When you finish a good workout, you don’t simply feel better, you feel better about yourself.

There’s a great example of how fitness can take the place of faith in Christ. It becomes a surrogate for salvation and the Holy Spirit. My hell is low self-confidence and flabby abs. My heaven is people’s attention and a flat stomach. And my salvation is myself – effort, grit, determination.

What are some other potential pitfalls with an obsession with fitness??

It can come from a fear of death. What is driving so many people to stay healthy? They are slaves to the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Aging, slowing down, losing muscle tone… is terrifying. And instead of trusting Christ, we try to take matters into our own hands and stave off death by obsessing with health.

It can miss the blessings of weakness. A fixation on fitness often is coupled with a despising of weakness. Those who are slow, uncoordinated, handicapped, limited… are looked down on. We want to avoid at all costs losing our independence. And so we idolize youth and strength. The picture of beauty is an athletic, active person. Those who have deformities or diseases are ignored. The worst imaginable thing in the world is to be weak and frail. But the Bible talks a lot about weakness as the way of the Christian life. 2 Corinthians 12:10 – “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” An obsession with health can be an aversion to weakness. Are we a community that welcomes the weak or prizes the strong?

It can feed vanity. Humility, C.S. Lewis I think said, is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. The world’s obsession with fitness puts the focus on self – weighing self, measuring self, looking at self in the mirror, counting calories, fishing for compliments, wanting attention; me, Me, ME! But Christ wants us to stop thinking about ourselves and love others.

It can be our identity. Being in shape can be how we feel worth and value. We compare ourselves to others in order to feel good about ourselves. But the dark side of this is that when we put on weight after giving birth, or develop a middle-age ponch, or get pimples or wrinkles, we are insecure and devastated. We work out more, trying new supplements and diets, obsessing about appearances. Why? Because we’ve wrapped up our identity in our physical fitness.

Obsession with Christ

Instead, I think the most winsomely weird thing for the world would be to see a people who are obsessed with Christ and secure in him, who therefore aren’t too worried about what they look like, but just exude a sense of being comfortable in their own skin, because they know they are clothed with Christ’s righteousness, that God the Father sees them as glowing and gorgeous on account of grace. And so they can relax.

This gospel identity produces in us a winsomeness and beauty that isn’t based on the world’s definition of beauty. We don’t let the world tell us what to do to be pretty and attractive. We focus on becoming Christlike. I don’t think he cared at all about his body-mass-index. I picture him more like a baseball player from the 50s – just a normal guy. More importantly he was kind and patient and content and selfless and humble and full of compassion for the broken and weak and hurting. That is true beauty and strength.

This topic has a lot in common with the question of dress and modesty. We obviously don’t want our fashion to be an unnecessary offense to the gospel, but we don’t let the world tell us what is beautiful and try to fit in that way. Peter tells women, “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1Pe. 3:3-4). Peter might say something like, “Fashion is of some value for keeping warm and even displaying creativity, but godliness is really what’s beautiful.”

And that is what Paul says about fitness – “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Tim. 4:8; NIV). We should not be people obsessed with fitness, but with Christ, secure and resplendent in his robes of righteousness, and growing into them like clothes that are several sizes too big.

Value of Physical Training

So if Paul says that bodily training is of some value, in its proper place, what is that value?

· Anti-Gnosticism. Being physical – moving, bending, twisting, stretching, doing amazing things with our bodies… – reminds us of the importance of the body, of physical matter. God made matter. God the Son joined himself to a human body. He was raised bodily. He’s coming back in his body. He’s going to raise our bodies. The body matters. Gnosticism was a heresy that said only the spirit matters, but that’s not true. Using our bodies is good theology.

· Spiritual benefits. Similarly, since we are embodied souls, exercise and physical health (if we’re able) does help our spiritual life to be generally healthy. Working out releases stress, helps you sleep better, helps your mind focus, is a beneficial use of leisure (if your work doesn’t involve much physical activity).

· Spiritual metaphors. It’s full of spiritual metaphors. We are running a race (i.e. Heb. 12:1). We’re in a fight (i.e. 2Tim. 4:7). Paul loves sports illustrations. He said, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1Cor. 9:24-27). There are many ways that fitness can help you with spiritual growth instead of inhibit or distract you.

· Witness opportunities. It can be a great opportunity to witness. I think of Russell’s evangelistic rock climbing. And several years ago Vivian helped organize a Meet-Up in the UIC for runners.

· Service opportunities. Finally, we need to think about why we want physical health. Do we want it so that we can do what we want to do: travel the world and enjoy life? Or do we see health as a gift to use to serve others? I often think of the story of Jesus and Peter’s mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-31. Read… Her physical fitness was for serving other people. We should be stewarding our bodies for the sake of long-term service, and then when we can no longer, either through poor decisions or just the natural inevitability of aging (probably a combination of both), we are able to let others serve us without feeling useless and guilty. That’s winsomely weird.

What’s Next?

We’ll meet next week, then take the week of Thanksgiving off, then have one more and then the next Wednesday is the Christmas Party. What do you want to do next week? Gender, Sexuality, & Family or Politics…

Prayer – Get into groups based on how much you weigh… jk! What’s your favorite way to be active? (1) Rock Climbing (2) Walking (3) Playing a sport (i.e. basketball, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee) (4) Going to the gym (i.e. weightlifting, pilates, Zumba) Get into those groups to pray…

Pray for each other to have a deeper gut sense of God’s delight in them on account of Christ and freedom from the world’s definitions of beauty…

Pray for growth in discipline and endurance…

Ask God to save specific people you know who are running after things that won’t satisfy or last…