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August 15, 2018

FIT PROJECT – Week 11

The Good Fight of Faith

We pick and choose our battles. In middle school, I signed up to play football for the Bammel Patriots in Houston, Texas. I was totally thrilled for this opportunity. I can recall orientation day, moving through the equipment line in the gymnasium, being handed my helmet, shoulder pads, cleats, and jersey, burning with anticipation to make tackles, score touchdowns, and hear the crowds roar. What excited me most, though, wasn’t being part of the team. It was a fact that the players got all the glory, all the fame, and all the girls. I wondered what my next girlfriend would look like. Will she be the lead cheerleader or the valedictorian? For me, that was the start of a great life of legendary status and widespread approval. Then came the first day of practice. It was awful. We ran and ran, and then ran some more. Lifting weights was torture.

I had no idea how weak and out of shape I was as a sixth grader. I watched as other guys ran sprints much faster than I could and blasted through pushups and pullups. It took me days, sometimes weeks, to learn our drills, and the playbook was way beyond my comprehension. Almost all my teammates were in better condition and had no problem catching and throwing. I ended up making the B team, the squad of last picks who clearly had less talent than the A team.

The position I wanted was wide receiver, but the coaches made me a tight end. At the start of the season, on offense, I ran my routes, blocked for others, and fulfilled my assignments. But seriously, the quarterback never looked my way, and we were winless. One day, I became completely fed up with it. During one of our home games in the second quarter, I decided it was either now or never. I went into the huddle ready to do whatever it took. The clock was winding down, and we needed a score. Our top wide receiver jogged over from the sideline and joined us. He whispered to the quarterback what the play was, and the quarterback repeated it back to us. Once again, the play didn’t involve me getting the football.

“Break!”we shouted on our way to the line of scrimmage to get set. I remember thinking I was sick of this. How long were they going to ignore me for the other guy? I was supposed to run a route in the complete opposite direction of the kid they were throwing to, a five and out. But instead, when the ball was hiked, I ran straight up the middle of the field and made my way toward the other receiver. Next thing I knew, I was wide open in position to make a play. The quarterback scrambled out of the pocket and launched the ball in the air—and it headed in my direction.

This is it! I thought to myself. This is my moment!

The ball landed perfectly in my hands, and then I ran as fast as I could. The crowd roared. They cheered louder and louder the closer I got to scoring points for our team. I knew that the instant I crossed the end zone, all the long practices, stupid drills, and loud and obnoxious coaching would finally pay off. Closing in, I could see it. I could taste it. Everyone’s going to be so proud of me. Dudes are going to want to be like me.

It all ended about five yards too soon. One of the other team’s defenders caught up to me and tackled me from behind. As I descended to the mud and grass, the ball came loose and rolled into the hands of an opposing player—a turnover—and he ran it back for a 95-yard touchdown. I couldn’t believe it. I was crushed, maybe even ruined. It was probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. After that season, I was done with football.

Fighting the Wrong Fight

After football, I turned to other things to help me on my quest for acceptance. First, it was choir. I joined the choir to sing at competitions, hoping to gain recognition from someone in the music industry. Maybe I’d land a recording contract like New Kids on the Block did. Back then, they got all the girls. The goal, though, was to be in a band like Mötley Crüe, Poison, or Guns and Roses, who seemed to have all the fun and all the money. For years, I watched Michael Jackson take the world by storm and then sit on top of it.

That’s where I wanted to be, but I couldn’t afford singing lessons. I had zero rhythm and really didn’t possess any musical skills or even a very good voice. So I decided to do the next best thing: join a gang, of course. Now I could have high distinction and due respect through my tough, fearless persona on the wild side. As a minority, I bought into the belief that it was the white man keeping me from my place at the table. So I fought for it with anarchy, terrorizing “privileged” students, and raising hell in my classrooms. That mayhem spilled into my parents’ home, the neighborhoods I grew up in, the jobs I worked at, and my relationships. It took over my life.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I decided to put my knuckle-headedness to good use in the United States Marine Corps and fight for freedom. But what I found was that the military isn’t for young men without any direction or passion. It isn’t for those who lack integrity or conviction, or for wild teenagers who are shallow, arrogant, and empty inside. The only thing I ended up fighting for was me. Everything was about me and what I wanted, and I’d stop at nothing to make myself happy.

The problem was the way I pursued my definition of happiness. It only brought misery, bitterness, and hostility. I was putting my faith in myself to achieve a destiny I was incapable of achieving, just like I had done in middle school. I was still looking for meaning and acceptance in all the wrong places. I hadn’t learned a damn thing since junior high. I had only changed and redirected the channels through which I sought a jackpot of unending bliss. I was stuck in a futile pursuit, fighting the wrong fight, searching for meaning in what was meaningless. My faith should have been in my maker, my lord and savior. My life should have been reflecting the image of God, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and displaying the glory of Christ. I short-circuited those things by seeking purpose and significance in the shallowness of life.

Mixed Standards Versus Fixed Standards

As a follower of Jesus, I now strive to put Him first so I can demonstrate genuine faith on a daily basis—not just at church on Sundays and not just when it’s convenient. For a lot of us, as soon as we walk out the sanctuary doors, we take our spiritual glasses off and live the rest of the week with our fickle shades on. Every time we do that, we create a façade that prevents others from seeing the real us, our true selves. We create for ourselves masks—the work mask, the social mask, the spiritual mask, the family mask, and the me mask. Which one we wear depends on the people and the environment that surround us.

As a Christian man, here’s what that battle looked like in the past. When I was around church people, I was on my best behavior. But as soon as I got around my drinking buddies, I consumed questionable amounts of alcohol, I talked differently, I had different mannerisms, and I filled my stomach with food that made me sick. For other people, the battle might look like a struggle with road rage or a seemingly pure relationship tainted by pre-marital sex. It could even be an under-the-radar food lover ensnared by gluttony and an appetite for destruction. Our struggles reveal that it’s sometimes easy to forget the holy standard of life to which God has called us.

Abstain from every form of evil. —1 Thess. 5:22

That’s an actual verse in the Bible. We don’t see it on personalized coffee cups or in people’s homes as decorative apparel. Nor do we typically see it tattooed on anyone’s body or even on a bumper sticker. It’s because we live in this world as Christians with mixed standards based mostly on what we see rather than fixed standards based fully on what we believe. Sometimes we act out our faith accordingto how we feel, not according to what God’s word says. Then we look around and see others acting out their feelings and start believing that this is the norm. At first glance, it’s not that big of a deal. But mixed standards have caused a huge decline in the health of more than 160 million American bodies as we’ve become more and more of a gluttonous nation.

For years and years, I went to work to accomplish and achieve much, never once thinking about the compartmentalization of faith that is causing disparity in life. A lot of my superiors and colleagues weren’t concerned about my waistline, or theirs. But there were a few that did, and they humbly set the example for it. When appropriate, they were kindly involved in conversation about our bodies being God’s temple. Some leaders today have a meaningful, purposeful program that protects their employees from disorder and disease. For the ones who don’t, business is mostly about the pursuit of wealth and comfort.

Tragically, a lot of our bosses slip further out of good physical shape yet continue thriving on and being motivated by the company’s success. CEOs and board members, likewise fat and happy, flying around in private jets, eating and drinking whatever they please but still getting one day closer to retirement. All is good so long as sales are up, profits are increasing, production is rising, and the bills are getting paid. Health and fitness are easily placed on the back burner.

I would tend to take this mindset home at night. We live in a hardworking culture that has created a rat race all the way to the top. For me, at the end of a long stressful day, it was easy to become a bit weary, a little lazy, and the couch became my throne. After months and months of eating on the run, swinging by every fast-food drive-through, making very little time to exercise, it became inevitable that I gained weight and got out of shape. The only reason I could sleep at night was because I aced the self-assessment of my own standards. My spouse is good, my kids are good, the rent is paid, and there’s food on the table. I’d take a look around and think,We’re doing pretty good.

Meanwhile, my body, which was at the very bottom of my priority list, was suffering internally. I didn’t worry about it, though, because, again, it didn’t affect what I saw or what others saw. If it ever would become an issue, I could hide my mixed standards with things like material possessions and pass them off as “blessings.”If that didn’t work and I still craved the appearance of doing well physically, I knew I could flee to extremes with liposuction and vain plastic surgery to remove excess fat and saggy skin. I would have had to save up money, but in the interim, I could just purchase clothes designed to slim down my figure or starve myself to maintain the approval of others.

Settling for less than God’s fixed standard is the equivalent of disobedience. When we want the approval of others more than God’s approval, we belittle Him. We make Him inferior instead of exalting Him as king. Our lord and savior Jesus should be our source of confidence and strength. Our only hope to fight the good fight of faith is found in Him. Every day we enter into battles we don’t need to be fighting. The battles of heart disease, cancer, anorexia, depression, and laziness—we choose to suppress them with human vices rather than conquer them with godly virtues. That is not the Christian way.

We Walk by Faith

Some of us have taken a lukewarm approach to our faith as well as our fitness, slowly but surely getting back into it.We tell stories about how we used to attend church every Sunday and were so involved, and then something bad happened. Somebody hurt us or offended us or let us down, so we quit going. We weren’t getting the results we desired, so we left. And we take this same attitude into the gym. We come up with a plan, we set a goal, we pick a training program, and then we run, we lift, we push, and we pull. We stomach the veggies and the chicken breast, the water and the rice cakes. But then we hop on that scale and don’t see much of a difference, so we quit. We look in the mirror and can’t see the results we desired, so we give up.

Meanwhile, everyone else is eating pizza, burgers, and hot dogs, drinking beer, wine, and margaritas without gaining a single pound. It feels like they’re all doing better than we are, and everything is going right for them. They’re blessed physically and spiritually, they’re connecting with others, building friendships, and they don’t have a single complaint. It’s tough to watch, and it can lead us into fighting the wrong fight. But if we look with eyes of faith, we can stop focusing on the temporary and hone in on the timeless.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. —2 Cor. 5:7

Sadly, walking by sight is a huge part of the American culture. But the people of God are meant to act in accordance with Jesus’s culture, based on His authority and our acceptance of Him as lord and savior.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. —2 Cor. 5:10

Walking by sight gives us, mere human beings, authority over our lives. Walking by faith gives Jesus authority over our lives so God can bring out His best in us. His Holy Spirit can mature our minds, bodies, and souls to a level that goes way beyond what anyone or anything else can do. That’s because everything belongs to Jesus, on earth and in heaven, in this life and the next. God has made it so. There is no place where the rule of Christ does not reach.

[A]nd what is this immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,far aboveall rule and authority and power and dominion, andaboveevery name that is named, not only in this age but also inthe one to come. And he put all things under his feetand gave him as head over all thingsto the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. —Eph.1:19–23

When we are united in Christ through faith, there is nothing or no one that can stop us or hold us back. Jesus has attained victory over all by His dynamic vigor, in His impeccable ministry, and through His bodily sacrifice. We are now the beneficiaries of His holiness, His redemption, and His grace. It all belongs to us.

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours…all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. —1 Cor. 3:21–23

Jesus Equips Us for the Fight

You and I live under the authority and power of Jesus. We are members of the body of Christ, a community of believers who come together inand with that same authority and power. Because of Christ, we have authority and power over death and adversities, even the heaviest weaknesses and the deepest depressions. His almighty strength is enough to vanquish our addictions, our obesity, and our sloth. His power can protect us from anything that might deter our health or keep us from a fit lifestyle, better equipping us for all kinds of ministry.

So why do we think we need something more? If we have this power living inside of us through faith, why do we look elsewhere for motivation and inspiration? We search endlessly for the perfect diet plan, for the perfect workout program, the perfect personal trainer, and the perfect gym. Some of us spend thousands of dollars a year on expensive shoes, shirts, and shorts, headbands and headphones, fit bits and trendy athletic gadgets. We hope for change by having all these when Christ is the only one who can provide true transformation.

When we hope in all other things, we limit the power of God in us and the power in Jesus’s name through us. We transfer our faith, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to draw inspiration and power from another source, thinking it will provide higher motivation and strength. It’s easy to do, and we do it quite often, but there is no such source. No other name carries greater power for change than the name of Jesus.

I wonder how many people out there are going about health and fitness all alone, unaware of the strength that Jesus provides for hope and perseverance. Doesn’t it seem like everyone is kind of doing their own thing? Look how far I’ve come on my own. Look at what I did. I’m doing this for me. In almost all the social mediaposts you’ll see, the articles you’ll read, and the news stories you’ll hear about, the credit either goes to the person, a new dietary supplement, or a trendy fitness program.

It seems rare to come across an article or a post about the power of God changing someone’s health for the better. Very rarely will you hear a news story about the strength of Christ helping someone lose weight. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening; it just means no one is talking about it in that way. We keep our “religion”out of it because we think it’s right to separate our spiritual activity from our physical activity. We keep our faith to ourselves because we’d rather not go there. Is it because we’re afraid of what people might think? If so, it reveals a higher priority in our lives than the good news of Jesus and the great glory of God.

Neutrality Is Not the Fight

A lot of us struggle with thinking our faith is supposed to be kept hidden when we interface with others outside the walls of our churches and homes. So while we’re in the gym, we put our headphones on and become introverts, not really talking to anyone. Or we’ll be extroverts, talking to everyone about everything except God and our faith. I’m guilty of it. I used to talk about sports, work, and politics all the time. I went to great lengths to blend in by keeping my conversations trivial.

Instead of putting myself in a position to fight the good fight of faith, I was actually standing on the sidelines in fear of offending someone. Standing on neutral ground is not a fight. Neutrality represents the principle of tolerance and most often compromise. We cannot fear freely sharing the gospel or defending its principles on the basis of thinking it’s weirdor too spiritual.

The outside world is supposed to know that we stand with Christ, regardless of what they might think. They’re supposed to be able to spot us anywhere, like bright lights in a dark room. Faithful Christians will peacefully yet vibrantly take Jesus everywhere they go. They want as many others as possible to know Him and be thinking of Him, not just around Christmas and Easter, and not just at weddings and funerals. Not just at church, not just at Bible study, but everywhere, including their fitness centers and gyms. Why the gym? For two reasons. One is that your faith will be tested there just like in any other context. And two is that fitness centers are a huge platform for men and women to demonstrate Christ-like qualities.

Working out and getting in shape requires determination, dedication, discipline, and focus. There is no better source of those qualities than Jesus, the man who exercised them regularly throughout His ministry, even in the face of death. Staying in shape demands confidence, counterpoise, and communion. Jesus was willing to combat anything that would sabotage our efforts to remain pure and wholesome. As we take care of our bodies, we imitate Christ. He is passionate about taking care of our minds, our souls, and our bodies—spiritually and physically. His desire is for all of us to work together, constantly, to keep ourselves holy through the guidance and energy of the Holy Spirit.

And let steadfastness have its full effect,that you may be… complete, lacking in nothing. —James 1:4

God has fought the perfect fight for us, conducting the perfect evangelistic outreach to save our souls through the perfect fighter, His son Jesus Christ. God’s primary concern for us has always been our hearts. He knows them better than anyone else ever will, including ourselves. He pays attention to all the things we can be oblivious to in our own lives and the lives of all others.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. —Gen. 6:5

Only God has the remedy for this unhealthy, run-down condition.

This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds…I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more. —Heb. 10:16–17

Body and Strength for God’s Purpose

Every one of us who is a Christian is a sinner whose heart was once continually evil but now has been saved by God’s grace through faith. So, you see, every time you walk into a gym, a fitness center, a yoga studio, or a sports arena, you, your thoughts, your words, and your actions represent Christ. For non-believers who have yet to believe in God, their thoughts and their actions, are still stuck in that tragic cycle of fighting the wrong fight.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. —Ps. 14:1

Which means, no matter how hard they get after it, no matter how strong or in shape they are, no matter how friendly or charitable or gracious they may seem, it’s in danger of being all in vain.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. —Heb. 11:6

It should sadden us to miss opportunities to share the gospel with a fellow weightlifter or a friendly jogger on the treadmill next to us, or while holding the punching bag for a fellow boxer. How quickly we forget where we came from: a fragile condition of brokenness and a complete state of darkness. Every athlete we admire and every fit guru we respect are in total darkness if they don’t know God. Those hardworking people we enjoy seeing in the gym, if they’re not saved, they are in total darkness.

I understand relationships don’t happen overnight. We have to build friendships from the ground up, for sure. It takes time to earn people’s trust and respect. I get it. But if we’re not leading the blind to sight, we could be enabling them to go into further blindness. If we’re not using our health and fitness to have a positive influence on them, we might be in danger of having a negative influence on them. If we aren’t displaying fitness wrapped in the glory of Christ consistently, we might be fluctuating in the fight of faith with compromise and tolerance.

It may take months or years to develop a good rapport with people or find common interests. But we must remember that the gospel is an urgent message. When dealing with non-believers, we must remember that eternal life and eternal death are at stake. And because we believe everything happens for a reason, we can believe God puts non-believers in our midst, in our gyms and fitness centers, and in our lives everywhere for a reason. So while we’re at the gym, let’s work out, compete, and train, hoping to purposefully reveal our savior to others. Let’s exercise and care for our bodies in a way that shows our passion for Christ. Let’s use our physical training in a way that pours out sweat and energy, exemplifying our value in belonging to God, our creator.

 Jesus Gives Eternal Health

The foundation of our fight for fitness and the testimony of our health should be centered on the solid rock on which we stand—Jesus. Since all things have been centered on Him, it only makes sense that all things flow from Him. Since we are new creations in Him, every word spoken, every thought, every action should flow out for Him, in honor and in worship, to His praise and to His glory.Strength that lasts forever and endurance that goes the distance is built by faith rooted in Christ, with eternal health as our reward.

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. —1 Cor. 9:25

So take a stance against bad eating and the temptation to not train your body for godliness. Join the battle to help guard others’ souls and to participate in the supernatural restoring of hearts and minds in all the places frequented by those struggling. Health and wellness are not something you have to take on all by yourself. Nor should you keep physical fitness separate from spiritual fitness. I used to complete a spiritual checklist for God on Sundays and then toss it away the moment I set foot in the gym, but not anymore. Now, my life in its entirety is all about Him. I want to carry Him wherever I go physically and spiritually so He can carry me through whatever I encounter physically and spiritually.

Be strong, and let us use our strength for our people and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to Him. —1 Chron. 19:13

Our faith belongs in Him for everything. He is the only one who will never fail us, never leave us, and never forsake us. We can devote our bodies to God, free from the fear of disappointment, and be faithful because He remains faithful. He alone is the driving force that will see us through in the good fight.

Every diet we choose, let it be surrounded prayerfully in the Holy Spirit in response to God’s sovereignty, seeking to emulate the example of Jesus’s body. Every weight training program or intense cardio session we take on in the gym, let it reflect the anatomy of God’s grace. Let all our strength training, all our grunts and groans, replicate the blood, sweat, and tears of Christ. Let every set and every repetition be empowered by the Holy Spirit who will help us see it through. Let the whole world know that the fight for fitness involves faith because because it affects mind, body and soul.

Love you guys,

Everett

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