Jesus loves me, even when I look like a dizzy octopus

On most mornings, I rise and shine (or rise and whine) and make my way to the living room to sweat it out to a workout video.  I like this kind of exercise: a full body workout that gets my heart pumping and evokes memories of my mother’s Richard Simmons videos.  I try not to repeat the same workout too often to work different muscle groups for different lengths of time and intensity but mostly to avoid boredom.  If I follow the same exercise day after day, the routine becomes just that: routine.  My brain switches to auto-pilot, my body goes through the motions with minimal effort, and I can lose track of which moves I’ve already done.  This is not good.

A new workout video is a good remedy to break up the routine, but on the first few days with the new video, well…I’m glad no one is watching me.  I try to follow the perky instructors as well as I can, but I’m afraid I look like a dizzy octopus with a dumbbell gripped in each tentacle.  But even though I might feel a little clumsy and look a little silly, I know the change is good for me.  My muscles feel strengthened in new ways, and I definitely feel more awake than after  “going through the motions” with an old workout.  After a few more times working out with the new video, I know the moves better and I can perform them with more confidence.

How I view my physical health can also be reflected in how I approach my spiritual health.  Am I content to follow a boring routine that fails to challenge me?  Attending church, praying throughout the day, and reading Scripture can all bring nourishment to a hungry soul.  But if the attendance, prayers, and readings feel obligatory, if they fail to stimulate the mind and touch the heart, what good are they?  They are no longer ways to deepen a relationship with Jesus Christ or to gain wisdom.  They are only characteristics of a lukewarm Christian which God detests (Revelation 3:16).  Baby Christians (that’s “Christianese” for a new believer) just crawling or toddling towards the doors of a church for the first time should be encouraged in all they do to learn more about God, no matter how seemingly small the steps.  But mature Christians should crave what the author of Hebrews referred to as “solid food”: training and teaching that leads to distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).  Mature Christians should be hiking up mountains while baby Christians are learning to tie their bootlaces.

Wonderfully, growing as a Christian is easy to do – all it takes is effort.  God smiles on all His children when they glorify Him, whether they teach a Sunday School class, bring a meal to a needy family, fix a stranger’s flat tire, mentor a child, or build an orphanage.  Jesus’ life was not defined by record-breaking attendance at the Temple or showy prayers.  He loved the unlovable (John 4:1-42), touched the untouchable (Matthew 8:1-4), and forgave the unforgivable (Luke 23:34).  While it might seem like a “sacrifice” of time and effort to get the whole family dressed in their best and arrive at church right at 9:00 every Sunday morning, or praying the same prayer before dinner every night, it is all meaningless to God if the bodies that go to church and pray before meals do not genuinely show God’s love at other times.  For God desires mercy and acknowledgement more than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).

So how will you challenge and strengthen yourself as you walk with God?  Personally, I look for ways to keep my Sunday School class fresh and fun so the kids want to come rather than feeling forced to come.  My husband and I are spearheading an initiative at our church focused on service that will honor God while helping people in our community.  And I’m following a one-year plan to read through the new Bible my husband gave me when we were married last year.  (“Ugh, I have to underline all my favorite verses again because I got a new Bible.” #FirstWorldChristianProblems)  I hope you do not think I’m bragging, reader, or suggesting you have to do these exact same things to grow.  These are just ways that fit well with my spiritual gifts, and how you choose to grow may look completely different than my ways.  What matters is that Christians honor God with their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths to the best of their abilities.  Just as an athlete trains to jump higher, run farther, swim faster, or dive deeper, we should aim to pray more fervently, work more cheerfully, give more generously, suffer more patiently, and live more faithfully.  We might look like dizzy octopuses when we start, but God will still be smiling.

Photo credit: https://lostandfounders.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/workout.png

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Why I Chose and Choose Christ.

compass11Being a former child, I can confidently say that during childhood, whatever happens within your home, among your family, and in your community, is regarded as “normal.”  It is what it is, and other families do likewise.  For me, normalcy included my older brother, my happily married parents, and, like many other front pew kids, church on Sundays and Wednesdays.  One fact was as taken as much for granted as the other…as was my Christian faith for a time.  During the earliest Sunday mornings of my life, I was surrounded by women modestly sporting Laura Ashley dresses and cross necklaces, as well as nursery wall murals of African animals marching two by two into Noah’s ark.  After graduating from nursery, I sat in a plastic chair and learned the classic Bible stories (Adam and Eve,  David and Goliath, Jonah and the Whale, Queen Esther, Jesus and His Miracles, etc.) while wielding crayons and safety scissors. I definitely did not toddle out of Children’s Church voicing interest in exploring Islam or Rastafarianism.  Christianity was it.

But at a certain age, the existence of deviations from normal dawned on me.  I begin to wonder, to question, to doubt, and to look at other lives different from mine.  I saw other children did not have just one brother – perhaps they had younger twin sisters, a much older stepbrother, or no siblings at all.  I realized some parents were divorced, remarried, or still married…but far from happily.  And I learned that some children – or whole families – did not go to church…not even on Easter!  

And then I learned that while some people did not go to church, some people did not believe in God, or they believed in a different “god.”  This was horrifying.  What would stop people from yearning for God, who “makes me lie down in green pastures, [and] leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)?  Why wouldn’t people run to Jesus, who told the oppressed, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)?  Why would people not desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit which bears “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)?

And why would I yearn, why would I run, why would I desire?  Because this front pew kid was blessed to learn early in life that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), but “…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5).  Humans could not make it through one generation without sinning; they could not even make it through two generations without murdering each other!  Sacrifices were demanded of God’s people to cover their sins until Jesus came as the final sacrifice.  He died for the Roman guards standing by the cross, for His followers crying in agony, for this front pew kid, for kids who don’t even know what a “pew” is.  

I remember when I first chose Christ.  I had (and still have) a rampant imagination, and I guess it saved me.  I was about five years old, sitting in the bathtub, watching water pour from the spout, when I suddenly thought, “What if the tub gets too full and I drown?”  (I must have recently learned about death by drowning.)  Afraid for my soul, I clasped my hands, bowed my head, and prayed a five-year-old version of the Sinner’s Prayer, basically, “Jesus, if I die, I want to be with you.  You are God and I love you.”  This simple and earnest prayer was all I needed, since receiving the blessing of salvation is simple: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  

Such a start – a confession to God inspired by impressions – is common among front pew kids.  We say a prayer at a young age that connects us with Christ, and then, as life gets more real, and decisions become more difficult than which flavor of ice cream to have for dessert, our connection to Christ can fray.  Unfortunately, earthly solutions to earthly problems yield earthly results.  Choosing to honor God can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular.  After all, Jesus said, “…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  A cross was not a flimsy balsa wood contraption.  It was heavy and rough, and liable to give splinters, scrapes and sore shoulders.  But Jesus also said, “…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).  Inconvenience, discomfort, and unpopularity, and splinters, scrapes, and sore shoulders are truly worth the shelter of the house built on the rock.  And that is why I shoulder my cross, why I continue to choose Christ.

I thank God that normalcy in my childhood included teachings about Him from infancy.  I thank God I realized I needed Him from an early age.  And I thank God that He still loves me when I mess up when I decide not to follow Him.  I thank Him for His arms that are always willing to embrace me when I choose to embrace Him, and for His arms that help hold up the cross I bear.

 

Photo credit: http://byfieldparish.org/?page_id=2