Friday, January 10, 2014

Towards a Theology of Fitness Part 1

Most of my life I would have scoffed at the idea that one should develop a theology of fitness. A theology of work, yes, a theology of marriage-absolutely, but fitness, nah. Seriously, the people who focus on that sort of thing are the granola eatin’ momma’s boys who take one statement by Paul, isogete it beyond recognition and then paint it on the wall of their Jesus gym. 1 Timothy 4:8 says “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” I think that taking this verse and trying to suggest that Paul is trying to get Timothy to begin “pumping iron" is abandoning the natural reading of the text, and more than just a little bit silly. But, I have seen “bodily exercise profits" on the walls of at least two YMCA’s. The same holds true for Paul’s athlete analogies; A simple reading (not a study mind you – just reading) will inform one to realize that Paul is using a commonly held cultural ideal to make a point about spiritual things. To take these analogous images and use them to teach fitness is, to me, an unconscionable mishandling of the Scripture. 

So, for all these reasons I merrily ate my fried bologna sandwich surrounded by my books and got fat nasty and disgusting, laughing at the Under Armour wearing fools out there in the cold (or the heat as the case may be.) But then, I was invited to go to Nepal to help a member of my church teach, train, and equip pastors. I was going to get to go to a foreign land and impact the Church of my King by teaching His servants how to preach expositional sermons. Now this is my sort of thing. The route we were to take to get to the “seminar"was described to me like this: “We will fly out of Kathmandu to city X and then take a bus to town Y, and in town Y we will get a taxi to take us ‘as far as it goes’, and then we will walk the rest of the way.” “How far do you think that might be?” I asked. With a chuckle my host said “That depends on where the Taxi will go no more”. I couldn't tell at this point whether my friend was messing with my mind, if I was having trouble with his broken English, or the situation was really this nebulous. After several minutes of wrangling with the language I was able to determine that I should be prepared to walk 20 kilometers with a pack full of all my stuff, to preach the gospel. As a former Marine I knew it was possible that I had gotten in up to my neck. As I leaned on the counter to catch my breath from walking to the fridge, I slowly ate a Swiss Cake Roll and thought about the changes that I was going to have to make in the next few months. 

 The preparation was simple, I bought a good heavy pack and filled it with commentaries and Greek word studies until it was about 50lbs and walked. The first day I almost got out of my office, and then I was able to make it to the front door and so on until I was walking about 5 miles a day with my pack. I am pretty sure that my neighbors thought I had finally lost my ever-loving mind as I plodded around the community with all 5 kids in tow and Wuest falling out of my pack. But, I was ready - I thought. As you have probably already surmised the terrain in western Nepal (what with the Himalayas and everything) was a good bit different than the piedmont of North Carolina, and the mental/spiritual exhaustion of the actual work I had traveled to perform made the walking up and down the mountains all the more difficult. I returned to the United States a different man and wouldn't trade those two weeks of crushing for anything. This is not the place to discuss all the things God taught me in Nepal, but I did have a bit of an epiphany about fitness. I heard John Piper say in a sermon one time something near this “If you do not possess a passport you are not in God’s will.” His point, I think, was this: If you are not prepared to answer the call of your king at a moment’s notice then you are presuming upon God not calling you to serve him outside of the country. When I heard this I patted my passport, said Amen, you tell ‘em, smiled and moved on. But, if this principle is correct, if I am to be ready to be scrambled in the service of my king immediately then fitness becomes an issue of the Gospel. 

Things began to crystallize in my mind. If everything God has given me is to be used by Him for the furtherance of the gospel – If my home,my marriage, my money is a gift given as  equipment to be used in the service of my King then is my body any different? 2 Timothy 4:1-2 says “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” If I study diligently to be obedient to this passage - am I assuming upon WHERE I am to preach the gospel. I confess as sin that yes I was. I was living my life as if God could not possibly send me to preach his gospel somewhere that required that I walk further than from the car to the pulpit. 

In Nepal, one morning I stood with two Nepalese Pastors as they looked across the mountains and said “there is a village on that mountain that has not heard the gospel”, and “we need to send someone over there with Jesus” and as this conversation continued I realized that because of my American mindset it had never crossed my mind that God might ask ME to walk to “that village" and preach the gospel, and that right then at that moment I COULD NOT do so because I was physically unable, and that made me ashamed of my sin. So, for me the first point in my theology of fitness is simply this. I must be ready at all times to respond to the call of my King to take the gospel wherever he sends me. This would include my spiritual walk in that I must be in constant communion with my savior so that I am ready. This would include my mental preparation in that I study and equip myself to preach and respond and hold Jesus up. And now I realize that this would include physical preparation in that I must be prepared and equipped to physically go should the call come.

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