I hit the gym at least twice a week. It’s a great stress reliever, burns calories, gives me time to think, to hang out with other guys, and, most importantly, to feed my idol of vanity.
About 2-3 years ago I started having some minor lower back pain. I think it was because I was neglecting my core. Sooooo… when I moved to Durham and got a gym membership, I decided to start working my core more often. And I did.
But my back didn’t really improve. In fact, sometimes I think I only made matters worse. So there I was. On my own. Trying to fix my back issues.
Then the ever-wise, ever resourceful gorgeous blond woman I’ve been living with (along with her kids) told me (repeatedly) to start going to one of the gym’s core classes. She obviously didn’t know that such classes were “girly,” so I enlightened her. She just rolled her eyes and walked away. But deep down we all know those classes are for pathetic people who need to be told how to work out, because they can’t help themselves.
But the low grade back pain persisted.
And pain–as well as feelings of getting old prematurely , as well as pride about wanting to be physically fit–these are all powerful motivators (at least for me). So…
My first time in the class I employed great stealth and subterfuge in my entrance, hoping in vain that my 36-year-old 6’2″, 190 lb, blond-haired, highly uncoordinated body would just blend in a sea of highly-motivated, smiling (primarily 20-something) women (and 1-2 guys who sweat profusely).
As the class progressed I realized I was actually paying someone to bark orders at me. I was a fairly solid high school athlete (my basketball team lost the state championship, or was it was it the semi-finals). I was 9-years active duty in the U.S. military. I had “maxed” the physical fitness test at the Air Force Academy, being immortalized as part of the “500 club.” And now a very upbeat (and irritatingly inexhaustible) woman upfront was now telling me how to live my (physical/athletic) life.
In two weeks I was completely hooked.
I still experience on rare occasion some extremely minor back pain, but for the most part the class has alleviated the pain. And I feel so much stronger. (What a concept–actually going to the gym and working the muscles that you actually use during the rest of your day. What about the beach muscles and the vanity?, you ask. Yes, I still work those before the core class. The above-mentioned blond woman also advised me to continue that as well, but I don’t think it was out of concern for my health.)
So, I go to the gym to be told what to do. Someone is authoritatively barking imperatives at me (with a smile). That someone even has the nerve to warn me, if I don’t do it her way and tells of the dangers of not doing it her way. She even seems more concerned about my health than how others might see me or how I might see myself: she prioritizes my health over my reputation.
And I love it.
If you can’t see the parallels here with Jesus, it’s because the Jesus you know isn’t the Jesus of the New Testament. The earliest followers of Jesus had a three word confession: Jesus is Lord. They believed–and celebrated–that Jesus had become the true Lord of the cosmos. And they loved his authority; they wanted him to tell them how to live (all of) their lives. Why? Because the more he did so, the more they flourished. Were they “pathetic people” who had failed to get their own lives in shape, who couldn’t help themselves, and who didn’t know what was best for them? Absolutely.
They didn’t want options. They didn’t want independence or autonomy. They didn’t want to do it their way. They wanted life. They wanted wisdom to navigate a broken (“cursed”) world and freedom–both now and in the age to come–from permanent effects of this world. And they found it in Jesus’ expertise–i.e., in his authority, an authority given to him by the Creator, whom he called his own Father.
According to Jesus, through him the Father was now taking (or re-taking) his creation. That is, he was re-asserting His authority and power in the world in a new and decisive way. The phrase that Jesus used for describing His Father’s authority and power might be known to you: “the kingdom of God” (or “the kingdom of heaven”). The establishment and expansion of this kingdom (or “reign”) was–to Jesus and to his followers–the very heart of the gospel (or, good news).
From this a very simple principle emerges. We can state it using the “gym” metaphor and then on its own:
The more I attend the core class and submit to the expertise of the leader, the more I will experience/enjoy (physiological) life.
The more I submit myself to the authority of Jesus, the more I will experience/enjoy true life, life as the Creator intended it. (Conversely, every time I refuse to submit, I’m choosing to deprive myself of life and blessing.)
This is the gospel. It is hope. It is beauty. It is life. It is wisdom. It is the good news of God’s kingdom coming through Jesus.