Tag Archives: worship

A Strong Man Enters–Psalm 5:7

But I, by your great love,
    can come into your house;
in reverence I bow down
    toward your holy temple.–Psalm 5:7

Although I am primarily a runner–and recently a bike rider–I do now and again lift weights. Years ago, when I was in high school, I really got into lifting weights. During my junior year, I quit the wrestling team when faced with the choice between suffering through Thanksgiving break or making weight. I opted for turkey. After that, I started going to the gym each day rather than to wrestling practice, and through months of work, I saw some very good outcomes.

Today, when I’m on the machines at Planet Fitness, I see the weight lifters. They’re in the squat racks performing unusual exercises. They carry clipboards to record their routines. My limited weight lifting is simple enough that I can keep track of my routine in my head.

Weight lifting can be addictive. You get that rush of blood to your muscles without making your lungs and heart feel as if they’re going to explode. Your muscles swell up after the workout so you feel like Arnold, plus, over time, they get bigger. You get stronger. Strong is good.

Strength is good, whether it be how much you can bench press, how fast you can move a bicycle, or how far you can hit a golf ball. It’s good to be strong in front of the buffet or when tempted to squander your money. But as useful as strength is on this earth, it does absolutely zero good when we come before God.

You think you’re strong? God can out lift you, out run you, and out jump you. His self control, His wealth, and His skill can make yours seem puny. Come before Him saying, “I am strong,” and He may very well show you that you are not strong.

In this world, I possess some strength, but only when I come before my God in reverence, only when I bow, can I enter His house. And frankly, if I cannot enter that house, then all the strength in all the other places of this world isn’t worth a five-pound dumbbell.

Yogini or Yogurtini?

YogaI am conflicted when it comes to the practice of Yoga. My decidedly secular college fills up as many Yoga classes as they offer. While I have never attended one of those classes, I feel confident that there are no mantras chanted, no chakra magic invoked, and no references to Lord Shiva or any other Hindu deity.

Yoga is, stripped of the Hindu mumbo-jumbo–that’s a Sanskrit term, I’m pretty sure, synonymous with “folderah”–can provide good exercise and stretching. I do a couple of Yoga poses in my lower body strength training but without calling them Yoga. The “locust” asana or pose came to me as a “Superman.” You lie, face-down, on the floor and then lift up your head and arms at the same time that you lift your legs, leaving only your mid-section on the mat. The plank pose, basically holding yourself in an “up” pushup position, is not one of the traditional positions from what I can discover, but it is a staple of Yoga classes today. Hold either of these positions for 15 seconds or so and you’ll probably be feeling less spiritual and more shaky than before.

My mixed feelings come from the very religious, very Hindu roots of the practice. The traditional 84 Yoga asanas were supposedly created by the Hindu god Shiva. One traditional sequence, the surya namaskara, is known in English as the Sun Salutation. Essentially it is a form of worship toward the Hindu sun god. The whole purpose of Yoga practice, at least originally, is to allow the yogi (male) or yogini (female) to be able to meditate for long periods of time. This is a very religious practice in its origins.

While I can use my two “poses” and not feel any risk of being drawn into Hinduism, I’m reluctant to fully explore this sort of exercise. On the other hand, I wonder at that original purpose.

How many Christians fail to worship to their ability, fail to pray deeply and effectively, and fail to have the focus necessary to really embrace a long sermon because their body is saying, “No.” I once heard good advice for teachers: “The brain can only absorb what the seat can endure.”

Shouldn’t Christians tune their bodies just as carefully as Hindus tune theirs? Shouldn’t we do our best to ensure that achy joints or finicky backs do not  limit our ability to worship the one true God? When we have a living object for our worship, shouldn’t we do our best to make our bodies capable of enduring and enjoying that worship?

Running Lazy

I’m scheduled to run 8 to 10 miles today, letting how I feel about my legs and lungs determine the distance. The Rock the Parkway half marathon is a week away, and I’m tapering toward the start. My goal for the next seven days is simple: don’t get hurt. On the eighth day, the goal is to finish the race in less than two hours.

sedentary

As good as I’m feeling about my preparations for this race, as confident as I am that I can meet the goal I’ve set for myself, I’m also somewhat concerned about my attitude toward the activity. Is it possible that I’m running in laziness? I know that sounds bizarre, but I’ve been thinking along those lines recently, and another writing by Paul Maxwell has really brought the idea to the fore.

Maxwell argues that laziness is not exactly what it seems to be but is largely a spiritual condition. In his mind, the workaholic, the guy who won’t roll out of bed before noon, and the obsessed runner might all be suffering from a very similar affliction, although only one of them seems to be lazy.

You have your little idol, right? Maybe it is called Pinterest or Tumblr; perhaps it is golf or tennis. It could be reading or music, cooking or TV, antiquing or housework. Anything that we do without a clear vision of it within the Kingdom of God, anything that puts us in control, shares qualities with my son who is not out of bed at 11:02am on a Saturday. Maxwell shares a list of these things and then comments.

They are our easy-bake mud puddle gods — simply sit, add water, and worship. What gets you out of bed (or off the couch)? To withdraw, to procrastinate, to stumble through a blurry haze of work days just waiting for the next opportunity to get back on the couch, back to the workshop, back on Netflix, or back to the gym, that isn’t life — and none of us is honestly or passionately arguing that it really is.

And so my question for myself is running. Do I run to put myself in charge? Is the pleasure that I derive from this activity a substitute for the joy I should be experiencing in God? It is, of course, possible to have both, but it’s also possible to foul up that joy with any of the lesser pleasures.

I can experience God in eating or I can eat to cover up the absence of God. I can actually indulge in worship activities that cover up the lack of true worship in my life. And, to the point at hand, I can run away from the lack of God in my life or run in ways that celebrate His presence.

This much I know to be true. What’s not so obvious is how to do the latter.

Locating the Body of Christ

Sadao Watanabe woodprint. "The Lord's Supper"
Sadao Watanabe woodprint. “The Lord’s Supper”

In  a few weeks, on April 2 this year, my Catholic friends will observe Maundy Thursday, a holiday that commemorates, among other things, the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Perhaps because of the crowded calendar around Easter, that church established another feast day, Corpus Christ, dedicated strictly to the idea of the Real Presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the communion elements, which will be observed on June 4.

I bring this up not to contend with Catholic theology, but to suggest an alternate reading of the gospel texts on which the ideas of Real Presence and Transubstantiation are based. In Luke 22:19, we read,

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

The English teacher in me always casts a suspicious eye on pronouns. Several of these slippery words are lurking in that brief verse. Context demands that “he” and “me” both refer to Jesus. The two appearances of “it” can, I believe, only reasonably refer to the bread (although I suppose you could make an argument for “it” being the thanks Jesus gave. If that’s your reading, I’d like invite you over to break some thanks.)

So far, so good, but what about “this,” a pronoun that appears twice in this verse. What does “this” mean in verse 19? Traditionally, “this” refers to the bread that Jesus has just taken and broken. That seems reasonable, but is it the only reading possible? Before you answer, let’s agree that both occasions of “this” in the same sentence surely refer to the same thing. Therefore, we could read Jesus’ words to say, “This [bread] is my body; do this [bread] in remembrance of me.” I’m not exactly sure how you “do” bread, but this reading makes sense.

On the other hand, the nearest noun (actually a pronoun) to that troublesome “this” is “them,” a pronoun that refers to Jesus’ dinner companions. What if the word “this” refers to the gathered believers. Then we could read Jesus’ words as “This [gathering of believers] is my body; do this [gathering of believers] in remembrance of me.” That seems to make sense. And when we consider that Paul repeatedly speaks of the church as the Body of Christ, then it makes even more sense.

If you’re still with me, then you might be just as much a grammar nerd as I am, but really the minutiae of language is not my point. Instead, I would like to argue that the Real Presence that exists at the Lords Supper table is not to be found in bread and wine. Instead, the Body of Christ is to be found in the gathered and worshiping believers.

“Do this,” Jesus told them. Do what? I would suggest–and of course I’m saying this with the bias of this blog–that he instructed them and us to gather, to worship, to eat, to drink, and ultimately to live, as Jesus did, in the Spirit even while remaining in the flesh.

10,000 Reasons Not to Be Disappointed

Last Sunday morning–a week late due to a winter-weather delay–the West Bottoms of Kansas City saw the arrival of about 750 runners for the KC version of the Great Plains 10K. I signed up for that race in order to give myself an intermediate goal before the April 11 Rock the Parkway half marathon.

Pointed the wrong way at the starting line of the 2015 Great Plains 10K.
Pointed the wrong way at the starting line of the 2015 Great Plains 10K.

The goal was simple: finish the 10K course in less than 54 minutes. A time of 53:39 would have been great. That’s a pace of about 8:45 per mile. I knew I could do it. In reality, I had done it with a fair margin to spare the previous week on a treadmill. Sure, a treadmill is not a city street, but I believed that the thrill of the race would make up for whatever advantage the machine gave.

After three miles, I was fairly certain that I would not make my goal, but I pressed on. When I passed the five-mile marker, I had something like 8:30 to complete the last 1.2 miles. It wasn’t going to happen. I wound up crossing the finish line at 55:59, two minutes late to my party.

It bummed me out, I must confess. I went to church and sat through service, but my heart was out on the streets of Kansas City, trying to understand why I had failed.  Unlike my failed attempt to achieve a personal best in the 5K, I had not gone out too fast. I covered the first mile in 8:30, which was just about perfect. On Monday, I went out for an easy recovery run. The first mile of that route–that easy paced route–I finished in 8:15. In fact, on that Monday, I did a mixed run and walk of five miles at a pace just slightly slower than my Sunday morning disappointment.

As I turned this riddle over in my mind, blaming bad fueling, insufficient or excessive sleep, a headwind, or–every runner’s favorite–my shoes, I realized the folly of the entire affair. In fact, as I thought about that aggravating 10K, it occurred to me that I had 10,000 reasons not to be aggravated.

Do you have that Matt Redman song playing in your head yet? “Bless the Lord, O my soul. O my soul, worship His holy name.” That’s the song that played for me as I started to put these thoughts together. The first verse of that song seems especially pertinent.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes

Do I believe those things?  If I can allow a poor run to dampen my spirit, then I don’t believe I’m actually paying much attention to God’s holy name. “Whatever may pass,” the song says. That means that no matter how much I wanted to achieve that goal, I still should have been singing when the evening came.

Goals are worthwhile. Working toward a goal is a solid of making the most of our opportunities on this earth, but allowing a goal to separate me from the Creator of the Universe is just as surely an act of idolatry as is bowing down before a statue.