Saturday, April 16, 2016

What About the Body?- The Physical Training of a Believer

In 2014 I wrote a devotion everyday for 365 of the toughest projects I have ever done. Each month had its own theme and April has always been a diet and exercise month for me. The Christian view of the body is unique among the world religions (especially a bodily resurrection).... this is part of that series. You can find all of my devotions here:

The Physical Training of a Believer- It is Worth the Fight!

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? [13] But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. [14] And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. [15] We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. [16] For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. [17] And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. [18] Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. [19] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
[20] But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
(1 Corinthians 15:12-26 ESV)

Corinthians 15 is my favorite chapter in all of the Bible. In fact, I have already skipped a ton of the good stuff to get to these ideas about life, death, and a bodily resurrection.
What does a resurrection mean to us who are learning to train physically in this present age? Why not just let your body decay to dust..because we are all getting a perfect body on the day of glory?
The power punch of this answer is delayed until vs. 58… but all of the lead up to it is of vital importance.
Let me rabbit trail a little bit and mention that this has been a criticism of Christianity in the past, but more recently from the new, bolder and colder atheists. The opponents of The Faith say that our preoccupation with the life after death causes us to be mundane about present problems in life. “Why should Christians care about the environment or the poor? They believe it is all going to be burned. What is their motivation to make things better?
That theory may make logical sense, but it hasn’t played out in history when you see the full story.
C.S. Lewis said it best,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.                                          

The question is why?
The answer is that we obey the commands from God… to be good stewards, to love neighbors, to serve, to take care of the temple, to live simple and godly lives, to say NO to sinful passions.
I know this sounds trite, but how many hospitals or orphanages were set up by God deniers? I don’t ever remember seeing,”Free-Thinkers Home for the Blind” and even if they did exist, they would be out numbered a million to 1!
Back to the main gist of today’s devotion…. a big key on living disciplined lives to the glory of God is to FIGHT the enemy- death. Christ fought death and won! We are motivated to fight it as well.
I hate death…I hate cancer… I hate Lou Gehrig’s disease… I hate violence… I hate suicide…. I hate even so called ‘natural death’.
I will welcome it when the time comes- but my plan is to take it head on and look forward to the very next moment… “absent from the body….present with the Lord”.
So to me, the physical training of a disciple is, in a sense, a battle royal of defiance against the curse of death.
And we agree with Paul.. “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Your philosophy of death impacts your philosophy of life.

[27] For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. [28] When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
[29] Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? [30] Why are we in danger every hour? [31] I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! [32] What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” [33] Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” [34] Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
(1 Corinthians 15:27-34 ESV)

Remember Pat Benatar? “Love is a battlefield”. Paul was a fighter. But he fought with a great attitude and sense of purpose.
What is your philosophy of death?

If you believe there is ‘no life after death’ then you basically believe that life has no real meaning.
A great proof of this is the famous poem by William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis”– from where I borrow the title of my internet title ‘jayopsis’.

Bryant wrote the first draft of Thanatopsis as a teenager, and reading it still gives me chills. It is a remarkable ‘view of death’ Thanatos- death and ‘Opsis’- eyesight or view.

I don’t have time to go through the whole poem.. but it basically says that nature soothes us when we are overcome by the darker thoughts of death and the world is one huge cemetery of all the souls who have walked before us. Kings and criminals, rich and poor, young and old, married and unmarried will live and all die the same death.
Bryant says, “And each on as before will chase his favorite phantom”. Notice his truth? IF all we do is die and decay and become food for a tree root- then life is just a ghost. It doesn’t matter if you were full of vice or virtue.

His final consolation? Don’t go to your death kicking and screaming… go by laying down on a luxurious bed and drift off to sweet dreams……

If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

But now for… the rest of the story.
Paul also knows that there is a resurrection and what you do in this life has utmost importance for the next!
[33] Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” [34] Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

So when we live- eating and drinking- no restraint- no regard of recognition of God.. we are actually proving that we do not really believe in life after death. Though God’s name is on our lips, and though we do the routines of religion.. our choices and lifestyle often are proof of the so-called ‘practical atheists’.
Yes- life is a struggle. It is hard living against the grain. Paul was pressed on every side!
We feel just as pressed….
You have been working hard..... has your regiment gotten stale? old? Are you ready to call it quits?

Hang on… there is a great reason to keep digging.. and the great culminating pump up speech comes in just a few days!
If you want to read “Thanatopsis” you can find it here:“Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant

[35] But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” [36] You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. [37] And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. [38] But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. [39] For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. [40] There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. [41] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
[42] So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. [43] It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. [44] It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. [45] Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. [46] But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. [47] The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. [48] As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. [49] Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
(1 Corinthians 15:35-49 ESV)

Part of our physical training is a discipline routine to help us in our fight of life and death.

Questions of death and especially how we die has always been on the forefront of my gospel awakening. I became a Christian after we experienced the loss of a high school classmate and I stood looking into the great chasm of the mysterious permanence and knew I was not prepared.
It is quite OK to hate death- to despise cancer- to curse the curse- the key question is…. How do you approach death? Is it secure? Can you die with dignity?
I was first asked these questions by my spiritual mentor, Mr Bill Stegall, on a beautiful golf course on a brilliant fall day. Mr Stegall used to take me out, beat me in golf (he was in his early 70’s and I was in my late 20’s). During those rounds he would ask me questions… about marriage, the Bible, leadership, stewardship..etc. I would answer and he would clarify… every now and then he would say one word ‘EXCELLENT’ and I would feel his supreme satisfaction, like I had hit a home run to win the game.
One that beautiful day, Mr Stegall talked about the glory of the leaves changing for the Fall. And he hit me with the deepest question:
” Jay, all my friends are dying…
these were men who built factories, developed businesses, led churches, strong men.. but now they just seem to wither like scattered leaves… so answer me this…
How do you die with dignity?”
I knew better than to give it a hasty or foolish response- “I’ll have to think on that one Mr Stegall” and we played on.
Great literature has always wrestled with these ideas:
ROMEO:Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,      (maw is stomach)Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,And, in despite, I’ll cram thee with more food! 

Do not go gentle into that good night,Old age should burn and rage at close of day;Rage, rage against the dying of the light.                       
 Dylan Thomas- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

BUT- it was this chapter, I Corinthians 15, that gave me the solid answer he needed to hear.
Death is a humiliation- we die in weakness and we are raised in glory.
We are sown in dishonor as a perishable seed… but we sprout new life and glory.
I was on the golf course a few weeks later and Mr Stegall had not forgotten my assignment.
Jay, have you been thinking about my question.. How do you die with dignity?”
“Yes Sir, I have… a lot.”
“Well, Mr Stegall, I have been reading I Corinthians 15 and I don’t think we die with dignity. Death is  sin’s  last knockout blow- if we live long enough, we end in shame. We are a man once and a baby twice. Frail..weak…dependent.”
“But Paul makes it clear- we are sown in dishonor but we are raised in glory. We go down in shame, we are raised in victory. Christ has done so for us!”
“Our job is to fight like heck until that last dying breath, which is the great glorious trumpet call of God as He calls us home. If we die in Christ, we do die with honor, no matter what it may look like.”
He looked with deep eyes and a low voice.. “EXCELLENT!”

A few years later I held his hands and prayed. The robust 6’5″ man of God had been withered by bone cancer, but he was ready for glory.
Sin causes ignominious ends- men get old and just slip away. Or someone goes untimely in the spring of life. No one escapes it. It happens to bodies, it happens to careers.
BUT…. there is hope. And that is why I never tire of telling the good news of Christ. Please reach out to Him while there is breath and a heart beat.
Longfellow said our heartbeats are muffled funeral marches to a grave. Do not go into that darkness, that mysterious realm of permanence without Jesus. The Lord of nail scarred hands- stretched out in love.
And if we have Jesus… we walk in the valley of the shadow of death with resurrection power- a power that gives us that ability to rage against the night…..
But the best news is still coming in this great chapter…….
[50] I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. [51] Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, [52] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. [53] For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. [54] When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
[55] “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”[56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. [57] But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
(1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV)

Paul endured tough times and fought good battles for a glorious purpose.
He staked all he had on a resurrection of the dead.
He met the resurrected Jesus on the road of rebellion.
And then he became a rebel for the gospel!
And we are training…. but it sometimes seems like our work is in vain.

How many times have I felt the urge to give it all up?
How many goals have I left lying in a heap of ruins.
Or how many improvements have I made to see it all slip away in a vapor?
Why try?

Sometimes I find myself agreeing with ‘Thanatopsis”, just lie down and get it over with… all I am doing is chasing a whisper… a dream… a fantasy.
And I agree with Paul’s logic… if there is no resurrection of the dead, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die!
But I see two powerful statements at the end of this glorious chapter…
“Victory through Jesus Christ!”- it is not my victory. It is His victory. He has already won the war. If it were up to me, we would be in deep trouble. But “thanks be to God”.. it is victory through Him.
And then my theme verse. This is the one that has kept me going. This is the one that keeps me getting up every time I either fall down or get slapped to the ground.
[58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Things I do for this life only are really things done in vain.
But nothing I do for the Lord is ever done in vain.
As I try to keep my goals today.. I always need to think of them as ‘labor in the Lord’.
If I do that… it all has value and it all has purpose.
Does that help you to ‘stand firm’, ‘steadfast’, ‘immovable’, ‘abounding in work’?
If you are a student, and your grades are slipping, think about dedicating your study as worship… a labor in the Lord… enjoy Him. My oldest daughter used to play praise music while she studied as a reminder that it was her mission for the Lord at that time in her life.
If you are an addict, and the urge is still there… even after months or years… get up and keep fighting.. as a love sacrifice to the One who rose from the dead to purchase your immortality.
If you are a parent, and tired of fighting the frustration of balancing love, discipline, and training… don’t quit… your labor in the Lord is NOT IN VAIN.
If your marriage is on the rocks, if the bills are mounting up, if you feel like your prayers are going unheard…. claim these promises from the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

It sure helps me here on this mediocre spring day! Easter season is still pressing in…..the battle if life and death is still pressing on..... how can we not get fired up!

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