Me Before You

By David Bush

Me Before You pic

Ever since the trailer for Me Before You began showing months ago, my wife has been telling me “we’ve got to see this movie!” She didn’t need to twist my arm, as I routinely surrender my man card to view “chick flicks.” This story seemed witty, compelling, and different than most, so I was also looking forward to its release.

That was until I discovered its punch line. Nowhere in the several minutes of preview was there any indication that this film would end up giving a sympathetic portrayal of assisted suicide. Instead of a romantic story of a beautiful woman helping a broken man find his will to live, we see an affirmation of a man’s “noble” choice to kill himself rather than subjecting the woman who loves him (and others) to the burden of caring for him. His existence was simply another “choice” he was free to make; no different than the “choices” we make these days regarding our gender identity and whether or not we want to bear the children we conceive.

After all, it’s his body, his life. And because it’s his, he can do whatever he pleases with it. In this respect, the movie’s storyline is simply reflecting the prevailing cultural worldview.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Scripture presents a different viewpoint:

Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? … You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”

  • 1 Corinthians 6:15, 19-20

Our Fit For The King perspective will always uphold this principle of God’s ownership, which is why we take time to focus on the fact that we are stewards – not owners – of our physical capacity. Most in the Christian community would agree that God’s ownership of our bodies precludes acts of self-determination such as the one romanticized in this screenplay. But before we become self-righteous with indignation over the storyline, we would do well to consider the hypocrisy of condemning the choice of the disabled character in this movie while excusing our own battles over body ownership and the pursuit of lifestyles that achieve the same result: self-destruction. Chronic diseases brought on by lifestyle choices are rampant in the church, and while most accelerate our passing, they all limit our financial and physical availability to be engaged in God’s work.

 

In contrast to the self-imposed limitations so many people of faith place on their lives because of their poor food choices and a lack of exercise stands the life and ministry of John Leonard. A church-planting missionary to Brazil, John was gunned down by drug lords following a church service in a slum. He and his wife Bev’s ministry was hurting their drug trade. John was rendered a near quadriplegic, and his continuing work as a missionary has required the sacrifices and efforts of many. Has his (and his family’s) crucible been too costly? Should he have exercised ownership of his broken body and spared everyone so much inconvenience? My daughter in-law Jeanne (Leonard) Bush would say “no.” An act of self-determination like that would have robbed her of her father (and hero) at 12 years old, to say nothing of what those benefiting from his continuing ministry would have lost. It was John’s understanding that he was a vessel for God’s purposes that allowed him to move beyond self-pity and self-indulgence to selfless availability.

jeannne bush's dad

As a Worship Pastor for the past 13 years, I’ve occasionally witnessed complete abandonment of this sort to maximize life stewardship. More often, I’ve seen the self-imposed limitations of personal choice; be it financial, intellectual or, increasingly, physical.  As there are countless ways in our culture we can limit our availability for Kingdom work, I am challenged daily that my life and body needs to be surrendered to the true owner. For where bodily destruction is concerned, I’m not certain that God sees a difference between that which comes through a lethal IV drip or via a knife and a fork.

Either way, the message to our Creator is the same Me before you.

Find out more about Fit For The King here

Resolution…or Revolution

By David Bush

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What Black Friday is to our nation’s retailers, the month of January is to the growing number of fitness centers dotting our cities. Riding the wave of January resolutions to get fit, the profits made in the first few months of the year will carry many clubs through the balance of the year when memberships are dropped due to non-use. Anyone who uses their fitness club year-round knows the annual dance that is performed with the uninitiated who fill the treadmills and weight machines during peak hours during January and February. Inconvenienced by the unavailability of our favorite machines, we mutter to ourselves, “just hang in there for 6 weeks…then they’ll all be gone.” Unfortunately, resolutions to get fit made in the depths of winter rarely make it to the first thaw.

It’s not my intention to sound negative toward these aspirants who flock to the gym like swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano each year. I’m glad to see people taking some ownership of their health even if it means we’re cheek by jowl for a few weeks. But I’ll confess it’s hard not to become cynical of people and the fitness industry as year after year good intentions prove they are no match for a cultural vortex that is swallowing us and our resolutions with increasing regularity.

There have been more health clubs opened each year in the U.S. than the year before for over a decade now, with about 35,000 currently operating. A chart of this steady growth would indicate that we are becoming an increasingly healthy nation. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The “hockey stick” chart proffered by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IRHSA) could be co-opted by the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to illustrate the growth of Type II diabetes, heart disease, and liposuctions. It’s analogous to churches that dot every neighborhood of this country while our families and culture continue to rot. Being a member is what matters, not actually being active.

In preparation for a faith-based online fitness challenge that will debut February 1, I solicited the physiological testimonies of nearly 30 Christians. In the course of producing two health and fitness conferences, I’ve heard many more.  What barriers to a healthy lifestyle are people facing? What motivated them to change direction? How did they achieve consistency in good body stewardship? How did they buck a system of failed diets, resolutions, and workout programs? Coming from all walks of life and life stages, I found some common messages:

  1. Most experienced a physical shock that woke them up to their condition, not a spiritual one. The health scare that brought about a begrudging lifestyle change often became a spiritually-motivated pursuit once the narcotic of food was wrestled into submission. Their spiritual sensitivity increased as they began to consistently win the battle with their flesh.
  2. Their success involved developing new habits and routines; paying attention to what they were consuming and replacing unhealthy foods and behaviors with healthy foods and movement. For most it involved hard work and discipline. They were pursuing a new kind of lifestyle, not a quick fix.
  3. Most experienced results by incorporating significant exercise along with diet changes. What had previously been distasteful became an anticipated part of a new routine. Life got easier as body function improved.
  4. Most achieved success in the midst of community and accountability. The prayers and encouragement of others was like a wind at their backs as progress began to snowball.

Where are you at as we come to the end of January 2016? Is your resolution to better care for your body meeting with success, or are you resigned to throw in the towel by Valentine’s Day? If you’re to achieve success in transforming your physical state, your resolution will likely need to become a revolution in how you approach fitness. A revolution that incorporates God’s word and prayer for a task that’s bigger than most of us. A revolution of new habits and routines, including regular exercise of some kind. A revolution toward accountability and community instead of isolation and failure.

If daily Bible teaching on stewarding your body, daily coaching on movement and nutrition, daily attention to what you’re eating and drinking, and a sense of community and accountability would revolutionize your fitness approach this year, why not join me and many others in a unique, faith-based online fitness challenge starting February 1? Over twenty-eight days in February, thinking about your body might revolutionize so much you’ll still be using my favorite machine at the gym in December.

Check out the Fit For The King Transformation Challenge at www.fit4theking.net or link directly at bit.ly/FFTKchallenge

Health, Medical Costs, and the Vanishing Role of Personal Responsibility

By David Bush

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I live in Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses (our version of a primary). For many election cycles, it has fallen to Iowans to winnow the field of presidential candidates from both political parties. Because of the oversized strategic impact of the Iowa caucus results, political action committees and lobbying groups descend on our state en masse in early winter every four years. Whether advocating for expansion of access to health care for seniors, alternative energy investment, or early childhood education, those of us in the Hawkeye state are polled, surveyed, and marketed to until we visibly flinch every time the phone rings.

The Des Moines airport to downtown corridor, a well-travelled route for all candidates, is a gauntlet of billboard advertising championing one issue or another. One particular billboard caught my eye this morning, its message read: “86% of our health care expenses come from chronic diseases….ask our candidates what they’re going to do about it.”  I didn’t catch the sponsoring organization, so I don’t know where the demand is coming from, nor do I know how accurate their numbers are. What is clear in the message is that some people think a politician should have a lot of influence in changing our food and exercise choices and behavior.

I agree with the billboard’s sponsor that our health system can’t sustain these levels of “lifestyle diseases,” and that our country needs to have a serious conversation about our diets and sedentary ways. Suggesting that a top-down, government mandated “solution” is the answer, however, indicates some haven’t learned the hard lessons of history. Government involvement in dietary matters has brought us USDA guidelines and Food Pyramids that are equal parts science and agriculture lobbies, forays into school lunch menus have brought us landfills swelling with uneaten food, as well as a number of government studies that have later been reversed or debunked. All this, mind you, while we continue to get sicker.

At one level I feel sorry for a government that is being asked to provide solutions to a mushrooming number of social maladies. Our culture has become unhinged from foundational truths that for 200 years provided moral clarity. In the moral free-for-all currently taking place in our country, people are increasingly asking leaders to do something, often ignorant of the liberties that are sacrificed in the process. Now some people want them to do something about our laziness and lack of self-control.

Instead of forcing new laws on us, issuing more regulations, and exercising greater control over our lives, why not try a solution that’s rarely used but is far more effective: personal responsibility.

When an individual can ignore clear warnings about the perils and consequences of poor food choices and a sedentary lifestyle, only to be able to pass the majority of the costs on to their employer or taxpayers, you will get the results decried on the Des Moines billboard. Perhaps many think they’ve earned the right to their heart bypass, their insulin pump, their stent procedure and their power scooter because they pay an insurance deductible. But the fact is that the majority of the costs will be borne by the employer, both in health care premiums and lost productivity. For those who profess to live under biblical authority, I wonder if this spendthrift approach is what Jesus would do.

The assumption of the Bible is that we would have a vested interest in preserving and enhancing our own health:

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church…”

Ephesians 5:29

 No bureaucracy can possess our God-given self-interest to remain as healthy and productive as we can be.  Our government should be encouraging these natural inclinations with incentives to good health practices, not play to our darker natures by suggesting we can offload our responsibilities to others who may not have our best interests in mind.

I wonder what would happen to gym memberships if heart bypasses carried a 50% deductible, what would happen to obesity rates and marathon participation if hip and knee replacements were not covered, and how many all-you-can-eat buffets would close if the cost of diabetic supplies for Type II diabetes fell on the consumer?

Sin has exacted personal and community costs since Eden, and today’s social costs of parentless children, alcohol and tobacco abuse, gambling addictions, drug abuse, and sedentary overindulgence are staggering. In most of these areas, followers of Jesus are actively working to be a part of the solution. In at least one, they are a leading part of the problem.

The wisest man who ever lived shared his thoughts regarding sloth and gluttony:

The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly….put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite. Proverbs 23:2, 26:16 (NKJV)

If Solomon were alive to day, he might have a billboard of his own:

“Your lifestyle choices are killing you and bankrupting us…what are you going to do about it?”

 

David Bush is a Worship Pastor, songwriter, and author of Fit For The King: Your Health And God’s Purpose For Your Life.

www.fit4theking.net

www.davidbush.com

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How Do We Know When Enough is Enough?

By David Bush

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I caught a glimpse of scripture at my health club recently. Thanks to a bodybuilding college student who’s workout attire had received a skin-baring makeover from a pair of scissors, I couldn’t help but notice he’d tattooed “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” across his ribcage. Always on the lookout for a conversation starter, I inquired about the nature of the “all things” he was seeking to accomplish with Christ’s strength. His response left me wondering if his understanding of Jesus more closely resembled a cheerleader obsessed with our prevailing in sports competitions or the source of our strength in enduring hardships as we labor to build a Kingdom that is not our own.

This conversation brought to mind a spiritual principle my Pastor has shared regularly as our church leadership has sought to find a worthy direction and focus for our local church body. “Satan doesn’t always come at you with obviously destructive choices” he reminds us. “He’s also great at using positive opportunities and choices and pushing us into those activities to the point of obsession. Either way, we end up compromised.”

Convinced of the destructive nature of poor lifestyle choices and behaviors, some Christ followers make needed adjustments to their eating and exercise habits that produce positive changes in their energy, focus, confidence, and vitality.

For many, a domino effect often follows: observant friends and co-workers supply compliments and encouragement, new levels of fitness are achieved, previously foreboding moments in front of the mirror are embraced, and results-producing behaviors are reinforced.  Much of this has the potential to be very positive.

There comes a point, however, when physical transformation reaches a critical juncture. If we’re not careful, we can allow the maximizing of our availability to God to morph into the pursuit of an elusive cultural ideal or personal obsession.

A female Christian friend described her college fitness experience to me the other day. She was a leader in a college campus ministry at the time.

“I knew I needed to lose some weight, and since a couple of my friends were into running, I started running with them. I dropped ten excess pounds and the compliments started pouring in. I thought to myself ‘If ten pounds produced this kind of response, imagine what losing another 5 would do!’ Soon I was too weak to exercise, so I started obsessing over every mouthful I consumed. Before I knew it, something positive in my life had become a life-controlling addiction.”

An out-of-town workout last week in a “musclehead” gym provided another flavor of excess. It was hard not to stare at female body builders who no longer resembled the feminine gender. Men waddled through the weight room unable to move normally due to their muscle mass. Long ago they passed a point of no return and now are simply playing out the hand they’ve dealt themselves. The illicit and dangerous hormone cocktails necessary to achieve these results are already compromising their future health.

While an eating disorder or steroid abuse are obvious examples of unbalanced and excessive behavior, many Christians are able to rationalize their pursuits as they have become part of the cultural mainstream:

  • Followers of Jesus who view weekly corporate worship, fellowship and service and daily time in scripture as an option while their daily workout routine remains a non-negotiable.
  • Bucket List goals that suggest Jesus has a special “Well done” commendation afforded to triathletes and Ironmen.
  • Thousands of dollars spent annually on out-of-town weekend competitions that leave no margin for charitable giving.
  • Husbands, wives, and children who pay a high price for the “me time” that consumes an increasing number of our finite family hours.

A long-time ministry associate of mine will be paying a high price for his admittedly misplaced physiological passion. After receiving a life-prolonging organ transplant, he funneled his newfound energy on training for a first-ever triathlon just five weeks after the procedure. In the course of achieving this feat (for which he was cheered on by his many friends on social media), blisters on his feet became infected with aggressive bacteria that went untreated and eventually necessitated the partial amputation of one of his feet. This ministry leader and passionate servant of Christ will never walk normally again and is now largely wheelchair-bound.

Deciding to fight against a tide of destructive lifestyle habits to faithfully steward our body is a worshipful response. If we’re not spiritually vigilant, however, the very means of our liberation can become a snare that enslaves us again. “Eat, Train, Sleep, Repeat” is no more sanctified than “Eat, Work, Sleep, Repeat” or any other cultural hamster wheel we choose to jump on.

How do we know when enough is enough in our pursuit of a healthy lifestyle? This is the purview of the Holy Spirit, not a fitness writer. One thing is clear, however: that which our lives revolve around and our minds obsess over; that which consumes our resources and our energies – that is what we worship.

Worship Lessons From The Wilderness

By David Bush

Mt Sinai

The book of Exodus provides a familiar and exciting narrative that has spawned epic movies and  amusement park attractions. We see a beautiful story of redemption, the display of God’s awesome power, the transformation of a leader, and the unfathomable hardness of the human heart. From a worship perspective we also see, for the first time in scripture, an invitation extended to God’s people to enter into a deeper worship experience with Him than any previous generation had ever known.

Isolated snapshots of worship comprised of Abel’s righteous offering, Noah’s post-flood sacrifice, Abraham’s obedience on Mount Moriah, and Jacob’s oil-kissed altar at Bethel show us the faithful responses of men who had a limited understanding of God’s character, attributes, and values. In Exodus, we see God pulling back the veil to reveal His power, His character, His laws, and His ordinances for corporate worship. As God rolls this out, something else is also exposed: our tendency to worship with our eyes and our flesh for the purpose of self-gratification rather than in spirit and truth for God’s magnification.

Here is an outline of how God works in the life of the people of Israel to bring them to the threshold of authentic worship:

  • God reveals that He is more worthy of worship than anything or anyone else (Ex 7 – 12:30).
  • God redeems and delivers from bondage (Ex 12:31 – 14).
  • God takes slaves who owned nothing and blesses them with abundant material things (Ex 11:1-2, 12: 35-36).
  • God proves that He is capable of meeting their needs, even in dire circumstances (Ex 15:22-17:7).
  • God explains what it means to worship Him (Ex 19-20).
  • God presents an opportunity to worship Him by offering back to Him a portion of what He gave to the former slaves (Ex 25:1-9).
  • God institutes a plan that will allow for the possibility of intimacy with Him (Ex 25:10 – 31).
  • God gifts former slaves, whose previous work experience included making mud bricks, with the ability to fashion exquisite items to facilitate their worship of Him (Ex 31:1-11, 36:1-2).

It is at this juncture that the student body at God’s Academy of Worship becomes tragically conflicted. As the scope of the Tabernacle and its components are revealed, it becomes clear that the capital-intensive elements of the project (Ark of the Covenant, table for showbread, lampstands, etc.) would rarely, if ever, be seen by the average worshipper. Only the more pedestrian elements of the tabernacle (tent, gates, bronze altar and wash basin) would be accessible to them. The Tabernacle was being constructed to facilitate the worship of a Spirit, not a thing.

From a human perspective, this was nothing short of a Building Committee fiasco. Everyone knows that if you want people to open up their wallets, the grand vision needs to be about them and what they get out of it. But a lamb grooming area, engraved goatskin memorials, and a manna bar weren’t in the blueprints. The children of Israel would have to resign themselves to the reality that their worship was going to be for and about God rather than about them.

This approach to worship did not sit well with a number of the people. Before the contributions toward God’s plan could be received, they presented an alternate plan that included a very visible, familiar, and accessible object of worship accompanied by a self-gratifying orgy.

As this worship war played out, the people (in particular the Levites, or Worship Leaders) had to make some agonizing decisions between worshipping God His way and following the flesh-gratifying modes of worship they witnessed in Egypt (Ex 32: 25-29). For those in whose hearts God moved, worship became a blessed and joyous experience of contagious generosity and selflessness that radiated God’s presence and glory for generations (Ex 35:4-9, 36:3-7).

For others, the fruit of their self-centered worship was spiritual and physical death and a wilderness dotted with gold-flecked dung (Ex 32:20-28).

To His church, God has revealed many more details about how He is to be worshipped. Through the millennia, however, much has remained the same. God continues to reveal that Jesus is better and worthy of our worship. Through Jesus, He continues to release slaves from bondage and blesses them with life, sustenance, and material things. He still affords us the opportunity of intimacy with Him, and reminds us that the pathway of true worship is marked by offering back to Him gifts and service He provided for the purpose of magnifying His great name.

What God Does While He’s Wasting Your Time

By David Bush

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It was July of 1985, and I was spending my second summer in a row in Tokyo, Japan. My two summers of music ministry on Japanese college campuses and in public venues was a welcome change from how I’d spent most of my first two years in full-time music ministry with an international missions organization. As I ministered that summer, however, I knew this would be the last hoorah before leaving staff after the tour. After several attempts at grafting me into established bands, it was becoming clear there really wasn’t a good fit for me anywhere. This was a mystifying turn of events considering the intense courtship that had preceded my commitment.

Joining a full-time evangelistic music ministry after graduating college, the promise of immediate placement with a touring band had unexpectedly evaporated as soon as my support was raised. I had been recruited for music staff while finishing college because of the music I wrote, the concerts I’d performed and the faith I’d shared. After making a two-year commitment after graduation, I proceeded to spend most of those years waiting for other team members to raise their support, re-learning how to share my faith their way, and being reminded how to properly hold a microphone.

To say that I felt I was being “under-utilized” would be a gross understatement. What was the point of this? If they didn’t want to use me, why did they recruit me? How am I supposed to explain to my supporters month after month that I’m “training” to do something they all know I can do already?

Thankfully, it would soon be over. Just another month or so and I’d put this sorry episode behind me and chalk it up as a learning experience. The only spark I could see in the midst of this Japanese swan song was a perky brunette named Beth who’d joined the work in Tokyo that summer after graduating from the University of Iowa. It was a shame she was moving to Dallas, Texas for a new job while I was soon going to be an unemployed missionary in California…

 …………………………………………………………….

Several years ago, my son Andrew was asking questions similar to those I was pondering back in 1985. Having graduating from high school with many friends, he was attending Des Moines Area Community College alone while his friends took off for universities out of state. Their Facebook posts of collegiate exploits, semesters abroad, and new relationships were salt in his wounds as he made his daily commute from Des Moines to Ankeny. “Why do I have to be here God!? I’m treading water, have no social life, and for what – just to save some money? I’ll bet I’m the only one of my friends still living at home. This is depressing!”

No one was more relieved than him to take his last final, head out the lecture hall door and get on with his life at The Master’s College in Southern California. Maybe there he could start experiencing the life others had been living for the past year! Leaving the classroom, he stopped by the commons to celebrate the end of his collegiate purgatory with a snack and was introduced by a classmate to a willowy coed named Jeanne.

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  …………………………………………………………….

I’ve just had the privilege of joining friends and family to celebrate the wedding of my son Andrew and Jeanne Leonard. My wife Beth and I couldn’t be more pleased with the wife God has graciously provided for our son. The ceremony was a reminder to us of the gift He also gave us of each other for the past 30 years.

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For both Andrew and me, it was also a reminder that God is sovereign, His timing is perfect, and that He indeed “works all things together for good” – even when we don’t have the strength or faith to see it.

Are you frustrated with your life circumstances? Are you even angry with God that things aren’t working out according to your timetable and plan? In the midst of your trial, I ask you to consider the possibility that God may well be preparing you and setting the stage for something significant while he’s wasting your time.

Your Spring Health and fitness Do-Over

By David Bush

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A post titled “Spring Fitness Makeover” would probably sell better, but it’s just one of many title options we decided against in the name of honesty. The fact is, January’s Super Bowl Party, February’s Valentine’s weekend, and Easter’s post-church feast have typically waylaid the health and fitness goals you set the first week in January. Now, perhaps you’re wondering if there’s still time to take another run at a lifestyle do-over that will produce results by June.

Nothing that involves changing our diet or normal routine is easy or comes without a cost; but by following our 3 choices and 3 routines, you can see dramatic changes to your weight, your energy, and your overall health before summer.

Choice #1: Commit to getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

Most people are chronically fatigued because they don’t know when to hit the “stop” button at night. Whatever it is that keeps you going past 10:30PM, it’s robbing you of a host of energy-giving benefits that only REM sleep provides.

Choice #2: Don’t drink your calories.

Water is always a better choice, over high-calorie coffee and soda. If you’re desperate to spend money on drinks, there’s no end to expensive bottled water.

Choice #3: No snacking after 8PM.

For some, this will be the hardest habit to break, but it will pay the most dividends.

Routine #1: Park in the farthest spot and take the stairs.

If your employer doesn’t already require this, pretend they did. This routine could also save you from innocuous elevator banter, claustrophobia and staring at floor numbers.

Routine #2: Stand up when talking on the phone.

You will burn extra calories and look more important.

Routine #3: 10 minutes of exercise three times per day.

For those who have the typical mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks and lunch, take the opportunity to walk outside. If you miss the socialization that these breaks can provide, ask someone to join you.

For most people, the combination of these six relatively small choices and routines will make a dramatic impact on their level of health. While attaining a bikini-ready body will inspire some to make changes, for most followers of Jesus other appeals will need to be brought to the table. How about this:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2

It’s never too late to rethink our perspective of worship to include the place the Apostle Paul says is the most logical place to find it practiced: in our bodies. God’s grace and mercy always makes room for do-overs – in both the spiritual and physical challenges of our lives. May this spring find you worshipping well!