OUR BODIES, OUR STORIES

 

By David Bush with Joe Tewell

“I don’t know if I can do this!” Marci confessed as she retreated to a bench. We were just halfway through her second session warm-up and things were already unraveling. I didn’t want a scene in the crowded fitness center, but it was against my nature to let someone fold so quickly. I formulated some phrases that I’d found were effective over the years in prodding my clients to give more than they thought they were capable of giving. After all, she’d hardly broken a sweat, and I knew I wasn’t doing her any favors by accommodating her preconceived barriers. If I caved every time an unfit client got winded I’d be out of a job.

Which verbal switch should I use on Marci? “Go ahead and quit then…I’m sure quitting will solve your problems” had proven effective in the past. I was ready to unleash this pearl of wisdom when I noticed that Marci’s cries of physical pain had somehow morphed into something deeper. Tears were staining her cheeks as she sat staring into space.
The uncomfortable scene that was playing out in front of me was enough of a shock to remind me that I wasn’t just a personal trainer trying to keep a client on task. I was also supposed to be a spiritual mentor and encourager to those who reached out for help after experiencing a faith-focused fitness ministry I helped facilitate. “What’s going on Marci?” was all I could muster at the time.

 

blogI soon discovered the answer to my question. Marci called me and asked if I could meet to talk. I was certain this appointment was when she was going to tell me my services were no longer needed and that she was going to address her physical issues some other way. Instead, she brought a sheet of copy paper to our meeting covered with writing. On the paper she’d listed significant dysfunctional relationships, tragic offenses, hurtful memories, damaging personal violations, and harmful responses and coping mechanisms: heavy drinking, sexual promiscuity, and broken relationships. One statement on the page particularly jumped out at me – “Fat is acting like a protective layer…” In a commendable act of transparency, Marci was revealing how her regrettable personal history had ultimately metastasized to her physical body.
It was a story I knew all too well myself.

 

blog-2All I could offer Marci was the same strong medicine that had revolutionized my life and perspective: surrender. Not compliance to a new diet or workout routine – after all, of what help is a set of burpees to a crushed and broken spirit? Marci’s greatest need was to surrender to the only Personal Trainer who is capable of transforming broken lives, bodies, and spirits: Jesus. I found that out for myself only after years of trying things my way and wondering why I could never outrun my past. Fully entrusting her scars, her fears, her shame, and her own misconduct was the only way out of the prison that held her.
Marci is finding, as I did, that surrender is actually liberating. It’s also necessary for anyone who says they want to follow Jesus. Marci and I are reminding each other of this each week as we meet to continue transforming our bodies and our spirits.

Fear and Hope Collide at the Manger

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By David Bush

An affront to the proud, Jesus’ presence always brings joy to the humble of heart

Appropriately enough, the arrival of Christmas and the New Year brings a Dickensian variety of perspectives with them. Hope, joy, and wonder mix with cynicism, uncertainty, and fear. For many, this time of year becomes “the best of times and the worst of times.”
This polarization is nothing new. Jesus’ presence has instilled both fear and hope since His arrival in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago.

For King Herod and those aligned with his interests, news of Jesus’ birth was an intimidating and unwelcome development. For lowly shepherds and soft-hearted dignitaries from the East, it was unimaginably good news.

The initiation of Jesus’ earthly ministry was a longing fulfilled for bold yet humble John the Baptist (he of “He must increase and I must decrease” fame). Satan saw Jesus as a usurper who represented the first real challenge to his earthly kingdom.
The common man rejoiced in the light of the gospel Jesus proclaimed and advanced during his ministry; all while the religious establishment reviled and plotted destruction.
In the consummation of the ages, we will again see the spontaneous worship of the redeemed contrast with the begrudging and bitter bending of the knee from the self-sufficient.

Like the narcissists of centuries past, those who commercialize and marginalize the celebration of this season will never understand the wonder and joy that comes to believers as a result of Jesus’ incarnation. On the cusp of an uncertain new year, the persevering hope of the Christ -follower will always stand in contrast to the fear and brooding of those earth-bound souls desperate to preserve that which is fading away.

As we celebrate Jesus’ birth anew, may the Lord grant us humble hearts to comprehend His rich provision in the midst of our great need. As we enter a new year, may we be firmly established in the confidence that comes from a surrender to God’s sovereignty and a strength not our own.

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people”
– Luke 2:10

On Mission With God

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By John Porter

God is on a mission. He has been on a mission throughout history to accomplish His purpose throughout the earth. Each time we see God in the Bible, He is acting in accordance with His purpose: to reveal Himself in order that His name would be glorified, that His Kingdom would be established and that some from every people would be reconciled to Himself.

God Reveals Himself to Reconcile the World to Himself

God has chosen to reveal Himself, His purpose, and His ways, involving His people with Him as He invites all the world’s peoples to know and worship Him.

God Initiates His Work Through His People

God chooses to accomplish His mission in a very personal way, He chooses to involve His people with Him, working through them to accomplish His purposes.

Jesus: On Mission with His Father

God wants us to be like Jesus, who always obeyed Him. He announced that He had come not to do His own will, but the will of the Father who had sent Him. (Matt 26:42; John 4:34, 5:30; 6:38; 8:29)

Knowing and Working in God’s Way

Even a casual reader of the Bible can see that God’s ways and plans are so different from the ways that people accomplish their goals. God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa 55:8)

Knowing and Doing God’s Will

How can you know God’s will? Since all true mission is really God on His mission, there is not a different mission for you, for me, for the people who lived a thousand years ago, or for believers on the other side of the world.  God’s mission is to glorify His name, to establish His kingdom and to reconcile the world to Himself.

On Mission With Jesus

Jesus was on a mission with the Father, and He calls every one of His followers to join Him in that relationship of love, power, and purpose. Nothing could be more precious than to follow God on a mission in the same way that Jesus did.  (From the writings of Henry T. Blackaby and Avery T. Willis, Jr.)

Come learn more about how you can be involved in God’s Mission for your life!

Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: Mondays, January 16-May 8, 2017 at Valley Church in West Des Moines. Learn more about God’s unchanging purposes for the nations. Got questions or need more information? Call or email John Porter at the church office (515-255-2122,  jporter@firstfederated.org) or check their website: Perspectives.org

Experience a short term opportunity in 2017:

Uganda: June 29 – July 9, 2017

Dominican Republic: July 9-17, 2017

Thankful For Him

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By Tracy Griess

Thanksgiving is a time when we normally reflect on our year and give thanks for God’s faithfulness. Many families have the tradition of going around the Thanksgiving dinner table and telling what they are most thankful for. We see even more traditions on social media as we post 30 days of thanks. This year’s tradition seems to be expanding to use a common “frame” for a family picture that says “Thankful for Us.” While I have no particular problem with any of these things, and I always enjoy the photos, I have to stop and wonder with how much sincerity those thoughts are shared. I realize that might be somewhat of a controversial comment. And just to be completely clear, I am not questioning or judging anyone for their traditions or social media involvement. I am just setting the stage for what has been causing me to stop and think about true thankfulness and all that encompasses.

 
Can we truly express thankfulness to God for all He has done and in the next thought or actually spoken phrase express a negativity or selfishness? I think the answer is no. Don’t start thinking of ways to phrase an email of disagreement yet. I realize we all have a bad day once in a while. I know I do. But I also know I have a choice every single day to live with a thankful and grateful heart or to live half in and half out. It’s so much easier to live with one foot in each camp, right? We justify some of our negative thoughts by blaming others. Perhaps we think of how they treated us poorly. We think at times that people in charge can’t possibly know what they are doing when they make decisions, giving us a reason to “vent”. And think about that “venting” session for a while. Does anyone ever come out of that calmer and at peace? No, quite the contrary I think. We leave one of those sessions angrier and more certain that we were right and they were wrong. Nothing constructive comes from that.

 
The fact is if you are reading this post from the comfort of your home, an office or even as you wait in the carpool line you have much to be grateful for. If you are part of the body of believers at FFC you have even more to be thankful for. Yet, are we always quick to express true thankfulness? Or does our personal preference get in the way? If you have spent much time around me you have heard a couple of my favorite phrases at least once. One of those is, “What does your personal preference have to do with anything anyway?” This is so true! My personal preferences have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I have a thankful heart. Nothing. At. All. Now if I am choosing a new pair of leggings, because let’s face it, it is leggings and boot season then yes, I will choose my favorite brand or color. Personal preferences are all about getting our way. But at what cost do we hold tight to our personal preferences? To the way, we have come to expect things to be?

 
Each day we have a choice to put our personal preferences aside and truly look to God with a thankful heart. If you are sincerely looking to God with thanksgiving and gratefulness there is no room for personal preference.

 
My 12-year-old was studying for a Bible test last week and they were studying scripture as it relates to our purpose for being created. As I listened to him recite those verses and tell me he was created to bring glory to God and to demonstrate God’s power, I once again longed for all of us to have the faith and understanding of a child. I have heard thousands of verses recited from children, mine and yours. I have watched the light bulb go off on hundreds of occasions with children when they “get” what God is saying in a particular verse or passage. I desire that joy for all of us. And to be honest with you, I have struggled for several weeks with this idea of having a thankful heart. As I sift through not-so-sweet notes left in my box, emails written in all CAPS (you know that doesn’t mean they are happy) and stood face to face with people as they “vented” with a countenance that revealed so much more than even their words, I have had days that were hard to push the negative thoughts aside. But then God sends a message, almost always through a child. He reminds me that I still have a choice. I have a choice to praise Him. I have a choice to look beyond the WRITING ON THE COMPUTER, and the scrunched up noses and be thankful that He chose me to do His work. He chose me to bring Him glory and He chose me for such a time as this. There is so much that is good, so many people that are filled with the Holy Spirit and truly thankful hearts.

 
This is both an exciting and arduous time in our church life. We have a history here at FFC that is abundant with tradition and God-honoring ministry. However, there have been some rocky waters as well. We are at a point when God is changing our course and has so much more for us to accomplish for His kingdom. If all of us approach these next days with a heart that is truly thankful, God will be honored and glorified. If we can all set our personal preferences aside and really lean in and listen for God’s still small voice, great and amazing things can be accomplished for His kingdom.

 
So take this time, lean in to God and listen. Just Listen. Does that thought rolling around in your head really have the potential to bring honor and glory to God? Will that email you are about to send express a heart that is filled with the spirit of God? What does your facial expression really tell those around you? Does it radiate joy? Do people know how much you love Jesus? This year, as you sit around your Thanksgiving table, lean in to God and listen. Find that joy that you once had when you realized that God chose you. This body of believers that I love so much could accomplish more than can be imagined if we set aside our personal preferences and just serve God with thankful hearts. My prayer for each of you today is that you allow God to really speak to you in the coming weeks and that you take the time to simply lean in and rest in His presence.

Jesus Is Not Your Fanboy

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By: David Bush

I’ll be honest and tell you right up front that this blog is going to disappoint a lot of people. Akin to the kind of disappointment that settles in when you discover there is no Santa Claus, the realization that neither God nor Jesus are our personal fanboy as we or our favorite team pursue athletic excellence will likely come as a shock. A jolt similar to the one we receive when we look beyond out-of-context scriptures to realize God doesn’t love America more than other countries or guarantee followers of Jesus physical wellness, prosperity, or success.

When prominent athletes as polarized as Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick find competitive inspiration from scripture, and apparel companies are founded on the notion that the Apostle Paul was advocating a Christ-empowered path to athletic excellence, we have reached critical mass. Anyone who knows me is aware that I take physical fitness seriously. After all, I’ve founded a ministry devoted to raising the bar in the physical dimension of believer’s lives. But since I take scripture very seriously, I’m compelled to speak out when I see it routinely twisted and abused by many who should know better.

Before you paint your next team banner, give your next post-game victory interview, or design the tattoo that will grace your bicep forever, why not take a few minutes to understand what your favorite rah-rah scripture is really saying.

2Let’s start with the grand-daddy of them all – Philippians 4:13. Writing from a Roman jail cell, Paul affirms here that he has learned, through grievous trials, how to find contentment in Christ no matter the state he finds himself in. Rather than using this verse as pre-game motivation to secure God’s destiny of domination, it might more appropriately be used as a reminder to find contentment in Christ even after a punishing loss.

Thi3s exhortation to wait on the Lord promises that your strength will be renewed in the
process. Written to encourage the people of Israel who were in exile in Babylon, it is difficult to see an application to modern competitive sports. The audience it was written for was humiliated, at the end of their rope individually and collectively, and had no hope outside God’s direct intervention to change their circumstances and save them. In context, the hope they were given was that God would provide a Messiah, not eminent freedom or the strength to complete a Babylonian triathlon.

R4omans 8:31 and 8:37 become problematic any time two Christian schools compete against each other. At least when a Christian school is facing a public school we know whose side God’s on.

Paul wrote these words to encourage the church in Rome –  and, by extension, all of us – that His ability to transform our lives into conformity with Christ’s character and holiness is greater than all the selfish, fleshly, and worldly influences we encounter throughout our lives. Selfish, fleshly, and worldly ambitions like the need to win every competition and utterly dominate an opponent.

5Baltimore Ravens superstar Ray Lewis may be the poster child for fueling your mojo with scripture. He’s spawned an industry of inspirational posters, videos, and t-shirts. In the NFL, where bodies are weapons that are trained to inflict pain upon an opponent, claiming this verse should provide great comfort that you will not end up on the disabled list.

In reality, the prophet Isaiah penned these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to remind Israel that a day would arrive when they would not live in subjugation to their enemies, but would enjoy a renaissance under the rule of Christ in His millennial kingdom.

Any scripture that combines the words “arm” and “strength” are irresistible to athletes looking for inspirational body art.6

This makes Psalm 18:39 perfect for tatting on biceps and triceps as it states, “You  have armed  me with strength for the battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.”

Just what battle Colin Kaepernick is fighting these days – with this verse famously tattooed on his left arm – is up for discussion. But I’m quite sure that the author, David son of Jesse, was referring to neither football or expanding the parameters of social protest.7

1 Corinthians 15:57 is a testament of gratitude to God by the Apostle Paul for giving us  victory over sin and death through Christ. It seems clear that many Christian schools feel this verse also can be applied to the gridiron.

I wonder how the coaching staffs of these schools feel when all the credit for a “W” goes to Jesus when they were the ones leading all the practices and calling in all the plays from the sidelines.

Scripture should inspire us. More often than not, however, we should find it inspiring us to move out of the arena of narcissistic and positive self-talk and into the crucible of selfless abandonment to God’s glory. Like the peddlers of the prosperity gospel, we seem constrained to spin scripture to our own benefit no matter the issue at hand. The question we should be asking ourselves in the midst of this inspirational tug-of-war is not whether God is on our side but rather if we are on His.

 

 

 

The Government Shall Be Upon His Shoulders

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Tired of talking about politics yet? Have you read enough blogs, Facebook posts, and people’s facial expressions?

You’ll be relieved that I hate talking about politics. A former mentoring pastor of mine has often shared that the only topic he’s willing to let stand between him and someone else is Jesus. I’ve taken that advice and worn it like a phylactery over my mouth. Up to this point, I think it’s saved me from many unnecessary confrontations. You’ll be relieved, I’m sure, that this writing maintains that posture.

Regardless of who you voted for (and I do hope you voted), we woke up Wednesday morning with the news that Donald Trump had been elected to lead our country these next four years. We all have thoughts and feelings associated with that decision. However, for those who claim the Christian faith, we should have an unbelievable confidence in our leader. For we know the government is upon His shoulders. This chief is more than just a commander but He is the cornerstone.

Twenty-six hundred years ago the prophet Isaiah revealed to the world that a son would be born. Every Christmas we dust that verse off and celebrate baby Jesus. But the impact is far more reaching. And as we reflect on the recent presidential election, we must be reminded whose shoulders are big enough to carry the weight of this world. While the timing of Christ’s return is still before us, when His shoulders will bear the fullness of the Kingdom come, God is in full control.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
— Isaiah 9:6

Jesus Christ is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21). This is the Word of God made flesh. Put your confidence in Him and proclaim this good news to those looking for something, or someone, to put their faith in.

Perhaps you woke up Wednesday morning feeling like you need a counselor. For me that’s about every day. In the midst of conflicting voices, let us be reminded that the Spirit of Jesus – the Counselor – provides us with unfiltered truth. Meanwhile, others are reaching for peace; for their own soul and for the world around them.

In the coming day, your neighbors will start throwing away their political signs and will be crossing their fingers hoping that Donald Trump can indeed “make America great again”. But let’s not cross our fingers in hope. Let’s point to the cross for our hope. For the one who has gone before us, and who will one day return, is the Wonderful, Mighty, Everlasting Prince!

We have no idea what’s in store for us these next four years; regardless whether you voted for Trump or not. But as my friend Tracy Griess articulated this week, “we know how the story ends”. There is no other establishment that is eternal, no politician that is able to redeem a lost soul. Neither the elephant nor the donkey will save this country. But the lamb; who has already paved the way.

And the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings,
and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.
— Revelation 17:14

Don’t Look Back

The Apostle Paul’s Prescription for Making Progress In Life Transformation

captureBy David Bush

In May 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a sub-four-minute mile. Just one month later, Australian John Landy broke that record by 1.4 seconds.

In August of that same year, these two record holders met for a historic race at the British Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada.  Superlatives for this race included “The Miracle Mile“, the “Race of the Century”, and the “Dream Race”.

As Bannister and Landy turned for the last lap, Landy was ahead and looked certain to win, but as he approached the finish line he turned his head to pinpoint Bannister’s position. Looking back over his shoulder, his stride faltered and Bannister passed him to break the tape.

capture2Landy was later quoted as saying,

“I would have won the race if I hadn’t looked back… if I hadn’t taken my eyes off the goal”

A bronze sculpture commemorates this race and the untimely glance that cost Landy the victory. Landy said of this sculpture:

“While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”

Those who are pursuing God’s goal of total life transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit know how easy it is to be distracted. We look around at the progress (or lack thereof) of other Christians and adjust our stride. We look behind and wonder if some “old” version of ourselves is gaining on us. We stop running our race.

Paul himself gives us the prescription for making consistent progress in transformation:

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The race that we, like Paul, are running doesn’t end until we die. We never “arrive” in our pursuit of life transformation. We don’t give up because the goal of “perfection” seems unrealistic. We avoid comparisons and distractions by focusing on Christ alone. Our calling is to continue to “press on” in a process God initiated, one He currently orchestrates, and one He will ultimately complete.

While losing focus has and will continue to lose footraces for some track athletes, it can have a crippling impact on our progress toward transformation. Striving for transformation into Christlikeness guarantees an eternal prize for us, but also brings glory to God as those around us see us running our race to win. Hebrews 12 reminds us that we run our races very publicly, and our focus on Jesus will make all the difference.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” – Hebrews 12: 1, 2a (NLT)

Our race holds more potential than a “Dream Race”, necessitates more miracles than any champion miler will ever experience, and is one that has eternal ramifications that will make a century look small by comparison. Let’s remember we’re not running against anyone. We’re running toward Someone.