When I turned 40 I decided; in order to keep up with my sons I had to get into better shape. So I did what you were supposed to do, I joined a gym, got an app for my phone, bought some shoes, and buckled down for this life changing experience. The first time I walked in the gym, I was lost. It’s a bit intimidating to see all of these folks who are walking from machine to machine or picking up weights. I decided that I would start on the treadmill, I had at least been on one of those before, and then I would branch out from there. But, this was not like any treadmill I had ever seen, there were buttons, lot of buttons, for my weight, my speed, my incline, and my preferred pulse rate; I must have stood there for 5 minutes looking at these buttons trying not to make a fool of myself before the person on the treadmill beside me said, “You can just press the start button and go faster or slower.”
That day I made a new friend B.J., who was only at the gym for aerobic activity, that’s a fancy way of saying she just came to the gym to get on a treadmill and a bike. She didn’t understand the folks who wanted to lift weights, but “different strokes!” she would always say. She believed that the best way to get into shape was to work your heart, and eat a balanced meal. So, for the first month I would go to the gym, meet B.J. and run for a while, then get on the bike. She answered my questions, gave me advice, and helped make the gym a safer place for someone who had no idea what they were doing.
I was becoming more and more comfortable with the gym, so one day I wandered over to the machines, read the instructions, and met Terry. Terry was an older man who was always hanging out around the machines. I found out that Terry had shoulder problems, and a “machine was the best way for older and injured people to work out.” Terry was the one who told me about muscle groups, he explained that soreness and stiffness were all a part of the process, and he encouraged me to keep working through it. He was a great help to me as I was still trying to figure out what I was really supposed to be doing.
Terry was convinced that I was young enough to make an aggressive step forward, so he introduced me to Tony. Tony was a man who was as wide as he was tall and could bench press more than his weight. Tony had no time for a treadmill or a machine; he was interested in getting bigger and that only happened with heavy free weights. Tony shared with me that tall people don’t get big muscles, but we could still be strong if we worked hard. “We might not be able to look like we have big muscles, but we can all be strong.”
B.J., Terry, and Tony were not the only folks I met at the gym; there was the guy who had a bad back so, he just showed up to stretch and get on the water massage table. There was the woman who just came to eat lunch with the folks who worked there, and there were lots of folks who came in, milled around for 15 minutes and then left. Everyone was showing up to the gym, had a different idea of what you were supposed to accomplish, and were willing to help anyone who wanted to come and get better. I enjoyed my time at the gym, and was given the time to explore, get comfortable, and accomplish some of my goals.
Over the years, I have been a member of different gyms, and even though the locations have changed, I have noticed there are the same type of people at every gym. If you have made a resolution to get in shape, or just be healthier, and join a gym, you are going to find folks who have made great strides in their health and fitness who are willing to help the new folks who look lost. There will be those who only do cardiovascular work, folks who only use the machines, and folks who like free weights. There will be folks who just come to wander around, and those who are there to be social, but they are all there. They show up because they are convinced that their way is the best, and at times, the only way. But in the end they are going to help people who agree with them and those who disagree with them in their effort to get better.
There is a great passage in Acts 15 where the church is dealing with the Gentile question. I don’t want to lean too hard on my gym illustration, but I would imagine that there were many different ideas in that gathering, of what it looked like to be a child of God. There were those who were born and raised in the Jewish faith, who thought the best way to get into shape was by using the free weights. The Jewish proselytes were probably big fans of the machines, while the Gentiles preferred doing cardio. Everyone in the room had their own ideas of what it looked like to get your spiritual life in shape. That’s what makes James’ statement so beautiful. James was not only the brother of Christ, but as a Jew from birth, he was steeped in the culture and belief system of the Jewish faith. It would have been easier, not to mention more comfortable, for James to say that someone must become a Jew and fulfill the Jewish law before they could come to Christ. Instead, he went against his culture and declared “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21).
There will be times when people come to your fellowship, longing for the opportunity to find a community that will love and walk with them. I am sure that there are those who believe the best way to come into a relationship with Christ is through using the free weights of intense study. They love digging deep into the text and believe that anyone who comes to Christ must also dig deep into the scriptures. You also have those who like the machines, they love worship, and spending time together singing and praying. They feel closest to God when they are worshiping Him in times of quiet introspection and corporate celebrations. Finally, you will have those who are invested in the treadmills; they believe that if you are going to be a Child of God you must understand and accept forgiveness, grace, and the love of God. In their minds, the best way to live out a changed life is to show God’s love in acts of compassion and service.
The object of every witness is not to convince people to think like you do, or believe like you do; the object of every witness is to introduce others to Christ. For those who were raised in a family of believers, we often miss how difficult it is to turn to God. Our job is to help people make that transition. People are attracted to Jesus for different reasons, let’s do what we can to help them connect to Jesus; be it on the treadmill, the machines, or free weights.