Exercise and imperfect people

Published 10:31 am Friday, September 6, 2013

by Brandon Robbins

For most people I know, waking up at 5 a.m. seems ridiculous. It’s just too early. If the sun is not up, there’s no reason we should be. But for the past few years, I’ve come to love it.

The reason I love waking up so early is “working out.” I know that sounds ridiculous. But I love working out!

There’s something about doing pull ups and jumping around my living room first thing in the morning that makes the day start off better. I have more energy. I’m more alert. My endurance is better. And, surprisingly, I’ve come to realize that there are thousands of other people who feel the same way.

At the end of each workout, there are always promotional videos for this exercise company’s other programs. The people in these videos give testimonies about how their lives have been changed through exercise. The more I’ve watched, though, the more I’ve noticed how diverse the people are. They’re not all skinny, pretty people, as you might expect. They’re different shapes and sizes from a range of different backgrounds. The only thing they have in common is their dedication to exercise.

I find myself asking, “How did the company do it? How did this company get so many people to devote themselves to exercising? How did they get me to do it?”

I’ll admit I didn’t start out thinking that 5 a.m. exercise was a good idea. For years, I knew that I needed to work out. I knew why. I just couldn’t make myself do it. So how did this company get me and so many other people to change?

I think the answer is their approach. When you watch their promotional videos, the company has an uncanny way of challenging you to be better without making you feel terrible. It makes you aware of the need for change, but then gives you hope and encouragement that it is possible. This makes you want to do it, despite the obstacles.

For too long, the church has taken an opposite approach. We’ve embraced the strategy of negative reinforcement, making people feel as bad as possible so hopefully they’ll make the right decisions. We’ve spent thousands of Sunday mornings reminding people of just how sinful they are, just how real hell is, in hopes that they’ll change their lives.

I don’t think this approach works, though. In fact, I think it has the opposite effect. Most people know how bad they are. They know the mistakes they’ve made. They don’t need us to remind them. What they need is someone to offer them hope and encouragement.

That’s why, last year, at Courtland United Methodist Church, we started using the phrase “No Perfect People Allowed.” It’s our way of helping ourselves and others remember that the church is a place where you don’t have to have it all together. Jesus said, “It isn’t the healthy who need a doctor; it’s the sick” (Matthew 19:12). And then he gave us, his followers, the task of healing the sick. He sent us out to offer people the salvation that he offers not only after we die, but right now, in this life.

Starting this Sunday, we’re offering a sermon series that tries to do just that. It’s called “Captive.” We’re captive to so many things in our lives: Facebook, television shows, food. These things impact our time, our actions, our attitudes. Well, what if Jesus had that sort of claim and impact upon our lives? What if we were captive to him? Might that show us the different, better life we’ve been searching for? Reveal to us the salvation we’ve been hoping for?

We live in a world that is searching for hope, a world filled with people searching for someone to encourage them as they attempt the changes they so obviously need to make. And as Christians, we can give them that hope; we can offer that encouragement.

This week, may that be how you commit yourself to Jesus. If you’re in need of hope and encouragement, may you have the will to find a church that’s offering it. And if you’re in one of those churches, may you be eager to give it.