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TheMorningFive 06/09/08

Where Would Jesus Work Out?

A Christian gym manager in Florida is getting headlines after announcing plans to open his own “Lord’s Gym”, which he says will offer Christians a safe place to work out. Along with a modest dress code and Biblical imagery on the walls, his facility will host “Yogod” classes (an alternative to yoga) and a “Chariots of Fire” spinning class. If only there was already an alternative place where Christians could work out in a wholesome, community-focused atmosphere … some sort of young men’s Christian association or something …

Jokes aside, I can see the appeal of having a gym that has a Christian focus and encourages wholesome behavior and modest clothing, but my concern with trends like this is that Christians further isolate themselves from a culture that needs to hear what they have to say.

The story from The New York Times ended with this line:

Merri Bush, 42, who is a member with her daughter, Christyna Askey, 21, said she probably would not have joined a regular gym. The two of them walk on the treadmill each morning while they read and discuss the Bible.

Ms. Askey said, "It's cool to be able to do that and not have people say, 'What are you doing?' "

My question is, is that a good thing or a bad thing?! Shouldn’t we want non-Christians to ask us what we’re doing when we’re reading the Bible or talking about our faith? Isn’t that a really good opportunity to open a discussion about what we believe in a neutral environment, where non-Christians might even feel more comfortable dialoguing about Christianity?

I don’t want to condemn these Christians, because I honestly don’t think their intentions are wrong. And maybe people who struggle with different things need an alternative environment to work out at. But my concern is for the idea of making faith too comfortable. The New Testament pretty much assures us that we will face trials and objections when we show our faith in public—but that’s not always a bad thing.

If anything, discomfort should be more appealing than comfort—just look at the fate of all 11 disciples (aside from Judas). Ten of them were martyred in violent deaths, and the other died while in exile. Where is this message in modern-day Christianity? When compared to being executed for our beliefs, facing uncomfortable questions on the treadmill seems pretty minor.

The problem is, too often, terms like “safe” and “family friendly” have become synonymous with “Christian”, especially when applied to culture and entertainment. This thinking has infiltrated our daily lives, teaching us to avoid anything that challenges what we believe.

When we isolate ourselves to the point where every uncomfortable encounter with non-Christians is avoided, we’re missing a big part of being a Christian is all about.

Jesus rarely isolated his disciples, but encouraged them to go into all the world. That’s not just the far corners of developing countries and unreached tribes—that’s everyday places like where we work, go to school and, for some people, where we work out.

The original Lord’s Gym was an outreach center for at-need teenagers. It offered them a place to go to get off the street and use their time constructively, while reaffirming positive values and faith. These new Lord’s Gyms are for-profit franchises. And, I may be a little over-sensitive, but I even find that name applied to a gym marketed toward Christians a little offensive. It may be unintentional, but calling it the “Lord’s Gym” implies that other gyms are not the Lord’s. It subtly implies that God honors that place over other local gyms.

Is that the message we really want to send to our neighborhoods and communities?

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