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Body Image (2): A Perfect Future

And doesn’t it make sense, then, that even now we should start getting ready for that great time by using our bodies as living sacrifices of worship and instruments of righteousness for the glory of God?

John Piper

This is the second of three in a series I’ve called “Body Image.”  It should be the third, but this issue has become so pressing to me that it had to be next.  You see, it’s about the future’s body image.  This image is a very literal image, and one that you’ll be most pleased with.  So will I.  The image I have in mind is what is sometimes known as a redeemed body, or a glorified body.   

Please allow me to groan outwardly for a few minutes before we climb back up to the peak of joyfulness about the truth of our situation. You see, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23). Oh, I certainly am groaning, along with all creation, to be liberated from the bondage of decay.

You may have read that my decay has been a bit hastened by a motorcycle accident.  Here’s something I posted in social media about my plight some time ago.  Having another look at it as helped me see things in a new light. 

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned this year is that I now see heaven as my home and my preferred place of dwelling.  This is new.  Since July 2017 I have learned to rejoice, yes, and Praise God.  The weariness and drudgery of recovery has taught me to lean forward.   

The body I took pride in keeping strong is broken.  My best knee barely bends and the other is fused.  As I learn to walk again, recovering balance and muscle mass, I drag around about twenty pounds of metal that is fastened to my leg with posts, screws and wire.  I am never comfortable.  Ever.  Many times each day that discomfort crosses over into pain, especially at night when my better leg feels as if it’s being ripped again. 

My chest and arms ache with fatigue from bearing some of the weight my legs once bore.  All the time.  My ankles hurt so much when I first stand in the morning I’d much rather stay in bed.  Wires pull on my thigh continually and sometimes they feel like they will tear through.  My hands hurt from the crutches and carpal tunnel has developed, weakening my right hand’s fingers so that cutting my nails is nearly impossible.   

My left elbow has developed bursitis causing an unsightly knob of fluid to grow and leaves me aching there.  Sitting in my wheelchair too long makes my right foot black from lack of circulation.   

My stomach has been brutalised by repeated courses of antibiotics forcing me to deal with urgent issues that are hard to deal with because clothing is hard to get past my frame. 

Meanwhile previous issues still plague me.  My tinnitus still rings its chorus of dissonance of three or four tones of ringing and crickets-chirping.  Blepharitis dries my eyes out to the point of pain and at night I can hardly open my eyes.   

But all this is so temporary.  This body will not be my home forever.  For the first time I believe (and not just say I believe) that I will be fitted with a resurrected body. 

… but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies 

Perhaps there will be scars, like the scars of Jesus who went before us.  They may be a reminder of what has taken place on Earth to prepare me for the kingdom, conforming me to his image (Romans 8:29).” 

Much of what I said over a year ago is still true.  That painful metal frame is gone, along with the bursitis, but there are new problems due to my leg not healing properly during the reconstruction.  I still use crutches and my levels of bodily fatigue are as high as ever.  This was exacerbated by trying to go back to work full time.  During this time, the simple act of filling out a very thorough questionnaire for an orthopaedic consultant has triggered a psychological downer for me.  This has brought me to a new dilemma.   

I’ve experienced a new level of mourning for my limbs.  Mourning for my walking.  Mourning for the odd miscellaneous tasks that I either can’t do or can’t do with ease.  So now as I struggle with doing life, I ask myself, how can I glorify God if I’m getting depressed?  How can I “do all things for the Glory of God” if everything I do is not its best because I just don’t have the mental or physical resources to perform?  How can I love others as I’m supposed to, especially since my job really can’t be done well without doing just that?  Everything I do seems to be filtered by the limitations of this broken body and its exhausted brain. 

As I have pondered these questions, I only came up with one answer, and that came from what God has shown me before; I have to trust that God will be glorified somehow by my surrendering these very questions to him.  That’s still a work in progress.  However, I learned something more important, and I suspect that has something to do with these struggles.   

You see, a year ago, I longed to move onto my new Home and looked forward to that glorified body.  No more pain! What a deal!  Only since then I have come to realize that there lies a misguided motivation.  Don’t get me wrong – of course we long for relief.  That’s only natural.  But how much more do I now want this new body so that I can glorify God!  That’s the key – such a marvelous revelation!  I should hope for the glorified body, not to end pain and deficiencies, but so that I can be equipped to worship and glorify a God who will be seen for the first time with the eyes of a body that can survive the presence of His radiance.  My new person will delight, unhindered for the first time, in the God who is my joy. 

Some people don’t have physical challenges as bad as mine.  Some people have much worse.  But some day there will be great equality with great bodies that will do just what they have been meant to do all along – that is glorify God in a most fulfilling way.   

Jesus, see that mountain over there?  

Yes Russ.  

Remember my days in the mountains?  

Yes Russ.  

I want to worship you up there. Can you be there when I get there?  

I certainly will. I would be delighted. Come, let’s walk together.

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Body Image (1): Beautifully Ugly

It is a great honor that God confers upon us when he desires to dwell in us.

(John Calvin).

Let’s face it. My entire lower body has become visually unattractive. Objectively speaking it is no longer aesthetically pleasing. In short: my legs are ugly. On the left side, the upper thigh has two wrinkly pink patches, each about the width of a duct tape strip. The back of the knee has a gaping hole that folds over itself like the skin of a pachyderm when the knee is bent. That hole was plugged up with skin from those wrinkly pink patches that cover ligaments and tendons, but you can still see them move because there’s no other soft tissue there. There is a bulging hernia on the shin and scars on the knee. Still, the left side looks adorable compared to the right.

On the right leg, there are countless pink/purple dimples from holes made from the pins of a frame that held my leg together for 16 months. Some of these holes are actually more like track marks from those pins dragging through the skin as the leg was stretched. There is another elongated crater on the shin from being cut open to alleviate “compartment syndrome.” That spot received some skin from those wrinkly pink patches too. There is a huge, uneven patch of red skin from scarring that turns dark purple or orange, depending what’s happening at the time. Flesh was sewn up in various places; most notably the spot through which the knee and femur so rudely appeared during the accident. The right leg is in a permanent 10 – 20 degree bend. The overall leg shape is just too weird to explain. It is lumpy, especially when it’s swollen.

See, my legs are ugly. I am faced with them every day and try to learn from them. There are three lessons I’ve kicked around over the last few days: 1) my temple is still a temple, 2) there is a great analogy about the body and the church, and 3) there’s a future regarding our bodies and a hope we have because of them. Here are my thoughts on the first subject:

It’s Still a Temple

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19). 

At the turn of the century, my fitness addiction was in full swing. I became a certified personal fitness trainer. When this phase was at its peak, I lifted weights for an hour and did an hour of cardiovascular training each day, up to six days per week. My body was one of my gods, but I was never satisfied with it. My own body image was skewed. When I came to my senses, I still felt fitness was important but began to view these efforts as a stewardship issue. I only have one body so I must take care of it.

Since that time, I have retired from the Air Force (one motivation for staying fit) and have gone through various phases of fitness, from being a complete couch potato/desk jockey, to preparing for the physical demands of the 24 Peaks Challenge (see my blog Good, Good Water).  After my accident, I found that my previous efforts had paid off and I was able to do things that others in my situation couldn’t.  But lifting weights, one of my favorite pastimes, wasn’t working out for me very well.  It seemed like whenever I exerted myself, I got an infection and had to hold off on physical conditioning.  When I went back to work, fatigue set in so badly, any type of exercise became unrealistic.  This was very frustrating. 

The frustration lasted for about two years.  Once this summer (2019) started for me, which was early July, I was able to train in earnest.  I hit the gym for six weeks, concentrating on building up my strength.  (You can see some videos on the “Rejoicing Bones” YouTube Channel: https://youtu.be/l4Dy_zEeS5U).  The progress I made was very satisfying.  In some areas, I have regained all the strength I’ve lost since the accident two years ago.  Some people have told me that I am an inspiration.  That is good.  But I don’t feel that there’s been any other way for me to respond.  I’ve been given one body to last this side of heaven, so I need to make it last for a couple of more decades – maybe three, Lord willing.   It’s still the body I have to honor God with.

Now, the body will fail eventually.  That’s why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16 that we are outwardly wasting away.  So, does that mean I’m wasting my time by working out?  Absolutely not.  I want to give all I have to the Lord until he takes me home.  This means I want this body to be as serviceable as possible.  I also think that, if quality of life improves from what I’m doing, my mind will be sharper and I’ll be able to speak up for the God who has done such wonderful things for me.  While I’m on this earth, my legs may not work so well.  I may even lose one of them.  But the rest of me will have to be taken care of.  It is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.  And it is beautiful.   

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Good, Good Water

… they acted contrary to the dictates of common sense, in that they not only changed, but that they changed for the worse, and made a bad bargain for themselves. 

Matthew Henry
Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan

You’ll never be productive when you’re thirsty.  I mean really thirsty.  Dehydrated.  One of the most punishing, physically demanding feats I have ever attempted proved that to me in 2014.  It was the “24 Peaks Challenge” in England’s Lake District.  The fundraising trek included walking up 24 of the highest mountains of the region, all being 2,400 feet or higher, within 24 hours.  I managed to walk all day both days conquering most of the peaks, but I was set back on the first day.  My muscles began to seize within the first few hours.  I thought I wasn’t eating enough, and the guides did too.  So, I stuffed my granola-type snacks in my mouth which promptly turned into a horrible paste and stuck in my throat like great globs of goo.  No, goo would have gone down better.  I thought I would choke.  

Fortunately, a guide had an epiphany and advised me to drink water.  Our little tour had started early that morning and sideways rain was our introduction.  Like a good little trekker, I donned my raingear.  Raingear is like an oven.  Mine was anyway.  I successfully avoided hypothermia by baking myself and sweating out all my fluids.  I didn’t feel it though, because it felt wet and cool outside.  So I was oblivious to the dehydration that was sneaking up on me.  I lived in the Mojave Desert for over 3 years, visited Tunisia, and other hot places but I had never experienced this phenomenon like that before.  I could barely walk.  My muscles just would not budge!  

I drank a lot of water, hoping an air ambulance rescue would not be necessary (no, I saved that experience for the 2017 motorcycle accident).  The guide promised to get me some more water from the mountain streams if I drank more.  I did.  I’ll never forget him dipping my bottle in the stream at a strategic location (uphill from the sheep and their by-products and near plants that filtered the water a bit).  He didn’t think we needed purification tablets up there, but I used them anyway.  It didn’t taste nice but it sure was wet! 

Before long, after descending the mighty Great Gable, I began to feel re-energized.  Production returned, and I was able to climb the even-mightier Scafell Pike.  I now imagine all the muscle cells refilling, gaining volume and functionality.  I think I will easily recognize the symptoms of dehydration in the future if I’m ever foolish enough to let that happen again.  I finished day one of that walk with a lot of energy and was even able to run a bit at the end.  But miles were lost and some Peaks were left unconquered.   

I told this tale in public to illustrate the need to be “like a tree planted by streams of water” as described in Psalm 1 a couple of years later.  Very shortly after that I pulled up stakes and went as far from the stream of water as I could and withered up like a nasty prune.  (For more of that, please see my first blog, “Why My Bones Rejoice”).  However, since 2017, and especially after having my legs redesigned in a motorcycle accident, staying near to the stream of water in Psalm 1 has seemed like a pretty good idea.  More than that, being foolish enough to endanger myself by straying again scares the tar out of me.  Why would I want to become incapacitated like that again and feel so horrible?   

God repeatedly uses the fresh, life-giving, life-sustaining resource as an obvious object lesson.  I’ll only speak for myself, but I wonder if God uses it because I’m so thick (stubborn? proud?).  In one of my favourite passages, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he provides a living water, one that will prevent thirst forever (John chapter 4). 

In Revelation 7:17 we read “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” 

Psalm 42:1 says “as the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.”

Psalm 36:8-9, “… you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” 

But the one that convicts my heart most pointedly is Jeremiah 2:13 

“My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken me, 

    the spring of living water, 

and have dug their own cisterns, 

    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” 

I’ve heard more than one preacher point out the truth of this verse so I get no points for originality.  But ouch.  Is he talking about wayward Israel or is he talking about me?  Yes.  Changing the source of water is a bad bargain. Every time I’ve traded the Living Water for some other hair-brained idea I have found I stink at making cisterns.  They never hold water.  Even if I were good at it, the water in it would be stagnant and who knows what kind of bugs, vermin and disease would lurk inside.  No, not for me.  Not anymore.  There is a spring of clean, living, loving, life-giving water and I want to stay right there!  Incidentally, since God is so big, I like to visualize, not so much a mountain stream, but something like Michigan’s magnificent Tahquamenon Falls.  Who could run out of water there? 

If you have ever found the Spring of Living Water, please let me encourage you to stay there.  Don’t leave Him.  You’ll shrivel up and dehydrate, even if you don’t feel thirsty.  You won’t have any life in you or be able to function the way God has designed you to.  If you have wandered from the Spring, come back!  Right now!  Joy and satisfaction wait for you.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, maybe you’ve never been to the Spring at all.  If not, then the water you find in puddles may seem to satisfy.  My prayer for you is that you’ll really feel just how dehydrated you are.  Whatever your situation, whatever your place, run to the Spring of Living Water and drink.  Jesus is the one who’ll lead you there.   

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Why My Bones Rejoice

Every broken bone would then become a mouth with which to bless God! — Charles Spurgeon

Broken bones hurt. When it’s a big bone, like the femur (thigh bone), the pain is among the worst a body can endure. The pain is as deep as the broken thing itself and there’s no relief to be had until the wonders of modern medication kick in. When David wrote Psalm 51 he painted just such a picture of his heart’s grief and pain over his fall. If you’re not familiar with the Psalm, it is one of King David’s Psalms known as the penitential Psalms. They are aptly named as he wrote them from the depths of despair over his own departure from God’s Way. He was the King of Israel, the boy who had slain the giant with a sling and stone because he dared to defy the God of Israel. He was called a man after God’s own heart by God himself (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). He was first in the line of kings that would eventually lead to the Messiah.

Yet he broke. His eyes betrayed him and he coveted another man’s wife. Then he took her. Then he plotted her husband’s death through military action to cover up his indiscretions when he learned Bathsheba was pregnant. The prophet Nathan confronted David with the truth and he was devastated. It seems almost like the shock of the charge woke him up from some sort of heart-hardened spell. When I think of the reality of that discussion between the prophet and king, my heart breaks for David because his story is close to home for me and countless other Christians who have dethroned God and replaced him with another.

More than once in my life have I leaned on David’s writings and mulled over the words “against you and you only have I sinned” or “restore to me the joy of my salvation.” But the last time I drank in the words of this Psalm, I had a very real object lesson to go with it. I had fallen hard and rejected God, becoming virtually faithless and wondered about the truth of Heaven and eternity. It seems we don’t use the term “backslidden” much anymore in Christian circles, but Charles H. Spurgeon used the term several times during his sermon on the 21st of March, 1869. More than six thousand words were spent that day on Psalm 51:8: “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have broken rejoice” and no words were wasted. You can read it at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons15.xiv.html#xiv-p0.1A

Yes, I was officially backslidden and though the period of time was only about 2 years, it turned out to be very destructive and very painful. In January of 2017 I began to realize that I was in desperate need of The Good Shepherd and I was one messed up sheep and the pastures were not really greener but a barren wasteland that made less sense than Alice’s Wonderland. Getting back on the Way was hard mostly because my heart wasn’t where my head knew it should be. But I began to walk in that direction, knowing that the crustiness of the heart would eventually chip away.

I was gaining ground and began to really understand that God was drawing me back. Over the months, I had survived church without any lightning bolts but never completely surrendered – that is until 3 July, 2017. That’s the day I met the future king in my underwear. In short, I was in a collision on the way into Cambridge (UK). My Harley Davidson crashed into the barrier, ripping my jeans off, throwing me in the air and breaking my legs to pieces somewhere along the way.

My left leg was ripped open because it folded the wrong way at the knee and the right one was ripped open in various places because the bones broke through and the soft tissue didn’t hold up so well. There are many details which are recorded elsewhere and I do hope they will become widely available because of all that’s to be learned from the ordeal. But for now, I’m focusing on those broken bones (one pinkie-finger (wait that’s not the masculine way to say that, is it?), three toes, one femur, one tibia, one fibula and one knee that’s not a knee anymore). I don’t remember the pain, meeting the thatchers who were the first people to come to my aid, Prince William, who co-piloted the air rescue helicopter to the scene, or the countless medical professionals who worked for hours to save my life and limbs. Still, I’ve seen many photos of the ordeal and still feel the pain from those broken bones. My legs are scarred, disfigured and deformed and I still can’t walk without crutches.

While my physical recovery began very slowly and still continues, somewhere in the horrifying ordeal, the Shepherd found his lost sheep and picked him up in his arms. I came out of my induced coma six days later and began a horrific nightmare the medical profession calls “delirium.” The details of that horrifying, altered state of mind are more vivid than the reality was for about two weeks. Still, though, parts of me – the rebellious heart, the stubborn head – were all fading away in the light of an inexplicable surrender and peace. It’s like I was being cleansed and restored and I found myself clinging to the feet of the Saviour.

These last two years have been very challenging as I strive toward normality, building my strength and re-learning how to walk. There have been dangerous infections, over a dozen operations, and over 100 X-rays (one doctor said he was surprised I wasn’t glowing). But that’s the nature of broken bones. They need intervention, tremendous care and a long time to heal, especially when broken through high-impact trauma. Spurgeon said in his sermon:

But if it should come to a broken arm, and leg, and rib—if in many places the poor human frame has become injured—how exceedingly careful must the surgeon be! Often the very treatment which may be useful to one member may be injurious to the other—disease in one limb may act upon another. The cure of the whole, where all the bones are broken, must be a miracle! If a mass of misery – a man full of broken bones – shall yet become healthy and strong, great credit must be given to the surgeon’s skill.

He explains that the broken bones in Psalm 51:8 are the deep, inconsolable pain of a backslider’s heart and conscience. I couldn’t say it any better myself. For sure, it was my heart that really needed help in July of 2017. The Great Physician (the one who moonlights as a Shepherd) did intervene. He did provide tremendous care, and he has guided me through much-needed healing. This Surgeon is a miracle-working, skilled Master of his trade and I’m forever grateful. The heart was healed because the bones were broken. My deformities, scars and pain serve as glorious reminders of all this. Some people say I’ve had life-changing injuries. Yes, that’s true. I have been changed. But it’s more accurate to say that I’ve had life-giving injuries.

I am moved by the charge to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12). Please remember that eternal life doesn’t start after death. It is now! Life is there for the taking. Jesus said “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:9-10). If eternal life were to be taken hold of, I now imagine it to be with my hands, arms and everything else I could wrap around it. It is life forever with the one, awesome, holy, loving God the Father. I cling to it and never want to let it go. God answered the prayer: my broken bones now rejoice.