Exploring Covenant and Kingdom

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Category: Hebrews

Letting Go or Hanging On?


Leeches.  Nasty little organisms.  They hang on for dear life.  It takes great effort and tricks of the trade to be set free from them.  We have some leeches in the lake by our Bible camp.  For some who love the water and water activities that is no deterrent to them from enjoying the lake.  However, for others, leeches are big enough in their minds that they choose to stay out of the lake.  Leeches make a wonderful metaphor for things that cling to us and keep a hold of us that prevent us from being completely free.

This past Sunday we began a five week sermon series titled ‘Firm Beneath Our Feet’.  It is about knowing our identity, being certain about what we believe, which creates a firm foundation for our daily lives in the ever-changing world around us.  Non-negotiable truth #1 is that JESUS IS LORD.  ‘Lord’ isn’t a word we use very often in our modern English language.  Basically it denotes a person exercising absolute ownership rights.  Therefore, to say that Jesus is Lord is to proclaim that he has absolute authority over our lives which should result in complete surrender.

Easier said than done, though, right?  To submit all of who we are to his control.  That means my money, my leisure, my attitude, my desires, my ambitions, my possessions.  That is a tough sell for those of us who grew up in the Western World where we have been incubated in a culture that idolizes individuality and autonomy.  We don’t mind submitting parts of our lives to God, but all??  That cramps our style.  That impinges on my freedom of choice and the enjoyment of the lifestyle I lead.  If we cringe at any of the previous thoughts there’s a good chance it is revealing leeches in our lives.  What are we holding onto that we’d prefer is off-limits to God’s dominion?         

If you were with us a year ago we began a preaching journey through the New Testament book of Hebrews.  A repeated phrase in Hebrews is the exhortation to hold firmly to our “confession”, or to the faith we profess (i.e.Hebrews 4:14).  To confess something is to declare something or admit something.  And so in converting people made a confession of faith that included “Jesus is Lord” (cf. Romans 10:9)  The people that the letter of Hebrews was written to were facing persecution for their faith.  They were becoming weary in holding onto their confession that Jesus was the Messiah.  They were tempted to blend back into Judaism in order to feel temporary reprieve from the persecution.  Hebrews was written to those wearied people encouraging them to hold on!  Because this pressure is just temporary.  Remember, eternity is a blink away.  Don’t deny Christ for the momentary relief.  Don’t miss out on the Promises to come, as their ancestors in the Old Testament repeatedly did!


Denying Christ is not an unforgivable sin.  Just look at Peter before the crucifixion!  Thank God!  However, denying Christ puts us on a slippery slope that could easily lead to a hardened heart and an eternal separation.  It is important to hold firmly to our confession.  But that doesn’t mean merely the verbal acknowledgment.  Does it translate into the way we operate and live daily life?  We are fortunate in the West not to be put in life or death confession situations, however, reports out of the Middle East and other parts of the world tell us that Christians are constantly put in that very same situation.  ISIS, and persecutors over the millennia, give Christians the chance to save their lives by denying Christ and converting.  If they instead hold on to their confession they are killed.  That is 100% all-in confession that Jesus is Lord of my life!  May knowledge of our brothers and sisters martyred around the world for holding on to their confession be an inspiration for us to flick off the leeches that would keep us back from full surrender to the One who loves us with an incredible love and desires better things for our life than we imagine for ourselves.



But Isn’t Singing Worship?


We live in a land of capitalism, and the Christian community thoroughly participates in it.  The Christian consumer industry is alive and well.  I’m not against all that, but I do want to point out that there are probably unintended consequences that have developed;  One of those being the subtle equating of worship and music.  The modern worship movement has enabled many Christians to make a career out of singing Jesus songs.  People pay to experience and be led in worship by celebrity worship leaders (Case in point, as i write this I am hearing a radio promotion for an event called ‘Worship Night in America’).  I can appreciate a great concert and gathering with large crowds to lift my voice in praise to God. But is there harm done in all this?  I believe so.  I see it as perpetuating a definition of worship as exclusively singing.  The ripples of that places singing as the primary means of worship in the life of the believer, and places an unhealthy overemphasis on the importance of public space gathering (i.e. Sunday morning church service) as the ultimate Christian duty and experience.

As we concluded our preaching series on Hebrews this past Sunday, we looked at chapter 13.  Hebrews 13:15-16 says, “Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God”(NLT).  The writer describes the sacrifices we bring to God as twofold-confessing his name with our lips, and the acts of our hands.  I love the way Eugene Petersen paraphrases it in the message: “God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship-a different kind of “sacrifice”-that take place in the kitchen and workplace and on the streets”.  This is a needed corrective for many of us.  I believe we erroneously view worship through the lens of the old covenant instead of the new covenant.  There is still a place for music and singing as worship.  In fact, I think it is a discipline neglected by many in their daily lives.  There is great power and freedom that can be unleashed in our lives by including worship music in our daily rhythm.  But my point today is that we need to broaden our understanding of worship.  

In the new covenant music is only one form of worship and sacrifice that we can bring before the Father.  We need to be more intentional about offering our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1).  What implications does this have for church leadership?  It means we need to give consideration to what the other six days of the week include in the lives of our flock, and not measure their spirituality primarily by Sunday attendance.  This is a great paradigm shift, but I believe that in light of Hebrews 13, it is the right one.  This is a great invitation from our Heavenly Father; we can bring sacrifices before Him at any time and in any place!  

And so, how’s your worship of the Father this week?  May you embrace the greater opportunity the new covenant provides for you to worship God!        




Do you believe God wants to speak to you and partner with you to accomplish his purposes?  The Bible would argue that you should hold such a worldview!  On Sunday in our sermon series on Hebrews we covered chapter 11, probably the most well known chapter of the book; a.k.a. the Hall of Faith/Fame.  In it the author gives numerous examples of what a life of faith looks like, in order to encourage the original readers to have the same quality of faith that will allow them to persevere in their trials.

In addition to seeing the great heroes of the Old Testament that we would expect to see there, some uncommon people make the list too.  Moses’ parents make the Hall of Faith! Hebrews 11:23 says, “By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict”.  What the NIV translates as “no ordinary child”, many other versions (i.e.ESV) translate as “that the child was beautiful”.  This is noteworthy.  Whereas the NIV goes for the spirit of the law, others go for a more literal sense which sometimes can aid us in understanding more.  In this case, the NIV leaves us with a vague idea of why Moses’ parents knew he was special.  The other translations hint at the fact that it was something about his physical appearance that tipped his parents off.  This is consistent with the Greek translation of Exodus 2:2 which refers to extraordinary beauty.  Philo and Josephus ( 1st century Jewish philosophers and historians) both refer to this same aspect of Moses’ appearance and say that it was taken as a visible sign from God that he had great plans for Moses.  In regards to English translations of Ex.2:2 we have words that vary from “saw that he was a special baby”(NLT) to “saw that he was a fine child”(ESV) to “saw that he was beautiful”(NASB).  So we see that Moses’ parents therefore responded in faith to what God had shown them, rather than just hiding Moses in hopes that things would work out in the end.

Truly fascinating, if you ask me.  Now let’s zoom back out and think about the chapter as a whole.  I’ll re-ask the opening questions.  Do you believe God wants to speak to you and partner with you to accomplish his purposes?  I hope you answer that yes.  Because that is where the promised abundant life lies for us.  God can still speak through signs.  But on this side of Hebrews 11 we have the Holy Spirit that indwells us!  This is a far better thing than looking to the skies for signs!  We can learn to tune into the Spirit’s voice.  We can be certain of what he says.  As Paul says in Galatians, we are to keep in step with the Spirit.  This is a thing!  We can be conscious of His presence with us every day.  We can be led by Him.  He wants to partner with you.  This week!  There is no greater invitation we can ever receive than the one we have received from the King of the Universe to use us as his representatives!  Respond to Him and walk by faith.


Joyfully Accepted

joyfully accepts

To “grin and bear it” is to endure something unpleasant with good humour.  To “joyfully accept” something we usually associate with someone receiving something of great value and benefit.  The image of a celebrity receiving an award of honour or recognition comes to mind (as in the google image search result above).  In Hebrews 10, the writer does something unexpected as he associates “joyfully accepted” with adverse circumstances!

Thus far in our study of the book of Hebrews we’ve just been vaguely talking about how the book was written to 1st century Jewish Christians who were facing persecution.  But we haven’t mentioned what those specific circumstances were.  That’s because we’ve been holding back to let the author explicitly state that himself!  But we’ve had to hold off until chapter 10.  We have arrived.  Verses 33 and 34 state: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property“.  They joyfully accepted their circumstances!  How is that possible?!  We’d be screaming and yelling that our rights have been violated.  We’d arm ourselves to defend our property.  So what made them respond differently than we would?  The writer goes on to say they joyfully accepted it ” because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (v.34).  They recognized that God was in control of even that situation and thus responded with joy.  Their biblical worldview reminded them that the things seen are temporary, but their unseen future inheritance would be eternal (2 Cor.4:18)!  How many of us truly believe this?  How many of us have had our minds transformed to the degree that we can respond in such circumstances with joy, allowing the truth of our future to dramatically impact our lives now?  May the challenge of the example of the original readers move us on to maturity.  

That later truth of Paul (2 Cor.4) was a reflection of Jesus’ earlier teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 6:19-21 says:”Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also“.  The readers of Hebrews clearly had learned that simple lesson early in their Christian experience.  The author credits them with that and reminds them of their history.  By recognizing what they possessed in Christ, by setting their hearts on THAT reality, the devastating loss of their property and even their freedom was not such a hard blow to bear.  However, as time passed the pressure of persecution was wearing them down.  When we are worn out, sometimes the breathe of fresh air we need is the encouragement of being reminded of our faithfulness in the past.  And so, if you are weary in your faith, may you be encouraged to stay the course for great will be your reward!        





When I was a child, I had bad theology; as a result, I lived at times with unfounded fears.  I don’t recall where the false understanding originated, but I simply remember that “it was”.  For a period of time I thought that if I had an unconfessed sin and I died, I would go to hell.  As a result multiple times a day I prayed prayers of repentance asking for forgiveness.  Now I know I’m not the only one who has at times believed that!  But that’s just not what Scripture teaches.  The memory of my childhood torment came flooding back on Sunday morning while I was sitting in our church service, listening to a sermon on Hebrews 10:1-14.

Hebrews 10:14- For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

That verse (and others within the first 14 verses of Hebrews 10) reminded me of the peace and security that a child of God can live with.  The work of Christ is sufficient.  The work of Christ is thorough.  Sin can’t keep you out of heaven.  That’s good news!  It doesn’t mean that sin is harmless.  It doesn’t mean that with can sin with license and have a clear conscience.  But that is for another post!

With Christ’s death on the cross, he didn’t make us perfect until the next time we sin.  He doesn’t therefore need to die again for my sins, as the Levitical high priest had to offer sacrifices again and again for each new sin.  It says that his one sacrifice has made us perfect FOREVER!  That’s a pretty long time 🙂 .  As long as we are united with Christ, the Father remembers our sin no more.  The writer of Hebrews goes on to quote Jeremiah in v.17: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  The work of Christ on our behalf is a truly remarkable thing.  It achieves for us unlimited access to God.  It provides for us a secure identity.  Just as we don’t disown our children and they don’t cease to be our children when they fail, so we are members of God’s household, and it takes more than unconfessed sin to lose our spot.

I encourage you to take these wonderful truths and use them as a springboard into worship.  May your hearts and minds be filled with thanksgiving to your Heavenly Father.  May your secure identity as a beloved child of the King move you to live a life of obedience because that is the most natural expression of who you are!

The Back Door


Loopholes.  They allow people to circumvent custom and procedure.  For the good, or the bad.  You can get out of a traffic violation ticket that you are guilty of if the officer misspelled your name or wrote down the wrong home address on your ticket.  We preached through Hebrews chapter 7 this past Sunday.  In it, we can see how God creatively provided a “back door” through which Christ qualifies as high priest!

The old covenant dictated that men only qualified for the priesthood if they were from the tribe of Levi (Heb.7:5; Num.18:1-7).  But in Hebrews, the writer is proclaiming that Jesus, who doesn’t qualify (Heb. 7:13-14), is now our great high priest!  His whole argument hinges on this but to his Jewish Christian audience the credentials of Jesus posed a massive theological problem.  So how does the author of Hebrews back up his argument and solve this conundrum?  God gives him the wisdom to see and understand the unseen backdoor that God created thousands of years before!

The backdoor’s name was Melchizedek; An obscure, mysterious figure who makes the briefest of appearances in Genesis 14.  The first 10 verses of Hebrews 7 the author spent building a case for the fact that Melchizedek was in fact a legitimate non-Levite high priest, as affirmed by their patriarch Abraham’s actions!  Having proven the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham, the writer shifts next to focus on the superiority of one “like Melchizedek” (7:11-28).  He uses the only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old  Testament (Psalm 110:4) to show that Jesus’ priesthood is “after the order of Melchizedek”, and lasts “forever”.

All in a day’s work for God Almighty to work outside the box!  It was God who initiated the first covenant, but only intended it to be a temporary provision.  The permanent forever covenant was going to be initiated by the prophesied Messiah.  But the Jewish nation wasn’t prepared for this.  I think they were more attached to the covenant than the covenant partner!  What can we learn from this?  That we don’t see the whole picture.  That God can work in ways we don’t expect.  That God may overturn the apple cart because it was only a temporary provision for us.  Now I’m not talking about the means of salvation and relating to God.  That is set in stone forever now!  However, it could be in any other aspect of life.  Our methodologies.  Our life situation.  We must live in a humble posture before God.  He may surprise us and “change things up”.  The way to be prepared to respond to him is to be growing in our relationship with him, so that we can hear him when he speaks to us.  If we cling to the one who never changes and hold loosely to everything else, then we will be in the perfect place and posture!

Just Like Us


When “outsiders” or “others” experience what we do, they become one of us.  My family went to a mineral spa/pool last week here in Saskatchewan, Canada.  We engaged the lifeguard in conversation.  He was an immigrant from the Caribbean.  He moved here 4 years ago for work.  Although his accent and features betrayed his origins, because he has endured our brutally cold winters I can unreservedly accept him as “one of us”.  (Says the guy who has only lived here 3 years! LOL)  The point being, when we find someone has experienced the same thing as us, we are able to minimize our differences and instead focus on our commonalities.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that this same thing is true about Jesus.  Heb.4:15-“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”  Jesus FULLY participated in our human experience.  The writer of Hebrews makes this clear with the phrase “in every way”.  God incarnate-Jesus-not only became human, but experienced all that we do.  He wasn’t raised in privilege and isolated from pain and trial.  He could still have been the “Lamb of God” that takes away the sins of the world but not have been “one of us”.  But then he would not have been able to be a compassionate high priest.  But since he was tempted in every way, just as we are, he can be compassionate towards us.

What are the implications of Jesus being able to relate to us?  Hebrews 4:16 gives us the answer: “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  Just like I can speak with confidence with the lifeguard at the spa about the challenges of a Saskatchewan winter, so I can go to Jesus with any problems I have because I know he can empathize with me.  What a joy it is to have a confidence that I will be heard.  Are you living with that certainty and expectation that is yours in the Lord through covenant?  Don’t suffer alone and with no hope.  Don’t miss out on all that is available to you!

Important Instructions


Instructions of incredible importance are always worth listening to.  The first time you flew you probably paid careful attention to the flight attendant’s demonstration of safety protocol.  Once you’ve become a routine flyer you cease to stop and listen to those instructions, as you already know all that you need to survive a drop in cabin pressure or a crash.  Unfortunately for us, that same ‘familiarity breeding contempt’ can become part of our faith if we aren’t careful.

The opening words of the letter to the Hebrews states that “God spoke to our fathers…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2).  Hebrews calls us to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard (through the Son), lest we drift away” (2:1).  A unique feature of Hebrews, in the greater body of New Testament books, is that the author relies heavily upon Old Testament quotations.  This reliance was used because it would have been persuasive argumentation to the Jewish Christian readers who held the Scriptures in high regard.  Another unique feature is that when quoting the Old Testament the writer of Hebrews seldom acknowledges the human writer of that text.  Instead whoever penned Hebrews went to great effort of removing the intermediary and instead emphasized that God spoke those words to the people (see for example 3:7 and 4:4).  What can we learn from this?  That when God speaks through a human agent we must consciously filter out the vessel and listen earnestly to what God is saying to us.  The writer of Hebrews was also a  firm believer that God speaks to us for the purpose of transformation, not information.  When God speaks, it is meant for life change.  So when I read or hear the word of God, am I asking questions such as: “What am I going to do about it?”, or “What does this mean for my life?”, or “what changes must I make because of this?”.

How regularly do we respond or fail to respond to God’s Word?  If we really believe that the Bible is the Word of God, would we ever walk away from a Sunday sermon without taking time to wrestle with how God is expecting us to respond to what HE has said.  No matter who the preacher is we would be straining to hear God’s voice through his Word.  If we are apathetic toward God’s Word when it is preached or when we read it ourselves, that is a good indication that we have a growing problem with sclerosis of the (spiritual) heart!  Remember that this was a common chorus in chapters 3 and 4: “do not harden your hearts”.  We are to do whatever it takes to proactively ensure we don’t become hard-hearted.  The best way to do this is to keep our spiritual ears listening to what God is saying, and responding in obedience.

What if you don’t have a desire to read the Bible?  Pray.  Pray for that desire.  Do you think God will not answer that prayer?  He WANTS to talk to you!  But don’t wait until the desire comes before you start reading.  Start now in faith and keep reading out of obedience.

What if you don’t know how to read or understand the Bible? Ask for help!  Confess this to a pastor or trusted friend you know has strong Bible-reading habits.  They won’t judge you.  Instead, they will be thrilled to help you get started in a life-changing discipline!  Read it together with others.  Use the wisdom of others; buy a devotional book that has meditational thoughts included.  If you’re not a reader, listen to it.  May God bless you as you learn to tune into the voice of God.



In our journey through Hebrews we are seeing the author relying heavily on Old Testament stories and scriptures to exhort his readers (who were Jewish Christians and would give major weight to the Old Testament).  Let me briefly map this out for us.  In Hebrews 2:2 the writer broadly introduces the fact that people in the Old Testament were punished for disobedience within their covenant relationship with Almighty God.  He begins to build on that theme in chapter 3 by introducing a specific major defining moment in the history of Israel when they were in their infancy coming out of Egypt.  In Numbers 13 and 14 we find the narrative that the author is alluding to through a quotation out of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7-11.  The Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land of Canaan.  Moses sends out scouts to scope out the land.  10 of the 12 scouts bring back a fear-based report to the people centred around the “giants” that lived in the land.  The people buy that fear-mongering and rebel against God saying they want to appoint a new leader and return to Egypt.  As a result, this redeemed group of people are banned from the Promised Land.  The writer of Hebrews will continue to use this story as the base for warning in chapter 4.  But for the purposes of this post I want draw out truth based on the Psalm 95 quote.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,
where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Going astray, the hardening of hearts, and rebellion against God are associated in 3:10 with not knowing “his ways.”  The expression seems to indicate a failure to understand how God works.  Yes, there are some giants in the land!  But, that was all part of God’s plan to show his power in delivering them.  In a sense, the Israelites were well aware of how God worked.  They had experienced his amazing intervention in their lives repeatedly from the exodus out of Egypt until this present time.  So perhaps for the Israelites it was more of a NO instead of a lack of KNOW.  When God charges them with not knowing his ways, then, what he was referring to was the fact that the Israelites clearly did not WANT to know his ways.  They KNEW how God worked, but didn’t like it; and they would not commit themselves to doing this his ways.

How about us?  Hopefully the longer we have been a follower of Christ, the more we KNOW God’s ways;  We come to know his character, his power, and his voice through experience and increasing knowledge of the Bible.  We can look back and confidently see where his Hand has been at work.  We can make a list of definitive moments and answers to prayer.  We know his promises.  But when the next crisis arises, how do we respond?  Facing it with hope and confidence and faith because we “know His ways”?  Or do we fight it and expend all our energy and resources because we say “NO” to God’s methods, wanting to have a hand of control in our circumstances?

May we never be found guilty in the eyes of God of “not knowing his ways”.

Prepared Meal or Buffet Dinner?

prepared meal

This past Sunday we began a series on the book of Hebrews.  And so for the next quarter year these posts will mainly be supplemental material to the Sunday sermons.  Week 1 we looked at Hebrew 1:1-2:4 as a unit.  The letter (or sermon) written to Jewish Christians is a call to persevere and a warning not to drift back into Judaism in reaction to the persecution they are facing.  For the consequences of doing that would be far worse than losing their life to persecution!  We asked some questions to consider what type of things might we drift away to in attempts to find easier ways for our faith today.  I cannot wait to journey with you for the next while through this incredible book that God has inspired and preserved for us.

The first section we examined begins with contrasting how God had spoken to His people in the past “at many times and in many ways”(Heb.1:1), and how He had with finality spoken through the incarnation of the Son (Heb.1:2).  He spends the rest of chapter 1 painting a grandiose picture of who this Son is through whom God had spoken to them and to whom they should “pay much closer attention”(Heb.2:1).  In order to elevate the superiority of the Son, the writer quotes extensively in chapter one from the Old Testament to demonstrate that the Son’s message is to be adhered to instead of the message that came through earlier revelations (angels were seen as the instrument God used to deliver the Law to Moses).

There is some good application we can make from the methodology the writer of Hebrews used in presenting his argument.  From verses 5 to 13, the writer has drawn on a wide variety of OT passages to highlight Jesus’ unique status.  He quotes from the Psalms and the books of Deuteronomy and 2 Samuel.  In doing so, he reminds us of the importance of immersing ourselves in the Word of God in order to understand him more fully. Do we see that value in the Bible?  Do we intentionally expose ourselves to the whole breadth of God’s Word, or do we limit our focus to our favourite parts or only the easily understood parts?  The image that came to my mind is a culinary illustration (as per the photo at the top).  Do we eat all that is set before us, like a meal prepared by a chef who puts a lot of thought into a balanced nutritional meal?  Or do we prefer to go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where you can just pick the foods you like and gorge on those?  Dietitian or favourite meal?  Eating pizza everyday may taste good, but it is not good for us in the long term!

As we see used in Hebrews 1, Scripture informs and builds upon other parts of Scripture.  The whole of the Bible is inspired and helps us understand God’s rescue plan better.  Sticking to our favourite parts will stunt our growth in the knowledge and grace of Jesus.  If you aren’t in the practice and rhythm of reading the whole counsel of Scripture, let me encourage you to change that!  It’s simple and easy.  Let me recommend two different resources that could be of assistance to you in that endeavour.  The Moravian texts are a great daily reading guide that chooses a portion of Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms.  Join millions of other disciples who follow this plan by subscribing by email at: http://www.moravian.org/faith-a-congregations/an-introduction-to-the-daily-texts-2/ . There are numerous reading plans and schedules that are so easily accessible online these days.  One other spot you can go to is well know Our Daily Bread: http://odb.org/subscriptions/.  Go ahead!  Begin eating more nutritionally today and be prepared to see your spiritual muscles grow!