TAMARAC, Fla. (AP) _ Dripping sweat and chugging water, workout enthusiasts step their way to fitness in a class billed as the Stairway to Heaven.

Walkers puffing on a treadmill struggle to the beat of Christian rock, check their pulse and pause to glance for inspiration at a Bible verse taped near the odometer.

Loungers sipping protein drinks in The Cross Cafe have it easy. They're taking the low impact road to building body and soul at the Lord's Gym.

``It's food for your soul while you're working out your body,'' says Judy Tierno, who joined the suburban Fort Lauderdale gym at the urging of her son. ``The spirit of God just permeates this place. You go home feeling so good.''

Across from a painting depicting an open hand holding a Bible against a pale, blue sky, co-founder John Freehling explains why he opened the gym.

``My vision was to have a place for Christians to come and work out,'' says Freehling, a 15-year veteran of the fitness business. ``We're in a major moral decay. Hopefully, we can strengthen, provide a place for people to come to be strengthened.''

Partner Tony DeGeorge's vision was of mission work and a source of business revenue to fund it. The two prayed together and opened the 11,000-square-foot fitness center filled with free weights, cardiovascular and strength training equipment, stationary bikes and, of course, Bible verses.

``I can get somebody to come to the gym three or four days a week easier than I can get a lot of people to go church three or four days,'' Freehling says. ``They may memorize more scripture in here, unfortunately, than they do at home.''

Memorizing scripture may not be a priority for the 550 non-Christians who frequent the 1,800-member gym. Still, Freehling says, ``Kindness and love is kindness and love no matter where it's at. ... A lot of people feel comfortable with that.''

``Nobody pushes anything on anyone,'' adds David Kornblum, a Messianic Jew who runs the Cross Cafe.

But just in case someone does want to talk religion, Kornblum has copies of the Hebrew, King James and New King James Bibles behind the cafe counter, plus a copy of the Torah.

``They come in just to talk to him,'' says Freehling, who calls the cafe a ministry unto itself.

For Wayne Adams, who joined soon after the gym's March 15 opening, the T-shirt and shorts dress code was the draw.

``I wanted to go to a gym that had a little bit of conservatism to dress,'' says Adams, who found that another gym where he worked out was ``just a meathouse.

``Women wearing virtually nothing and guys the same. I just felt out of place. There was just no shame.''

Prudishness is not the idea, Freehling says. ``The concept is we're trying to provide a non-threatening environment.''

For Scott Oberg, who became a Christian while in prison, that feeling is important. ``It's a safe place to socialize. And I don't think there's one of us who doesn't want to feel safe,'' Oberg says.

All the music and television stations at the Lord's Gym are tuned to Christian programs. Select secular music sometimes makes its way into an aerobics class.

But generally the exercise enthusiasts can ``Dance Like David'' in a low-impact aerobics class, burn it up on ``Chariots of Fire'' during an hour of spinning, or catch ``A Little Bit of Heaven'' doing low-impact sculpting.

It's helpful when following what Freehling and many members feel is a Biblical imperative to be fit.

``This is God's temple right here,'' Adams says, referring to his body. ``The greatest praise that we can give the Lord, the best way to thank him, is to take care of what he's given us.''

Lord's Gym is spreading, to West Palm Beach this month and possibly beyond. Inquiries about possible franchises have come from Florida, North Carolina, California, New York, Georgia, Texas and the Bahamas, Freehling says.

Monthly franchise fees will go 100 percent to ministry, mimicking the gym's policy of giving 10 percent of all gym dues to charities or places of worship specified by members, Freehling says.

``The gym is here to support ministry and charity work,'' he says. It's also a place where members can have fun.

``To be a great witness,'' says Freehling, ``you have to show the joy of Christ and we try to show that in every area. It's all part of the same thing.''