Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Enduring Truths for Recent Graduates

Eight years ago I wrote an article  for my newspaper column with some advice for recent grads.  It has become one of the most popular pieces I ever wrote. I’ve received hundreds of emails thanking me for writing it.  Therefore, I decided to  republish it annually around graduation time.  I hope some of you might find it useful.  You can view the original article in the Tribune-Democrat news at this link: http://goo.gl/LtN72

For those who are graduating high school this year and beginning the long transition into adulthood, I’d like to offer you a gift. Here are five enduring truths I have learned. They will help you through life’s journey.

Choices

“If you decide to just go with the flow, you’ll end up where the flow goes, which is usually downhill, often leading to a big pile of sludge and a life of unhappiness. You’ll end up doing what everyone else is doing.” ― Sean Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

 Life will deal you an endless string of choices along the way.  Some will be trivial, like deciding what to wear today.  Others will be weighty and their outcomes will affect you forever.  Weighty decisions should always be preceded by much thought and soul searching.  This includes decisions about who you date or marry, what you put into your body, bringing children into the world, what you do for a living, how much debt you incur and who you associate with.

All of these decisions will have a lasting effect on your life. Therefore, make them slowly and deliberately. Often you’ll discover that the right choice is not the easiest one.  A habit of making poor choices will, as the Sean Covey quote suggests, drag your life downhill.

I was recently contacted by a young man who had just received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy.  He asked me how the discharge would impact his future employability.  His mistake was choosing to drive a car while intoxicated and hitting a pedestrian. Fortunately, the victim wasn’t seriously injured. Had it been otherwise, the young sailor would probably be in prison.  It was my sad responsibility to inform him that with some employers the discharge would be a black mark for life. Choices matter!

Learning

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”    ―Vernon Saunders Law, former professional baseball pitcher and Cy Young Award winner

Some of you will go on to college or technical school.  Others will enter the workforce.  Even if your formal education is over, don’t quit learning. Make learning a lifelong adventure.  I did my undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky.  The school offers a fellowship program for individuals aged 65 and older to attend classes tuition free. Every year numerous senior citizens walk the stage to receive degrees ranging from Associate of Arts to Doctor of Philosophy.  It’s never too late to learn.

Even if you don’t choose to continue formal learning, make it point to learn from life. Observe others; note their successes and failures; then learn from their experiences.  More importantly, learn from your own mistakes.

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, particularly those while serving in uniform, were the result of having made a terrible mistake.  This sort of lesson sticks, like the first time you grab the handle of a hot iron skillet with your bare hand.  The key to learning from mistakes is owning them.  Admit your mistakes and then move on, having learned something from the experience.  Don’t let, “It wasn’t my fault,” be part of your vocabulary.

Work

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”  ―Colin Powell, retired U.S. Army four-star general and former U.S. Secretary of State

Work isn’t always fun. If it were, they’d call it play.  Work can be downright unpleasant, but it’s an essential element of life! Along the way you’re going to have jobs you won’t like. Note what you don’t like and make it a point to improve yourself, so you’ll never again have to work at such a job.

Accepting a job means submitting to the authority of those placed over you.  Learn to work within this system.   You’ll inevitably have bosses you don’t like.  Learn to respect the position, if not the individual.

Fairness

“Life is not fair; get used to it.” ―Bill Gates, founder and former CEO, Microsoft Corporation

You will hear much discussion about fairness in this life. It’s all hot air.  Life isn’t fair.  Some good people die young, while some bad people live a long life.   Disease sometimes strikes arbitrarily, for no apparent reason.  Some people prosper while others suffer failure. A death or accident can change your life forever.

There is randomness to life that can’t be avoided.  Don’t expect kindness to be returned with kindness.  Don’t expect generosity to be returned with generosity.  The best choice is to be fair and kind to others and learn to accept what they return to you.

A wise man named Harry Browne ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party ticket. On Christmas day in 1966, Browne wrote his young daughter a letter aptly titled, “A Gift for My Daughter.”  I encourage every graduating senior to read it and digest it. In the letter, he explains to his daughter that, “Nobody owes you anything.”  Understanding what Browne meant can truly bless you. You can find it at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2009/12/22/a-gift-for-my-daughter/ 

Faith

“A faith is a necessity to a man. Woe to him who believes in nothing.”  ―Victor Hugo

I once had a senior Army officer tell me he preferred to work with men who possessed spiritual values, regardless of their religion.  He explained that having faith in a power higher than one’s self was an indicator of how one will perform under pressure; in this instance, the pressure meant combat.

Too many people place their faith in all the wrong places.  It might be in wealth, celebrity, good looks, talent, or even government.  Whatever the case, misplaced faith leads to disappointment after disappointment.

To avoid these disappointments, put your faith in God alone.  You, your loved ones and your friends will all inevitably let you down, but God will never fail you.

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

The blessings of quarantine (and being out of control)

Quarantine

Just as every dark cloud has a silver lining, so too does a COVID-19 quarantine have its own hidden blessings.  Without question, the greatest blessing I’ve received so far in a self-imposed quarantine is the daily reminder that I’m not in control of my situation.  The Army trained me as a planner—to plan every detail and for every imaginable contingency.  But who could have anticipated this?  Remembering that I’m no longer in control helps me focus on almighty God, the source of all goodness and blessings in our lives.  

The gift of time is a common topic for many people these days.  I’ve heard numerous folks commenting on this—more time to read a book; to clean up clutter in garages, storerooms, and drawers; cook healthy meals; exercise; write letters and cards; sleep; and pray.

I’ve also heard a lot of discussion about more time spent together with loved ones—having sit down dinners with the family; helping the kids with their school lessons; taking family walks; popping popcorn and having a movie night; playing board games around a table; playing outdoor games in the backyard; having long phone calls with family and friends; and simply walking the dog.

I’ve been reminded how fortunate we Americans are that, even in the midst of this major crisis, our supply chains and critical infrastructures continue to function, providing for our basic needs like groceries, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, electricity, water, and fuel. During my military career I witnessed firsthand in the Hurricane Andrew aftermath, Somalia, and Bosnia how quickly social order deteriorates when supply chains and critical infrastructures are disrupted and a population must depend upon the government, military and relief agencies for their basic needs.

I’ve also been reminded of the many wonderful people it takes to keep our daily lives running smoothly. I live in a household with three generations.  It’s been wonderful watching my daughter teach her middle school science students online while she sits on a bar stool at the island in the kitchen.  It’s been delightful watching our grand kids busily doing their school lessons on iPads while sitting around the dining room table. It’s been amazing watching my tireless wife keeping the grand kids focused, helping them with their lessons, and refereeing their occasional bouts.

I’ve also been reminded how many people are placing their own lives on the line to ensure we beat this pandemic.  Let us lift up our voices in prayer for all of them:

O Holy Spirit, we thank you for the advancements that have led to improving the health of so many. We beg you to inspire new breakthroughs in overcoming the coronavirus and all serious flu viruses. Protect, we pray, health care professionals from the illnesses they are treating, and make them instruments of your healing. Protect, we pray, emergency medical workers on the front line of the Coronavirus battle.  Protect, we pray, police, firefighters and other first responders engaged in this battle. Protect, we pray, the men and women of the armed forces who are daily receiving orders to join this battle. Pray for those who fly the planes, drive the trains, the trucks and work in the grocery stores to keep us fed and keep critical supplies moving. Dear God, as you led Moses, Joshua and David in battles against the Israel’s enemies, guide our leaders and all of us today as we fight this unseen enemy. Amen.

As we prepare to observe the most Holy Christian day of Easter and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, I pray that God will bless, protect, comfort and strengthen you all.  Lift up your voices in prayer to the Most Holy Redeemer.

Prayer to the Most Holy Redeemer

 (Anima Christi)

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.

Body of Christ, save me.

Blood of Christ, embolden me.

Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.

O good Jesus, hear me.

Within thy wounds hide me.

Never permit me to be parted from you.

From the evil Enemy defend me.

In the hour of my death call me.

and bid me come to thee,

that with your saints I may praise thee

for age upon age. Amen.

May the Lord God strengthen your faith as we pass through these troubled waters. I offer you this prayer in closing.

A Celtic Prayer of Faith

We arise each day through a mighty strength:

God’s power to guide us,

God’s might to uphold us,

God’s eyes to watch over us,

God’s ear to hear us,

God’s word to give us speech,

God’s hand to guard us,

God’s way to lie before us,

God’s shield to shelter us,

God’s host to secure us.

—St. Brigid of Gael, (c.451–525)

These trying times

King David stretches out his hands in prayerKing David stretches out his hands in prayer,  Hungarian Gradual 1500-20

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  American patriot, poet, philosopher, and political activist Thomas Paine penned these words in December 1776, referring to the difficulties associated with America’s Revolutionary War.  Paine’s words couldn’t ring truer today. These are tough times. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused rapid, fundamental changes in the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world. The pandemic effects are cascading and could affect us for a generation.

Christians have special responsibilities during times like these.  My recommendations for all who profess Christ as their Savior are as follows:

Trust in God: Viruses are a natural part of this world. Remaining informed, preparing and not panicking are vital when facing contagion, just like we plan for natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards. No matter how dire the situation might appear, the Lord remains our refuge and strength, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). When Christians put their trust in God, it bears witness to the power of Jesus Christ to all those around us.

Pray Without Ceasing: Be aware of God’s presence and have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Pray for the sick, those who are frightened, and those who are alone. Pray for public health officials, for doctors and nurses, researchers, caregivers, emergency management personnel and police. Pray for our elected leaders, especially those who will be making important decisions that will impact many lives. Pray for those who have lost their jobs and whose continued employment is at risk.  Pray for those who have lost their child care.  Pray for those who have had their school year disrupted.

A Prayer for Protection

Since you, O God, are with us,
nothing that has happened, nothing still to come,
can rob us of our hope in Christ.
Sustain us, we beg you,
during this time of uncertainty.
Bless all the emergency and medical personnel
who are caring for the sick and working to contain the outbreak.
Grant swift recovery to those who are affected
and comfort to their families and loved ones.
Encourage those who are afraid.
Bind us now, more than ever,
to you and to each other,
so that we may triumph
by the power of him who loves us,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Social Distancing, not Social Disconnection: Caring for the sick and dying is a fundamental calling of Christians. Early Christians were noted for caring for the sick and dying, sometime risking their lives. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Even if a pandemic prevents Christians from gathering as congregations to worship, they can still support one another in caregiving. This can be in the form of prayer, verbal encouragement in person or by phone, and coming alongside others to provide help. Each individual’s personal situation will dictate the level of risk he or she is willing to accept.

Be Informed, not Misinformed: Today we live in the Information Age.  Unlike previous times, where people may have suffered from a paucity of information, today people are bombarded by information from thousands of sources on a 24/7 basis. Many of these sources are not accurate or reliable. It is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources.  Here are some good sources.   

 

Crises come and crises go.

When they’ll happen you never know!

But rest assured that God is there,

to keep you in his loving care.

This will pass!

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? –Matthew 6:25–27

 

Caring for the Temple of the Holy Spirit

OverweightAaaaggh!

I spent over 24 years of my adult life as an officer in the US Army.  To say that I was in good physical condition would be a gross understatement. I served a tour of duty in the 75th Ranger Regiment, one of the Army’s elite organizations. I was a paratrooper, jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and floating to Earth under a silk canopy.  I also served in the 10th Mountain Division, one of the Army’s toughest and most respected divisions.  Since 2001, the 10th Mountain has been the most deployed division in the US Army.  The Army encourages, even demands, good physical fitness of its soldiers. 

Fitness is in my DNA. I feel out of sorts if I can’t exercise three to four days per week.  Nevertheless, I find myself in a fitness conundrum today.  When I retired from the Army in 2001, I was a fit 205 pounds, well within the limits for my muscular, six-foot frame. Today I find myself about 30 pounds heavier; the extra weight can be attributed to a combination of age, indiscipline, and total knee replacement surgery, which I underwent about 11 months ago; the latter totally wrecked my physical fitness routine.  I’m still in recovery!

I’m not happy with my current weight.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I viewed my condition as purely a physical fitness challenge—a need to get back into shape to reverse the changes that have taken place since my surgery.  However, I recently experienced a healthy change of attitude. 

I credit the change to my dear friend Cliff, who also struggles with his weight.  He recently introduced me to a book called Every Body Matters, by Gary Thomas. As the book cover explains, it is about “Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul.”

Having personally struggled with his weight, Thomas uses scripture to demonstrate that, for Christians, physical health is as important as spiritual health. Thomas demonstrates that physical fitness, rather than being something that make us more attractive to others, makes us more useful to God. I recommend his book to anyone who has struggled with physical fitness or being overweight. Thomas offers a Holy Spirit-led approach to developing a physical being that is of maximum use to God.

Thomas cites these words of St. Paul:  (All Bible citations were taken from the ESV.)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

…I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:27

…let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1

Many Bible commentators interpret bodily sins to mean sexual sins.  While Thomas would agree with this, he goes on to discuss the need for developing discipline in what we put into our bodies (i.e. food).  As I previously noted, he frames the discussion in terms of disciplining our bodies, not to make us attractive to others, but to glorify God (…you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20)

I highly recommend Every Body Matters to all Christians who struggle with their weight. I promise it will change your perspective on being overweight and motivate you to do something about it.  It has led my wife and me to challenge each other.  During the upcoming season of Lent (Feb 14 – Mar 29), we will embark upon a 40-day regimen of time-restricted eating. 

In a nutshell, this means we’ll eat normally for 6 hours each day, while fasting the remaining 18 hours. By most accounts, this eating pattern is easy to adjust to and usually results in remarkable weight loss for those having the discipline to stick with it.  We’re not looking for a new diet or fad, but a lifestyle change. Wish us luck!  At some point in the future, I’ll share our experience.

Protecting your health is the same as protecting the vehicle with which God wants to change the world.  —Gary Thomas

 

Count Your Blessings

faucet-with-drinking-water                                            Count your many blessings, name them one by one.

                                                                                                  —Johnson Oatman Jr.

 

Our Daily Bread is one of the daily devotionals I read regularly. A recent piece by David Roper titled Stage by Stage, focuses on the Old Testament book of Numbers 33.  The chapter tells us God commanded Moses to write down the story of the Jews’ 40-year pilgrimage that began with escaping from slavery in Egypt and ultimately took them to the plains of Moab, a strip of land that today is part of Jordan.

Roper speculates that God’s reason for commanding Moses to document this pilgrimage was to allow the Jews to “…retrace that journey in their thoughts and record God’s faithfulness at each location.”  The Seder meal the Jews celebrate to mark the beginning of Passover is closely tied to Numbers 33, which seems to support’s Roper’s argument.  Each course of the Seder meal recalls an event in God’s liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as told in the book of Exodus.

God is truly faithful and His faithfulness alone is blessing enough—but there are so many additional blessings in our lives if we will simply look for them. Focus determines attitude.  I’m no spring chicken, so I’ve developed a few medical problems over the years, like having four root canals.  What a blessing to have a root canal!  What did people do a hundred years ago?

I could focus on other, more lingering medical problems and quickly become depressed as I grow older.  Instead, I’ve tried to heed the lesson of St. Paul who says in Philippians 4:11 (NIV), “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Focus on the positives in life and you’ll find your blessings. For those of us fortunate enough to live in the United States and other developed countries in the West, it shouldn’t be difficult to compile a long list of blessings. Think about it!

                                              ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free…                                                                             (From “Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker tune by Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr., 1848)

During my military career I spent some time in Saudi Arabia. Unless you’ve been there, I could never begin to explain how lacking in personal freedom the average Saudi people are.  Saudi Arabia reminds me how blessed we in the Western World are to simply be free.    

Westerners can turn on a faucet and draw a drink of clear, clean water. This truly is a blessing that most people take for granted.  Serving in Somalia when I was in the Army drove the point home, as I watched Somali workers building a bridge drawing water directly from the muddy Juba River and drinking without disinfecting it. I’m frequently reminded of this blessing when I take a drink of cold water.  

Westerners can walk into a grocery store and find food in abundance that, 200 years ago, would have made the great kings of Europe envious.  Here in my hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D., we even have a Christian ministry called The Banquet that serves free meals to anyone who walks in the door—no questions asked (https://thebanquetsf.org/).  

My family and friends are all blessings to me. Proverbs 5:18 tells men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” (NIV). I’ve been blessed with nearly 40 years of marriage to my wonderful wife who I met when I was 17 years old. We have both been blessed by children and grandchildren.

I have a good number of dear friends, some of whom I’ve known since high school. When I say dear friends, I’m talking about the ones I could easily trust with my money, my house keys, and caring for my children.

One such friend was recently involved in a head on collision.  He was banged up pretty badly, but I’m blessed to still have him around. I have a couple of friends who have died.  I was blessed to have had them in my life. I have another friend who has been blind for life; he taught me what a blessing it is to simply be able to see.

Comedian and actor Bill Murray recently received the Mark Twain Award for humor from the Kennedy Center.  He grew quite emotional during his acceptance speech and closed by saying to the ceremony attendees:  “Look at each other. Look at who we are. Look at how we are all together here right now. Alive! That’s pretty good, right?”

Bill Murray gets it! Do you?

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.”

                                                                                                                          –Psalm 40:5 (NIV)

Exercise for the Soul

Exercise

I’m not a big fan of reality TV, but there is one show I really enjoy.  The Biggest Loser is about helping morbidly obese people lose weight and regain their health and vigor. The contestants, all of whom are obese and suffering from multiple weight-related ailments, live at an isolated health compound and work with world class trainers throughout their stay.  It’s fascinating to watch the amount of work Biggest Loser contestants need to correct years of behavior problems like overeating and under exercising.

One phenomenon that is readily evident to viewers of the show is how former athletes—those who at one time were accustomed to vigorous exercise and discipline—seem to progress much faster than those who have never routinely exercised or disciplined their bodies.

Besides weight loss, The Biggest Loser delves into the psychological struggles waged by each contestant. Some succeed, while others never quite make it.  Now in its 10th season, the show has generated a Biggest Loser fitness movement across the country.

Many Americans are dedicated to physical fitness routines. Yet a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that 80 percent of American age 18 and above do not exercise sufficiently to maintain good health.

Far fewer practice a discipline of exercise for the soul.  What a shame we can’t seem to find a way to generate a spiritual fitness movement across our country!  For Christians, exercise for the soul is more important than physical exercise, because the Holy Spirit dwells within our bodies, which St. Paul calls, “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Left neglected, either by sin, complacency or getting buried in the business of day-to-day life, the Holy Spirit cannot speak to us.  Our bodies require daily attention on both the physical and spiritual levels. Prayer must be at the center of attention. Personally, this is an area I’ve struggled with lately.

Popular evangelist and church pastor Rev. David Jeremiah has said, “Prayer is the hard-work business of Christianity, and it nets amazing results.”  German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was very specific in promoting the benefits of prayer, saying,

The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. The morning prayer determines the day.”

 Having practiced morning prayer for many years, I appreciate its importance to a Christian’s well being.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order of Roman Catholicism, was a Spanish knight who lived from 1491 to 1556.  As a young man, Ignatius kept a journal of his quest to grow in unity with God and discern God’s will in his life.  As his experience grew, the journal evolved into a well-defined set of prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions that are known today as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

These exercises are grouped into four stages, described as weeks but not literally seven-day periods, which are designed to be led by a director, or guide.  The Spiritual Exercises are intended to serve as a sort of lesson plan for the individual leading the exercises, not as a guide for individuals.

However, even without a director many aspects of the Spiritual Exercises can be useful to individuals seeking spiritual growth and greater commitment to serving God. This is particularly so for the way the Spiritual Exercises approach prayer through meditation and contemplation.

Meditation involves praying about the good and bad words, images and ideas that guide our lives.  Contemplation is emotion-driven, rather than thought-driven.  It focuses on placing ourselves in scenes from the Gospel and trying to imagine how it might have been.  Contemplation is praying through scripture rather than studying scripture.

One of the key elements of the Spiritual Exercises is the discernment of spirits.  According to St. Ignatius, the human spirit is influenced by three forces: an inward focus on self and selfish desires; Satanic power and suggestions; and God-inspired power and suggestions. Ignatius called these the “spiritual motions.”  The purpose of discernment is to discover the source of each spiritual motion in our lives, so as to help us help make good decisions.

Many contestants on The Biggest Loser reach so-called plateaus—a weight they just can’t seem to get below.  To overcome this barrier, they change their daily exercise routines, doing something different to restart the weight loss trend.

The same approach can be applied to spiritual exercises.  I do a fair job of exercising my body, but lately I’ve felt like my prayer life has slumped—I’ve hit a plateau.  I have difficulty concentrating and find my mind wandering when I pray. In the remaining days before the beginning of Advent, I plan to try a new prayer regimen built around the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.  Have you hit a prayer plateau?  Perhaps it’s time to change your exercise routine for the soul.

 “Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.”

                                                                                       Edwin Keith

An English text of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is available online at: http://www.jesuit.org/jesuits/wp-content/uploads/The-Spiritual-Exercises-.pdf.  The Website “Ignatian Spirituality,” a service of Loyola University Press, was the primary source for this blog entry (www.ignatianspirituality.com).

Beyond Thanksgiving

Army field worship service

Read:  Job chapter 1.

Tomorrow millions of Americans will gather with friends and family to give thanks for the blessings of the past year. Thanks will be voiced for many things—family, friends, gifts, wealth, and acts of kindness by others just to name a few.

Sometimes personal adversity makes it is hard to give thanks though.  Death, job loss, divorce, failing health and many other adverse circumstances can rob us of joy.   Yet we always have the assurance of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Even when our personal lives become chaotic, we have the assurance that God remains in control.  According to St. Paul, we suffer, “…that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”  (2 Corinthians 1:9, NIV).

Regarding the promise of Romans 8:28, John Piper has observed, “So the rugged hope of the believer is not that we will escape distress or peril or hunger or slaughter, but that Almighty God will make every one of our agonies an instrument of his mercy to do us good. ‘You meant it for evil,’ Joseph said to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, ‘but God meant it for good.’  (Genesis 50:18-20) And so it is with every calamity of those who love God. God meant it for good!”

While it might be difficult to see the good in today’s circumstances, someday it will be perfectly clear. During our lives we have an imperfect understanding of divine things. But as 1Corinthians 13:12 promises,For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Even when our personal circumstances are tough we should always give thanks to God for the cross—that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus became sin for us and in our stead suffered the punishment we all deserve.

Beyond mere thanksgiving though, God is worthy of our worship.  Worship is an act of awe and reverence done in recognition of God for whom and what He is, not what he has done.  We can follow the example of Job, who remained blameless before God even as his personal world was caving in around him:

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” —Job 1:18-21 (NIV)

King David provided another example for us to follow. When his infant son grew ill, he fasted and prayed to God throughout the night to spare the child.  But, when he learned that the child has died, rather than having an emotional breakdown, David arose, bathed himself, put on clean clothes and then went to the Lord’s house to worship.   (2 Samuel 12:15-20).

In John 16:33 (NIV), Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   In John 17, Jesus’ prayer reminds us that his followers are not of this world, even as He is not of this world.  We will all suffer at times during our lives, but we need look no farther than the cross to find peace amid life’s tribulations.

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”― Corrie ten Boom

 

Discipline in Everything

Cupcakes

Developing discipline is neither easy nor pleasurable. Anyone who has tried to diet knows this! For most people, dieting is a struggle between the desires of the body and the needs of the spirit.

Like dieting, a good job search also requires strict discipline. The best approach is to develop a strategy and stick to it. Your strategy must be proactive. It should include networking, personal branding & marketing, lots of research and a double dose of patience and perseverance. Approach your job search like a fulltime job until you find employment. At the same time, use your period of unemployment as an opportunity to improve yourself: try to shed a few of those extra pounds; develop a fitness routine to improve your physical condition; work on acquiring some new job skills that will make you more marketable and current in your field; reach out to help others around you; and work on disciplining yourself spiritually.

Taking just a few minutes of quiet time each morning to pray, study the scriptures and reflect on the day ahead will add clarity and purpose to your day. Christians could learn a lesson from the followers of Islam. Muslims stop five times per day to pray–morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Periodically pausing for prayer throughout each day is guaranteed to help you cope with stress and worry, two challenges that you will encounter daily while unemployed.

Mark 1:35 (NKJV) tells us that, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He (Jesus) went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” If this is the way the Lord began his mornings, how can we do otherwise? If you don’t currently start the day with some quiet time with God, I challenge you to give it a try during this season of Lent. A blessing awaits you.

Psalm 84, the blessedness of dwelling in the house of God
How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
3 Even the sparrow has found a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young—
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
They will still be praising You. Selah
5 Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.[b]
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 O God, behold our shield,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
10 For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts,
Blessed is the man who trusts in You! 

Today’s Lenten Prayer: a prayer for self-discipline
Lord, give me the wisdom to see
No good life comes without right discipline.
Give me the grace to impose it upon myself
Lest others do it for me.
Help me to discipline my tongue
That I may be clear rather than clever
Sincere instead of sarcastic
Help me to discipline my thinking and actions
To do what is right
And not what is easy
Let me get on with the job on hand
Doing the best I can
And leaving the rest to You. Amen.

Today’s Reading: Oswald Chambers – the Discipline of Spiritual Perseverance
http://utmost.org/the-discipline-of-spiritual-perseverance/

Life’s Balancing Act

You shall not go out with haste, . . . for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard —Isaiah 52:12

If you’ve been to a circus or watched one on television, it’s likely you were entertained by a tightrope walker performing amazing stunts while balancing on a thin wire suspended between two large poles.  It’s an incredible feat and most of us can’t imagine doing something requiring such skill, concentration and coordination.  Unfortunately, the older you grow the more likely it becomes you will have to perform an even more difficult balancing act–maintaining balance in your life.

As a management consultant, the “Wheel of Life” illustration at the head of this post is something I use frequently when conducting time management seminars and coaching.  How can you tell when a wheel is badly out of balance on your car?  You might feel a “shimmy” in the steering wheel.  Your life is like a wheel, constantly spinning as you go and go.  If  a part of your personal wheel of life is out of  balance, it tends to affect all of the other parts on the wheel.

      FAMILY – PHYSICAL – MENTAL – SPIRITUAL – CAREER & FINANCIAL – SOCIAL

Science had shown that trying to keep the six areas on the outer perimeter of the “Wheel of Life” in balance will lead to a higher quality of life.  It will also make you more efficient and content with your life in the workplace and at home. This doesn’t mean you should devote an equal amount of time to each area on the wheel.  At certain points in life you will have to devote a lot of time to one area over all of the others.   Those caring for aging parents, raising young children or dealing with serious health concerns know exactly what I mean.

However, it’s a certainty that if any area on the wheel is neglected for too long it will have a serious impact on many or all of the others. For instance, if you fail to pay attention to your health and let yourself become morbidly obese, it’s fairly clear this will affect other areas on your wheel.

Many of my clients have such busy schedules that they feel like there’s insufficient time in the day to stop and plan out their actions.  They live each day in full “reaction” mode, bouncing back and forth between whatever task demands the most attention at the moment.  They start work early, stay late and constantly feel tired and swamped.  Worst of all, at the end of the day they have no feeling of accomplishment, which leads to frustration and unnecessary fretting.

Periodically taking time to stop and evaluate the situation is guaranteed to give you clarity and make your life simpler.  I advise my business clients to spend 10-15 minutes at the beginning of each day reviewing their calendars and organizing their daily tasks.  This helps ensure that they focus on the most important tasks on their “to do” lists.

The same principle applies to everyone.  Taking just a few minutes of quiet time each morning to pray, study the scriptures and reflect on the day ahead will add clarity and purpose to your day.  Christians could learn a lesson from the followers of Islam.  Muslims stop five times per day to pray–morning, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. Periodically pausing for prayer throughout each day is guaranteed to help you cope with daily stress and worries.

It seems that I’ve spent a good deal of my life in a hurry.  My mother was always telling me to slow down. It took me years to figure out what she meant.  As we begin a new year, it’s a great time to reassess how we spend our time.  As we move forward in 2012, let’s proceed with the power of knowing that the God of Israel goes before us and clears a pathway for us, if only we will follow Him.