Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Watch your step! Establishing a healing and healthy lifestyle

At the beginning of the year I started practicing Taichi, following a Yu Sifu. For the first few weeks my knees were very painful, especially my right knee. I thought "over time your knees with strengthen and the pain will go away".  Then we had some heavy rain that prevented us from going out and practicing Taichi for a few days. The pain in my knees went away. I realized that the Taichi itself was injuring my knees, because I was positioning my feet and legs improperly. In TaiChi your weight will shift from one leg to the other, sometimes putting a tremendous amount of weight and force on the knee. If your foot isn't properly aligned with knee you can injure yourself. This most gentle of exercises can be very hard on the knees if you don't pay careful attention to technique. When I started paying attention to proper alignment of my feet, knees and body - the pain in my knees went away.

The author of Hebrews says
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13 (emphasis mine)

Discipline is designed to lead to "self discipline". Going through a time of discipline is painful and unpleasant. There is a danger that I might let it go to waste, fall back into old patterns of doing things. The way to avoid that is "make straight paths for your feet". During times of discipline we need to make straight paths for our feet. What are straight paths?

  • healthy habits
  • healthy thought patterns
  • healthy community and accountability
The goal is healing "that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed".  

In the practice of Taichi I needed first to stop injuring myself. Watch where you place your feet and how you place them. Take heed where you walk and how you walk. Create an environment that is conducive to growth and healing, and that avoids unnecessary temptation to return to an unhealthy lifestyle. Find some healthy people and form a community with them or join their community. Make straight paths for your feet. 

What a shame it would be if I am going through a time of discipline and instead of learning "self discipline" I went back into old patterns of thinking and doing that ended in my life being "out of joint". 

The ultimate goal of discipline is healing and health. "Be healed". That is what God wants for you and me. I want to do my part to make sure this time of discipline results in healing and health NOT an "out of joint" life. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Strengthen your weak knees, time to stop shaking

Beginning in middle school, our teachers started to force us to stand in front of the class and make presentations. I was terrified. My legs and my voice shook violently. When I finally was allowed to sit down, I felt drained, humiliated and angry. If another boy snickered at my pain, I made him pay for it between classes. Even today at age 61 I still sometimes suffer from "weak knees", fear that threatens to take over my body and turn me into its drone. 

Heb 12:12-13 says "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed."

In times of discipline weak knees can be deadly. It is time to stand steadfast. It is not time to flinch and run. Weak knees want to make for the exits.  Weak knees want to say "enough all ready, I quit." There may be a time for quitting, but this is NOT it. There may be some things that you should leave behind, but this season of discipline is not one of them.

Hebrews 12:12 looks like a quote from Isaiah 35.  Below is the whole chapter, only 10 verses. It is a promise of restoration. It is encouragement for the weak kneed.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;  the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;  it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.  
    The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the  Lord , the majesty of our God.     
   Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”     
   Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;  then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  
   For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;  in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 
    And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;  the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
    No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 
    And the ransomed of the  Lord  shall return and come to Zion with singing;  everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Did you know that your hands are drooping?

"Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed."

Have you ever been to a worship service where the worship leader instructed everyone to raise their hands to heaven, but then he never tells you to put them down? Or a prayer meeting where you're told to stretch out your hands towards someone in need, and then the prayer goes on and on and on so that you arms feel like they are going to drop off? Outstretched hands are a sign of dependence and supplication, but it is difficult to maintain that posture.

In Exodus 17 the army of Israel goes out to fight against the Amalekites. Moses stands on a nearby mountain watching and praying. Whenever he lifts his staff to heaven, Israel prevailed, but when he lowers his arm the Amalekites had the upper hand (no pun intended). Finally Aaron and Hur move a stone over and allow Moses to sit down and the two of them hold up his arm until the Amalekites are finally vanquished.

When you are undergoing discipline or fighting a war with your version of Amalekites, drooping hands are a problem. Heb 12:12 says to "lift your drooping hands". You and I are not going to make it through this season of discipline with drooping hands. We need to pray. Pray what? Declare our dependence on God. After Israel had defeated the Amalekites they had a memorial service where Moses says the oddest thing. He says "A hand upon the throne of God". No explanation, just that short phrase. I imagine that Moses was completely exhausted and had only enough energy left for one sentence, not even a full sentence at that, just a phrase panted out from an exhausted man - "a hand upon the throne of God". What did he mean? During the battle his outstretched hand was touching the throne of God. I'm not sure how many of my prayers make it past the ceiling, but his hand touched the throne of God. So he entitles this memorial, this victory "a hand upon the throne of God".

It is also good to note that Moses had some help. He didn't struggle against weariness and drooping hands by himself. Aaron and Hur helped him. Who are my Aaron and Hur? It is obvious that I need them. I'm thinking of 2 men who I will ask to pray with me on a weekly basis.

Undergoing discipline or hardship? Step up your prayer life. Lift up your drooping hands.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Life is hard, then you die" Pessimist's creed

I'm in the middle of a time of discipline; a time of difficulty, pruning, hostility, a year of grayness without much color. My life feels like one of those photos where everything has been turned to shades of gray, except for one or two splashes of color. 

The author of Hebrews writes to people in the midst of hardship and talks about enduring discipline. 

What is discipline? 

The discipline being talked about in Hebrews 12 refers to external events or situations that are intended to remedy or heal internal character weaknesses. Discipline is a process of being made fit for duty, fit for service, fit for life. God has arranged our lives, our personal situations to serve as our drill sergeants, to hone our bodies and minds until we are ready to serve well.

My 13 year old grandson sleeps sprawled kitty corner across the bed we bought for him when he was still in kindergarten. It seemed so big then. Now his legs dangle off one side while his arm drags on the floor on the other side of the bed. Someday he'll be .... well, that depends on the discipline, training, love he receives now AND how he responds to it.

I'm 61 years young and I'm having to unlearn patterns of thinking and habits that I spent a lifetime forming. It would have been easier if I had got it right the first time, but it's okay - this old dog will learn some new tricks.  Young or old, we will encounter discipline. How should we respond to discipline, hardship, pruning, etc.?

Think about Jesus: 

"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. " 

We like to compare ourselves to others around us, usually to people who are better off than we are. Bad idea! If you are going to compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself to Jesus. Watch the Passion of the Christ  again to see how your suffering compares to his. He didn't do anything to deserve his suffering, but rather endured all for you and me.

Remember who you are:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.    For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”    It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
The word "son" is used 5 times. We are "sons of God". I'm under training by my heavenly Father who loves and receives me. I'm part of the family of God, but the expectations are high in this family, and I'm going to be disciplined, trained and shaped.

Understand, keep in mind the purpose of discipline

For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.  

After I have undergone discipline I will share his holiness. My life will have in it the peaceful fruit of righteousness. I will be someone who has been trained by my heavenly Father. I will be so heavenly minded that I can't but be of great earthly good.

Suck it up! 

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

We need to (I need to) suck it up, take responsibility, respond rightly, make sure that I do my part so that this discipline and training leads to my healing. There are at least 3 actions I can take: lift up drooping hands, strengthen weak knees, and make straight paths. I'll explore them on another day.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I was given the Daily Bread book My Soul Thirsts for God, a collection of meditations on Psalms. As I read Psalm 1 this morning it struck me that this Psalm, the doorway Psalm is designed to draw the reader into the whole book of Psalms and perhaps into the whole Bible. He makes clear the benefits of reading, meditating and acting on the Word, AND he does this in an intriguing way. He talks about meditation AS he takes you through a simple and obvious practice of meditation. It is so simple that it is almost impossible to miss. The reader feels the payback immediately.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, 
                                              nor stands in the way of sinners, 
                                                    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;   

The reader sees the progression: walk -> stand -> sit -> what's next? (lie down with ...) and thinks "I'm meditating! I saw that! Did anyone else notice that?" Wow!" It is perfect pedagogy, and we are seduced into reading and meditating and hopefully obeying the Word.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What joy?

"who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross"

What could have motivated Jesus to endure the shame and the pain of the cross? Was it that through this act he was reconciling everything in heaven and earth and bringing them back into proper relationship with their Creator? Did he see families like mine experiencing healing? Did he envision a new earth where righteousness reigned, without poverty, disease and death? Did he think about the lion and lamb? Was it the prospect of finally being able to return to the right hand of God the Father from whence he had come? What exactly was this joy?

Maybe it was all of the above, but what knocks me flat, rings my bell, what really gobsmacks me is the word "JOY". Jesus did what he did, including enduring the shame of the cross, especially enduring the shame of cross - for joy.

What motivates me? When the alarm goes off, when I know the day ahead will be tough, when it is non-stop rain and grey skies - why do I do what I do?

I know the gospel is "joy to the world", but I never thought of it as "joy to Jesus". Someone has said that we are all narcissists, that we do what we do - for ourselves and that we can not ever say we are truly devoid of self-interest. Was it in Jesus' self interest to redeem the world? And if so, so what? Because I receive a benefit from helping others does NOT make that a selfish act. It seems that God has designed the universe in such a way that "self-less" acts have beneficial consequences that extend also to the self-less one. The rubber band of my brain is starting to reach it's breaking point here, so I'll stop with the philosophy.

What I wanted to focus on was my motivation. It's been a hard 2 years for me and my family. For much of the time we gritted our teeth and pushed forward. I rarely thought about joy. I kept going because it was the right thing to do, and I hoped, I trusted things would get better, but it wasn't joy that kept me going. What would it take, what paradigm shift would I have had to undergo to say "I'm looking forward to JOY"? I don't know the answer. In a little while I'm going to head off to the office and face a myriad of challenges. Lord, please help me to see beyond the challenges to the joy that is awaiting me, that you have prepared for me.

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