Friday, April 24, 2015

Is it time to stop posturing?

My friend was deeply disillusioned.

He had become a "raving fan" of a particular pastor who had a popular radio program. I have to say, this guy preached some great sermons, and a couple of the many books he has written are still some of the best on their subjects that I have read.

"Did you hear?" my friend asked.

"Hear what?" I asked in response.

Then he proceeded to describe how that same minister was no longer broadcasting his radio show. It seems that some sort of indiscretion on the part of the minister had become public knowledge, and because of whatever the issue was, he was asked to resign his position as pastor and his radio show was cancelled.

That same minister is today preaching in a different church and broadcasting a different radio program, but my friend never regained the confidence he had placed in this man.

At some point in life, anyone could disappoint us, but we know anyone we put on a pedestal definitely will. That's because we're all human, none of us are perfect. Try as best we can, our imperfection will crack through the postures we offer to the public, or even family and friends.

In the original television series of Superman, our favorite superhero would confidently posture
himself, legs spread, fists on hips, chest pushed forward, while he stared down the barrel of a gun. As the bullets bounced off his chest, Superman would smile, with no thought of retreat. Then something very odd would happen. Once the rounds of bullets were spent, the bad guy, in desperation, would hurl the gun at Superman, and the caped super hero would duck! Superman, the man who was fearless in the face of oncoming bullets, would cower to avoid being hit by an empty gun!

You may portray to the world a posture of strength and resiliency, but you're still human. You can't hide that fact, it will show and people will see.

Maybe we would be better off to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, a "super hero" of the New Testament. Instead of trying to posture himself as being some kind of spiritually invincible "strong man," Paul started by boasting in his weakness.

"If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am," 2 Corinthians 11:30.

If there's anyone in the New Testament that could have struck up a posture as a super saint, it's Paul. But he goes on to tell us in chapter 12 the following ...

"... So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong," 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10.

It's when we posture ourselves as super saints that we are weak; but when we boast in our weaknesses, we are strong through Christ!

People, in all their imperfection, will disappoint us. And we, in ours, will disappoint them. Yet, it is because of His perfect holiness that Jesus Christ will never disappoint us and thus, He is the one that we can securely place our full confidence in.

Who have you placed your confidence in?


Thursday, April 23, 2015

When the inconceivable becomes reality: Dealing with PTSD ...

Sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

What a traumatic experience!

In his book, "In the Eye of the Storm," author and pastor Max Lucado shares the following story:

"Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.

"The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said 'hello' when 'ssssop!' Chippie got sucked in. The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie --- still alive, but stunned.

"Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do ... she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.

"Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.

"A few days after the trauma, the reporter who had initially written about the event contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering.

"'Well,' she replied, 'Chippie doesn't sing much anymore --- he just sits and stares.'

"It's hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over ... that's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart."

There are millions of people who can identify with this traumatized bird in that something they have experienced has "stolen the song" from their hearts. Something previously inconceivable has pierced it's way into their reality and become a traumatic, real experience for them. Most people have stress responses after a traumatic event, but for some those responses won't fade but instead be the beginning symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly referred to as "PTSD."

Those four initials, "PTSD," have become much more familiar to us as countries have been mired in wars for years now. But it isn't just military personnel who can suffer from PTSD. Anyone can experience PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event such as combat, sexual or physical abuse, sexual or physical assault, a terrorist attack, serious accidents such as a car wreck, or the trauma of a natural disaster such as a tornado, fire, or earthquake. While going through such traumatic experiences, a person usually feels their lives or the lives of others are endangered and that they have lost control of the situation.

There are four types of symptoms for PTSD:

Avoidance - This is when a person tries to avoid any setting or situation that cause them to remember the traumatic event they experienced.

Replay - A person who has experienced a traumatic event may experience "flashbacks" where they feel as if they are going through the trauma again, or they may struggle with bad memories or suffer from mightmares.

Negative changes - Often as a way to avoid bad memories, it's common for someone suffering from PTSD to make negative changes about what they believe or regarding their feelings. They may struggle with feelings of fear, guilt, or shame, and they may no longer have an interest in what used to interest them.

Hyperarousal - People with PTSD may feel constantly alert after experiencing trauma. This is known as increased emotional arousal which can cause difficulty sleeping, outbursts of anger or irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a person may become easily startled.

Additional problems may include generalized anxiety disorder, depression, substance abuse, conduct disorder, and chronic pain; such problems often lead to additional problems in relationships and with employment.

As you see, experiencing trauma can bring new and significant troubles into a person's life. BUT there is some good news for those experiencing PTSD and it's the loudest message I want to convey in this post: THERE IS HELP TO OVERCOME PTSD! The treatment for PTSD is usually psychotherapy or medication, or a combination of both depending on the needs of the individual. But the good news is that treatment IS effective in helping people overcome this disorder.

If you suffer from PTSD, GET THE PROFESSIONAL HELP YOU NEED, it truly could help you change your life!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A trio of trouble: Dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression ...

Have you ever felt "stressed out"?



Chances are, you're like millions of others who have had these experiences more than once, and some of you may have been plagued with all three at the same time!

While most of us understand the experience of stress, understanding from others begins to fade quickly when it comes to our experiencing anxiety (especially when anxiety becomes severe) or depression. The misunderstanding can be deep, with people you know telling you to just "suck it up" or offering their prescriptions for your woes that are anything but a remedy.

The misunderstanding regarding stress, anxiety, or depression can be like the experience of a man who, in 1835, visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from a lack of sleep. He couldn't eat, and he avoided his friends. The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition. Concluding that his patient needed to have a good time, the physician told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles.

"You must go see him," the doctor advised. "Grimaldi is the world's funniest clown. He'll make you laugh and cure your sadness."

"No," replied the despairing man, "he can't help me. You see, I'm Grimaldi!"

One of the painful aspects of dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression is the misunderstanding others often have regarding what you're experiencing. That's because while many people are familiar with stress, they are less informed about what anxiety and depression are and how they can significantly impact a person's life. So let's get a simple snapshot of this trio of trouble and then we'll review some of the things we can do to deal with these challenges. Since ways of responding to or coping with each one often overlap, I'll provide recommendations at the end of this post.

A story is told of a woman whose little girl was throwing a temper tantrum as the two went up and down the aisles of a busy grocery store. The toddler sat in the cart screaming and flailing about. As she continued shopping, she could be heard calmly muttering, "Don't yell, Susie. Calm down, Susie. Don't get excited, Susie."

A woman passing by commended her, saying, "You certainly are doing a great job trying to calm down your little girl."

The mother responded, "My little girl? Lady, I'm Susie!"

All of us should be able to relate to stress, which simply is a response to the pressures we face in life. Whether it's going out on a first date, planning a wedding, navigating rush hour traffic, or starting a new job, stress is a response we can have in responding to the demands of living life.

Some stress can be good for us. For example, facing the pressure of a deadline can motivate us to become focused and more productive in order to complete a project on time. But sometimes stress can feel so heavy that we feel "overloaded" and wonder if we really can cope.

Too much negative stress can interfere with life to the point it begins to affect our health. Physical symptoms of stress may include headaches, high blood pressure, chest pain and heart palpitations, skin rashes, muscle aches, nervous twitches, and loss of sleep among several possible symptoms..

Since stress is a response to a particular stressor, resolving the demands of the stressor will alleviate the stress, but sometimes it takes time to be able to do that. You can reduce the impact of stress by managing the symptoms with the recommendations at the end of this post.

A bassoon player came up to his conductor, Arturo Toscanini, and nervously said that he could not reach the high E flat. Toscanini just smiled and replied, "Don't worry. There is no E flat in your music tonight." Much of what we're anxious about is like that --- unfounded and unncessary.

But it doesn't feel that way when we're swept up in anxiety!

Understanding the source of anxiety usually isn't as easy as missing a note on a bassoon. Anxiety can be a response to stress, an outcome of irrational thinking, a result of compulsivity, and it is believed by some researchers that anxiety is caused in part by a malfunction of brain chemistry.

Anxiety is usually an adverse effect of stress and a process in which a person becomes scared and apprehensive of what lays ahead. While stress is a response to a specific stressor, anxiety often has no identifiable root, thus anxiety is considered a mental disorder while stress is not. There are several different kinds of specific anxiety disorders ranging from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to panic attacks. For a diagnosis of anxiety, symptoms must persist for at least six months.

Anxiety is when a person feels something like fear, worry, uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation. One person described anxiety as being when a person becomes afraid of fear itself. Arthur Somers Roche wrote, "Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained."

The Mayo Clinic reports, "Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involved repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks)."

The symptoms of anxiety, in addition to feeling worried and apprehensive, can include dizziness, restlessness, fatigue, problems concentrating, tense muscles, trembling, churning stomach, nausea, diarrhea, headache, backache, heart palpitations, numbness or "pins and needles" in extremities, sweating and panic attacks. It's easy to mistake symptoms of anxiety for physical illness and become worried you might be suffering a heart attack or stroke --- a fear which only increases anxiety!

Of the troublesome trio of stress, anxiety, and depression, it is depression that is most misunderstood. Actually, it would be more correct to say that it is depression that we are most ignorant about. That ignorance has fed empty myths and resulted in painful characterizations of those who suffer from depression. Just who is it that could suffer from depression?

One of England's finest preachers was C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). Frequently during his ministry he was plunged into severe depression, due in part to gout but also for other reasons. In a biography of the "prince of preachers," Arnold Dallimore wrote, "What he suffered in those times of darkness we may not know ... even his desperate calling on God brought no relief. 'There are dungeons,' he said, 'beneath the castles of despair.'"

It isn't just those who haven't struggled with depression who are ignorant of the topic; those who battle depression also often harbor misconceptions about depression. So the arguments between the two is one faction claiming that all depression is a disease. The other faction thinks depressed people just need to think more positively and be active. Both factions are wrong.

For example, persistent or compulsive irrational thinking can result in a mild (or sometimes even a severe) depression; the source for this is our thinking and not a disease (although some argue it still becomes a disease). There are others who suffer depression that clearly has an organic root source, which makes it a disease. Put another way, there are several forms of depressive disorders (i.e., major depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, bi-polar disorder, etc.) so you cannot accurately think of "depression" as being just one type. The Depression Center at the University of Michigan states the following:

"Depression is a real illness that impacts the brain. Anyone suffering from depression will tell you, it's not imaginary or 'all in your head.' Depression is more than just feeling "down." It is a serious illness caused by changes in brain chemistry. Research tells us that other factors contribute to the onset of depression including genetics, changes in hormone levels, certain medical conditions, stress, grief, or difficult life circumstances. Any of these factors alone or in combination can precipitate changes in brain chemistry that lead to depression's many symptoms."

The Depression Center describes the symptoms of depression as follows:

"Depression commonly affects your thoughts, your emotions, your behaviors, and your overall physical health. Here are some of the most common symptoms that point to the presence of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Hoplessness
  • Guilt
  • Moodiness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Loss of interest in friends, family, and favorite activities, including sex.
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Trouble remembering
  • Thoughts of harming yourself
  • Delusions and/or hallucinations can also occur in severe cases of depression
  • Withdrawing from people
  • Substance abuse
  • Missing work, school, or other commitments
  • Attempts to harm yourself
Physical problems:
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Changes in sleep - sleeping too little or too much."
Experiencing a "stressful day" doesn't mean you're also feeling anxious or that you're depressed. But it is possible to be troubled with the entire trio. In 2015, who doesn't occasionally (or often!) feel stressed? And one study revealed that 85 percent of those with major depression were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder while 35 percent had symptoms of panic disorder.

So let's take a moment to look at what can be done to deal with and overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. Before looking at some common and specific steps you can take, let me state very clearly that research shows rather resoundingly that most people CAN be helped to overcome the negative impact of stress, and even able to defeat anxiety and overcome depression. One of the big problems is that so many people dealing with any or all of the "trio of trouble" just don't get the help they need. GETTING THE HELP YOU NEED COULD CHANGE YOUR LIFE! So please don't hesitate to seek professional help. I can tell you from my own experience as a Christian clinical therapist that it is ROUTINELY POSSIBLE to change your life positively if you are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, but you have to want to be helped.

There are at least five things you can do that is common to dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. They are:

Manage your stress - It's your life! You'll need to organize it and manage it better. Learn to be able to say "no" when you need to. Don't stuff your calendar as full as possible.

Exercise - Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress. Appropriate exercise should become part of your lifestyle, not just occasional jaunts when stress levels spike.

Nutrition - According to Philip Rice, Stress and Health department at Moorhead State University, "Eating right is just as important as managing stress because vulnerability to stress increases with poor diet." It would take multiple blog posts to adequately communicate the significance good nutrition has in the life of anyone battling stress, anxiety, or depression. Work with your physician, or a dietician, or roll up your sleeves and do the research you need to build your knowledge about good nutrition, and then build that into being the daily practice of your life. Place appropriate limits on the intake of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, all of which can exacerbate your capacity to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Sleep - A lack of sleep or inadequate sleep patterns can significantly exacerbate your capacity to deal with stress, anxiety, and depression. Learn what your sleep needs are, identify your deficiencies, and then make a correction to build the quality and quantity of sleep experience that you need.

Find support - Don't go it alone. It will be easier to battle any of these trio elements with the help and support of others who understand what you're experiencing and are willing to support you as needed.

Now a few quick, specific notes on each element of the trio:

Stress - Again, physical activity is a proven way to help reduce stress, don't make excuses to miss this great way of relieving your stress. Know your limits and stick to them. Make time for recreation. Consider learning relaxation techniques. Massage, or learning muscle relaxation techniques, can be very effective at relieving stress; it's nearly impossible to "feel stressed" when physically relaxed.

Anxiety - Basic treatment for anxiety can include medication, clinical therapy, exercise and relaxation, and nutrition. Anti-depressants are often used to help deal with anxiety in conjunction with clinical counseling. Competent counseling can change your life by equipping you with the knowledge and skills you need to defeat anxiety, so do not hesitate on getting the professional help you need. I have many times recommended the book, "The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook" by Edmund J. Bourne, which has been a very effective source for helping people make a full and lasting recovery over anxiety and anxiety-related issues. Practicing deep abdominal breathing can be an important skill to develop, and biofeedback can potentially be a very effective method of learning to relax and breathe properly.

Depression - Depression is so significant and impacting that a sentence or paragraph is an inappropriate attempt to speak to the treatment for depression. Understand that depression is a very treatable disease and the appropriate treatment can change your life, so get the help you need! There are three major components to most treatment strategies for depression: medication, clinical therapy, and lifestyle changes. It may take time, with some ups and downs, for a treatment plan to work fully, but research shows that the right treatment plan will usually result in helping a person overcome depression.

One of the points I want you to get above everything else is that getting competent professional help usually results in overcoming stress, anxiety, or depression. But in this discussion, do not miss the greatest source for overcoming that is available to anyone and everyone for anything: Jesus Christ. He made you, and He loves and cares about you. He still heals, whether miraculously or through resources such as clinicians and medications. And a committed practice of the spiritual disciplines, in themselves, can tremendously impact the life of a believer who struggles with stress, anxiety, or depression.

You might be struggling with a trio of trouble, but there's a Trinity of power who wants to see you set free from troubles and instead blessed with a peace that passes all understanding.

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world," John 16:33


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hurting in a cursed world: Dealing with chronic pain ...

Millions of people today can relate to the painful plight of Job from long ago ...

"And now my life seeps away. Depression haunts my days. At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly," Job 30:16-17.

For a period of time, Job would know the misery of chronic pain, something millions of people today are suffering and struggling with ...

"So Satan left the Lord's presence, and he struck Job with terrible boils from head to foot. Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, 'Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die'," Job 2:7-9.

Job's wife observed the misery of her husband and had no patience for watching him try to endure his pain with integrity. Even the great prophet Jeremiah would know the pull of impatience with God, as he wrote:

"Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry," Jeremiah 15:18.

There are a few reasons why pain and suffering exists in this world, which makes for a theological discussion for a different post at a different time. But pain at some point, and to some degree, is something most don't escape in their lifetimes. In the book, "Christian Discipline," Oswald Chambers wrote the following:

"Suffering is the heritage of the bad, of the penitent, and of the Son of God. Each one ends in the cross. The bad thief is crucified, the penitent thief is crucified, and the Son of God is crucified. By these signs we know the widespread heritage of suffering."

Living in a cursed world means we will be subject to the experience of pain, perhaps even chronic pain like that of Job which "... gnaws at me relentlessly."

"Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God's curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay," Romans 8:18-21.

Yes, chronic pain is a hurtful reality for humanity, BUT their is help and hope. Helen Keller once said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."

Let's take a moment to look at the issue of chronic pain, and some ways of coping with it. The American Psychological Association (APA) states the following:

"Chronic pain is physically and psychologically stressful and its constant discomfort can lead to anger and frustration with yourself and your loved ones. By definition, chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than six months and affects how a person lives their daily life. While physicians can provide treatment for the physical dimensions of chronic pain, psychologists are uniquely trained to help you manage the mental and emotional aspects of this often debilitating condition.

"Several medical treatments may be used to alleviate chronic pain, including over-the-counter and prescription medication, physical therapy, and less utilized treatments such as surgery. However, these options are only a few of the pieces necessary to solve the puzzle of chronic pain. Mental and emotional wellness is equally important --- psychological techniques and therapy help build resilience and teach the necessary skills for management of chronic pain."

I want to give you HOPE that studies show --- and my own clinical experience also verifies --- that a competent, skilled clinical therapist can routinely help chronic pain sufferers improve their experience in living with chronic pain. Following are some helpful tips regarding coping with chronic pain:

There's more than a spiritual "component." Chronic pain is more than a physical experience with a philosophical exercise. We are spiritual beings who happen to have physical bodies that may experience pain and hurt. In the Word of God we can gain a greater understanding of why pain is a part of this world (the "why" often makes an impact); but even more, we discover the Great Physician who can heal us of any malady (He healed Job) or enable us to endure physical pain that persists. When pain is chronic, it is often the dogged practice of spiritual disciplines that help us move effectively and purposefully from day to day.

Educate yourself. When it comes to your body and its health, you are your best advocate. Do your homework and educate yourself about the diagnoses of the cause of your pain. During appointments with physicians, ask all the questions you have and make sure your physician(s) understand you want to be well-educated and informed instead of settling for a quick five-minute doctor appointment that raises more questions than it does in providing information or answering questions. Also, make sure you have competent medical care. If you don't have confidence in your physician(s), seek referrals and make changes until you have medical care you have confidence in.

Be a good patient. When you have competent physicians to treat you, be a good patient and cooperate with them! If helping you includes taking medication regularly, going to physical therapy or receiving other tests or treatments, make sure you are doing what you should be doing to help yourself improve your own health.

Get professional help. Data shows that competent clinical therapists usually can help people suffering from chronic pain, often in significant ways. Yet, many chronic pain sufferers will see a physician but stubbornly refuse to find a competent counselor. While physicians work on addressing the root cause of the pain, you can get real help for the mental and emotional trauma and trials that chronic pain usually brings with it.

Direct your thinking productively. A competent clinical therapist can help you learn to direct your thinking from being overwhelmed with the experience of pain to more productive thinking patterns that help you endure and even overcome the assault chronic pain has on your thought life which, in turn, impacts you in every way. Again, get professional help for this!

Manage your stress. The APA states: "... emotional and physical pain are closely related, and persistent pain can lead to increased levels of stress. Learning how to deal with stress in healthy ways can position you to cope more effectively with your chronic pain. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in approved physical activity are all positive ways for you to handle your stress and pain."

Become active and stay engaged. Chronic pain sufferers are often tempted to "shut down" or withdraw. While that temptation is understandable, it often makes the experience of coping with chronic pain even worse. The APA says, "Distracting yourself from your pain by engaging in activities you enjoy will help you highlight the positive aspects of your life. Isolating yourself from others fosters a negative attitude and may increase your perception of your pain. Consider finding a hobby or a pastime that makes you feel good and helps you connect with family, friends, or other people via your local community groups or the internet."

Find support. It's tough enough to persist through the daily challenge of persistent pain, but it can be even harder trying to do so all alone. Let family, friends, and your church family know your need to stay connected with others and how they can help you effectively endure your trials. Search the internet or your local community for support groups that offer an opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences who can understand your needs from the perspective of their own experiences with chronic pain.

There is both hope AND help for those who suffer chronic pain. That's not an empty statement of encouragement; my own experience counseling people with chronic pain has shown that getting competent professional help can make a life-changing difference in being able to live with pain, and quality-of-life doing so. If you're struggling with chronic pain, get the help you need!


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Key basics to attaining and maintaining your physical fitness ...

You're probably more familiar with Dr. Scott's work as an ordained minister, church leader, and Christian clinical therapist. But he is also a certified Personal Trainer and certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist. He has written several articles on physical fitness but it's been a while, and many of his readers have encouraged him to write more on the topic of physical fitness. So here you go!

A retired couple decided they should walk two miles a day to stay in shape. They chose to walk a mile out on a lonely country road so they would have no choice but to walk back. At the one-mile mark on their first venture, the man asked his wife, "Do you think you can make it back all right, or are you too tired?"

"Oh no," she answered, "I'm not tired, I can make it fine."

"Good," replied the husband. "I'll wait here. You go back, get the car and come get me."

Taking stock of your personal fitness level and deciding to improve it can be a challenge, often a bigger mental challenge than it is physically. But some good news is that regular exercise toughens the mind as well as the body. After working out three times a week for six months, one group was found to be 20 percent more fit. The bonus? They also scored 70 percent better in a test of complex decision-making.

Maybe you have taken stock of your current fitness level and are thinking you need to make some improvements. If you give good attention to some key basics to physical fitness, you'll make progress! Those key basics can be summarized like this:
Appropriate physical activity, nutrition, and rest and relaxation
are keys to maximizing your physical fitness.

Let's take a brief look at each one of these fitness basics:

You've probably heard the statement that a ship is safer in a harbor, but it wasn't designed to sit anchored at harbor. Instead, a ship was designed to sail the open seas! In fact, it's harder to maintain a ship that's at anchor, as it is more prone to rust just sitting than when it's sailing.

The same is true with the physical body; it wasn't designed to be "anchored" or just to sit, but rather, it was designed to be active. Movement and activity are necessary sources designed for keeping our bodies physically fit.

God designed our bodies to be used! Historically, people used to have some level of manual labor or more active work as a part of their everyday lives. Recreation also used to be more physically active. Now, we spend long days sitting in chairs in front of computer screens before going home and entertaining ourselves in front of other screens playing video games, watching television, or indulging in Netflix movie marathons.

The result is that many of us have developed mostly sedentary lifestyles, which don't provide for an adequate, natural maintenance of our physical bodies, and so we find ourselves lacking in physical fitness and more susceptible to serious health issues.

Adding regular workouts at the gym can be a great way to begin improving your fitness, but many people who do so remain sedentary outside of those gym workouts. A single workout for an hour usually can't compete with all those other hours of sedentary lifestyle. It's great to add times of exercise and physical workouts to your week, but those workouts aren't to be the only movement and activity you have; instead, focused physical workouts should be a significant supplement to a more active lifestyle.

Thinking that a workout two or three times a week will overcome an otherwise sedentary way of living and working is an inaccurate assumption. In fact, new studies have revealed that living a sedentary life largely composed around sitting can be dangerous for our health, with one report calling sitting the "new cancer." The American Cancer Society has reported the following:

"Did you know that sitting for six or more hours daily can elevate your chances of dying from cancer and other major disease --- even if you maintain a healthy weight and don't smoke?

"This startling finding emerged from a review of data from the American Cancer Society's Prevention Study II (CPS-II). Researchers concluded that:
  • Women who sat for six or more hours daily faced a 37 percent greater risk of death as compared to those who sat for three hours or less.
  •  For men, the increased risk of death for those who sat at least six hours daily was 17 percent.
  • Those who did not exercise regularly and also sat for long periods faced even greater mortality rates --- a startling 94 percent higher for women and 48 percent higher for men."
Another study revealed that we can help prevent such serious threats to our health, and contribute to improving our fitness, by standing and moving every 20 minutes. The study found the 20-minute mark to be optimal, but the bigger conclusion we can draw is the need for us to routinely stand and move a few times each hour that we're awake.

New York Times Phys Ed columnist, Gretchen Reynolds, offers the following:

"Sitting for long periods of time --- when you don't stand up, don't move at all ---  tends to cause changes physiologically within your muscles," says Reynolds. "You stop breaking up fat in your bloodstream, you start getting accumulations of fat ... in your liver, your heart and your brain. You get sleepy. You gain weight. You basically are much less healthy than if you're moving."

With such data available, it's no wonder that federal health guidelines recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise --- such as walking or jogging --- every single day. Standing, moving, becoming more active, and adding in 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day can make a significant difference in your fitness level and your health. Personally, I think working out at the gym at least three days a week and engaging in cardio exercise at least five to six days each week are valuable targets to aim for.

A farmer once planted two fruit trees on opposite sides of his property. One tree he planted as a hedge to hide the unsightly view of an old landfill; he planted the other tree to provide shade to rest under next to a cool mountain stream that ran down beside his fields. As the two trees grew, they both began to produce fruit.

One day the farmer decided to gather the fruit from the tree nearest his house, which was the one used to provide a hedge from the landfill. As he brought the fruit inside the house, he noticed it looked a little deformed; the symmetry of the fruit wasn't good, although the fruit still looked edible. Later that evening, while sitting on his porch, the farmer took one of the pieces of fruit for a snack. Biting into the fruit, he found it to be extremely bitter and completely inedible.

Casting the worthless fruit aside, the farmer walked across the field to the other tree he had planted by the mountain stream, where he plucked a piece of fruit from it and bit into it. This fruit was sweet and delicious, so he gathered several more pieces of fruit and took them to his house.

One tree had as its source of nutrition a landfill --- its roots reached down into a dump! The other had the mineral-rich earth fed by the crystal clear waters of a mountain stream. The nutrition of the tree determined the quality of its fruit.

The same is true for us!

Our nutrition, in its purest purpose for human beings, is fuel for our bodies. If we put junk into our bodies, doing so will eventually bring about negative and even dangerous results. If we fuel our bodies with clean, nutritious foods that provide what our bodies need and want, then positive results will come from doing so.

Some simple tips for providing our bodies with proper nutrition includes the following:

Eat "clean." Instead of eating from a dump (feeding off junk food), instead provide your body with organic food. No fillers, no preservatives, no junk included just to heighten taste while infusing into your body something that isn't good fuel for you.

Put some "nutrition" into your nutrition by actually eating what's good for you You know, things like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, "healthy" fats, etc.

Don't be a glutton! Today, we simply call that "portion control." Stop eating platters of food and reduce your caloric intake to what is a healthy intake for you rather than eating emotionally, or just for pleasure. Remember, you're fueling your body, not entertaining it!

A word about "rewards" and "treats." It's ironic that so many people who desperately need to improve their nutrition and overall fitness level (if not their baseline health itself) often have as the first question to starting a new commitment to better nutrition, "What about rewards and snacks?"

The best answer is, "Earn them!"

So many trainers just let it go, and people litter their new "nutrition plan" so full of "rewards" and "treats" that they're not making any progress. We're talking about your body, and what you put into it is entirely and completely within your control (generally speaking). STOP the pursuit of pleasure eating and only allow for "rewards" and "treats" once you've earned them by developing the practice of properly fueling your body. THEN the occasional reward or treat, or even a regularly planned, properly portioned dessert can be an acceptable part of your nutrition. But as long you feed the longing for those "rewards" and "treats," you'll likely not feed your body what it needs, or at least, not do so very well.

You know the old saying: all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. That's because all work and no play (relaxation), along with inadequate rest, burns up our energy and indeed dulls us physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Regardless of how busy we are, or what our responsibilities are, to acquire and maintain good physical fitness we need an appropriate amount of relaxation and rest for our minds and our bodies.

One researcher reported what just some of the benefits are for building into our lives time for relaxation and rest:
  • It contributes to restoring our energy. Just by allowing ourselves to slow down and just relax, as well as sleep, helps our "batteries" to recharge and generate new energy that can then be applied to our work and recreation.
  • It helps to repair our bodies. God designed our bodies to repair themselves from the daily wear and tear we impose on them, and this often happens while we rest. Most of us tend to skimp on our sleep time and push ourselves beyond appropriate physical limits on a daily basis, which prevents us from achieving optimal fitness and health. If we are constantly on the move and not getting enough sleep, we are using most of the energy we have to keep going. That means our bodies cannot devote enough energy to healing, so we suffer from fatigue or illness. Building in time for relaxation and rest allows our bodies the opportunity to direct our energy to healing and restoration.
  •  It contributes to calming our thoughts and improving our focus. When we set aside time to relax, we should also focus on quieting our thoughts and letting our minds rest. This can often be more restorative than the physical aspects of relaxation.
  • It helps to lift our mood. Relaxation can simply help us feel happier! Whether we let our thoughts drift aimlessly, lose ourselves in a good book, or listen to music, just the act of resting relieves stress and allows us to feel content.
It seems obvious that sleep is beneficial for us, but that doesn't stop millions of people from severely depriving themselves of the sleep their bodies need. A Harvard medical school research project reported the following:

"Even without fully grasping what sleep does for us, we know that going without sleep for too long makes us feel terrible, and that getting a good night's sleep can make us feel ready to take on the world.

"Scientists have gone to great lengths to fully understand sleep's benefits. In studies of humans and animals, they have discovered that sleep plays a critical role in immune function, metabolism, memory, learning, and other vital functions."

So significant is the impact of sleep in more ways than one to our lives that the National Sleep Foundation recently conducted a special, two-year research project as part of it's 25th anniversary to update their most-cited guidelines on how much sleep we really need at each age. The results of that research are presented in the chart below:

It's your fitness! If you want to attain and maintain an appropriate level of fitness, you need to make important being active, getting regular exercise, providing your body with the nutrition it needs, and providing yourself with adequate relaxation and rest. The more you try to cut corners on these keys to fitness, the less likely it will be that you'll maintain the fitness your body needs for health, wellness, and the enjoyment of living life well.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

NEWS BULLETIN: Scott Free Clinic assimiliates major international disciple-making training ministry ...

The Board of Directors for the Scott Free Clinic voted at its Annual Meeting held today to assimilate
Partnership for Ambassador Training (P.A.T.), which is the support ministry for a major, international disciple-making training course taught by John Hendee through Hope International University (HIU) in Fullerton, California.

Dr. James Scott, Jr., Founder and President of Scott Free Clinic, has been consulting with Hendee for several months regarding the training Hendee does as part of his role serving as Chair of World Evangelism at HIU. This pairing of Hendee and Scott in expanding the reach and success of this disciple-making training led to the Scott Free Clinic formally assimilating the P.A.T. ministry as a regular part of the Clinic services.

The eight-week online "Relational Evangelism" course Hendee teaches through HIU and a consortium of 15 Christian colleges and universities is the most effective model for disciple-making being offered at a national and international level today. Hendee first developed the evangelistic tool used in the disciple-making model he teaches more than 30 years ago. Scores of people have been trained to use it in sharing the Gospel with non-believers and, as a result, thousands of people around the world have come into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ using this method. The original tool and method have been revised and updated as the "It's All About Relationship" (IAAR) model for effective disciple-making.

What the formal assimilation of the P.A.T. ministry into the Scott Free Clinic means is that Hendee, as Chair of World Evangelism at HIU, will continue to teach the online course and consult with churches and organizations regarding developing an effective disciple-making and ambassador ministry to maximize a church or organization's effectiveness in making new disciples. The support work for the course, which includes recruitment, the coming launch of an Ambassador coaching and support network for course graduates, continued generation of ancillary training materials, and consulting to assist churches and organizations will be provided by the Scott Free Clinic through its Partnership for Ambassador Training ministry component.

"John and I, along with the Board of Directors for the Scott Free Clinic, share a passion to see as many people as possible come into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ," Dr. Scott stated. "To accomplish that, we need to equip as many Christians and whole churches as possible to be effective disciple-makers and disciple-making churches. By our assimilating the P.A.T. ministry as a component of our ministry, John will be able to focus on training as many people as possible to be effective ambassadors for Christ, and the Scott Free Clinic will provide the ministry support to make that happen. John has already recruited a team of adjunct professors who are experts in the IAAR disciple-making model and HIU has made the course available as an Open Course Class which means there's no limit to how many can enroll, we could literally train multiple megachurches at once. We're ready to equip many thousands to be effective disciple-makers!"

Scott and Hendee recently collaborated on a new book, "Effective Disciple-Making for the 21st Century Using the It's All About Relationship Model" that will serve as companion material to the course and is about to be released to the general public. They also worked together to revise and update "Discipling Christians Using the Spiritual T.E.AM.," which are discipleship materials the Scott Free Clinic will be releasing as a free download to persons, churches, and organizations wanting to use the materials for discipling (maturing) followers of Jesus Christ.

"We are very excited about this ministry partnership with John and look forward to working with him to build relationships around the world with Christians, churches, church planters and church planting agencies, missionaries and mission agencies, and other Christian organizations to train an army of Christians to be ambassadors for Christ who are very effective at making new disciples of Jesus Christ," Dr. Scott said.

The challenge for the Scott Free Clinic taking on this additional ministry is that the Scott Free Clinic is still in the fundraising phase for fully launching all of the Scott Free Clinic services. You can learn more about the Scott Free Clinic by clicking here to visit the ministry website, which will be adding in the coming week a lot of information and materials for the P.A.T. ministry component. If you would be willing to make a contribution to help fully launch this ministry, or consider becoming a regular Care Partner, you can get more information or give online by clicking here.

To learn more about the eight-week online "Relational Evangelism" course, click here. The next class starts June 1, with a registration deadline of May 18. The cost for the course is only $50 per person. For more information about the Scott Free Clinic or Partnership for Ambassador Training, contact Dr. Scott at, and for more information about the "Relational Evangelism" course you can contact Dr. Scott or you can contact John Hendee directly at

Friday, April 17, 2015

Drinking from a thimble ...

Are you wise?

Would others say you have a good understanding of life?

Are you a knowledgeable person?

If you're not wise and lack understanding and knowledge, who's to blame?

In a speech titled "TiVoing the News, Googling Wisdom," delivered by Robert Steck at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2005, Steck shared the following ...

"Researchers have figured out that a single issue of the New York Times contains about twice as much information as the average citizen of Shakespeare's London would have come across in an entire lifetime. And that's just one issue of one newspaper from one American city.

"If you go online, of course, you can read newspapers from cities and regions all over the globe ... and that's just the newspaper websites, an extremely tiny percentage of the total ... today there are about 36 million [as of 2012 there are more than 600 million websites].

"The point is that any one of us has more instantaneous access to information than Shakespeare could have expected to see in several lifetimes. Or than Socrates. Or Moses. Or ...

"You get the point."

Steck concluded with this ...

"There's a clear difference between access to information and acquisition of wisdom ... Floods of information and too few tools to extract understanding or wisdom is like standing thirsty in front of Niagara Falls equipped only with a thimble. Make it an overriding mission ... to equip yourselves with better devices than just thimbles to sort through huge quantities of information."

The same is true for Christians. We have chains of bookstores selling "Christian" books, commentaries, and Bible study aids. Christian radio programs provide Bible teaching 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are Christian television programs, and a host of Christian podcasts. The internet is littered with Christian websites. And in most American homes, there's usually found at least a couple of Bibles.

But how wise are you in the Word? What's your understanding of scripture? How knowledgeable are you regarding what is written in the Bible? Just how biblically literate are you?

When it comes to your knowledge of the Bible, are drinking from a hefty stein full of Living Water, or from a thimble?

"Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment," Proverbs 4:7.

"Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer," Proverbs 9:10-12.