Thursday, May 28, 2015

The "Extraordinary Living" blog has MOVED!

After writing the "Extraordinary Living" blog from here on BlogSpot for the past six years, we have moved the blog!

You can now find my blog on my ministry website at, and click here to go directly to the blog. I hope you'll move with us, it has been a blessing to interact with so many of you over the years. Come read the blog at the new location, and while you're there you can explore the blog to learn more about the Scott Free Clinic. AND, take our weekly survey while there!

I'll see you at our new home site!


Saturday, May 23, 2015

How, then, should we pray?

It seems we like to argue about anything in the church. You'll even find multiple dogmatic opinions about what posture we should take when we pray.

Someone has vividly expressed this in a humorous little poem ...

"'The proper way for man to pray' said Deacon Lemuel Keyes;
'The only proper attitude is down upon his knees.'
'Nay, I should say the way to pray,' said Reverend Doctor Wise,
'Is standing straight with outstretched arms with rapt and upturned eyes.'
'Oh no, no, no,' said Elder Snow, 'such posture is too proud.'
'A man should pray with eyes fast-closed and head contritely bowed.'
'It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front
With both thumbs pointing to the ground,' said Reverend Doctor Blunt.
'Last year I fell in Hodgkin's well headfirst,' said Cyril Brown.
'With both my heels a-stickin' up, my head a-pointing down;
And I done prayed right then and there; best prayer I ever said,
The prayin-est prayer I ever prayed, a-standin' on my head.'"

The fact is, effective prayer can be experienced in a variety of postures. Victor Hugo once said, "There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees."

Prayer is conversation with God, and as in conversing with anyone, our physical posture is a personal expression of what we trying to communicate. There are times our prayers are parades of praise for our God; other times we're making supplication for others, or we're seeking help for ourselves. Sometimes, it's a time for talking to our best friend. Because what we convey to God is different each time we pray, mixing up our postures makes for a more natural and authentic communication with God.

Following are five basic postures we see people in the Bible take when praying that we can include as different postures for our own prayers:

Sitting is probably the most common posture practiced in prayer. But even then, our posture in that position can vary greatly. Some sit with head bowed and eyes closed; others with face toward heaven and hands raised. Some people pull up an empty chair and pray as if Jesus is sitting there and they're having a conversation with Him, speak audibly as if the Lord were sitting in the empty chair.

Standing is another option for praying. Again, there are a variety of postures in this position as well, whether head is bowed or raised, eyes are closed or open. Often when people pray standing they feel inclined to lift their hands toward heaven in a more personal expression of adoration, pleading, or whatever their conversation may be.

One of my favorite postures for prayer is that of walking. I enjoy having a conversation with God while taking a walk, whether it's while hiking a trail, strolling along city sidewalks, or lingering down a sandy beach. Praying while walking, for me, becomes a very personal exchange of conversation between my Creator and me. The posture lends itself to a deeper authenticity, as if I was sharing personal time with my best friend.

Kneeling is an expression of humbling ourselves before God. This posture helps us to bring ourselves low before the Lord and exalt Him.

One of the least practiced postures for prayer in the Western world is that of prostrating oneself on the ground before the Lord. Of all the postures for prayer, this most expresses a surrender, yielding, and worship before our God.

Mixing these postures to match the messages of our prayers helps us to further communicate to God our thoughts and heart before Him. Adding postures you don't usually practice could help freshen and deepen your prayer life. I encourage you to add some of these postures to your time of prayer and see if it doesn't help you in drawing close to God.


Your graduates are now educated, BUT ...

I'm "pro" education.

Personally, I've earned three degrees and feel every day the need to keep learning. And I encourage people, young and old, to take advantage of educational opportunities and continuing their learning throughout their lives.

Graduation is a time to celebrate! The graduates have worked hard, applied themselves, and likely have grown as a person, expanded their knowledge, and stretched their understanding.

Your graduates are now educated, BUT are they equipped for life?

In America, and much of the Western world, we've concluded that seeing that our children receive a good education is the highest priority for parents.

It isn't.

Making sure your children enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ and grow in the grace and knowledge of God is the highest priority of parenting. If you raise a genius that passes through this world never knowing Jesus Christ, your child will come to the worse possible end.

Graduation is a time to celebrate, but if your graduate doesn't know Jesus, the most important education is yet to be attained.

There's a story about a young man who was getting ready to graduate from college. For many months he had admired a beautiful sports car, and knowing his father could afford it, he told his dad on several occasions that it was all he wanted.

Finally, on the morning of his graduation, the young man's father called him into his private study. His father told him how proud he was to have such a fine son, and how much he loved him. Then he handed his son a beautifully wrapped gift box. Curious, but disappointed, the young man opened the box and found a lovely, leather-bound Bible, with the young man's name embossed in gold.

Angrily, he raised his voice to his father, "With all your money you give me a Bible?" And then he stormed out of the house, leaving the Bible behind.

Many years passed and the young man had become very successful in business. He had a wonderful family and beautiful home, but realized his father was getting quite old and thought perhaps he should go to him. He had not seen his father since that graduation day. But before he could make arrangements, the young man received notice that his father had passed away, and that he needed to come home immediately to take care of things.

When he arrived at his father's house, sudden sadness and regret filled his heart. He began to search through his father's important papers and saw the still new Bible, just as he had left it years ago. With tears, he opened the Bible and began to turn the pages when a car key dropped from the back of the Bible. It had a tag with the dealer's name, and on the tag was the date of his graduation along with the words, "Paid in full."

Parents like to heap rewards upon their graduates, and there's nothing wrong with that. But make sure your graduate is educated in the Word of God to equip them for life. It will provide them with the greatest education they'll ever need.


Friday, May 22, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Not what I thought it would be ...

John Michael Talbot writing about the church fathers?

How could I pass up a book like that?

After all, I enjoy reading the works of the early church fathers, and Talbot, a pioneer in contemporary Christian music, might bring some interesting perspective to their writings.

Unfortunately, his latest book, "The Ancient Path" (with Mike Aquilina, published by Image), wasn't what I thought it would be. As it turns out, this book is all about the influence the church fathers had on Talbot's life as he journeyed from his early Christian experience into Catholicism.

Talbot's writing is thick with a Catholic view of the church fathers, which tends to be more elevated than that held by Protestants. There are numerous mentions of the various church fathers, but not a diving into their writings or any plumbing of their teachings. Instead, most of the mention of the church fathers was incorporated in a nearly chronological telling of Talbot's life. While I appreciate that his study of the church fathers had a positive impact on his life, and especially influenced him toward a desire for a more monastic lifestyle, I found the content of the book to actually become fairly boring less than midway through my reading.

If you're a Catholic who is a Talbot fan, you may enjoy this book; if you aren't, I haven't found any other value in it to be able to recommend it.


I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Real commitment will cost you. The question is, are you willing to pay the price?

When professor Dr. Jim Denison was in college, he went on a summer mission trip to East Malaysia. While there, he worked in a small church. At one of the church's worship services, a baptism had been planned for one of the teenage girls who attended. She had announced to the pastor and the church, in their custom, that she had decided to commit her life to Christ and wanted to be baptized. During the service, Jim noticed some worn-out luggage leaning against the back wall of the church building. After the service, he asked the pastor about it. The pastor pointed to the young lady that had just been baptized and said, "Her father told her that if she was ever baptized as a Christian, she could never come home again. So, she brought her luggage."

That young lady was serious about committing her life, and the living of it, to Jesus Christ.

How about you?

Are your bags packed?

Are you willing to pay whatever the price is to follow Christ?

It's a hefty cost, and Jesus described it for us succinctly ...

"Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me'," Luke 9:23.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Broken hearts in broken people ...

Did you know it really is possible to die of a broken heart?

Linda Wasmer Andrews reported the following in Yahoo Health in 2013 ...

"'Broken heart syndrome' isn't just Valentine's Day hyperbole. It's an actual medical condition, also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy.

"In broken heart syndrome, extreme stress brings on heart attack-like symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath. This isn't just an anxiety attack. The heart is actually in serious distress. At times, the person may experience irregular heartbeats or cardiogenic shock --- a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's demands. In rare cases, broken heart syndrome can even lead to death."

I don't personally know of anyone who has literally died of a broken heart, but I have sat with many, many people who felt like their broken hearts were killing them.

In nearly three decades of conducting clinical therapy, a large portion of the people I have ministered to have sought help for hurting hearts that were harmed by others. The issue of human beings hurting each other isn't just my clinical experience, it's the story of humanity since the first couple wandered together in the Garden of Eden. They would break their relationship with God. From there, one of their sons would hate his brother so much he would murder him out in a field.

It hasn't gotten any better since.

We're still hurting each other, and suffering broken hearts. That's in spite of Jesus making so clear --- and so simple to understand! --- that all God's commands can be boiled down to two things: love God, and love others.

When I was younger, I enjoyed watching on PBS specials the lively and animated speeches of "Dr. Love," also known as Leo Buscaglia, an author, motivational speaker, and professor in the special education department at the University of Southern California. Leo was an Italian who spent his early childhood in Aosta, Italy. He sounded Italian, and "used his hands" as he spoke passionately. I still remember a heart-felt plea he made to an audience: "If you won't love them, don't hurt them!"

Take five minutes and listen to the stirring words of Leo for yourself ...

God especially cares for those with broken hearts ...

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed," Psalm 34:18

"He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds," Psalm 147:3.

Many will not heed Leo's advice that if we're not willing to love others, at least don't hurt them. We will not get through this life without being heartbroken. But know for sure that the Lord, who knows by personal experience what being hurt by others is like, is close to you and desires to bandage your wounds and heal you.

Just as you don't want to suffer from a broken heart, be mindful not to hurt others. Instead, give your attention to allowing the Holy Spirit to empower you to love others --- all others --- with the love of Christ.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Communion Meditation: Getting the message ...

When I came across the story below, it didn't have any attribution for a source. I still haven't been able to discover its author, but I want to share the story with you ...

"It is said that on the evening of June 18, 1815 a man stood in the tower of England’s Winchester Cathedral gazing anxiously out to sea. At last he found what he was looking for – a ship sending a signal by use of lights. He strained to see the message. All of England held its breath with him, wanting to know the outcome of the war between their military leader, the Duke of Wellington, and the French dictator Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte, who had once ruled all of Europe bar England remained a threat, and now the decisive Battle of Waterloo had been fought.

"So, as he stood in the tower of Winchester Cathedral our man waited to relay the news that would determine England’s future. The signal came just as a heavy fog was rolling in. It only just got through, but how he wished it hadn’t, for the signal read: 'Wellington defeated.'

"The man signaled to other stations and the news spread across the countryside, bringing great gloom and sadness. But then a great reversal. The fog lifted, and the message was sent again, this time in full: 'Wellington defeated the enemy.' Joy? Happiness? Delirium! Wellington had won!

"On Good Friday it seemed the message was 'Christ defeated,' but three days later we discover that the message had not been received in full. The resurrection reverses what we initially thought and declares 'Christ defeated the enemy!'"

Christ has fought the battle of the ages on our behalf. When we come to the Communion table and partake of the emblems representing His shed blood and broken body, the idea of His torture and death seems to be a story of defeat.

But we know the whole story!

"Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit," 1 Peter 3:18.

It was by offering His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed, that He would defeat sin and death forever. Each time we gather at the Lord's Table, we receive afresh the communique that "Christ defeated the enemy!"

Ponder for a while what that means for you ...


Thursday, May 7, 2015

In this world, YOU are needed desperately!

A nurse escorted a tired, anxious young man to the bed side of an elderly man.

“Your son is here,” she whispered to the patient. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened.

He was heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack and he dimly saw the young man standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand and the young man tightly wrapped his fingers around it, squeezing a message of encouragement. The nurse brought a chair next to the bedside. All through the night the young man sat holding the old man's hand, and offering gentle words of hope. The dying man said nothing as he held tightly to his son.

As dawn approached, the patient died. The young man placed on the bed the lifeless hand he had been holding, and then he went to notify the nurse.

While the nurse did what was necessary, the young man waited. When she had finished her task, the nurse began to say words of sympathy to the young man.

But he interrupted her. “Who was that man?” he asked.

The startled nurse replied, “I thought he was your father!"

“No, he was not my father,” he answered. “I never saw him before in my life."

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” asked the nurse.

The young man replied, “I knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, I knew how much he needed me.”

Fellow Christian, in this world, YOU are needed desperately!

We live in a world broken from, and full of sin and it's ugly consequences; people are lost and dying without Christ and there's no one to come alongside and care for them.

That was a real problem even when Jesus Christ walked this earth. He highlighted the issue, and the need for our stepping into lives to care for others, by telling what has become a very popular story ...

"Jesus replied with a story: 'A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, "Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?' Jesus asked. The man replied, 'The one who showed him mercy.' Then Jesus said, 'Yes, now go and do the same',” Luke 10:30-37.

Neither of these stories are talking about "sharing a smile" or being polite or kind to others. They're about stepping deeply into the needs of others and walking them through life's harshest moments, being a resource for healing or a source of strength and encoouragement in life's deepest valleys.

The story Jesus tells is given to motivate us to spend ourselves on loving and caring for others in need, because others won't do it.

Will you?


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The part of prayer --- and ourselves ---- we need to change ...

There's something about prayer some church leaders and some fellow Christians keep telling us to do that needs to change.

I don't think most of them do it purposely, I think in most cases they're simply not thinking through what they're saying, they're just telling us what everyone tells us.

What are they telling us about prayer that needs to change?

They keep telling us to make requests of God in prayer for what we can do for ourselves.

Really, this has become pervasive, as if we want God to drop things into our laps that we should have already done for ourselves.

A great illustration of this comes from a story about when pastor, author, and sociologist Tony Campolo was once a guest speaker at a mission rally, when he was asked to lead in prayer for a missionary doctor the group supported. The goal of the prayer? That God might provide the $5,000 urgently needed for the medical center the doctor ran.
Tony refused.

He knew his audience was made up of people who were materially prosperous. So he declared he would pray only after everyone in the room gave to the project the money they had on them that day. The audience was stunned, but when Tony started emptying his pockets they knew he was serious. After some hesitation, everyone started following suit. The prayer of request soon became a prayer of thanksgiving, for by the end of the giving they had collected $8,000, much more than was needed in the first place!

Why ask God to provide $5,000 when the people present were already blessed by God with the capacity to give even more than that? What was needed was action on the part of the Christians present. Then they could rejoice together and offer praise and thanksgiving to God for what they were able to do with the abundance He had already supplied to them.

Are you asking God for something you should be doing yourself  because He has already supplied you with the means accomplish it? Are you making requests of God when you should be acting, and then offering thanksgiving and praise? I encourage you to examine the content of your prayers to see if this pattern of waiting on God to do what He has already enabled you to do has slipped into your conversations with God.

I also want to encourage you to take of the abundance of blessings God has given you in time, treasure, and talent, and use them for His glory so that you can spend more time in thanksgiving and praise. By no means am I discouraging making our real requests of God known to Him --- even persistently so! --- but let's first make sure what we ask for isn't really asking God to do what we should be doing.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do you see the rabbit?

If the world really is becoming an even darker, uglier, more dangerous place ...

If the return of Christ is so much closer ...

... isn't it time for us to purposely become less comfortable and truly sacrificial?

Isn't it time we leave our armchair quarterbacking and couch commentating and fully engage in being Christ's ambassadors to the world as we are called to be (2 Cor. 5:18-20)?

A story is told in the tradition of the Desert Fathers. One day a young monk asked one of the Desert Fathers why it was that so many came into the desert seeking God and yet most of them did not stay, but returned to the outside world. The old monk said, "Yesterday my dog spied a rabbit in the bushes and began to give chase. He barked with joy and the other dogs heard his bark and joined in the chase. Soon, however, dogs began to drop out of the hunt. A few stayed with the chase through the night, but in the morning only my dog continued chasing the rabbit. Do you understand what I have told you?"

"No," replied the young monk, "please tell me."

"It's simple," said the old monk, "my dog saw the rabbit."

Many Christians are like these dogs. They're running in a hunt for something they haven't seen for themselves, at least not recently. There was a time they "saw" Christ, but they've long ago filled their view with other things, and so they've been dropping out of the hunt. I'm convinced when we see Christ, and keep our eyes on Him, the last thing we can settle for is sitting comfortably on the sidelines in a world where the majority of people are lost without Christ.

What we see drives us to become more than uncomfortable, it compels us to sacrifice. In Matthew 13:45-46 is the story of a merchant ...

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!"

Like that merchant, when we see Jesus, we'll sacrifice EVERYTHING to know Him, to walk with Him, to worship, serve, and glorify Him. We will sacrifice EVERYTHING to be His disciples, living and loving in this world the way He lived and loved when He walked on this earth.

Why, then, do we remain so disengaged and personally comfortable?

It cannot be because of what we see in Christ, or Christ in us!

If we refresh our vision with who Jesus really is, and the great grace with which we get to be His ambassadors, we cannot help put become fully engaged --- sacrificially so --- in taking the Gospel to the lost and serving the hurting, the helpless, the least and the lost among us.

The real question isn't whether you see the rabbit, but do you really see Jesus?


Monday, May 4, 2015

Just how effective is this disciple-making training? Look what it did to this church leader ...

A ministry of Scott Free Clinic
The "It's All About Relationship" (IAAR) model for making disciples is the most effective way to lead people into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ that I have seen.

Just how effective is this eight-week online class taught by my ministry partner, John Hendee, through Hope International University? Well, check out this feedback from one course participant who, almost three decades ago, trained hundreds of people through the IAAR!

That was then, but stepping into the new training now has helped him measure his current effectiveness as an ambassador for Christ and reignited his passion for sharing the Gospel. In responding to a query of how the course has changed his outlook regarding personal evangelism, here's what this minister and church leader wrote ...

"Intentional living with obedience to Christ in my desire to love him in response to his love for me: without being aware of how much my passion has been in decline for loving people in the same way Jesus loves people, I have grown soft and way too comfortable with the conditions of my life. I hold a 'job' in the Kingdom of God that leaves me spending most of my waking hours in touch with other Christian leaders, assisting them in their ministries to the local church. In only one location am I directly involved in those ministries. During my 'working hours' (60-70 a week on average) I am immersed in conversations with other Christians, helping to hold them accountable to the calling in their lives. Ouch. I suppose it is something like being a general in the army. I am away from the 'battle fields', consulting with those who are on the front lines. The invitation for 'softness' surrounds me. In my aging years, I have somehow embraced the softness. No more. With God's help, no more.

"The last time I read 'The Master Plan of Evangelism' was 45 years ago. I have held that "I am familiar with that book - I have already read it" stance. I should have been reading it every year of my life. What a wake up call.

"It is not that I have been completely absent from the front line. I have memorized the names of all my immediate neighbors. I pray for them. I look for them. I drop everything I am doing, on purpose, whenever I see them, and walk to them for conversations. I have not been clueless to the call. I want them to know Jesus. I visit the same grocery stores and look for clerks I know and I engage them in every way I know how. But still, the edge of sharp focus has been absent. God, I did it! I lost the urgency of the moment for loving people at all costs in the same way you have loved me. I am ready to wake up. My wife and I are drawing up steps to change our approach to living. We are ready to change our lifestyles. We are sensing a call to be teammates on high alert, looking for every moment God gives us for being a part of the wholeness of the great commission.

"My wife Vivian is also invested in this course. We want to thank John Hendee, Hope International University, the authors of the books we have read, and all of our engaged fellow students. Vivian and I are praying that God will not allow us to step back one inch from our new ambitions to more completely serve Him, and that in 6 months, we will not have lost a step in our renewed determination to be fully focused on Him in His all out pursuit of loving people with His gospel. Rather, we are praying for more investment to Him."

It's one thing to talk about (or even teach about) making disciples, but for many it's another to actually be a disciple-maker. You actually have to get out there and share the Gospel, making new disciples, to be a disciple maker!

We can help you get equipped so that you can effectively and confidently share the Gospel and be an effective disciple-making ambassador for Jesus Christ. Email me here and I'll send you information about the online "Relational Evangelism" course through Hope International University. The cost for the course is only $50. The next class begins June 1, and registration deadline is May 18. Let's get you enrolled right away!


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Are you addicted to entertainment?

Football fans have been waiting for this weekend. For several weeks sports talk shows have been slammed with calls and connections with predictions from their audiences about what might happen at this year's NFL draft.

Now that the draft is concluding, what's one of the loudest responses heard?

"It was so boring!"

Let's interpret that more correctly so that we understand what so many really are saying, which is something more like this ...

"Entertain me! Entertain me! Entertain me!"

Many people are whining that the NFL draft was boring. Well let me ask you this: When was the last time you observed major employment negotiations and their announcements as being a form of entertainment?

That, after all, is what the draft really is: a business hiring new employees. In spite of that reality, we complain about it being boring. A couple of sports talk show hosts last night went as far as suggesting that when a team goes "on the clock," the NFL should have a band from that team's city perform to make the wait more entertaining!

That's just one of so many examples of just how self-absorbed we have become. With smartphones in our pockets to provide videos to watch, music to listen to, social media to update, texts for "conversations," and games to play, we are filling every minute with some form of keeping ourselves "entertained." And when something isn't entertaining for us, we consider it boring and not worthy of our interest or attention.

That reminds me of the time when British actor Michael Wilding was asked if actors had any traits which set them apart from other human beings.

"Without a doubt," he replied. "You can pick out actors by the glazed look that comes into their eyes when the conversation wanders away from themselves."

In like manner, we've become so self-absorbed that even when we're with others, it's still all about us.

One cold winter's day a crowd of people stood in front of a pet shop window and watched a litter of puppies snuggling up to each other. One woman laughed and said, "What a delightful picture of brotherhood! Look at how those puppies are keeping each other warm!" A man next to her replied, "No, ma'am, they're not keeping each other warm --- they're keeping themselves warm."

With such an addiction to being constantly entertained, is it any wonder that so many churches feed that addiction? Sunday mornings have, in many churches, become an entertaining show with a motivational speech or self-help seminar rather than other-focused fellowship, worship that lowers ourselves and lifts Christ, and biblical messages with some theological heft.

There is nothing wrong with having some entertainment in our lives, but we've twisted that to be a need for constantly being entertained. At the heart of such a demand is a centering and focus on self, an orientation that now should be increasingly alien to the Christian ...

"My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," Galatians 2:20.

If Christ lives in us, we will no longer have a desire to fill every moment of our lives with the entertainments of this world. We learn to take the focus off of ourselves and find interest in listening to others, especially the Lord.

If you have a hunger for constantly being entertained, at the root of that is likely a spiritual hunger that only Jesus Christ can quench.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

This FREE consulting offer can help your church become a disciple-making church!

A ministry of the Scott Free Clinic
Any church or Christian organization who enrolls 15 people or more in the June 1 "Relational Evangelism" online course offered through Hope International University can (if they desire) receive FREE CONSULTING from the Scott Free Clinic's Partnership for Ambassador Training ministry.

The training offered in this eight-week course is the most effective disciple-making model you'll find in use today. People have used the "It's All About Relationship" model to lead thousands of people in different cultures around the world into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. I have used this model for three decades and have introduced it to multiple churches, so I personally know its effectiveness for equipping Christians to be effective ambassadors for Christ and for transitioning churches into being disciple-making churches.

To help you successfully incorporate this disciple-making model into your church or organization, the Scott Free Clinic is offering FREE consulting to groups of 15 or more. The consulting will be provided by John Hendee and Dr. James Scott, Jr. John developed the "It's All About Relationship" (IAAR) disciple-making model more than 30 years ago and now teaches the "Relational Evangelism" online course at Hope International University where he serves as Chair of World Evangelism. Dr. Scott is Founder and President of the Scott Free Clinic, which recently assimilated John's IAAR ministry as its Partnership for Ambassador Training (PAT) ministry component.

The consulting would include learning about your current ministry and making specific and comprehensive recommendations as to how you can have a multiplication and reproduction plan for your congregation. If your ministry is reasonably close, we can drive to you, or work by phone or interactively online. If you're further away and we need to meet in person, we simply need assistance with transportation, but no charge will be made for the consulting. We will be available to consult with you through your first year of transition and implementation; we'll be there to help you successfully become a disciple-making church or organization!

The REGISTRATION DEADLINE for the next "Relational Evangelism" course is May 18 and the course begins June 1. You can click here for details about the course, including how to sign up. If you have any questions, you can click here to email Dr. Scott or click here to email John Hendee. This is an opportunity that literally can transform your church or organization, so get registered for the course as soon as possible!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This weekend could boost your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Find out how ...

A lot of the work I do with married, engaged, or courting couples gets very deep. But sometimes, things that add a little boost of intimacy are simple acts of thoughtfulness.

This weekend is a great opportunity for ladies to offer something to their husbands or significant others --- a thoughtful little gift --- that any sports-loving guy will love!

Even though any time we give it should be with the other person in mind, you ladies should know this idea could return benefits to you in spades! Moms, this could boost the quality of your gift for Mother's Day that is just around the corner. Wives, this could be a way to be able to pad your "honey-do" list. Single ladies, this could be a way to get a little more attention from your boyfriend.

What's the possibility?

Well, if your guy loves sports, you should know this weekend is one of the biggest sports weekends of the year. This is the kind of weekend where the male sports fan longs to indulge in spending the weekend in front of the t.v. with his remote control and comfort foods.

What's in store this weekend?

Well, actually starting tomorrow, we have the NFL draft! Also coming this weekend is the first real, BIG boxing event in a long time as Floyd Mayweather, Jr. takes on Manny Pacquiao. If that's not enough, both the NBA and the NHL have the semifinals going on, the Yankees will be squaring off against the Red Sox, and there's even the running of the Kentucky Derby.

All this weekend!

Some ladies will make the mistake of bearing down on their sportsman significant other and creating tension and distance as she insists he mow the lawn, clean out the garage, and go to her parent's house for a barbeque. Anything other than get in front of his big screen.

But ladies, here's a chance to give your guy a gift. You can tell him the weekend is his, and he'll be as excited as a little boy! And chances are, after all the events are over this weekend, your guy will step back and see you gave him a weekend to splurge in "guy stuff" and he'll respond with gratitude by doing things for you or giving you more attention, or both.

This isn't heavy duty relational science or theology of marriage, it's just basic human interaction where we give simple gifts that are appreciated by those receiving them. And as we give, we receive.

So, ladies, if your guy is a sports fan, I encourage you to give this opportunity consideration, but quickly so. After all, the draft starts tomorrow!


The man who wore his sin to Starbucks ...

Last night I was immersed in work on my laptop when I sensed someone sitting down on the padded bench next to me. When I turned to look, I saw it was a man who wore his sin to Starbucks.

He's a homeless man, and he suffers from a mental illness. Not being his therapist, and not having had an opportunity to assess him, I don't know what specific mental illness plagues him, but from his outward behavior, which routinely involves an ongoing conversation (spoken out loud) with himself, it's clear to see he has problems.

Yesterday was different.

He was wearing a sleeveless camouflage shirt with utility shorts, but what made him stand out was the reddish-pinkish --- or was it scarlet? --- ink that now covered his body.

And I do mean covered!

Every single strand of his hair was saturated with the ink.

His face was soaked with the ink.

His arms and legs were covered with the ink.

Any part of his body that was exposed was wholly stained by the ink!

Then it struck me: he had been busted trying to steal something! The only way this man was now a scarlet man was he had obviously stolen something that had an ink security tag attached, or tried to open something with a security ink tag, and it went off. The result was that it exploded ink all over him, making it an irrefutable fact that he was a thief.

The fact this man was a thief was now something he could no longer hide. He was the only scarlet man in Starbucks, and everyone noticed. As I looked at his new coloring, I was reminded of this scripture text ...

"'Come now, let's settle this,' says the Lord. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool'," Isaiah 1:18.

The ink on this man won't be coming off of him any time soon. He'll be wearing his sin publicly for a while. He was already ostracized for being homeless and obviously mentally imbalanced but now, with his sin on public display, I imagine people will shun him all the more.

Imagine if God made it so that you had to wear, in some public way, your sins of the past week to church on Sunday. Would you act any differently? Would you be treated any differently?

The only hope for this scarlet man was that Jesus Christ was crucified between two thieves. One hurled abuses at Him, the other found a Savior whom that day he would worship in paradise.

Jesus loves thieves, and everyone who's sins are as scarlet. That includes you and me. We don't have to wear our sins publicly for all to see, but they're still there. Have you turned to the One who can wash them away and make you as white as snow? It's only through Jesus Christ that the stain of sin can be removed.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Thought leaders" keep telling us to dump people from our lives. You might want to rethink that ...

Very popular across the social media spectrum among Christians are statements urging us to purge from our lives, like a cannon ball shot from a cannon, all those people who don't personally benefit us or support our goals.

Such an attitude was completely alien to how Jesus Christ treated people when he walked this earth. It should be just as alien to us as well!

There's a story about a young boy who was sent to his room because he had been "bad." A short time later he came out and said to his mother, "I've been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer."

"That's fine," she said. "If you ask God to make you good, He will help you."

"Oh, I didn't ask Him to help me be good," the boy replied, "I asked Him to help you put up with me!"

We're quick to drop people from our lives who are just difficult to have in our lives, and we're fast about asking God to change them. It is true some people are tougher to tolerate than others. But have you ever considered this question: Do you put up with from others as much as God puts up with you?

You may have heard the story about the man who hated Christians. He did everything he could not only to make life miserable for them, but to hurt them. His name was Saul. Fortunately, the first Christians were patient with this guy; had they not been, we would never have known the great ministry of this man who had his name changed by God to Paul. We refer to him as the Apostle Paul. He would later write these words inspired by the Holy Spirit ...

"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love," Ephesians 4:2.

Jesus set the greatest example of all when it comes to living out this statement from Paul. Instead of eliminating from His life all the people who were not beneficial to Him, He instead offered Himself as a sacrifice before God on their behalf and died for them. As children of God, we're to live with and love others in the same manner Jesus lived with and loved others ...

"For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps," 1 Peter 2:21.

So what's the answer: Do you put up with from others as much as God puts up with you?


Monday, April 27, 2015

Would God call you a mule?

Attempting to be who others think you should be will likely ensure you'll never become who you could be by God's design for you.

The English writer, Somerset Maugham, once wrote a story about a janitor at St. Peter's Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered the janitor was illiterate, so he fired him because of it. Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop, where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth a lot of money.

One day the man's banker said, "You've done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could read or write?"

"Well," replied the man, "I'd be the janitor of St. Peter's Church in Neville Square."

There's no one who knows you more intimately than God, and as your Creator, He understands you better than you understand yourself! And, rather incredibly, God desires to be your personal guide in this life ...

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you'," Psalm 32:8.

God wants us to embrace His offer to lead us and not fight against the plans He has for us ...

"Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control," Psalm 32:9.

Are you willingly (and joyfully!) following God? Or are you like a stubborn mule that God needs to bridle?


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.