Tag Archives: Physical

Fixing Our Eyes on Life

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

This life journey definitely moves through different seasons and stages. As a parent I am watching our girls move through the turn into adulthood with the establishing of lives and careers. It’s a time filled with a heady mixture of adventure, excitement, doubt, faith, and hope. It carries with it a subtle sense of immortality. I think back to what my life looked like at their ages (and shake my head in disbelief).

As a child I am watching my parents trekking into life’s final stretch with all of the unknowns regarding how events will ultimately play out at the finish line. I’m watching the mixture of feelings, experiences, and emotions that they walk through, and I’m trying to be open to what I can learn from their examples.

Wendy and I are currently feeling the back stretch of life. Literally, I now need to stretch my back every day as my body begins its natural aging progression.

One of the most fascinating observations for me  of late is to watch how we and others handle the process of aging and the troubles associated with our natural, physical decline. Every person has their own journey, their own struggles, and their own path to walk. I’m trying hard not to be judgmental, yet I am noticing stark differences in the way individuals traverse the process of physical decay. I’m observing that it is a cocktail mixed with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ingredients.

In this morning’s chapter Paul addresses his own experience with life’s natural struggle of progressive decline. Having been pondering these things, it leapt off the page at me.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

In Paul’s experience the physical and the spiritual coexist but are independent of one another. The physical continually declines while, in Christ, the spiritual continually grows. The former is in decay while the latter is budding into eternal Life. The key comes with where we choose to focus. Paul “fixes his eyes” on the spiritual with its perpetual growth and life, not on the physical and its perpetual decay.

This fits with what I have observed of late. Our thoughts and emotions  gravitate to wherever the eyes of our heart are “fixed.” If we are fixated on the grief and pains of physical decay then our thoughts and emotions are given to the pessimism and fatalism of impending death. If we, rather, reach further up and further in to fix our eyes on Life and Spirit, then our thoughts and emotions deal with our physical decline in a different manner.

Wendy and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal a year or two ago about a group of friends in their 80’s. Together the group decided that when they joined together in conversation they each could say one thing about their present physical situation. After that, the conversation had to go elsewhere. It was their way of “fixing their eyes” on living and not on dying. What a great example.

This morning Wendy and I are preparing for a long holiday weekend at the lake with friends, fixing our eyes on life. We are planning to spend next week at the lake, and I’m going to be taking a week off of blogging to rest and live a little (right after I stretch my back).

Silence and Spiritual Authority

But Jesus remained silent.
Matthew 26:63 (NIV)

Just last week, on the 15th of April, the Major Leagues celebrated Jackie Robinson day just as it does every year. Every player in Major League Baseball wears Jackie Robinson’s number: 42. It was on April 15th, 1947 that Jackie Robinson  walked out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and broke the color barrier in baseball.

This morning as I woke up in my hotel room I happened to have a documentary about Jackie Robinson playing in the background and reminded me of the familiar story. When Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Dodgers, brought Jackie to the major leagues he made Jackie promise that for three years he would not respond to the taunts, insults, and attacks that he would face as the first black man to play in the major leagues. Jackie agreed.

The abuse Jackie faced in those years is well documented. The treatment he received in opposing cities was unjust and unfair. Racial slurs and terrible insults by opposing teams and crowds rained down on him non-stop from batting practice until the last out of the game. Pitchers threw at his head intentionally. Runners intentionally spiked him with their cleats, opening up gashes on his legs. But true to his promise, Jackie remained silent. And, he played great baseball.

It seemed like a bit of synchronicity that this morning’s chapter documented Jesus standing before His enemies. They taunted Him. They falsely accused Him. They beat Him and they mocked Him. But true to what had been prophesied, Jesus remained silent. And, He fulfilled His mission.

I’m simply reminded this morning of the power of silence in the face of personal attacks and social adversity. Human nature and our own culture desires – even demands –  justice at an intimate, interpersonal level. If insulted, return the insult. If he talks smack to me, I’m going to dish it right back. If falsely accused, make a spirited defense. On the face of it, Jesus’ encouragement to “turn the other cheek” seems foolishly weak.

But it’s not.

It took incredible courage and spiritual strength for Jackie Robinson to remain silent those three long seasons. His silence was, in fact, an act of spiritual endurance while it took a tremendous physical and mental toll.

Turning the other cheek is not running away, slinking back, or cowering in fear. Turning the other cheek requires standing in, facing your enemy, and defiantly presenting him the opportunity to do it again. It reveals and highlights the injustice. It makes known the truth of the situation.

After three years of sticking to his promise, Jackie was released from his bargain with Branch Rickey. Then it was the wisdom of Solomon that took over. “There is a time to be silent, and there is a time to speak.” Three years of remaining silent before his enemies had earned Jackie Robinson the spiritual authority to be one of the greatest voices for civil rights and social change. Jackie Robinson Day continues that legacy each April 15th.

I find it ironic that Jackie Robinson Day fell between Good Friday and Easter Sunday this year.

Jesus, likewise, followed His own teaching before the kangaroo court that had been hastily and illegally assembled to arrange His execution. He remained silent. He stood in. He faced His accusers. He turned the other cheek each time He was beaten. All that Jesus would endure took its lethal physical toll, but the spiritual power that was unleashed would conquer death itself.

Deaf Amidst the Din

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Isaiah 35:5 (NIV)

This past weekend was the close of our local community theatre’s holiday show. After the final performance on Saturday afternoon the entire cast and crew worked diligently to strike the set, clean up the stage and dressing rooms, put away all the props, and return the costumes to the costume shop. Then it was time for the requisite cast party and celebration.

Between cast, crew and family there were over sixty people gathered in our friend’s home for the cast party. As a hearing impaired person this can be a challenge. Even with hearing aids, the loud din made by a celebratory crowd in a small space makes distinguishing words in conversation a challenge. I can hear the sounds and I try my best to read the lips, but distinguishing the actual words being said to me is sometimes impossible.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Isaiah foresees that one day the Messiah will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the dears of the deaf. In fact, Jesus alluded to Isaiah’s prophetic words when He told the followers of his cousin, John the Baptist:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Yet while the miraculous physical healing of the blind and deaf was witnessed and well-chronicled by Jesus’ followers, the healing of the physical body was just the surface of Jesus’ intention. He made it clear that His mission was clearly focused on infirmities of the spirit. Those who physically see and hear perfectly well can, at the same time, be spiritually blind and deaf. Jesus quoted another one of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He described the crowds following him:

Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

That’s a concept I increasingly understand as I sit amidst the loud din of a cast party or a crowded restaurant. I can hear the sounds all around, but I am deaf to the messages being spoken directly to me by a friend. Though hearing, I am deaf.

This morning I am thinking about being blind and deaf. I wonder if there isn’t, for some, a reciprocal relationship between the physical and spiritual; As my eyes fail my spiritual sight becomes more acute, and as my ears become increasingly deaf my spiritual hearing reaches new levels of clarity. This is my hope. I can manage relatively well if my ears and eyes fail along my journey. The circumstances are more dire if the eyes and ears of my heart remain blind and deaf.

Stories Behind the Blurbs

He judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died, and was buried at Shamir.
Judges 10:2 (NRSV)

I had my annual physical this past week. In just over four months I will hit one of those birthdays with a zero in it, and medically things kick into gear with this one. There are more tests, and more questions, and more pleas for precaution. I have the rare experience of having the same doctor who cut open my 11 year old leg to remove a giant chunk of skateboard now sticking his finger up my backside to check my prostate (Sorry…TMI).

So it is that my thoughts have wandered into the big picture considerations of life’s journey in recent days. I’m asking the GPS recalibration questions of life’s road:

  • Where have I been?
  • Where am I at?
  • Where am I going?

One of the interesting things I have observed as we journey through the Book of Judges is that there are Judges for whom chapters are devoted to telling their stories. Then, there are judges like Tola and Jair in todays’ chapter who are mentioned in passing. Tola led for 23 years. Period. End of story. Jair led 22 years, had 30 sons who rode 30 donkeys and lived in 30 towns. Done.

Garrison Keillor, in one of his Lake Wobegon monologues, made the observation that a small town newspaper isn’t really the news. What a small town newspaper prints is just a table of contents to what’s really happening (which will never be printed). I have come to realize that the same thing is true of obituaries.

Having officiated my share of funerals over the years, I’ve come to realize that the two or three paragraphs printed in the newspaper and read in the funeral service don’t really tell the story of a persons life any more than the silly numerical trivia of Jair’s sons can possibly be the totality of his tale. It’s when you sit around the living room with grieving spouses, children, and grandchildren eating a day old donut brought to the house by a well meaning neighbor that you begin to catch a hint of it. Hearing their memories in the privacy of home, away from the public eye and amidst the din of screaming children, you hear stories of quiet strength, simple love, and moments that changed life for an individual.

Tola and Jair may not have had stories that fill chapters in the Great Story. I know, however, that there is more to the stories behind the blurbs we read today. So it is with all of us. Very few of us get more than a two or three paragraph summation at the end of this journey. But, that’s not the whole story by a long shot. The real story is being written daily in our relationships, our words, our gestures, and our seemingly insignificant acts of kindness and love.

So how’s my story going as I approach mile marker 50?
Where have I been?
Where am I at?
Where am I going?

December 11. It’s about time to watch It’s a Wonderful Life again.

“Realize that You’re Already Dead”

lamb tatThey triumphed over [the dragon]
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.
Revelation 12:11 (NIV)

Over the past several years the television miniseries Band of Brothers has become one of my all time favorites. This morning while reading I was reminded of a character in Band of Brothers, Captain Ronald Speirs, played by Matthew Settle. Captain Speirs becomes notorious for risking his own life and taking outrageous chances in battle. In one of my favorite scenes, there is a night that Speirs finds himself talking to a young soldier who, unlike Speirs, admits to fearfully hiding in a ditch to avoid battle. “The only hope you have,” Speirs tells the young soldier, “is to realize that you’re already dead.”

Along the journey I’ve come to recognize that there are many truths of the Spirit realm that run counter to the physical realm. Captain Speirs actually made a profound statement that points to a spiritual truth. When we consider ourselves truly dead to our own self-centered motivations, desires, words, and actions we find ourselves free to experience a fullness of Life and a courage to move forward that would not otherwise be possible nor seem reasonable. Jesus said that there was no greater love than when someone lays down their life for others. I’ve come to realize that “laying down your life” sometimes means making the ultimate sacrifice like a soldier in batter, but it also means a day-by-day choice to lay down self-centric motivations for the service of others.

In today’s chapter, the loud, heavenly voice proclaims that the ultimate triumph of good over evil was made possible, not by might or power, but by sacrifice: the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) who laid down His life for all, and those followers who did not cling to their lives or shrink from death.

Coincidentally, I have the verse above tattooed on my left shoulder. It serves as a daily reminder to me to, moment-by-moment, live in such a way that I sacrifice myself so that I might be able to pour a greater share of love and life into others. Some days I do better than others, but I’m still pressing on.

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Spiritually Acute

I answered the songwriters call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem at the Western wall.
I answered the songwriters call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem at the Western wall.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.”
Psalm 122:6-7 (NIV)

The further I progress in this life journey the more I am aware of spiritual conflict that constantly boils below the surface of our physical reality. Jerusalem is a spiritual epicenter. The lyrics of the ancient songwriter of today’s chapter were prescient as they plead for the hearer to pray for peace in the city. As I walked the compacted streets of the old city some 25 centuries later, I could feel the spiritual tension that still exists there.

“I don’t like Jerusalem,” my guide from Nazareth said one day as we stood waiting for a friend in our party.

“Really?” I asked with curiosity. For not liking the city, he obviously spent a lot of time there.

“It is a spiritually dark place,” he responded quietly.

Even Jesus lamented it: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

This morning I am thinking about spiritual realities, largely invisible to physical senses, which nonetheless exist and frame our lives. I find it fascinating that the older I get I feel my physical senses waning (“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that. What did you say?”), but I find my spiritual senses growing more acute.

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A Very Different Kind of War

source: mkrigsman
source: mkrigsman

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 2 Corinthians 10:3 (NLT)

For most of my life, the headlines have been filled with news of one war or another. As a child, my first recollections of television news were reports on the war in Vietnam. I grew up in school hearing about the Cold War. In high school there were wars with the Soviets and Afghanistan, and there was conflict between Britain and the Falkland Islands. The U.S. had a conflict with a tiny island nation of Grenada. Then came the first Gulf War, and then the War on Terror. The second war in Iraq followed by war in Afghanistan. Now the headlines are filled with talk of war in Syria.

My experience is not unique. All of us can mark time along our life journey by the wars we remember. War has been an ever present part of the human experience. When Paul was writing his letter to the believers of Jesus in Corinth, they were living near the heart of the Roman Empire. Paul had grown up surrounded by the occupational forces of Rome and he witnessed continuous conflicts with Rome both at home and in Jerusalem. When it came time to teach the followers of Jesus about the ever present conflict being waged in the spiritual realm, the very real images of soldiers, conflict, and war were readily available to Paul as word pictures to which everyone of that day could relate.

One of the most important things I have come to realize and internalize about the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged is how different it is with the physical war to which we are accustomed. In fact, war in the spiritual realm is the very opposite of war on a human scale. In the spiritual conflict our greatest weapon is love. Our tactics are forgiveness, sacrifice, generosity, service, kindness, and grace. The result of a successful campaign in the spirit realm is salvation, peace, healing, wholeness, and restoration.

Today I am reminded that while there are similarities between war in the physical realm and war in the spiritual realm, I must never forget the stark differences between the two. I must fully embrace the contrast if I am to be successfully engaged in the spiritual conflict in which I am enlisted.