Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: I ♥ Caffeine

I love my Coca-Cola. In my high school and college years I could down an entire 2-liter bottle of Coke and go looking for another one. The caffeine revved me up, got me going, and I never had any problems with it. I could drink that 2-liter just before bedtime and still fall right to sleep and not stir for hours.

Most of my friends were the same way, as are most guys that age today. Many of them prefer Mountain Dew or the new energy drinks, but I've always been a Coke man.

Two years ago today I was diagnosed with diabetes and was forced to quit the sugared version of Coke. I haven't had a regular Coke since. Fortunately, the geniuses at Coca-Cola labs have invented their Zero mix of artificial sweeteners, which is so much better than the saccharine or aspartame sweeteners I'd tried to like before.

Two weeks ago I was in the E.R. at 5 AM because my heart was dancing to the beat of a toddler let loose on the drums. It turned out I wasn't having a heart attack, but there was definitely some sort of arrhythmia happening. That's not surprising, considering both of my parents had a-fib problems.

I'm scheduled to follow up with my primary physician tomorrow and I suspect he'll advise me to continue what I already began after the ER scare. The day has finally arrived that I knew would eventually come.
I need to quit the caffeine.
Just as my metabolism is not longer able to handle the sugar load of all those Cokes, now my heart is no longer able to handle the caffeine dump.

You'll notice the Coke in the picture above is of Caffeine Free CocaCola Zero. No sugar. No caffeine. Just the flavor and the fizz.

And yes, I can already hear some of my friends (I'm looking at you, Kerri) telling me I should quit the sodas altogether. That may come at some point.

At some point.

Meanwhile, I sit in church and at work and at every restaurant surrounded by people cheerfully imbibing their coffee and lattes and Cokes and Mt. Dew. Their hearts can process it just fine.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws.

Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.

Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,but I delight in your law.

Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word.

(Psalm 119:30,36,69,60,161)
When I turn my attention to meditating on the Word of God, the condition of my heart has a huge impact on how God's message is received.

If I've overloaded my mind and heart with the ideas and notions of the culture around me, the life-giving words of God don't affect my heart the way they should. If my heart is seeking the next new thing or hanging on for dear life to the way things used to be, the Word has less efficacy. If my heart is preoccupied with my personal opinions or politics or prejudices or presumptions, it won't be prepared to receive God's truth without alteration.

If I continue to overwork my heart with a continual chasing after pointless passions, there will come a day when a dose of God's Word no longer refreshes me but instead makes me uncomfortable and irritable.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: MyFitnessPal

On September 1st, 2012, my family physician told me the reason behind my recent troublesome symptoms:  Diabetes, Type 2.

My doctor and I are both very pragmatic people, so he prescribed a simple 2-word course of treatment:
Lose weight.
I had been hovering between 300-310 pounds for a few years, pretty much ever since I switched from a physically active job to a desk job.  I had basically eaten myself into being diabetic.

The doctor and I also share a fascination with technology, so he recommended I download the MyFitnessPal app for my iPhone.

It proved to be a great help as I proceeded to lose 50 pounds in about 6 months.  I entered everything I was eating into the app, and it kept a running total of the calories and carbs for the day. That feedback helped me to build a detailed awareness and knowledge in my mind of how to construct my daily meals in order to be a more healthy eater.

The app also lets me record my weight and then shows me graphs of my progress over the past month, 3 months, year, and so on.  I've developed the habit of working out at the local gym 4 times a week, and the first thing I do when I arrive there is to step on the scale and record my weight.

That graph not only keeps me aware of how I'm doing, but it also taught me that even though my weight can fluctuate up to 5 pounds from one day to the next (sometimes for no apparent reason), over the long run I can see the long term progress.

Then again, that graph can be like a stern taskmaster, pointing out to me when I've been less than diligent in my eating and exercising.

You see, I lost 50 pounds in 6 months, and then I've lost maybe another 10-15 pounds in the 17 months since. While the doctor tells me that losing a pound a month is a healthy approach, the up and down yo-yo of the MyFitnessPal graph never lets me forget that that slower progress is more an indication of how lax I've become about my habits. It's not a steady 15-pound decline over those months.  It's a binge-and-diet sort of decline.

I don't understand why I can't be as diligent as I was at the beginning. I want to stick to the plan, but I don't.  I hate cheating on my healthy foods plan, but I still cheat. When I stick to it, MyFitnessPlan is my best friend. But even though the app gives me everything I need and motivates me to do what is good, I cannot carry it out. Instead of eating right, I revert to the old habits I hate. (Romans 7:14-25)
Meditating on the Word gives me so much that I need.  Like MyFitnessPal, when I regularly read and absorb the scriptures, they teach my mind and train my heart to know how to live my daily life the way that is best for me. As I continue to dive deep into the bible, it often rebukes me, pointing out the ways I've gotten off track. And then it corrects  me, giving me the information and motivation I need to get back with the program. Steadfastly continuing my journey through His Word trains my heart to be inline with God's heart, and trains me to be the kind of person who will be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17)

And then...I fail again. And return to the Word and its promises.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: Garden Your Heart

I am not a gardener.

I enjoy eating vegetables that come from a garden, but I've never been interested in putting in the time and work to produce a really good garden.

My wife does enjoy gardening, but only to a certain extent. Once the weather gets really hot and the weeds get aggressive, her passion for gardening withers.

Since my indifference to gardening pretty much leaves her on her own, she applies her green thumb to growing flowers and herbs.  The photo above is of one of her garden spots in our yard.  I enjoy the flowers and I certainly enjoy the flavor the herbs add to our meals.  But I don't contribute much to her garden other than making sure to avoid mowing over it and occasionally pulling a few weeds.

If you expand the picture above you'll see some unusual things, especially near the drainpipe.  Those are part of the faerie garden maintained by the young girls who live next door. They help Karen with the flower gardening and use their imagination to build faerie castles and other fanciful things among the plants.

And then there's the garden in the photo below.  Our neighbor, David, spends a lot of time working on this garden.

He has nurtured the soil of that garden over the past half dozen years, so that it's rich with all the nutrients needed for a bountiful crop. It's a raised earth garden, which means the soil is built up to a higher level than the lawn around it. As you can tell, he has also built a number of trellises and other contraptions to support the growing plants.

I don't spend much time working on that garden either. My wife helps him out from time to time.

I do, however, enjoy the vegetables David shares with us. Very much so. And I don't really feel as guilty about it as I probably ought.

Many Christians tend to their hearts like I tend to a garden.

They enjoy hearing a good sermon or even reading a good religious book.  they're glad to share in a discussion about spiritual matters.  But their interest in spending quality time meditating on the scriptures is fairly shallow.

They enjoy being fed.  they just don't want to spend much time working for it.

Others use their Bible reading time to look for lovely and encouraging verses, or simply for pleasure and diversion from the real world.

Effective meditation on the Word requires nurturing your heart to be a receptive soil for God's teachings.  It requires spending enough time deep in the Bible that you're able to get past the weeds of preconceived notions and prejudice.

If David were to move away, my daily diet would be much poorer. For many folks, if their favorite preacher were to move away, they'd have no clue how to maintain the level of Bible nourishment they've grown used to.

Go ahead.  Pick up a shovel or a spade.  Get some dirt under your fingernails. Dig in to the Word.