Saturday, August 31, 2019

10,000 Steps

Photo by Selmane Cherifi 2018

When my husband was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, we consulted a nutritionist who specializes in lifestyle interventions used in conjunction with medical therapy to improve cancer-related outcomes.

God has blessed us with a dance ministry, specializing in Theatre Arts dancing in which my husband lifts me overhead. However, the nutritionist pointed out that our dance regimen consists of short, intense bursts of energy while practicing our 3 to 4 minute dance, and that we need to add continuous aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more.

This would be best accomplished by walking briskly, she said, and recommended goals of 30 minutes daily of continuous exercise, plus 10,000 steps daily, to be monitored using a Fitbit device. Although the goal of 10,000 steps has been touted as showing a survival advantage, it turns out to be rather arbitrary. When the first fitness monitor was released in Japan, its manufacturer named it after the Japanese equivalent for “10,000 step-meter.”

Research studies since then used that goal as a cutoff to define optimal activity and showed benefits in blood pressure, blood sugar, and a variety of other health outcomes. But the CDC has not issued 10,000 steps as a daily goal, instead recommending 150 minutes per week of brisk walking or similar exercise.

The consensus of expert opinion, based on clinical and research evidence, is that more is better. Increasing your daily steps by even 1,000 per day can help if you’re only walking 2,000 steps to start, and if you are already walking 10,000 steps daily, there is no reason to stop there if you desire optimal health benefit.

As the United States celebrates Labor Day this weekend, the festivities, at least in Florida and the Southeast, may be tempered by preparing for “monster” Hurricane Dorian. All of this got me to wondering: how much is enough?  

Is 10,000 steps a day enough for my already physically active husband, who regularly does maintenance and yard work on properties he manages?  Is staying overtime at work, volunteering for difficult projects, and networking with leaders enough to ensure you’ll get the desired promotion? Will getting a few cases of water and batteries, shuttering the windows, and sealing the doors with sandbags be enough if Dorian hits?

In all these areas of life and more, we can never be sure that we’re doing or trying or accumulating enough to achieve the desired result. But as born-again Christians (John 3:3-8), we know that we can never do enough, or be good enough, to work our way to Heaven.

Praise the Lord, we don’t have to, for He gives salvation as a free gift (Romans 6:23) to all who earnestly call on His Name! (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13). If we trust that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), proving that He is Son of God and God Himself, that is enough!

As the saying goes, religion says “do,” but Jesus says, “Done!” In His last moment hanging on the cross, He cried “It is finished!” (John 19:30) for His death satisfied the demands of holy, righteous God (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). No more animal sacrifices had to be made, for He was the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-24), the perfect Lamb of God (John 1:29) Whose blood washes us clean from all our sins (Revelation 1:5).

At His death, the thick veil of the temple tore in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38), signifying that Christ came from Heaven to earth so that sinful man need no longer be separated from Holy God. Now all who trust in His completed work on our behalf as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven are guaranteed an eternal home there (John 14:1-3).

Although the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple had no seat, because the work of the high priest making sacrifices to cover our sins was never done, our Great High Priest Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69). His work to save us from the penalty of sin is completed, and it is enough! He is the only One Who can rightly say that He has accomplished all the work His Father appointed Him to do (John 17:4).

When we attempt to add to His perfect work by using our good works or our attempts at holiness to earn our salvation, God sees these as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), as putrid as the used bandage from a leper’s wound. It is a slap in God’s face to point to our good works as a way to be saved, for we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Nor can we be saved by keeping the law, for we can never be holy enough in our own righteousness. Jesus warned that unless you could be even more perfect than the most perfect Pharisee in obeying the letter of the law, you would be doomed (Matthew 5:20), for we are all sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Only Jesus kept the law perfectly, for He was tempted in all points as we are, yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

The apostle James wrote that even if we are guilty of breaking a single point of the law, it is as if we have broken the whole law (James 2:10). All religions except for Christianity are works-based, leaving their followers with a dreaded sense of uncertainty over whether they have done enough to merit a place in Heaven. Would 10,000 steps on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or 10,000 Hail Marys over a lifetime, or $10,000 paid into church coffers ever be enough?

Praise God, followers of Jesus Christ know that we can never do enough, for we are sinners deserving eternal punishment in hell, yet saved by His grace! Instead of worrying about doing enough, we can rejoice in serving Him more and more, for we can’t outgive God (Luke 6:38). Our baby steps will multiply and strengthen until we are marathon runners for Him, not to be saved, but out of gratitude for how He has changed our life and our destiny (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1).

Our sins are debited against His account, and His perfect righteousness is credited to our account once we have faith in Him (Romans 4:23-24; James 2:23). Then He blesses us according to His riches in glory (Ephesians 3:16), which are always more than enough, for He owns everything! (Psalm 50:7-12). His grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), no matter what our need!

In trying to meet my fitness goals, I worry that not all my steps are counted by the Fitbit. I take it off at bedtime, so it misses my steps if I get up at night. I am surprised and a little disappointed that a 1 hour tap class only registers as 7 minutes of continuous exercise. But praise the Lord, He keep excellent records! 

Every good work I do for Him with the right motive will be rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:9-15), for our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). May we therefore be fervent in His business (Romans 12:11) and always abounding in His work!

© 2019 Laurie Collett


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Christian, or Physician?

Throughout life we have a variety of appellations, titles, and roles – some constant, some transient as circumstances change voluntarily or beyond our control. Some, like daughter, sister, wife, or mother, denote family relationships. Others, like student or teacher, coworker, employee or employer, colonel or enlisted recruit, reflect our position in a social hierarchy. Still others involve our ideology, politics, club memberships, interests, or faith.

What’s in a name? My husband may refer to me with pet names of endearment, but I might be offended or at least think it strange if others used these to refer to me. Our church family calls our undershepherd “Pastor,” but it would be odd if his wife called him that in the privacy of their home. When I was practicing neurology, my patients called me “Dr. Barclay,” but I would worry if my son referred to me in that manner!

For about a quarter of a century, I was a practicing physician, and for the past 19 years, I have been a Christian and child of God by calling on the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13), Who died on the cross to pay for my sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), so that all who trust Him would have eternal life (John 3:16).

Although I still write regularly for medical websites, I have retired from active practice as a physician. Yet I can never relinquish my status as a born-again Christian (John 3:3-8), for once you are truly saved, you are always saved (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:35-39), and you can’t walk away from the faith. (Not that I would want to, for my desire is to walk closer with Christ each day [Colossians 2:6]).

Yet beginning about 2 months ago, I have felt some of my former role as a physician resurfacing, which sometimes seems to be in conflict with my identity as a Christian. The reason underlying the tension emerging between these roles is that my husband Richard was diagnosed with locally aggressive prostate cancer.

This trial began totally unexpectedly, as my husband is physically very active and apparently in excellent overall health, despite a well-controlled heart valve problem. We were in our family room one morning, enjoying our daily devotions over a cup of coffee. As Richard answered his cell phone, he was shocked to hear his cardiologist’s voice. The doctor explained that he had done some routine blood work at Richard's last visit, and that his screening test for prostate cancer had come back markedly elevated.

“But I have no symptoms,” Richard told the urologist he saw a few days later. Yet the urologist found a mass, and an MRI scan showed a large tumor extending beyond the prostate. Soon we found ourselves at a nearby center of cancer excellence, one at which I had done neurology consults years ago. How different things felt as a wife rather than as a doctor in a position of authority and expertise!

I am thankful that God is using my background as a physician to help expedite Richard’s diagnosis and treatment; to help him understand and navigate the complex options available; and to adhere to recommendations for diet, exercise, treatment, and other interventions intended to improve the overall outcome.

We are particularly grateful for concerned friends connected to the cancer center who have also been invaluable in this regard, and we both firmly believe that God is working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

There are countless other blessings already received and lessons already learned. We praise God for preparing us for this trial by guiding us through earlier trials; for surrounding us with a loving church family (Galatians 6:2) and prayer warriors (James 5:16); and by teaching us to lean on Him, to cherish every moment we have together (James 4:14), and to be good stewards of the time and opportunities He so graciously affords us (Luke 12:42; 1 Corinthians 4:2).

So why the conflict? As a physician, I had to take charge, make the best possible decisions based on the available evidence, and remain compassionate while distancing myself from emotional involvement that might cloud my judgment. As a wife who dearly loves her husband and can’t imagine being apart from him for even a day, I tremble at the thought of illness compromising that closeness.

But as a Christian, my role is not to ask why this happened or how I can fix it, but to trust in God alone (Isaiah 50:10), and to obey Him (Job 1:21; 2:9-10). Like any other burden in life, I can try to carry it in my own flesh, which is doomed to failure, or I can leave it at the foot of Christ’s cross and resist the temptation to pick it up again (1 Peter 5:7). I need to lean not on my own understanding, but to trust in the Lord with all my heart and acknowledge Him in everything, so that He will direct our path (Proverbs 3:5-6)

I remember so many instances in our own lives, in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in Scripture, which prove that God is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 89:8; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13), that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As a physician, I had to trust the evidence and proceed rationally based on the probability of various outcomes, weighing whether a particular treatment would be effective, ineffective, or even harmful. As a Christian, I must trust God and proceed in blind faith (2 Corinthians 5:7) that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9); that He loves us infinitely (1 John 4:8; Zephaniah 3:17); and that nothing is impossible with Him (Matthew 19:26).

As a wife, I am motivated by love to do whatever I can to help Richard, yet I am hindered by fear that my efforts will be inadequate. And indeed they are, for God’s perfect will shall be done (Luke 22:42), not by enabling our plans, but by empowering us to be vessels through which His Spirit can work with the wisdom, love and power that spring only from Him (2 Timothy 2:20).

Only His perfect love can cast out my fear for my husband’s health, and my (realistic) doubts that in my own strength I can contribute anything positive to the outcome (1 John 4:18). Surely I can do nothing on my own, but if I abide in Him, and He in me, He will allow me to bear much fruit (John 15:5).

One of my many prayers in this trial is that God would use me as an instrument of His love, wisdom and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4) to help Richard receive miraculous healing that comes only from the Great Physician (Mark 2:17), that we would give Him all the praise (Isaiah 25:1) and all the glory!

© 2019 Laurie Collett