I used to think that my family was strange. Growing up with a father that taught martial arts in our home, there was a distinctive mentality that I was brought up in. Some families discuss current events or how they have contributed to society that day over the dinner table. My family would talk about how “Randy” trained until he puked.

I loved to hear some of the classes my dad would put together. He was always thinking of ways to train for real life self-defense. One time he scattered chairs around the room, and had two students spar shirtless with markers. The markers represented knives, so there really was a visible “wound” to gauge. And the chairs were obstacles that represented the fact that most people don’t have the luxury of an open dojo when defending themselves.

Testing for belts was always exciting. Dad would integrate different exercises into the fitness training. For a while there, they were doing some running at the beginning of class. Students were timed while they ran through the neighborhood. Testing was at least a week long, and involved different categories such as fitness, writing a paper, sparring, and even old school forms. But you never knew what he was going to pull on test week. And you signed a waiver affirming this fearful truth.

So when one student was going for his black belt, what he thought was going to be a normal fitness run turned into, “You have a ten second head start before I let one of my best loose. If he catches up to you, be ready to fight.” Oh he didn’t get caught; he ran the best time on his record. That same poor student thought he was being tested on forms one evening. So did his parents who were there video recording. My dad asked him if he could record his answers while asking him some questions throughout the night. As he ostensibly went to push “record”, dad blasted Aerosmith, which was the signal for two guys waiting upstairs to run down with a blitz attack. Good times.

You might think that one would have to be a little crazy to participate in this kind of training. Prolly. I wasn’t anywhere near a dedicated student. But although I was in and out, and focused on way too many shallow activities in my youth, this strand of crazy still developed in me. My mentality when I workout is that I want to train hard, or what’s the point? I’m disappointed in myself when I don’t. If I’m in so much pain that it hurts to go down the stairs, I know I’ve trained well. With my busy lifestyle, I’m not involved in that kind of rigorous training very often. But I respect it. Occasionally I still like to talk about it at the dinner table.

This background, this strand of crazy if you will, is what helped me to have an even deeper understanding of our Bible study lesson on Hebrews 12:12. In the context of perseverance and holding fast to our confession of hope, the writer of this sermon-letter exhorts the reader:

Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.

The writer has been using the illustration of a Grecian Olympian in his encouragement to persevere, even under divine chastisement. When training for combat, the instructor would deliver some serious blows to the trainee. He had to get him ready for the real deal. Only the truly committed would endure the challenge and be willing to be exercised in this way. Of course, that is the point. If they couldn’t make it through training, how were they going to have what it takes for the anticipated day? The preceding verse is obviously important here:

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

This fitness illustration gives me even more of an understanding of the Christian life. It involves struggle and wrestling, unceasing warfare, and many bruises. If we despair under the hard blows, we will not yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness. Like a good martial arts instructor, we need to encourage one another not to become weary under the blows.

Also due to my background, I’m a sucker for a good 80’s Karate flick. The main character is usually a student who has trained hard, repeating the same moves over and over, only with more chairs thrown in the room each time. Their instructor has revealed to them all their vulnerable, weak spots with their own version of the faux-marker-sword. The trainee relies on the Word’s and instruction of their “master” as they continue to raise their hands back up again and return to the fighting stance. And the big day approaches. In the end scene their training is proving to be fruitful until some bad guy decides to cheat. And there they are, either with a broken leg from the Cobra Kai, or blinded by Chong Li, left with a decision. Can they go on? Can they continue to fight?

Usually this is when the fighter remembers of all they have been training for. They have to rely on what they know to be true, what they have been exercising over and over. That’s when they pull out the genius of the crane kick or fighting with a blindfold. Babaam! Queue awesome fighting music. Perseverance is an exercising of the truths that we already have in Christ, constantly keeping our eye on the consummation of God’s promises in his Son. Over and over again. And again. Don’t let those arms fall! “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).

*Originally published on December 19, 2012.