Resolved 5: Living a Healthier Life

 
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“Hi. My name is Rick. And I’m a gym-judge-aholic.” Never heard of one? I’m the guy that every January watches as new people show up at the gym. They look like they’ve indulged in too much holiday feasting and spent too much time on the couch watching football games. They are being escorted around the machines and treadmills by a staff person who tells them the benefits of each.

But I know what they know but won’t admit. It won’t be long before I won’t be seeing them anymore. For example, 80 percent who joined a gym in January 2012 quit within five months.[1] The gyms know this. Gyms are an interesting business. They succeed when you and I fail. They want to attract the perfect customer: people who make a resolution to work out, but don’t. Lack of exercise is a problem we face in America where 80% of us do not get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise we need each week.[2]

The other big problem we face is found in what we eat. Some would say: “Too much and too little. We consume too much salt, fat, sugar and calories and too little nutrients from fresh whole fruits and vegetables. Three-quarters of Americans don’t eat the recommend five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables. More than half exceed the recommendations for protein and grain consumption, but this is made up of red meat, high-fat dairy and refined carbohydrates, not the low saturated fat proteins like nuts and legumes, and the whole grains that are recommended.”[3]

More than half of what we eat is “ultra-processed” foods and we consume 500 more calories daily than we did 40 years ago. In the time Tom Brady, who is 40, has lived, we have decreased in exercise and increased in calories. In contrast he has perfected his exercise and diet, won five Super Bowls, and been to eight.

Exercise has always been a part of my life. But it wasn’t until my father had triple by-pass surgery in 1999 that diet and the kinds of food I was eating caught my attention. My cholesterol was borderline high and I did not want to wind up on an operating table with my rib cage cracked open if I could avoid it at all.

I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about health and I found out it did. I discovered that Jesus cares quite a bit about our health. One example is found in John 5. One day Jesus was near the pool of Bethesda. Those who were invalids—the sick, the blind, the lame, the paralyzed—would come there. They believed that an angel would stir the waters and the first one in the pool would be healed.

A man is there who has been lame for 38 years and he’s lying by the pool. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” The Greek words used for “get well” are ὑγιὴς γενέσθαι/hygios genesthai. Genesthai is connected to the word “genesis,” as in the name of the first book of the Bible. It means “be made,” “come into existence,” or “begin.” The other word—hygios—means “sound” or “whole,” or “to be restored to health.”

Jesus is asking the man if he wants to be healthy, if he wants a new beginning. In the Greek you can’t help but think back to the Beginning. It was a time without sickness. It was a time without death. It was a time without processed foods and Captain Crunch, Starbucks and Krispy Kreme. And there was health. There was wholeness.

Anything that was eaten was natural. Not everything we eat today is. One bag of blueberry bagels caught my eye once. I looked at the ingredients and found that there were no real blueberries in the bagels. There were just “blue and purple colored chips.” They did not come from a blueberry bush in the Garden.

Disease and sickness were not intended for our world. That’s why Jesus “healed many who were sick with various diseases…” (Mark 1:34). That’s why he gave the Twelve “power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases” (Luke 9:1). Jesus’ ministry was about restoration of health or wholeness to people.

On more than one occasion he would connect a person’s faith in him to health by saying, “Your faith has made you well” (cf. Luke 17:19; Mark 5:34). The word used for “well” is the word “sozo.” It is also translated “save.” Salvation to Jesus has to do with forgiveness of sins. But it also has to do with the person becoming healthy—physically and emotionally. We tend to disconnect the soul and spirit from the body.

Later, the Apostle Paul would talk about the importance of the body in our life with God. “Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). If you knew the Holy Spirit was going to come and live at your house, my guess is you’d get the place in as good a shape as you could. How about your body? Our bodies are a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Our bodies are not ours. They are God’s. We are to steward them as well as we can for him.

Paul did not see a disconnect between the spirit, soul, and body. “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23). Your body is important. There is nothing your soul or spirit can do except through the body to which it is attached.[4]

One more from Paul: “… train yourself in godliness. For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul says there is benefit to training our bodies, but not at the expense of training in godliness.

Jesus did both. As far as I know Jesus did not say anything specifically about exercise or diets. But Jesus exercised. He walked every day. He lived in a day and time where he walked everywhere and walked a lot. He walked from Jerusalem to Capernaum, which would be like you and me walking from Chicago to Milwaukee. It is estimated he walked in his lifetime 21,525 miles (20 miles per day).[5]

And Jesus worked his body through his work. He didn’t have Planet Fitness or CrossFit, but he didn’t need it. Until he was about thirty he worked with his father as a “craftsman” or “builder” (Matthew 13:55). For Jesus, this word tekton probably had more to do with stonemasonry than woodworking. Most homes were made of stone and lumber was scarce near Nazareth. Interestingly, King Herod instigated a major rebuilding project of Sepphoris, about 3 miles from Nazareth. Halfway between the cities was a rock quarry. It’s highly likely Joseph and Jesus worked on this project which would later be called “the jewel of all Galilee.”[6]

Here’s the point: people in Jesus’ time walked and they worked hard. Jesus’ hands would be calloused, his back would be strong, and his legs would be fit.

Jesus also ate well. We know that Jesus was not brought up in a rich family. And we know that the poor basically ate fruit, lean meats, and whole grains. These would be a staple in his diet. “These foods are known to protect your heart against many diseases and cancers. Not to mention they are dense in vitamins and minerals that are going to support a long and healthy life.”[7]

The difference between then and now and Jesus and us is his world supported a healthy lifestyle while ours does not. In fact, it is said the global weight gain is “fueled by urbanization, poor diets, and reduced physical activity.”[8]

There are cultures today that still have similar settings as Jesus’ day. Italy has an obesity rate that is less than 10%. If you were to move there today you would find yourself, in many instances, walking more and eating fresher “farm to table” foods. Just by living there we’d get in better shape.

But we don’t live there. We drive. And even if we wanted to walk we might be taking a serious life risk to do so. Karen and I have observed that when we have had the opportunity to go to Rome we walk around Rome. Literally. One day we logged 27,168 steps. (June 5, 2016). And we thought nothing of it. But we would never consider walking the same distances here because our cities are not designed for it.

It’s a problem. But we can do something about it. If our bodies are connected to our spirituality, and if they are not ours but God’s, then part of following Jesus will be to learn to take care of them the best we can. Jesus reminded us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:26).

The word for “strength” in the Hebrew—the passage Jesus quotes—has to do with “ability.” It refers to things we do. Hebrews would use it to talk about the physical actions that made up their lives. Things like farming and travel and even war. They lived hard, physical lives and needed strength to do what God had called them to do. It was second nature to love God with their strength.[9]

We need strength to do what God has called us to do. How do we gain this kind of “strength”? It starts with motivation. And I would suggest we rethink our motivation. In our society our motivation to exercise has to do with looking good or to excel in a sport. That may not be enough, especially if your significant other—like God—loves you no matter what.

But when our motivation is to be healthy for God whose Spirit indwells us so that we can give our best for him, things happen. As with anything, the change starts in our mind. Change your motivation to getting healthy for God.

Then change your eating habits. Eat like Jesus did. More fruit, lean meats, and whole grains is a good place to start. There is plenty of information online for you today that you can learn how to eat better. We all know that an apple is better for you than McDonalds.

Jack LaLanne has been called the “Godfather of Fitness.” He once said, “If God didn’t make it, I won’t eat it.” Ben Lerner, a Christian fitness expert, says that the further something is from nature it is food by man and not food by God.[10] He points out there are 3,000 chemicals added to our food supply and 10,000 chemicals are used in food processing, preserving and storage.[11]Start by making better choices, even for one meal a day. As you eat more “food by God” you will start feeling the positive effects of those choices.

Then plan your physical exercise. As we’ve noted, our society and our daily rhythms do not support physical health. We sit at desks and look at computer screens and drive to our destinations. If we were to follow Jesus to learn from him we would have to be in better shape to keep up with him.

Today exercise has to be planned. You don’t have to spend hours at a gym. Just 12 minutes a day can make a difference in how you feel and look.[12] Plan physical exercise into your day. Put it on your schedule. Schedule it early before other things squeeze it out. You will find yourself gaining strength. And you’ll find yourself fulfilling the Greatest Commandment.

Love him or hate him, Tom Brady is an example of focused training. He says, “What are you willing to do and what are you willing to give up to be the best you can be? You only have so much energy. And the clock’s ticking on all of us. When you say ‘yes’ to something you have to say ‘no’ to something else. In the end my life focuses around football. It always has been and always will be as long as I’m playing.”[13] He trains “…in order to win.”

As followers of Jesus, our motivation is different. But we are training to win too, in life. You don’t need a resolution. You need to only answer one question that Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?”

[1] https://www.creditdonkey.com/gym-membership-statistics.html

[2] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-80-percent-of-american-adults-dont-get-recommended-exercise/

[3] What’s wrong with the American diet? http://betterthefuture.org/whats-wrong-with-the-american-diet/

[4] See Willard, Spirit of the Disciplines, pg. 82.

[5] https://www.charismamag.com/life/health/27775-if-jesus-was-your-personal-trainer

[6] http://www.lifeway.com/leadership/2017/04/04/the-forgotten-jesus-part-2-was-jesus-a-carpenter-or-a-stonemason/

[7] http://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/top-10-health-fitness-tips-jesus/

[8] http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/13/health/adult-obesity-increase-study/index.html

[9] https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/physical-health-spiritual-issue

[10] Ben Lerner’s books Body by God and The Genesis Factor are valuable in learning what foods to eat and what exercises can help you.

[11] Lerner, The Genesis Factor, 185 Kindle and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIPCHjbPelI

[12] For example see https://www.maxt3.com/ where for $9.99 you can find 12 minute routines

[13] Tom vs. Time, S1:E1 The Physical Game on Facebook

13 episodes available. A new episode about every 8 days .