My first few years of college were kind of a disaster. I was a mess.
No, I didn’t fall into the wild frat house party scene. Mainly because I went to a conservative Christian college. The wildest parties were the ones where someone brought cookies and brownies. If things got real crazy, someone busted out a guitar to sing worship songs.
Ok so it wasn’t alcohol and girls. I was a mess because of video games.
Freshmen year I discovered that I was uncommonly good at first person shooter games. And for a nerdy, asthmatic kid who never got picked first for anything, it felt pretty amazing to be the best for a change. Wombat Slayer became a name to be feared around campus.
I dove in head first.
Within weeks I had adopted a diet of ramen noodles, Mountain Dew, and Doritos. My sleep schedule was erratic. My physical activity was negligible.
By the middle of my sophomore year, I was about 20 pounds too heavy[BR1], extremely lazy, and had the unspeakably bad taste to grow my hair out into these awful shoulder-length ringlets. It was a season of regret.
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, two reasons.
One, my season of regret was also a spiritual low point for me. And I’m starting to understand that what I was doing to my body was not disconnected from my spiritual decay. More on that in a minute.
The second reason I’m telling you this is because we’re talking about health today and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Right now I am pretty healthy, I’m relatively fit, and I eat pretty well.
But don’t think for a minute that the old me is completely gone. Wombat Slayer is still within me, craving Doritos, begging me to dive back in to the unrestrained nerdy hedonism of my college years.
It is a constant battle for me to pursue a healthy lifestyle.
So with all that in mind, why don’t we dive in.
In case you’re just joining us this week, we’re in the middle of a series called “I Will…” We’re looking at some of the big areas of our lives that we all need to give energy to this year: our marriages, our families, our finances, and of course our relationships with God.
And as I said, today we’re talking about health.
I will… get healthy.
Now, it just so happens that I joined a gym nine weeks ago to get back into shape. I was feeling a bit like Wombat Slayer, and needed a kick in the pants.
So when I found out I’d be preaching about getting healthy, I got excited. After 9 weeks I imagined I’d be able to run up onto this stage, rip off my shirt, and reveal my brand new, rippling six pack.
Turns out it doesn’t quite work like that. I might need a bit more time. Maybe some day.
Ok, so health. Where do we even begin? I mean, we all know we should get healthy. It’s got to be one of the most common New Years resolutions, and probably one of the most quickly broken.
There are a million books, blogs, and entire industries dedicated to eating better and getting in shape. What could I possibly say to add to this discussion? Well, maybe nothing.
But at the very least I can share with you my motivation for pursuing a healthy lifestyle. I’m no fitness guru, but in my opinion this motivation blows new years resolutions out of the water.
So I’ll share that, offer up a few practical tips, and then we’ll all leave here and become supermodels.
Actually, I want to say something about that.
I realize there are many of you for whom the topic of physical health is a sore spot. A source of shame. Maybe you have real trouble controlling your eating habits. Maybe you have an eating disorder. Or maybe you just hate the way you look in the mirror.
You feel constantly attacked because of your body, and you’re afraid I’m going to get up here and pour a bunch of fuel on the fire of your shame.
But guys, I’m not. I’m not here to tell you how you should look. Or how much you should weigh. The goal here is not for you to be skinny, or to look phenomenal in a speedo, or to be able to run a marathon.
No. This sermon is about helping you on your journey to become the person you are meant to be - whatever that looks like. You - healthy, vibrant, and alive.
So, as we dive into this I want you to remember that this is a shame-free zone. God loves you. I love you. And you are not alone.
Ok? Let’s do this. Let me share with you my primary motivation for seeking health. It isn’t about looks. It isn’t about rippling six packs. It isn’t about weight.
It’s about mission. I want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible so God can use me to change this world.
Now, I realize that’s a bit grandiose (and it’s the kind of thing of course a pastor would say), but stay with me for a second. Because I think there is something really powerful here.
I must get healthy so God can use me to change the world.
To unpack this I want to start with a concept that’s probably a bit “out there.” But I think it’s fascinating.
It’s the idea that our bodies, minds, and spirits are not separate things. They are connected to each other. Interwoven. In other words, when I talk about “me,” I’m not referring to some ethereal spirit floating around somewhere and using this rotting piece of meat as a vehicle.
I believe that the cells and tissues and organs that make up my body are just as much a part of me as my thoughts or my conscience or my soul.
I realize this may be controversial to some. Not everybody agrees with me on this. But let me explain where I’m coming from.
As many of you know, I’m a giant nerd, and I just geek out at mind blowing scientific stuff. And so much of what I’ve been learning about recently has shown me that the line between our bodies and our minds can be kind of blurry sometimes.
· Being physically active has been linked to increases in happiness and positivity
· Sleeping well leads to better memory retention
· Studies with twins separated at birth have shown that the stress of your childhood can actually affect your personality
· And one more: get this. There is increasing evidence that some of our emotional states, like anxiety, are linked to what kinds of bacteria live in our intestines.
In other words, very physical, bodily things can have an influence on… well, on who we are - on our thoughts, on our personality.
But it works the other way around as well. The things we do in our minds and spirits can influence our bodies.
· Routine meditation has been correlated to longer life spans
· Chronic anger can disrupt cardiac function
· In some cases joy and optimism have been connected to a decrease in diabetes
Now, I realize these are a bunch of crazy examples, and I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but you get what I’m trying to say: our bodies, minds, and spirits are connected. What we do with one has consequences for the others.
I think there’s some biblical basis for this as well. All throughout the Old Testament physical sins like sloth and gluttony are connected to more social and spiritual sins like injustice and pride. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul draws a line the other direction, and shows how spiritual darkness leads can lead to physical corruption.
And let’s not forget the resurrection. As Christ-followers, our ultimate destiny is not to float around in heaven as creepy naked harp babies, but to have resurrected bodies.
And if Jesus is anything to go by, they should have some connection to the bodies we had before we died (and no, I don’t understand how that works). What I do understand is that:
Our bodies, minds, and spirits affect each other.
Can I give you an example of what this looks like?
When I was back in college - in my Mountain Dew drinking, video game playing days of sloth, my whole life was kind of cloudy. I didn’t feel good, I didn’t think well, and my spiritual journey had ground to a halt.
Back then I figured all this cloudiness was just some kind of phase. Now I think I understand what was happening.
When I made choices like staring into a glowing screen for countless hours, pumping my body full of sugar, oil, fat, and caffeine, and sleeping in till one in the afternoon day after day, it started to mess with my mind.
I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t focus. My memory started to suffer. I became listless and apathetic. I started doing poorly in my classes.
And this carried over into my spiritual journey. I stopped praying. I lost all interest in reading the Bible (and this, by the way, while I was attending a Bible school). God felt distant. When I faced sin struggles I didn’t have the will to put up a fight.
And as I saw my spiritual life crumbling, this made me pretty depressed. So what did I do to dull the pain? I turned to more video games and more junk food and more 4-hour afternoon naps. It was a cycle.
My body, my mind, and my spirit were connected, and they were all dragging each other down.
Ok. So you get it. What we do with our bodies has an effect on our spiritual lives. But why does this matter? Why is it such a big deal? It matters because
We have work to do.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul talks about why we were saved.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
These “good works” are to do the will of God in our world. To be the hands and feet of Jesus. To spread his kingdom: loving the unlovable, caring for the poor, sharing the gospel, bringing peace, being a light in dark places.
As we say a lot around Grace, the Church is God’s Plan A for the restoration of this world, and there is no Plan B.
We have work to do. It’s why we’re here. We can’t take this responsibility lightly.
Throughout his other letters in the New Testament, Paul is constantly talking about the great purpose and mission our lives take on once we surrender to Jesus.
· He talks about casting off our old selves and pursuing our new selves.
· Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
· He talks about being immovable in our convictions, fully invested in God’s work, and never letting up in our relentless pursuit of the kingdom.
To Paul, living out God’s calling on our lives is worth giving everything we have.
Never is this more apparent than in 1 Corinthians 9.
1 Corinthians 9:24
Go ahead and grab your Bibles and look at this with me. If you want to use one of the house Bibles, it will be page _____. At Fishers you can just raise your hand and someone will bring you a Bible.
Or, if you’re more digitally inclined, you can use the new Grace smartphone app, which has all sorts of good stuff like a place to save your sermon notes. I even added a few “fun facts” for you to enjoy. Just search your app store for “Grace Church Indiana.”
Ok. So 1 Corinthians 9 is part of a letter the Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth, a Greek city west of Athens. There had been some rumors circulating about him and his work, so he decides to set the record straight.
He talks about how sacrificial he’s been in his mission. How he’s never asked for anything in return. How he has set aside everything for the sake of spreading the gospel.
And then in Chapter 9, verse 24, he continues his point with an analogy of a professional athlete training for the Isthmian Games, which were essentially a spinoff of the Olympic games that took place every couple of years in Corinth.
Athletes would come from all over Greece to compete. The winners of each event were given a crown of withered celery (which I would have been like, “Oh, wow. Gee. Neat. Thanks.”). But whatever. If you won you were a national celebrity. It was a big deal. And it took a lot of hard work.
So let’s read. Verse 24, Paul says,
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
To Paul, there was nothing more important than living out God’s call on his life. His mission was to bring the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles, and nothing was going to stand in his way.
Paul wanted to be sharp. He wanted to be focused. He wanted to be dedicated, single minded, and resolute. He was hungry to see God’s kingdom established on this earth, and he wanted to wear the victor’s crown.
“I beat my body and make it my slave… so I will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Now here’s the funny part. This passage is just a metaphor. Paul wasn’t referring to actual physical health or fitness here.
I mean, people back then didn’t deal with the health crises we face. Every food they ate was locally-grown, free range, and organic. Sugar was so rare it was literally worth its weight in gold.
To get places, you had to walk. Your job probably involved manual labor. Sedentary living was only an option for the super rich.
So this passage isn’t about physical health, and yet these few verses are one of my greatest motivations for pursuing health and fitness.
If I want to fully pursue God’s call on my life (which I do!), I can’t be a man running aimlessly. I can’t just beat the air. I have to be the best possible version of me.
And because what I do with my body influences my mind and spirit, physical health must become a priority. That’s my motivation.
I’ll tell you what. As I’ve been growing in health and fitness over the years since college, my capacity for spiritual depth has expanded so much more than I ever could have imagined.
Oh man. When I’m on it - when I’m in a sweet spot - working out regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep - I am so much better equipped for ministry.
· My mind is sharper and I’m more creative
· My anxiety level drops and I have more capacity for empathy and compassion
· I feel well rested and can focus on prayer and meditation
· And I have energy to pour into the lives of other people
That’s why I’ve started treating health as a kind of spiritual discipline. That’s my motivation.
I must get healthy so God can use me to change the world.
So what about you? Are you healthy? Are you running in such a way as to get the prize? Are you all that you can be?
Like I said before, this has nothing to do with how you look in the mirror. It has everything to do with your capacity to engage in the mission of God.
The world is dying faster than we’re making disciples. Systems of injustice are all around us. Our neighbors are drowning in pain and isolation. The world needs us to be the Church.
No. The world needs you.
· And it can’t have you if your physical health is just an afterthought.
· It can’t have you if you’re tired all the time or mentally cloudy or spiritually apathetic.
· And friends, it can’t have you if your lifestyle puts you in an early grave.
We must get healthy so God can use us to change the world.
Ok then. I have raised the stakes on getting healthy to a ridiculous degree. But now that we’ve talked about motivation, why don’t we get practical?
I’ve got a couple of really basic concepts about health that have helped me a lot, and I thought I’d share them with you.
Now, before you send me a bunch of emails asking why I didn’t mention your diet plan or your workout or whatever, please remember this is just what works for me.
Ok. There are three big picture things I’ve learned about how to get healthy. The first is about what to eat.
Here’s the problem. We live in a diet fad culture. There’s always some new evil thing to avoid. Carbs or gluten or deep fried butter… And there’s always some new nutrient we’re all missing. Antioxidants or Omega 3 fatty acids…
Honestly, the whole thing kind of wears me out.
So it was really encouraging when I read a book recently that kind of changed the narrative for me. The book is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan[BR2]. He takes aim at our nutrition-obsessed culture and suggests that we might actually be healthier if we adopt a much more holistic view of food.
And so his answer to what humans should consume to be maximally healthy is just this:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That’s the kind of diet I can get behind. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Ok so what does that mean, exactly?
Well, when it comes to eating food, what he means is that we should focus our eating as much as possible on whole, unprocessed foods. His rule of thumb is to avoid anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
So, a gallon of milk or a pineapple? A Ok.
Bubblegum flavored portable yogurt tube? Maybe not so much.
We should be eating real food.
This isn’t always easy, especially for someone like me who loves Doritos. Preparing whole foods takes time, you have to go shopping more often, and sometimes it can even be more expensive.
For a lot of reasons, eating whole foods isn’t something everybody can dive straight into. But it’s something to work toward.
NOT TOO MUCH
So. Eat food. Not too much. That one’s pretty self explanatory. We have to cut down on our caloric intake. The calories you take in should reflect the calories you expend during the day. Obviously.
What isn’t so obvious sometimes is what exactly we’re eating. For me, the most important thing I’ve learned here is just to be aware of what I’m putting in my body.
A while back I decided to track the food I was eating for a couple of weeks and it was eye opening.
Case in point: I looked at the nutrition information for Oreos. Saddest day of my life. Get this: 160 calories and 11% of your daily fat intake from how many cookies? 3. 3 cookies. Before that I tracked my Oreo consumption by the sleeve.
All that to say, knowing what I was eating became super helpful for not eating too much.
Ok. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
I’ll just say this: meat (animal protein) is a great, nutritious food. It’s got essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. But it’s also really high in things like calories and saturated fat.
Study after study has linked heavy meat consumption with terrible health outcomes and shorter life spans.
I don’t believe we have to get rid of bacon and chicken wings and cheeseburgers (I’m not a monster!), but we’ve got to cut back for the sake of our health.
For me, I’ve started trying to think about meat the way I think about dessert. I love it, but I’m not going to have it for every single meal.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
If you follow those guidelines, I give you permission to completely ignore bean sprout and quinoa juice cleanses or whatever the next big diet trend is.
So eating well is a huge part of getting healthy. The second major component is physical activity.
And here’s what I’ve learned we need to do if at all possible: move around. In other words,
Get your heart rate up regularly.
It’s as simple as that. Get your heart rate up regularly.
There are a million variations on exactly what this means, but the general consensus I’ve found is that you can reap a ton of health benefits from simply doing moderate physical activity 150 minutes a week (or a half hour, 5 days a week).
· Moderate. That’s walking briskly
· taking a leisurely bike ride
· snowball fights
Anything that gets your heart rate up. You don’t have to spend two hours a day at the gym to be healthy.
This is why when I travel to developing countries, people are always baffled at me trying to run and workout all the time. They don’t need to do that. They live a moderately active lifestyle. They walk everywhere.
Now, you can do more and it will do you good. Intense cardio workouts can be phenomenal for your overall health. What’s important, though, is that we move around. Doing nothing is not an option.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
Get your heart rate up regularly.
The third and final thing to remember, when it comes to both eating well and getting active, is this:
You can’t do this alone.
First of all, a bunch of studies have shown that meeting health goals is far easier when it’s done in community. Don’t try to lone wolf this.
You might want to consider signing up online for one of our new short-term Grace Groups focused on getting healthy together. I think they’re called “40 Days To a Healthier Life.” Tackling this stuff in community is a far more effective way of making it happen.
But second, remember why we’re getting healthy here. It’s not because we want to look good. Again, it’s not about weighing a certain amount. We’re getting healthy because we want to be more effective for God’s mission in this world.
And that mission isn’t accomplished alone. It’s accomplished as a community of Christ followers giving everything we have to expand God’s kingdom.
Listen to me. You are God’s masterpiece. His workmanship. He has created you as a one-of-a-kind instrument in the restoration of this world. And he wants all of you.
Will you stay locked in self-loathing, regret, and shame? Or will you lay that aside to become the person God has made you to be?
We must get healthy so God can use us to change the world.