6 things getting healthy has taught me about following Christ

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So I used to be quite a bit overweight. There came a point about 2 1/2 years ago where I was pushing 250, was constantly worn down, and just unhealthy. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to lose the weight by eating healthy and working out pretty consistently. I’ve noticed over the past couple years of getting healthy just how similar sticking to a healthy lifestyle is to following Jesus (metaphorically, that is).

There are numerous passages in scripture that compare healthy eating and exercise to following Christ. Jesus tells us that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Jesus also compares the act of faith with eating, saying that he is “the bread of life; whoever comes to [him] shall not hunger; whoever believes in [him] shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). Paul compares growth in holiness and perseverance in the faith to a long marathon (2 Tim 4:7), and to an olympic athlete who finishes well (2 Tim 2:5).

Having used the scriptures to meditate on the similarities between following Christ and staying healthy, I’ve learned a lot of things about my own spiritual walk. Here are a few things eating healthy and exercising has taught me:

1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint:

In the past, whenever I tried to get healthy or lose a few pounds, I never gave a long-lasting effort. My attempts to become healthy were always these 1-2 month efforts that always ended with discouragement. And I think one thing that I always expected from these attempts was quick success. The reality is, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you’re going to have to put your whole life into this thing, not just a couple months.

This principle is the same with spiritual growth. If we truly want to be more and more like Jesus, we need to be thinking in terms of years, decades, our entire life. Jesus tells us that if we would find our life, we must lose it (Mt 16:25). Our entire lives must be given to Jesus. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, said that his entire Christian life was like a long marathon (2 Tim 4:7). He was looking back on decades of faithful obedience to Christ.

2) Sometimes less is more:

When I first began to work out, I (embarrassingly) would work out for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I would start out running for 10 minutes, then do an hour of lifting, then do some more cardio. That was simply too much. I thought that the more activity and time I spent in the gym, the more I would benefit. The reality is, I was exerting too much energy and actually hindering my health in the end. In this case, less really is more — working out for longer than an hour actually hinders your progress.

It’s similar when following Christ. Many Christians are involved in too many Bible studies, too many church services, too many books, too many groups, and as a result, they are burning out. Keeping it simple allows for more focus, more time, and better commitment to Christ.

3) It’s (mainly) about quality, not quantity:

This is similar to #2, but a bit different. To make this point simple: it’s not so much about how long you work out, or how much you eat, but the quality of exercises and foods you eat. You can eat 2,000 calories in M&M’s, but that’s so unhealthy! In contrast, eating 2,000 calories in vegetables and proteins is so much better.

The same with following Christ. We are to make the most of our time, Paul says (Eph 5:16), and to spend our efforts on the things that truly matter. What this means is that we shouldn’t exert our efforts on things that will not bring more glory to Jesus. Rather, we should pour into things that benefit our walk with Christ.

4) Sticking to a schedule is seriously important:

Half of my success in losing weight has come by simply getting up when I plan on getting up, and showing up to the gym. Another part of my success is the fact that I go into the gym each time with a plan. I have a workout routine in my head before I even enter the building. And the reason is because I schedule the whens, whats, and wheres. I’ve learned that sticking to that schedule is incredibly beneficial.

Many people decry a structured time for prayer and Bible reading, but I’ve found that if I discipline myself to read at a certain time, and to plan what I’m reading, I benefit more than if I had never done that. Planning and discipline really helps if we want to read the scriptures on a consistent basis.

5) Rest is really important:

More important than working out and eating healthy, is getting sufficient rest, and allowing your body to recover. If you spend one hour in the gym a day, it takes 2 days for your muscles to recover from that single workout! I used to workout way too often, and it didn’t allow my muscles to recover. Now I know that sufficient rest, sleep, and recovery is just as important as the exercise part.

Likewise, as much as serving Christ and his people is important, we also need Sabbath. God himself took rest after the creation to model for his people the importance of rest. As much as ministry is crucial to the gospel and the lost, rest is important as well.

6) Having others by your side is so crucial:

This should be a given: working out and dieting with others is exponentially easier than doing it alone. You have the encouragement and accountability to continue to motivate you toward the goal. Also, working out with others is more fun than doing it alone.

Likewise, the Christian life was meant to be done in the context of community. We should be seeking encouragement and accountability, and also be looking to give it to others! This is the way God has ordained the Christian life be done: in the context of the body of Christ.

These are just a few things that exercise and healthy dieting has taught me. I’ve found that in the long run, sticking with a healthy lifestyle actually benefits me not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and more importantly, spiritually.

 

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Gluten-free Intolerant?

Here’s a fun little video to start the discussion found below…

This video is hilarious. And it really does represent a growing trend among people trying to eat healthier. There’s this thought that going gluten-free will somehow make you healthier. Gluten does not make you fat (although pastries with gluten can!). It’s a myth.

But this does not mean that all people who eat gluten-free are just ignorant foodies who’ve been duped by yet another diet trend. I want to be very clear: some people cannot eat gluten. And it’s not that they don’t like gluten. It’s not that they are just trying to be healthier. It’s that their body simply cannot digest it.

But as a result of these two types of people, there’s been this mixed community of people that eat gluten-free. Some are fad-foodies that don’t even know what gluten is (much like the other food trends: low-fat, no-carb, etc). But others have been diagnosed by real doctors, have a legitimate issue, and / or need to eat gluten free.

And what I’ve noticed is that non-gluten-free people have begun to bash the entire gluten-free community because of the “food-fad” group. And while the aim of this “bashing” is toward the fakers, I’ve also noticed that people with real dietary issues have come under fire too. Some people legitimately cannot process / digest it, and it causes all sorts of problems with their bodies. And now they have to, because of no fault of their own, eat gluten free. Why must gluten-intolerant / celiac people come under fire because some within the group are fakers?

Here’s my point: if you have been bashing the gluten-free trend, you are not only accusing the fakers; you are also being intolerant toward those who are legitimately gluten-intolerant.

For instance, my wife is highly gluten-intolerant. When we were first engaged, if she ever ate gluten, she would turn pale-white, have flu-like symptoms, and be restricted to her bed for a day or two. She spent months going to doctors, trying to figure why in the world her body would react this way. Finally, after a myriad of tests, the doctors told her to take gluten out of her diet. There was a 100% difference in just a few weeks. As a result, it’s pretty clear she has real issues with gluten. And when you make accusations that gluten-free is just a fad, you are inadvertently being insensitive to her (and others like her) real struggles. This is why I’m so passionate about this. My wife is so much better simply because she stopped eating gluten. It turns out her body just cannot and will not process gluten. Why? We really don’t know. But I know that her strength is back, her symptoms are gone, and she has a normal life (apart from being gluten-free of course) because of it.

And here’s another thing. I simply do not understand why Christians are getting all up into arms about the gluten-free stuff. What does it matter? For instance, there’s this incredibly strange article telling all gluten-free dieters that they worship a false god. And while I can appreciate that the article is aiming to expose companies looking to make a pretty penny off of the gluten-free fad, it is still lumping gluten-intolerant people into the discussion. And to make it worse, the author downplays those who legitimately suffer from gluten-intolerance: “Celiac disease affects about one percent of Americans. Even the more murky ‘gluten sensitivity’ applies, at best, to six percent of the population”. This article ends saying, “we’re just being sold products…In truth, all we’re getting is something that looks like a bagel but tastes like false hope”. Wow — gluten-free false hope (well, except for 1% of the population). Or, just maybe, there are legitimate issues that people have with this protein called gluten? I think so. 

And as a Christian, here’s my rub. There are several instances where dietary issues and the like are addressed by Paul. And in none of these instances does Paul denounce any type of diet. While Paul does admit that all food is made by God and profitable for eating (1 Cor 10:26), he also tells Christians that some won’t want to eat certain foods for various reasons, and that it’s ok for them not to (Rom 14:6)! And this means that if someone wants to eat gluten-free, let them! Just because you realize that eating gluten-free is pointless for some doesn’t mean you should dictate their diet. In fact, Paul tells us that when it comes to dietary issues like this, Christians should neither judge nor despise their brother (Rom 14:10). Besides this, does it really matter if eating gluten-free really only benefits a small percent of the population? Aren’t we all free in the Lord with regard to conscience issues? What point are we really trying to make here?

Another passage that comes to mind with this whole thing is Matthew 13:24-30. This is a passage where Christ reveals that within the church there will inevitably be fakers; some professed Christians will simply be pretending. In the passage, Christ tells a parable, comparing the church to a field of wheat mingled with weeds. What makes it more complicated is that the weeds look all too similar to the wheat. In the parable, the farmers ask each other, “should we try to pick out the weeds amongst the wheat?”. To this question, another farmer says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:24-30). I find so much wisdom in this parable. If we aim for the fakers, we will do harm to genuine. This is what I find happening so much in whole gluten-free debate. I know my wife (and others) has often been offended by people’s insensitivity to her real issue, simply because they are after the foodies.

I’m all for constructive critique of food fads. I myself get annoyed at all the low-fat foods I see all over the place. But I really want us, especially as Christians, to be sensitive to the real needs of gluten-intolerant people. If we aren’t sensitive to their needs, we easily compound the entire issue, and become gluten-free intolerant.