Gary Thomas emphasizes physical health and fitness as important spiritual values for Christians to steward appropriately for God's service. (Part 1)
Woman: Doing great. Almost there.
Man: No, no. I gotta stop. C'mon Irene, let's rest. Hey, how 'bout we go for a donut?
Woman: Just one more lap, Frank, then we're done.
Man: Oh, a cramp. A cramp! And everything's goin' black.
Woman: Don't give up, Frank. The doctor said exercise; it's for your own good.
Man: That's easy for him to say. Just shoot me now and get it over with. Did I mention my weak heart?
Woman: Yeah, every week, Frank. Keep moving. You can do this.
End of Clip
John Fuller: (Laughter) Well, maybe you can relate to that little scenario.
Jim Daly: Too much, John.
John: I wonder if pursuing a lifestyle of healthy eating and fitness is really a chore for you, where you look for every excuse to get out of it. Well, we might have some help for you, on today's "Focus on the Family," hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, why is January [the month in which] we're always talking about diet plans? It's startin' to drive me nuts.
John: It's gotta be the top search on every search engine; everybody's thinking diet.
Jim: Well, every commercial on television, lose few pounds, you know. Just sprinkle some salt on your food. But you know, I gotta admit it, like that clip, there's often many days when I'm with boys, saying, "Hey, let's just go get a burger." (Laughter) They taste good, don't they?
John: Yeah, they do. And you don't feel any guilt at all, do you for that?
Jim: Not at all, I don't feel any (Laughing). But you know what. We need to acknowledge that for many of us, especially in the church, we're not always doin' a great job taking care of bodies. We seem to kinda think from the head up, you know. Let's be thoughtful, spiritual Christians, but when it comes to the body, eh--
Jim: --it's not so important. And the other thing, I think we do a lot of social activities as Christians and it does take time to do that, so you're, not working out. I find skinny people to be very, very isolated in social settings. (Laughter)
John: Why are you lookin' at me like that?
Jim: I'm joking.
John: I do think it's interesting. I tend to measure the quality of the fellowship by the quantity of food. I don't know.
John: There's just something about a church gathering. If the table is falling over because there's so much food on it, then it's gonna be a good time of fellowship.
Jim: (Laughing) But you don't wear it; look at you.
Jim: You're Mr. Fit.
John: I try to watch it.
Jim: Well, listen, here are some statistics here in America at least, where two out of five American adults never engage in physical activity. Now, I'm not fittin' in that category.
John: Not at all.
Jim: And only 1 in 5, 22 percent are following the recommended guidelines for physical activity. And we want to talk about that today. Yes, it's January. I know we all set out some goals for losing weight. But let's put a spiritual context to it.
John: Well, Jim, those numbers are a little bit on the startling side. And there are some who are gonna argue, but it really doesn't matter. You know, from a perspective of faith, the body's gonna just turn back to dust and so, the spiritual life is what really matters. The body doesn't really matter, does it?
Jim: Well, you know, you look at 1 Timothy. We do have a Scripture that kind of gives us some guidance in here. It says, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things." So, I think we tend to hide behind that.
Jim: You know, it's got some value, but what God really wants out of us is intellectual rigor and training.
John: Well, we have a guest who, as I said, is gonna offer some help in this matter. And he's Gary Thomas. He's back with us again. He's been on the program a number of times. He contributes to our Boundless webzine, the Focus on the Family magazine in Canada. And he's written a number of books about parenting and marriage and has an interesting one that ties right in to what we're talking about today.
Jim: As I understand it, Gary, you're a very passionate person, a person that's in good health, but it hasn't always been that way, right?
Gary Thomas: No, I grew up the consummate junk food junkie. When I was goin' through college, Captain Crunch, Big Macs, pizza and ice cream were my four food groups. (Laughter)
John: Oh yeah, standard stuff.
Gary: And then of course, I marry a woman whose family made you know, their own 100 percent whole wheat bread and would, well, things that grow (Laughter). Stuff like that is what they prefer to eat.
Jim: Homemade muesli.
Gary: And so, I was duly convicted. I loved to run my entire life since I was in the high school runners, so I've always had the fitness end down. But the eating end down could slay me, which was fine for a while. You know when you're in your 20s and exercising a lot, you can put away those Big Macs and the DQ Blizzards and the sugary cereals.
John: Those pizza buffets yeah.
Jim: Now where does it all go when you're that age? I meanthat's what I remember.
Gary: Yeah. You just race through it. After work I could go have three or four donuts every night and then never showed it. But I tell you. There's something about hitting 30, then 35, then 40, where that metabolism stops and you wear what you eat in a way you never do in your 20s.
Jim: Well, let's look at your book, Every Body Matters and it's a great title. But you talk about before you had this epiphany, perhaps before you got married, how you would rummage around the floor of your car looking for candy (Laughter). I want to know more about that guy.
John: And what kind of candy was it?
Gary: Look, I have the taste buds of a 12-year-old boy. I mean, you put me in front of a bowl of M&Ms or Tootsie-Rolls, Midgies or chips with salsa, I wouldn't want anybody to judge my sanctification in the face of that temptation. I just can't have that in the house, because I'm gonna eat it and I won't do very well.
Jim: So do you avoid entirely now? What do you do?
Gary: I try not to have in the house, quite frankly.
Jim: Well, you go outside a lot. Does that mean you eat like four bowls in your car?
Gary: No, well (Laughter), here's where I was convicted and I think you guys touched on this at the intro. Just growing up as a Christian within the church, I've always heard about how we shape our minds. We have to believe the right doctrines, how we have to give our heart to Lord. How our souls need to be saved. But there's almost absolute silence on how we treat our bodies.
Jim: Now why is that?
Gary: Well, I don't think it's there in Scripture. I think when you look at Scripture it emphasizes taking care of our bodies. I think there [are] just the cultural blinders that we have in this age. And it was really through reading a lot of the Christian classics, how even in the Middle Ages and before, they took it so seriously about how they had to make body their servant, about how things like gluttony and sloth, they called both of those "gateway sins" that opened up the door, not just to overeating or a life of lethargy, but they said it opens up the door to lust. It opens up the door to gossip. It opens up the door to pride. And they really saw 'em as these gateway sins, that if we compromise spiritually there, it's like opening wide the doors to temptation everywhere.
Jim: Well, the inference there is that if you have control on those things, you'll have control on everything else. Is that what you're saying?
Gary: Well, I think there's a lot of truth in that. I think virtue builds on virtue and I think vice builds on vice. I think if you have a serious compromise in your life in one area, you really do open the door to character issues in other areas. But conversely, if we grow in one area, I think it tends to build us up.
What really revolutionized, I think, my thinking, was just 1 Corinthians 6:19 through 20, when the Bible made it so clear. "You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your body." And when I really got to the point where I understood, I don't own this body. You know, keep your laws off my bod[y], all of that. That's not God's view. God's view is, I'm giving you this body to accomplish the mission I've given to you, but you're entrusted with it. You don't own it. It's not a matter of what you're willing to live with. It's not a matter of how you feel comfortable. It's really a matter of God entrusted this to me.
I had an episode earlier in my writing career, when I was writing books with celebrities. And I did one with John Ashcroft, who was then senator, looked like he was gonna be running for President at the time.
Gary: And between you and me, I wish he would've. I think he would be a marvelous President, as fine a man as I ever met. As we were going through that, he handed me this personal file with letters from his dad, annotated speeches and there were no copies.
And John Ashcroft is such an ethical man; he wouldn't make copies in his senate office, because this was a private [file]; I mean, it was only 10 copies. He said, "No, I want you to take the original files and just work off that and we'll discuss it when you get back."
Well, I'm terrible at handling paper. If you saw my office, you'd lose all respect for me. I lose files. I lose notes. I'm just always reprinting things. And I was terrified. I said, "Please don't give that to me. It can't be replaced." He says, "Gary, you're a responsible young man." I was a bit younger then. "I have no hesitancy doin' this." And I can't tell you how obsessed I was that entire week. I had to know where that file was at every time, because it didn't belong to me. I've lost more files than I could count. I didn't lose that one, because it didn't belong to me.
Gary: And I thought, look, what if he runs for President someday or does become President and they're trying to write his biography. And someone says, "Well, what happened at this point in his life?" And say, "We don't know; some idiot writer lost the file (Laughter)," so, I mean, it really was this sense of stewardship. Because I didn't own the file, I didn't lose it.
And so, I wanted to start looking at my body that way. If I don't own this body, if it's God's instrument to accomplish His work in my life, I need to start treating it differently, not just exercising it, but I need to think about what I put in it and that's the harder part for me.
Jim: Well, I mean I could just feel a lot of guilt in that regard. I mean if you're thinking in that way because again as Christians, we want to read the Word. We want to have daily devotions. We want to make sure we're parenting right. That our marriages--and we'll often use that here; you're the marriage expert, Gary--but we'll say our marriages are a witness to the world. But what you're saying is in effect our bodies are as well. That's pretty heavy. That doesn't make me feel very good. (Laughter) And I'm an old football player.
Gary: I know. I know. And that's really, really one of the toughest things, toughest athletes that have, when you've bulked up like that and it's just hard. But here's the thing. When you talk about all things God asks us to, I think this has the most personal benefit.
Gary: When you look at just the mental benefits of being in shape, I can't tell you, when people have really addressed this, they just do feel better emotionally. They feel better mentally. They feel better spiritually. It can affect your relationships. It can affect certain aspects of your marriage and your sense of energy, of being able to engage in life. This is one of those things that to turn the corner is painful and it hurts and it takes discipline, but the payoffs I've found are huge.
Jim: Okay, but the causality. What is food doing to us? I mean, we have to eat obviously. But it's like anything else, lust that you mentioned earlier and other vices that we as human beings gravitate toward, because we have sin nature.
Gary: Yeah, yeah..
Jim: What is it about food that helps us emotionally? Or what is it doing for us and what's it going to work against us?
Gary: This is what I think is so key, Jim. It's like the empathy I have for 10-, 11- and 12-year-old boys when I talk to moms about pornography, because on the internet, it's not a fair fight. Society is just making it so, click on this and you get to see what a naked woman looks like. That's not a fair fight for a 12-year-old boy. Back in our day and age, you had to be a certain age to get a magazine.
And the same thing. It's not a fair fight when you look at food. Our society is making it difficult, because I mentioned in Every Body Matters, there are engineers whose only job is to create food that has an instant pop. As soon as you put it in your mouth, you get feelings of pleasure. They've engineered how it breaks down, so it takes less energy to eat it. How it makes you feel, what it does to your brain and they've built on this and built on this, so that you will buy more and more of their product.
So, just as the pornography industry is really making it difficult for young men to live lives of sexual purity, there's an entire food industry that is assaulting God's Church. And we don't usually hear sermons about this, where people need to be warned. In a very real sense, they're at war against you to get you to eat isn't good for you for their profit. Now I'm very conservative politically. I know I sound like a liberal from Portland saying that.
John: Sounds like a conspiracy that you're talking about here.
Gary: But in this issue, it is true and I think we need to be aware of it and have empathy for each other as Christians, because some people have gotten sucked into this. And it does become like a drug. They have created food that makes us feel better. And we live in a culture where we get emotionally discouraged. We get depressed. We get tired. And this food really does lift us up. And so, it's not just I don't think that God looks at it like, "Come on, guys. Can't you try harder?" I really think that God is calling out to us saying, "You're being warred against. Let Me help you come to a better place in life. This isn't helping you; it's hurting you."
Jim: Well, but I'm just envisioning. I mean, you know, again, I played sports. I'm heavy. And that's something I work on. I try to work on constantly. Of course, my doctors are saying, "Yeah, it'd be great if you could lose some weight."
And I'm thinking of a lot of women who struggle with this. You know, they've had children. It's been a battle maybe their entire life. And it kind of, I guess it's a bit of a body blow, you know, bang, to think of this like a pornography addiction or something like that. It seems different to me, but you're saying no; spiritually it's not.
Gary: Well, I do think the Bible takes sexual sin more seriously than it does gluttony. In fact, when you look at the biblical evidence, even though the history of the Christian church, when they had seven deadly sins, would always have gluttony and what not. The Bible doesn't seem to address gluttony nearly as seriously as it does sexual sin. So, I do think it's appropriate to stress health in that area. But I think clearly the Bible isn't a fan of gluttony. It doesn't focus on it like it does materialism, sexual sin, even gossip, or even lying for that matter, but it does address it. So, I think we need to as well, but it something that can trip us up.
It's about motivation. And that's why I wrote Every Body Matters. It's sort of like Sacred Marriage. We know how to be married, but we need the motivation to stay married and to keep pursuing marriage. Most of us know what we need to do to be healthier, but we've lacked a spiritual motivation and then that's seeing our bodies as instruments, not as ornaments. Seeing it as a part of discipleship. Seeing it as we don't own our bodies. God says, He claims them. And having a vision for how God wants to use us in an active ministry throughout our lives. And we need to take care of bodies if that's gonna happen.
John: Well, you're listening to Gary Thomas on today's "Focus on the Family," hosted by Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Gary, with regard to your own personal story, you had this epiphany. Did things just change overnight, 'cause suddenly, "Oh, I'm convinced. I've gotta take care of my body"?
Gary: No, in fact, if you talk to my wife, it's still (Laughter) a frustration.
John: So you've not yet attained the prize.
Gary: Look, my wife is in top one-half of one percent of [healthy] eaters.
Jim: This is the granola girl.
Gary: Oh, she is, from the Northwest and now she's just into coconut water and chia seeds on everything.
Jim: Oh, that's terrible. That stuff tastes terrible.
Gary: She probably eats at most a teaspoon of processed sugar a week. (Laughter) Now I used to sneak in a little bit of that sugar in the raw at Starbucks and I'd go get her coffee. I'd sneak in a little bit of that so she wouldn't completely lose the taste.
John: You were trying to turn her to the dark side?
Gary: Yeah, but (Laughter) she's so healthy. I look pitiful. But I do realize that sugar rush is a reality. Eating more vegetables and those things that we know really do [need] and I am finding gradually my taste buds changing. Now I was so bad for so long. I think is like a lot of sins. You grow out of it. And you accept grace and say, "This was not the best day, but I need to go out of it." And then not be legalistic, because the Bible actually talks about feasting more often than it does fasting. So, I think there's a time to celebrate with food, but also a time to recognize that we need to be disciplined.
John: But what were the first steps that you took? I mean, I appreciate your candor about your current struggles, but go back to when you realized, "Oh, I've gotta take care of my body."
Jim: What should I do tomorrow?
Gary: (Laughter) Yeah, for me, I had to have a completely new relationship with hunger. I had to recognize, it's sort of like in running sometimes, when your heart is hurting and you keep pressing. I realize that since I was carrying too much weight and I was out of shape a bit, that hunger could take me where I needed to go, that there was a purpose behind it, that it could be a friend. Now I'm talking about affluent hunger. I'm not talking about Third World hunger where people are truly hungry. I'm talking about the little hunger pangs that we have in this society.
And I had to realize, if I kept eating just because I wanted to eat or I thought I might get hungry, I would never really be fully fit. And so, for me it was a different relationship with hunger. It was how much I ate. It was how fast I ate. I still struggle with that. I just whoo. I mean, with drinks and with food, I can just scarf it down. I don't taste it. And I still am very much in process with that.
And then largely also for me, it was what I ate. I might not eat a ton at one setting, but I wouldn't make the best choices. And so, I'm just trying every day to get a little bit better. What I like about eating is that it's easier than some of the other sins, gluttony is, because gluttony is a matter of degrees. So, there are certain sins that you don't want to do at all. This is really a matter of, am I overdoing it? And you can learn to grow out of it with a little bit more grace and ease of conscience than some others.
Jim: Gary, in your book, Every Body Matters, uh, you talk about this idea of refining silver and how that's a good analogy for what we do with our bodies. Help me with that connection. How does refining silver connect to this?
Gary: Well, people often talk about wanting hearts of gold. What I'm trying to suggest is we could also talk about having souls of silver. Silver is harder than gold, but it has the benefit of once it's beat into shape, it holds its shape better. And so, we want these strong souls once the dross has been removed, The Bible talks a lot about how God removes the dross, and that's how silver is refined. It's a repeating metaphor throughout all of Scripture. And I think the importance of stressing that in this context is going back to seeing bodies as instruments, not as ornaments. The ultimate aim of taking care of our bodies is to create a silver soul, not something physical that people can appreciate.
Most of us value physical fitness for all the wrong things. We want to look better. We want to feel better. Paul and I believe the ancient classical Christian writers would say address the physical issues because it builds up your soul. When you address gluttony, when you address sloth, you're building up the inner man, and you're building up the inner woman, so that you're stronger and better able to face other temptations, and you grow in other virtues—compassion, and patience and initiative. When I learned to take initiative with taking care of my body, I learned to take initiative in ministry. I learned to take initiative in my relationships. When I learned to say no to the desires of my body that aren't helpful, I learned to say no relationally and in other situations.
And so, again the focus has to be on building up my soul. The verse you read, Jim, about physical has some value, godliness has value for all things, that's the key there. That's what we want to talk about with the silver soul. We do keep the emphasis on the soul. The body is really a means to end.
Jim: You also talk about the distinction about being God's instrument versus His ornament. I think I understand that, but in this culture, especially for women, that idea of God's instrument versus God's ornament, that would hit, I think, a lot of women's souls. Tell us more.
Gary: Well, I think we've really looked away from physical fitness because the world overemphasizes it for all the wrong reasons. People are trying to make themselves ornaments. There are some guys that would be very physically fit and spend three hours a day in the gym. [They] would never read their Bible, but they pour over the muscle magazines. They eat to prepare for a workout. They eat to recover from the workout. They plan their shopping based on the work[out]. I don't think that's the attitude that necessarily honors God, because they're trying to create this ornament that others can admire.
What I'm saying is, we don't want to go the world's view, but on the other hand, we, don't want to go to completely ignoring it. What we want to see is that we are instruments. If my body's not my own, if God has given each one of us a mission and I believe He has, whether we're a mom, a grandparent, a dad, a business owner trying to keep a business going, whatever it may be, this body is God's instrument to reach the world. How can I keep this instrument well-tuned?
So here's what I love, how the Bible talks about our bodies as instruments. The Bible stresses character and wisdom. That's what makes a person beautiful, and faith. Those are things that grow over time. You know, beauty and muscles, I don't care how much you work at it (Laughter), they will fade over time. And so, the body reveres the aged, because it takes time to learn surrender to the Holy Spirit. It takes time to get our minds filled with God's Word. It takes time to grow in humility and graciousness. And our bodies become then these instruments that God can use, so that we're more effective in our 40s, 50s, and 60s, even 70s, than we were in 20s and 30s, even though we live in a world that's ornament-obsessed, that focuses on the 20s and 30s.
John: Well, Gary let's take it to practical level if you would please, for someone that has a teenage daughter. I have three. I won't name which one, but one of them tends to prefer to pursue a diet instead of pursuing a little healthier eating pattern. And that's a hard one for us to guide her in. How does this apply to a parenting situation like that?
Gary: First, I think especially with our daughters, we have to couch this in grace, because it's not a fair fight. It's clearly shown, physiologically, by race and by families, we're all made differently.
Gary: Some races tend to be slimmer than others, within families. I don't think every person is created to be skinny. And I don't think we should set up thin as the ideal. It's about being fit and an instrument for the Lord. So, I think it's about giving our daughters and our sons, 'cause that's a growing problem with sons, this view that your body is an instrument for the Lord. So, how do you take care of it so you can be the strongest and at your best? Then it becomes a lifestyle rather than a diet. It's not whether you can fit in those jeans or whether you can fit in that prom dress.
But over the course of your life, how can you build a life of health so that God can use you, so that you're there to minister to your classmates. I don't care if my daughter can fit into a smaller size 2 pair of jeans, but then she's so sick from denying herself food, she can't pray for her teachers. She can't be there and encourage the classmate. She just feels like she's in this funk. It's really looking at, how can I be the best for God today? What gives me the most energy to be used by God today?
John: Let me push you, though, because I hear what you're saying. And she might hear what I'm saying, but it's not easy. And I mean, you said it's not a fair fight. So, she is looking around, comparing, comparing, comparing. And I think this is pretty regular for most teen girls. So, what are some things I can help her see? Because you know, she'll look at me and say, "Yeah, yeah, I know what's inside, but …" And she starts looking at all of the indicators of what's outside. So, what are some things that I can do to help her recognize what you're talking about, mean, really today, put into practice?
Gary: With kids, I think one of the best things we can do is find the form of exercise that they enjoy. We do what we like to do. And if the kid likes to run, let him run. If they don't like run, let 'em swim. If they don't like to swim, volleyball or whatever. But I think it's a losing battle to try to force exercise. We have to really try to work at what we do. I think secondly, and this is where my wife has been so good with our daughter. She has been such a good model of what she eats and how you prepare it and why that's important. And I think our kids with that model, they all eat much healthier than I do and they have since high school.
Gary: And I can't even begin to take credit. I'm really more their temptation (Laughter), than anything else.
John: This is Lisa's doing.
Gary: But you know, I think my wife has done a sterling job. She's been an example of that, health has been a value. And I think our kids have just caught that. I think if you've got a mom who wants to reward people with unhealthy food, you know, that shouldn't [happen].
John: Which is a very common thing.
Gary: It is and I think that's gonna be hard to work against. I think we've gotta come back to the point where health becomes a priority and a value, maybe even over comfort food that can be dangerous.
John: This is "Focus on the Family" with your host, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and our guest was Gary Thomas, talking about his book, Every Body Matters. And Jim, when we originally aired this conversation with Gary a few years ago, we received a lot of positive feedback from our listeners.
Jim: We did, John. We got some great comments like this one from a woman who said, "Loved the broadcast on health with Gary Thomas. My husband and I are in our 60's and going to the gym is our date night." That's pretty good actually. "There is so much benefit to exercise. I've seen people in their 70's and 80's who make vast improvements in their lives. I love your show and I share it with others often. Thank you." Man, that is what we want to hear and I don't know about date nights at the gym. (Laughing)
John: I guess it's better than no date nights.
Jim: (Laughing) That's true.
Jim: That's for sure. My wife, Jean and I might want to try somethin' like that or maybe after the gym, we can have a little ice cream or somethin', but (Chuckling) I do love hearing how a program like this one has encouraged your family and your community. And what a great challenge that woman shared about exercising regularly so that you can enjoy those later years in life with more energy and vitality. And who knows what kind of positive impact you can half on your children and grandchildren as a result. And I gotta be honest. I'm feeling convicted there. I mean, I keep tryin' to find time to work out and with travel schedule, but you just gotta get to the point where you're saying, no more excuses, just gotta do it.
In fact, that's why Focus is here, to help promote not just physical health, but spiritual health, emotional health and we are always please to be able to offer that kind of resource, that kind of tool like Gary's book. Let me also ask you to help us share those benefits with so many more families who will contact us in the months ahead. Your financial support fuels what we do here and we need to hear from you today. When you make a donation to Focus on the Family, I want to say thanks by sending you a complimentary copy of Gary's book, Every Body Matters.
John: You can donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And when you get in touch, ask about the CD or a download of our program today. We'll include not only next time, but some additional content that we just couldn't fit into these two days of radio programs. Well, I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening and join us tomorrow for more encouragement about good health and how to have a stronger spiritual life, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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Gary ThomasView Bio
Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children. You can learn more about Gary by visiting his website, www.garythomas.com.