Gary Thomas emphasizes physical health and fitness as important spiritual values for Christians to steward appropriately for God's service. (Part 2)
John Fuller: Welcome to another edition of "Focus on the Family," hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller. And today Jim, I thought of you (Laughter) as we're starting the broadcast here.
Jim Daly: Wait a second.
John: I brought a little gift for you. It's a natural energy bar, and I'm not suggesting that it's the kind of food you should eat, but I'm just saying.
Jim: If it's got sugar in it, I'll eat it.
John: It doesn't any sugar in it. (Laughter)
Jim: Oh, that's great.
John: So, it's off the table.
Jim: Thanks, John.
John: Well, I just thought in light of what we're talking about today, maybe it'd be a good prop.
Jim: Well, what are we talking about today?
John: Well, why don't you set that up?
Jim: We're talking about losing weight, which is so frustrating.
John: No, we're talking about eating right, aren't we?
Jim: Yeah, eating right and honoring the Lord with our body. And we have a wonderful guest, Gary Thomas, who's the author of a book, Every Body Matters. And if you didn't join us last time, you need to hear it, because it's (Chuckling) very convicting, and in a good way though. And I think Gary's done an excellent job illuminating for us the need to watch what we put into the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Jim: I mean, that's a good way to say it and that's what I gleaned from our conversation last time. Gary's been on the program. He's a marriage expert. He knows what he's talking about when it comes to how to prosper in this life. And he's applied that mostly to marriage. But what he's talking about today is how we honor our bodies in that way and honor the Lord through eating right and being physically fit. Gary, it's great to have you back.
Gary Thomas: Thank you.
Jim: Oh, man, I am so convicted. (Laughter)Now you know, you mentioned this last time, but you had a struggle early on. I'm not sure of your age at that time that you were looking for candy on the floorboard of your car and you decided this isn't the way to live your life. (Laughter)
Gary: I'd be embarrassed to say. I hope it was in my 30s. It mighta stretched out to my 40s. But here's the family I grew up in. I'll be honest. And my parents are at that age. They're both retired. My dad in his 80s; my mom's in her upper 70s. They do everything together like older couples often do. And so, they were at a doctor's appointment together. They get their appointments together. My mom went in first and she came out and it was about an hour and a half before my dad has his. So, they did what Thomas's have always done. They go to the Food Court at the local mall. My mom gets a donut and coffee (Laughter), 'cause that's how I grew up.
Jim: I like your mom.
Gary: So, my mom picks up the donut and she's about to eat it when my dad says to her, "So, Geneva, how much did you weigh today?"
Jim: Oh man. How long have they been married?
Gary: Yeah, that's the thing (Laughter). I told my dad. She's [saying], "Jerry, why are you asking me that?" And he said, "Well, I care about you. I asked about your blood pressure."
John: I was just asking.
Gary: She said, "I was about ready to enjoy the donut. It's right in front of my face and, I can't believe you would ask me that." Well, my dad didn't get where he is by taking the first no for an answer. So, they went back to the doctor's office. He had the same nurse. She brought him in and she weighed my dad and as he's stepping off the scale, he said, "So, how much did Geneva weigh? " (Laughter)
Jim: Oh man. (Laughter)
Gary: And she said, "Well, Jerry, did Geneva tell you?" He goes, "No, she didn't. That's why I have to ask you." She goes, "Well, I can't tell you if Geneva didn't." Now I would applaud her patient-doctor confidentiality, except she told my mom when they got out what--
Gary: --dad has asked. And so, my mom asked me to referee this. "Gary, you're the marriage guy; should a husband ask his wife how much she weighs when she's got a donut in front of her face?" (Laughter)
John: I'm thinkin' I'm not a marriage expert, but Jim, I'm thinkin' the answer is never ask that question. (Laughter)
Jim: Yeah, I think you're right, John.
Gary: Well, and that's the thing. It's the family I grew up with and that's the approach we have to take, that this is really something that we have to own for ourselves. We all have our own individual battles. We said yesterday, this is not a fair fight. We aren't all going to have same body shape. God didn't create us to have the same body shape. But He did create us to honor our bodies as instruments of service for Him. It's not just a matter of longevity, although I think we can impact that. It's also a matter of vitality in those older years. Will we be there for our children and grandchildren? When we have the wisdom and experience, will we be there to really pour ourselves out on behalf of our loved ones?
Jim: Well, and again, if you didn't hear the program last time, get a copy of that. You can download it from the website at www.focusonthefamily. And John, you'll give more of those details. Gary, in your book, Every Body Matters, you talk about a concept of socially contagious obesity.
Jim: It sounds like a big theme, but what do you mean by that?
Gary: Well, there [have] been several studies about this and I think it helps explain what is often going around the church. They've proven that the biggest determining factor of whether you are gaining or losing weight is--
Gary: -- often your spouse. Yeah, no. (Laughter) It's the person you're closest to and then it kinda spreads out a little bit, your immediate family and your workplace. And so, you can slowly gain weight and if your spouse is slowly gaining weight, you feel comfortable, because your environment is changing. If everybody around you is like that, but If you start to lose weight, it's far more likely that your spouse will then become convicted and they'll start to lose weight.
Gary: And so, as a church, if we're coming together and we look around and we're not taking body care seriously, but nobody else is, including the leaders of the church, then that's what they mean by "socially contagious obesity." It doesn't register that it's something we want to address. But if a leader or a pastor, who maybe it hasn't been the best issue in their life, decides, "You know what? I'm convicted. My body's not my own. I was bought with a price. I'm to honor God with my body," going back to 1 Corinthians 6, "I want to address this," that's one of best things that could happen for the congregation, which is what happened with Rick Warren out at Saddleback.
Jim: Yeah, he's lost like 100 pounds.
Gary: Oh and his church has lost tons literally.
Jim: Oh, man, really?
Gary: --of weight with his example. And so, that's where I think parents for kids, spouses for each other, leaders of the church for church members, we often rise or fall together particularly with everyone around us with socially contagious obesity.
Jim: Gary, I'm thinking of the church setting, and this can be applied certainly to any busy person, but you know, you do a lot of eating in Christian circles. (Laughter) It's what we do.
Jim: And you know, you meet for dinner and you meet as a group, your small group meets and you have snacks. And you know, the list just goes on and on. How do we get ahold of that though? How do we decide to do celery rather than peanut M&M's?
John: And should we?
Jim: (Chuckling) Well, that small group may not be so big after a while.
Gary: I feel honored. The last 2 ½ years I've been on church staff I think of one of finest churches in the country with one of the finest leaders in Dr. Ed Young. He's in his 70s, going strong. And he has modeled this throughout his entire career. It's been an issue for him. He's written a book, Heart-Health for Men, Heart Health for Women. And our church has a program now; it's for the whole church this year to get ready. It's just [that] the staff did this last year as a precondition for the church, going church wide this year. Just the staff alone lost just shy of a ton of weight.
John: Oh my.
Gary: Now this is a big staff. This is a church--
John: Literally a big staff.
Gary: --of 60,000 members, so it's not like you're thinkin' five people lost three-quarters of a ton. But you know, he's just modeled it church wide with his own example. And I the church has a cafeteria. It's what they serve there and it's just a value.
Now if you go to Sunday school class, there will still be treats there. But we also have an exercise room. We call it the Family Life Center, where people go out and they exercise together. We have Pilates classes. People meet to run before and after. There is a weight room and a spinning class and whatnot. And so, I think you can set the climate in a church. Now not every church can afford to have their own gym. I recognize that. But you can meet at a gym. You can meet before church to walk strollers together, to have people get in volleyball classes together to push the basketball leagues, to recognize that, that's often a great outreach.
Gary: But also, it's a part of discipleship, taking care of our own bodies.
Jim: Gary, one of the most difficult things that I find because of the travel schedule, wah, wah, wah.
Gary: Oh yeah, you can start there.
Jim: And I start to sound like excuses are coming, but how do you find time to do it? I mean, it's gotta be 4 am or 10 pm.
Gary: Look, I live with that. Jim; we're in the same worlds there and it is a struggle. But again, I think we have to recognize that we do what God has called us to do. I think physical fitness is a value; it's not the supreme value. I want to be fit to serve the Lord. I feel like I've been responsible for what God has called me to do as a writer, a speaker, a guy on staff of the church and a husband and father. I don't want to sacrifice those areas just to meet a certain time or a certain body type. I'm carrying more weight now than I have in a while. So, I think when I face those issues, we recognize, it's a value, but it's not the value that drives my life. It's a value that supports the rest of my [life]. And that's how I look at it. Now we can use that as an excuse, 'cause I still can control what I eat on the road, but maybe I need to eat less--
Jim: That's true
Gary: --if I'm not getting my workout it in. But hotels are getting better. Most of them are getting better with their workout rooms and yeah, I have GPS watch which I just love, so I can run anywhere and know how far I go and those kind of things help.
John: Well, Gary, I appreciate what you've shared with us from your own life so far. I wish you'd talk about something that relates to that socially contagious obesity idea, and also the other flip side of that which is surrounding yourself with people who are kind of living a healthy lifestyle. There's a sense of and you've said this last time, virtue building on virtue, but there's a sense of failure leading to more failure. And so, when it comes to food, you know, we're comin' off the holidays. And I try to watch what I eat, but sometimes it's kinda like, well, I'm already in. I've already blown it. So, what's one more serving of that? Or what's one more dessert? How do we practically get a handle on just putting an end to the failure and to say, no, yeah?
Jim: How do we say no?
Gary: We need an entirely new motivation. I used to fight this with vice fighting vice. Here's what I would do. I wanted to look better and I wanted to feel better. And so, I would try to address how I exercise and how I ate. But really that's vanity and selfishness. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to look better. And what I found is that my gluttony and sloth were stronger than my vanity and lust for pleasure.
So we need something that's a virtue that can overcome that. And for me, and it might sound like a broken record here, but it really was getting around 1 Corinthians 6, that my body's not my own. Look, I love the Lord with all my heart. I'm amazed that He would call me into His work. It's what I want to do. I don't want to waste a day. The older I get, the more I see how important this kingdom work is, that marriages are looking for people to speak into their lives. Our kids want examples. Non-Christians need people who are living the faith. And so, it's really saying, how can I have the body that will best take that message?
And I mentioned Dr. Young before. Seeing him with a lifetime of study and wisdom, what it means to lead a church. Last Christmas season he preached seven sermons over the Christmas Eve, Christmas weekend, with that energy and that vitality, in a point when many people hang it up. But see, he's got that wisdom. He's got a lifetime of surrendering to the Holy Spirit. It's been an inspiration for me that I realize, if God lets me live that long, I at least want to have the vitality, whether it's speaking into my grandkids' lives, whether it's still being there for my friends, certainly being there for my wife and having the energy to still speak, if God gives me that ministry. For me, it's a compelling kingdom vision that has finally overcome far more than vanity and just comfort did.
Jim: Well, and to be honest, I think we've ignored it as a church, certainly in America. Traveling internationally, many regions of the world don't struggle with this issue, because they don't have as much. It's one of the by-products of a very successful culture. And you know, it is gluttony. We've taken advantage of it, so many of us.
But let me ask you about your book, Every Body Matters. You rewrite a little [and] reinterpret Proverbs 24 for a modern day. Do you mind reading that to us?
Gary: Oh, I'd be happy to and again, it kind of addresses how the whole point of body care is by degree, rather than black and white like fraud would be or lust or murder would be. This is more by degrees, how we get ahold of it. And so, I took that famous passage about the field of a sluggard and rewrote it for today's Christians and it went like this.
"I went past the body of a sluggard, past the body of someone who has no sense. His cholesterol was killing him from within. His high blood pressure was a tinder box waiting to explode. His breath was labored and he could barely move without breaking into a sweat. He said he had no time to exercise or to prepare healthier meals, but he lost hours going to the doctor and much money buying medicines to treat the symptoms, rather than attack the disease. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw. A little sleep, a little softness, a life of overindulgence and ill health will come on you like a thief and frailty like armed man."
John: That's pretty insightful I think.
Jim: It's a brilliant way to demonstrate the point, Gary. And you know, last time we talked about it, but not everybody can run marathons. Not everybody can go at it in quite the way that you've gone at it. What can the guy that's 50 (Laughter)--
John: Or maybe 51?
Jim: --or maybe 51, who played football and his knees aren't in best shape and maybe can't run a marathon, what are some practical things both men and woman can do to begin to work on the disease, as you said there?
Gary: I think it's crucial that we wade into it. A friend of mine, Karen Yates, faced this. She had, had two kids, decided to adopt a third one. And this isn't why they adopted, but she admitted to me, one of the things that excited her about adoption was she wouldn't have to gain you know, all the weight that she gained.
John: Oh, pregnancy, yeah.
Gary: But it was so stressful. It was an international adoption. It was so stressful getting that child and then raising two toddlers when she got home. She actually gained more weight with the adoption than she did with the first natural born.
Jim: Just because of stress.
Gary: And she just found that it just drug her down. That she was eating snacks with kids; she [said], "I didn't have much energy for my husband." She didn't have much energy for prayer. She said, in fact, her spiritual life was sort of like a[n[ eating disorder-- binge and purge. She would get serious and then everything would fall apart. And so, her prescription was simple. She just started playing volleyball twice a week.
Gary: She just went out with adults. She had played in college. Her skills were rusty. She wasn't in the best shape. But just sweating again and moving gave her a little more energy. So, instead of watching television with her kids in the morning, she took 'em on walks. And then after a couple weeks of walks, she started pushing the stroller a little with just a little bit of a jog. And then there were all-out runs.
And what it did, she said, it transformed her life, just slowly going into it. So, now she's involved in an international ministry of adoption. She would say, I feel like I'm more of a believer than I've ever been and I have a sense of mission. I'm more of a wife than I've ever been. I have more energy for my husband. I'm not so ashamed, so I'm less inhibited and in other areas of our marriage. She has more energy for her kids. She feels like she's grown in her prayer life. And that was just [saying], you know, can I start out playing volleyball twice a week?
Jim: Well, and I want to emphasize something you say that's very important because I think a lot of us here in January, what ends up happening is we wanna go in headlong and we want to see the results fast. That's the American culture, as well. You know, we don't think about long-term and so, over the next two weeks, I'm gonna lose 10 pounds--
Jim: --and I'm gonna do that by going to the gym for three hours and almost kill yourself because you're jumping in where you may have left off in college. And that's just not gonna work. You're saying go slow or moderately.
Gary: Yeah, just wade into it; start out. For a lot of people it's not even thinking about running; it's walking. And then if you want to get into jogging you can. But what I found is essential [is], we touched on this a little bit before, find something you enjoy. The reality is, you can fight this, but most of us do what we like to do. And it's so varied today with swimming, and biking, and running, and so many sports that are available in so many communities. It really is best [to] find something you look forward to and you're far more likely to be faithful doing it.
Jim: Hey, Gary, the bottom line, I'm thinking of the Scripture John 10:10 where the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I mean, we apply that to spiritual elements of our lives whether that's pornography, adultery, or whatever that might be that is gripping us. But there is a physical nature of this.
Jim: He would love to destroy you physically, 'cause, 'cause he's able to take you out of this world by destroying you physically, doesn't he?
Gary: Absolutely. Jim, how many people listen to this program on a regular, daily basis? What's the average number?
John: It's well over a million, maybe a million and a half. That's just domestically. Worldwide, I don't know.
Gary: Let's say 10 percent of the people listening today decide that they're gonna take this seriously. That you know what, I'm gonna make a few changes. I'm gonna start to get in shape. I'm gonna watch what I eat. And so, we're talking well over 100,000 people. And let's be very conservative. Let's say that life choices they make add a year of life to them, not necessarily longevity, but vitality, where they're more able to be engaged.
Just this program that you've put together here could preserve 100,000 years of service to God's kingdom--people praying for their grandkids one year longer, people running their businesses and witnessing for the Lord, people reaching out to their friends, people growing in their marriages, 100,000 years of ministry service, because people have said, my body's an instrument, not an ornament. I want to take care of it and preserve it.
I think what you said is so crucial that, think you're creating 100,000 years of biblical service. I think that's the vision we need to have. We're here for a purpose. We have one body. If we wreck this body, there's no message we can carry. And so, if we have that as a vision, that Satan does want to kill and steal and destroy, if he can't get us to crash by getting us into a salacious sin, he wants to take us out physically, because if we're dead, we're not speaking God's truth, if we're consumed with health issues. Now some are out of our control. Some are genetic. Some of you just get sick. But there are choices we make that can create greater sickness. And so, if we can be so preoccupied with that, we're not free to minister. This is a vision for ministries.
Jim: That's amazing when you think of it in that context. That's a wow, 100,000 years, that's something. Gary, I'm thinking of the person, like you and your wife, that you guys are doing a good job at it. You're monitoring. You're doing all you can. Your kids are seeing a great model. What about family members that may struggle? How do you approach them? You raise the issues of your mom and dad the other day, and your mom wanting to eat a donut, and your dad asking how much do you weigh? I mean, how do you relate to your folks? How do you talk to them about getting out for a walk and doing the right things.
Gary: Well, they actually do walk daily. I see, I should give my parents [credit].
Jim: (Laughter) Trying to get you in trouble.
Gary: No, every morning they walk. Yep, that was just sort of a funny episode in their life. But there's a verse that's really challenging, Acts 20:20 when Paul said this, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you." And that's a call that sometimes, we love to give God's word of grace. We love to give God's word of comfort, and assurance, and of hope. Sometimes we do have to give the word that would be helpful, but we have to find way to make it accessible to that person so that they can receive it.
I think, I've found basically on my own, if you model it, often people will ask 'cause they'll see; they'll want that vitality. It's much easier to enter into that conversation if they see your example and then they ask you, than if you try to bring it. But there might be a time when it's appropriate with a child, even potentially with a spouse or another family member where we have to take Paul's words in Acts 20. "Look, I'm not gonna hesitate to preach this to you because I think it really would be helpful to you."
John: Even though it might strain our relationship, really?
Gary: Well, it's the same thing if I had friend and I really thought there was a drinking problem. I would think if I'm a true friend, I've gotta eventually say, "Can we talk about it? Seems to me it's becoming than just something you're doing on the side, that maybe it's [a problem]." And you know, we all know, those conversations don't always go well, but if it's given in love in an appropriate way, I think we are called to address it.
John: Gary, there are some who are listening right now who are saying, I wish I could exercise more, but I have some physical constraints. Talk to that person that hears what you're saying, but just can't go there for any number of reasons.
Gary: You know, I've got several friends that have had [physical problems]. Oone had a stroke, one was hit by drunk driver and has lived in a wheelchair. They model care for bodies in a heroic way that those of us who can walk around never can because what they have to eat has to be monitored even more carefully because they can't just work it off. If I have a bad weekend, I can up my runs and work it off. They can't. And so, I admire their heroic discipline. They have to be more faithful and there are little things that they can do that you often see 'em do. So I think in some ways, they can be stronger witnesses of faith because of their limitations and we need to learn from them. Again, it's not about having an ornament, a body that others admire. It's about taking care of the one body God has given us.
Jim: Hey, Gary, as we wrap up here, again in your book, Every Body Matters. You talk at the end about a vision that you feel God gave you about persevering in the face of struggles, exhaustion, and even discouragement. Can you share what that was?
Gary: I'm not, Jim, a particularly mystical person. I wish I was better at meditating like others do and whatnot, but I've been more cerebral. I study and lead, but I had this one experience in prayer one time where I really could just picture myself running along this hilly, mountainous trail and it was dark and it was stormy and it was windy and it was raining. And it was, I just remember feeling the weight and I could feel the [wind] and I came upon this cabin.
And somehow Jesus is there opening the door. And I knew it was Him. And it was warm within and He beckoned me in and I went in. And there was a chair to sit down. And He took off my wet shirt and I put on a dry one. That feels like heaven, when you're in the middle of a long run and you change a wet shirt for a dry one. I was given something to eat and drink. I could just feel the warmth spread through me, and the strength. I could just see Jesus before me just take off my wet shoes and socks and put on dry shoes and it just felt so incredible that I was just refreshed and restored that way.
Then I stood up, and I felt encouraged by the Lord. And the door opened. And I saw outside that it was still dark. It was still raining. It was still windy and stormy. And I got the sense He's saying, "Okay, Gary, this has been your time of refreshment and recovery, but your race isn't done; keep running." And I'm going back out in the storm. And I'm going back out in the darkness. And it was really a vision for me at that point in my life.
I don't know how much longer I have to keep running, but I know that God'll create those times of refreshment, and restoration, where He'll minister to my needs. But really the goal of my life has to be running in the storm, through the storm of sin. We're living in a culture that is ridiculing our faith, that literally calls us bigots for holding to biblical truths. So we're being pelted everywhere we go. We've got to be faithful in our relationship. It's not an easy life. I think it's getting more difficult. But the thing is, will we have bodies that can face the fight, can face the struggle, so that Jesus can take care of us, give us times of respite, but then point back out the door and say, "All right Church, keep running. Your race isn't over."
Jim: Gary Thomas, author of book, Every Body Matters, very good food for thought and I appreciate your sharing it with us here, Gary. And you know what? We gotta concentrate on these things, and I appreciate your reminder to do so. Thanks for being with us.
Gary: Thank you.
John: This is "Focus on the Family" with your host, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, we aired this program a few years ago and got a lot of positive feedback, which is why we've aired it again today. Here's one of the comments we received on Facebook the first time around. They wrote, "As someone who struggles with food addition and is working on improving my spiritual life, this show was incredibly enlightening. Our body is God's temple and may we choose to keep it first spiritually and second physically fit. As always, I want to express my gratitude for Focus on the Family and the effort you make to instruct and guide people to live according to God's plan. God bless you for blessing us." Isn't that amazing how God allows us to have such an impact on people's lives together. We so appreciate feedback like that and I promise that we will continue to provide encouragement and practical help for you and your family, based on biblical truth in every program that we put out.
Now if you've benefitted from Focus on the Family in the past, can I ask you to pay it forward by enabling us to help more families in the future? We need your financial support so we can continue to spread this godly encouragement throughout 2017. And when you send us a gift today, I will send you a complimentary copy of Gary's book, Every Body Matters. This is a great resource if you have a friend or family member who is working on better health at the beginning of this year, which probably means, us, too, doesn't it, John?
John: (Laughing) I was just thinking, a friend or a family member or if you yourself need that, call 800-232-6459 to donate today; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And be sure to ask for a CD or a download of this two-part conversation with Gary. We're gonna have more content available to you on the CD and download than we could possibly include in these two broadcasts.
And I'll encourage you to watch our radio schedule, because in about three weeks, Gary Thomas will be back with a program about cherishing your spouse and how that can transform your marriage. Look for that on January 23rd and 24th.
Now coming up tomorrow, a powerful story about a young wife and a mother. She was trapped between life and death after a tragic stroke.
Mrs. Katherine Wolf: How could this be the goodness of God. How could God be real? How could God care what's going on? In my darkest moments I wondered if it wouldn't be easier if I were gone.
End of Clip
John: It's an amazing story. You have hope and healing and a miracle God did in a marriage next time on "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team here, thanks for listening.
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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.