One of the many, many reasons I love my role here at Grace, and tell people I think I literally have THE best job in the world, is that I get to travel a decent amount whether it’s visiting our partners, church plants, leading short term mission trips. And everywhere I travel, I love to run and explore the area. I’ve had some epic runs in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, Land of a Thousand Hills in South Africa, Kurura Forest in Nairobi, Kenya, Zhytomir, Ukraine, London, England, the Blue Hills of Sydney, Australia, Nainaimo, British Columbia, Moscow. There’s nothing like exploring a city on foot early in the morning to really get a feel for it. I love that about travelling!
Ok, so that’s a bit crazy. I’m sure you’ve already gathered that this week we’re kicking off a new series on our physical bodies, and our physical health, the struggle is real. And some of you are already very tempted to roll your eyes and are kicking yourselves for coming this week. Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to tell you to be me.
I hope that this sermon and series is not one giant guilt trip. Let me tell you two lessons I’ve learned from running over the years.
Every race I run in, and I’ve run in a few, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how many different body types I see and at what point of the race. I’ll be running along, towards the end of a race, and all of a sudden an old woman shuffles past me speeding along, or a man that seems big, or someone really tall, or super short, someone with a very awkward running style, really old people, young people, people dressed in strange outfits, Forest Gump passed me one time. Here’s what I’ve learned, everyone has a different body type and a different ability, and that’s perfectly ok. Expect it, celebrate it. Don’t judge.
That leads me to my second lesson. I’ve tried to qualify for the Boston Marathon for 6, 7, 8 years now. And so far I can’t do it. In order to qualify, I have to run a certain time, and every time, I’ve failed so far. I was running in a race, a miserable race, really hot, really humid up in South Bend. Halfway through the race, did I mention it was miserable? I was talking with a runner next to me, and he mentioned he had run Boston that year for the 3rd time. Little pang of jealousy. And I mentioned I had been trying to qualify but hadn’t made it yet. He glanced over at me, did a once over, and without missing a best, said, “if you lost 10 pounds you might have a chance.” Yeah. And then he sped away. Here’s my second lesson: be careful what you say to people!
Which leads me to start a sermon on physical health, fitness, wellness in this way. God made us all different. Praise God. We have different body types, different abilities, different metabolisms, different sizes, different shapes and that is ok. In fact that’s great. It’s worth celebrating. We are not the same. Thank God for diversity, creativity. I’m me, and you’re not. And you’re you, and I’m not. And let’s celebrate each other and each of our uniquenesses, not force each other to conform to a certain ideal of what someone has deemed perfection. God made perfection is in our diversity, not in our sameness.
Ok, I also need to start with one big caveat. All of us are in different and unique life situations. I have a friend here within Grace Church who has cancer, which has resulted in a very painful condition in her feet, and she can no longer walk for exercise. I have a friend here at Grace Church, who is older, and confined to a wheelchair. I have a friend who has a very painful arthritic condition that makes any exercise almost impossible. I have a friend here at Grace who is a mom, whose husband left her, and now she finds herself barely making it financially, being a single mom, trying to make a new career, trying to find a place to live that she can afford. Your life situation may make some of what I’m going to talk about almost impossible for you to implement. Almost impossible. But don’t tune me out. Though only a few of you may go to the extreme of a whole body physical health transformation as a result of today, everyone can do something different. Everyone.
Here’s my big idea: Our physical bodies are a gift from God that He intends us to take care of so we can live life to the fullest and bring our best to his mission.
Let me start with that idea that our physical bodies are a gift from God. I believe there are some of us here today who have a really hard time believing that statement.
One of the impacts of the culture in which we live is that many of us are probably confused about our physical bodies. What am I supposed to think and feel about my own body? Our relationship with our physical body is characterized by a whole range of emotions, all the way from hatred to unhealthy pride, even idolatry.
How do you feel about your own body? Is it a friend or foe? Do you love it, do you hate it? Are you proud of it? Embarrassed by it?
I know some of you struggle with believing your physical body is a gift from God, because you’ve told me. Some of you have been subject to bullying, simply because you look different. Some of you have been on the receiving end of awful comments about your height or your size or the color of your skin. Some of you struggle with a physically debilitating illness. For all of those reasons and more, we have a hard time believing this is a gift from God.
Let me simply remind us all what God says about your physical body.
Genesis 1.27 “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And then later in that same chapter, Genesis 1.31: “Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good.” Not only are you created in the image of God, but God looks at you and calls you “very good.” When was the last time someone looked at you, and said to you that you are “very good?” And look what happens as a result, at the end of Genesis 2.25, “Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” Those of you who have felt shame about your body . . . Can you imagine what it would be like to feel no shame about your body? That was God’s intent, because he looks at you, and says, “very good.”
Or how about Psalm 139.13-14 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous, how well I know it.” God’s creation of our physical bodies, his workmanship in your body is marvelous. Think about it, God’s workmanship in your physical body is so complicated, so amazing, so miraculous, it would take several years of multiple hour lectures to detail the a small fraction of the intricate miracles in our physical bodies that God designed. God’s workmanship in you is marvelous.
And then there’s Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece, he has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” That “masterpiece” is not limited to your mind, or your soul, or refer to us generically, it includes our physical bodies. You, including your body, are not just a masterpiece, you are God’s masterpiece!
And finally, just for good measure 1 Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” That is a unbelievable, if you think about the precision of the temple and all of the chapters in the OT devoted to detailing the precise specifications of the temple so that it would be worthy of the presence of God. And now, through Jesus Christ, we are that temple. More specifically, your physical body, is that temple. God deems your physical body worthy of housing Himself, because He makes you worthy.
Our bodies are not something to be ashamed of. If you feel like that, if you’re ashamed of your body, it’s worth taking the time and effort to address that feeling and belief, because God says the opposite, your body is something to celebrate, a masterpiece that God calls very good, that God designed, that God has given to you, as a gift to this world.
Our physical bodies are a gift from God. And again let me emphasize, the variety and diversity of all sorts of body types are part of the design of that gift. Work on accepting who you are. Who you were uniquely created to be. The goal of this sermon and series if not for all of you to look like a marathon runner. The goal is for you to be you, the healthiest version of you.
My wife, Rosalyn, is famous for saying two things can be true at the same time. Those of you who know her know she says that when we’re confronted with two realities that may seem to contradict each other, but that we both have to accept.
And here’s where I’m going to say two things can be true at the same time.
Work on accepting who you are, in your unique physical body.
And do all you can to care for who you are in that physical body. Your physical body is not a resource to be used up but a gift to be treasured. Are you doing what you can to steward well the gift of your physical body?
Our physical bodies are a gift from God that He intends us to take care of so we can live life to the fullest and bring our best to his mission.
Somehow we need to not go to the extremes of either, “I have to look like a marathon runner!” Or the other fatalistic extreme, “Oh this is me, I look just like my mom, so that’s that.”
This is a hard topic, physical fitness, walking a fine line of acceptance and stewardship at the same time, not falling off the line on one side of guilt and shame, or the other side of obsession and judgment.
Let’s be honest, I don’t know how hard it is for some people, for some of you, because God gave me a body with a relatively high metabolism that has meant it is much easier for me to be relatively thin. But I do know people, some I’m very, very close to, where this is an intense personal struggle and has been for the vast majority of their life.
So, how can we grow together as a church family? How can we take better care of our physical bodies so that we can live life to the fullest and bring our best to his mission?
For the entire month of May, we will look at the broken place of pain in our bodies, minds, and spirits, and specifically look at how we can partner with God in bringing healing to our bodies, minds, and spirit. We are a holistic being, and so for two weeks we will look at our physical bodies, two weeks at our spirit, and one week at our mind. What would it take to mobilize and motivate us, Grace Church, into healthier lifestyles for the sake of kingdom impact?
So let’s get fairly simple, and very practical. The rest of my sermon is how to, regarding increasing our physical health. Let’s talk about how. I want to propose 4 ideas:
1. Find your why – What is your motivation to improving your physical health?
I want to help you identify that motivation, that why. Find your why.
Whenever a person is faced with a difficult task, they have a much, much greater chance of success if they know why they are doing the difficult task. When it comes to improved physical health, I don’t think we usually think beyond the most obvious reasons, such as losing weight or looking good for the summer. I won’t say those reasons are wrong, but I’d like to press you beyond those initial motivations to something possibly deeper.
Back in the early 1970’s when my dad was in his early 30’s, during one annual physical, his doctor warned him that with his current lifestyle, he wouldn’t see his youngest child (me) graduate from high school. He had a family history of heart disease, he was overweight, and overstressed. He listened, and set a goal to see me graduate from college, that was his why. He and my mom set about radically changing our family’s lifestyle and that became the foundation for a life of better health for him. It included regular exercise and a completely changed diet. And let me tell you, I suffered as a result – through weekly meals of steamed vegetables (to this day it is difficult for me to eat steamed soggy squash), and oven-baked scrod. No offense, Mom, who I know is listening on line this weekend, that just was not a good fish, I mean let’s just talk about the name – scrod? Really? But it was all worth it to have my dad for an additional 40 years. He did pretty well, we hope he will see his youngest grandchild graduate from high school in two years. His motivation: live so that he could be a father, and grandfather for a long time.
I like to think that the Apostle Paul was a runner, or an athlete of some kind. He wrote a lot about running as a metaphor. I had lots of Paul’s quotes regarding running on my walls in high school and college. One of those passages in particular shows what I believe was Paul’s motivation for physical health.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24”Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!25All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.26So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”
Paul found his why: he wanted an eternal prize and not to be disqualified from the race. If Paul was not simply using an extended metaphor, but had some basis of reality in his own life, he was disciplined and rigorously trained his physical body. He wanted to have integrity in what he preached, and able to focus all of his attention on pursuing the mission of God.
Barry preached a very similar motivation for physical health back in January last year. In regards to his own motivation to become physically health, he said, “I want to be as healthy as possible for as long as possible so God can use me to change this world.”
My motivation is very similar to Barry’s. When I think about my why, I want to be fully alert to what life has for me, working full time for God’s kingdom, with plenty of energy all day long, until I’m 75 years old. I’m not there yet, but I want to get there!
Why would you want to do something different than the life you are now living, the path you are now on? What is your why?
I asked some friends at Grace who have been on a recent journey towards improved physical health their motivation. They said . . .
What is your motivation? If you were to write it down and finish the sentence, “I want to become healthier physically because . . . “ What would you write? I want you to be able to answer that for yourself. Step one, find your why.
2. Educate yourself
My wife Rosalyn and I had a night out 3 months ago. Big night out, McAllisters! Spared no expense. We were having a deep, honest conversation about our life, and we’re in the midst of huge transitions with all 3 of our kids – our family and home is looking very different, and too, too soon will just be Ros and me. We were talking about some of our hopes of what life will look like, and our frustration with some aspects of our current lifestyle. And one of our questions was how do we improve our physical health? Really improve it? We were stuck in some patterns.
So I decided to do what I normally do when I’m stuck, and I found a book to read.
It’s really a simple book, but it got us unstuck. I have to admit there were still some things to learn about physical health. And that’s exactly what we’ve done, we’ve learned some things.
The book is called The Daniel Plan, written by Rick Warren, and it has proven to be very helpful for our family.
The book title and inspiration comes from the story of Daniel in the Bible, where the young man Daniel is brought into the King’s service, but refuses to eat the king’s rich food, and instead lays down a challenge that if the king will let he and his friends eat a very simple diet of vegetables and water for 10 days, see if they would look healthier and better nourished than the other servants by the end of those 10 days. And of course, they do.
Now do I agree with everything in this book, The Daniel Plan? Of course not. There are about a million books and articles and plans written at this point regarding health, fitness, and nutrition.
But I do believe The Daniel Plan has a healthy balance of mind, body and spirit, our focus for the month. It combines the elements of motivation, community, and practice. It bases the whole plan on faith. And quite simply, it has worked for many many people. And I believe it’s a good place to start.
Based on the book, we decided to make a few simple changes and over the last 3 months it definitely has made a very positive impact on our family’s health. We cleaned out our pantry of almost all of our processed packaged food. It about killed me because I am a miser when it comes to money. We started buying mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, avocados, lots of avocados, and stocked our fridge with many, many salads. Food is tasting different, and I have to say better. Maybe I would like that steamed squash now, who knows. We’ve both lost weight. We feel more energetic. And honestly, I wish we would have done it a long time ago. The Daniel Plan was just a starting point for us.
So when I say step 2 is educate yourself, it doesn’t need to be the Daniel Plan. But if you’re looking for somewhere to start, that’s what I’d recommend. We have copies in our bookstore, or you can obviously buy it on-line through our on-line bookstore or your normal way of buying books. You can go through it with your Grace Group. I really believe it will be helpful.
Find your why, educate yourself, and 3 . . .
3. Choose a big challenge
One of the most effective ways to improve your physical health is to set a very concrete goal. Something that can capture your imagination, harness all of your energy, stretch you beyond what you thought possible, and when achieved, become the foundation for confidence in approaching the future in a different way regarding your health and wellness.
Edwin A. Locke was the pioneer researcher in SMART goal setting and motivation. SMART stands for Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound goals. Locke reviewed decades worth of laboratory and field studies on the effects of goal setting and performance.Locke found that 90 percent of the time specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, "just do your best" goals, or generic goals.
Two of the most spiritual experiences of my life were running down Michigan Avenue on the 25th mile of my first marathon, the Chicago marathon, and when I was finishing mile 211 of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras of California, just approaching the summit of Mt. Whitney. Both times I fought tears, and lost, overwhelmed with a sense of praise to God and awe at how he had created my body with the unbelievable capacity to do something I didn’t think possible.
My body could actually do this! I was amazed, thrilled, and proud. What could be a goal for you for this summer? You may not hike the John Muir Trail, or run the Chicago Marathon, but what could be a goal for you? Challenging, specific, worthy? It may not need to be THE thing, but what could be something? Something maybe you’ve toyed with but never committed to? Something possibly surprising, really difficult, even shocking to your spouse, or your friends. How many miles could you walk this summer? Or what fitness class could you take on? What about trying a triathlon? Or cycling more than to the park or Dairy Queen, but trying to do 50, or even 100 miles in a day? What about a half marathon, or a full marathon? Just how crazy might you get?
Who says you can’t? Our bodies are more remarkable than we can imagine. Setting a goal that captures your imagination, that’s where you can start.
So 3 steps so far: find your why, educate yourself, choose a big challenge
4. Don’t do it alone
Unbeknownst to me, at that fateful dinner at McAllisters 3 months ago, I made a commitment that was more meaningful to Rosalyn than I ever imagined. I had simply said its just going to be the 2 of us in a year, we need to eat the same way. I didn’t realize the gift that gave my wife, the gift of being in it together. And so most of our meals at the Carlson house are now roasted vegetables, salads, quinoa, eggs. Funny enough, it’s not feeling like much of a sacrifice.
What do we say around here? God designed us to be in community. We were not designed to be isolated.
Call it accountability, call it encouragement, call it community, fellowship, a buddy program, coaching, workout group, fitness class, membership, whatever.
Research says one simple step for goal achievement can increase your chance of success by up to85%? The simple step is ACCOUNTABILITY. To set yourself up for success, make sure your goals are SHARED and SUPPORTED.
I have a running partner. We’ve been running weekly together for 10 years, more? I’ve lost count. He’s become one of my best friends. We challenge each other, encourage each other, keep each other accountable. We talk through our whole run, each week, 6 miles. Incidentally that’s a good test for running at the right pace, that you can talk, you’re not working too hard. We’ve shared funny stories, hard stories, struggles, questions, concerns, hopes, prayers. I can’t believe we haven’t run out of things to say week after week, year after year. He was the reason I was able to run and finish my first marathon. And I can’t tell you the number of times we have said at the end of a run, wow, that would have been really difficult without you this morning!
Who will you ask to join you? Your Grace group could go through the Daniel Plan together.
Your family can have a goal, and do something different, together. Sit down as a family, what could do together? That was the powerful part of our story. But be very, very careful, very, very careful, that you don’t lead your family down a road of judgment or shame, your spouse, or especially your children. Not a lot of things make Keith Carlson mad, but that will make me mad if I hear of that happening.
I don’t want you to be alone on this journey. So we are going to do something unique over the next 5 months and invite you to participate in one of 5 groups at Grace working towards a big goal together. We will have a walking group, the Grace Sole Patrol, fitness classes, a Grace Triathlon Team, a Grace Cycling Team, and a Grace Running Team. All of it is explained on our website with a special page for this sermon series, and inviting you to join one of 5 special facebook groups to learn more. (Link to website page)
The Grace Triathlon Team is going to train for the Muncieman Triathlon in September. You will have a chance to find other Grace people and walk together this summer, or do fitness classes together. The Grace Cycling Team is going to join a Grace ministry called Conquest Cycling, btw, an amazing ministry that started and grew at Grace to (vision). They will train together this summer for a bicycle race in Carmel in September called the Gran Fondo.
And then yours truly is unabashedly going to invite every single Grace person to join me and Team World Vision to train for the Monumental half and full marathon in November and run for clean water for Africa. And I particularly want people to join me who have never run a marathon or half marathon before, and have never even thought about running one before. I would love 200 or more people from Grace to join me this summer to train together – remember, all shapes and sizes.
You can sign up for any of those online by joining one of the facebook groups starting this weekend. The weekend of May 20-21 we will have a fitness expo in the lobby where you can meet some of us and sign up in person for any of the groups. (show the link again)
My bottom line hope and prayer is that I want us all to be able to live life to the fullest, and bring our best to the Mission of God. You are a masterpiece. I Invite you into a life of increasing physical health, vigor, vitality. Our physical bodies are a gift from God that He intends us to take care of so we can live life to the fullest and bring our best to his mission.