When I watch or read the news, I sometimes feel as if I am seeing the opening line of Charles Dickens' The Tale of Two Cities come to life. You know, the one that goes: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” Lately, I have become concerned with the dichotomy of childhood health. At the same time that there are hungry children fighting for mere scraps in war-torn Syria and skeletal little ones with bloated bellies dying of starvation in famine-affected regions of the world, there is a frightening increase in cases of childhood obesity in more affluent, politically stable, urban areas of the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the last thirty years in the United States alone has seen a tripling of childhood obesity rates. “In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.”
Both extremes have something in common: the children suffer from malnutrition. Put another way, in both extremes children are malnourished due to a lack of proper quantity and quality of nourishing foods. One side is dying of starvation, the absence of calories, vitamins, and other important nutrients, and the other is dying of over-indulgence on foods lacking nutrients coupled with a lack of adequate exercise. While the two sides are going about it differently, the victims end up at the same place: premature and preventable death.
This is no way to live life, and this is not the life that our Lord and Creator intended for His children. Christ, in John 10:10, proclaimed: “I have come so that they may have life, life in its fullest measure.” (Complete Jewish Bible) Each person is special in the eyes of God, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Luke 12:7 states that the very hairs on our head have been numbered, and in Psalm 56:8, King David shares the illustration that the Lord bottles our tears. The Lord cares for us so much that He desires to dwell with us, in our hearts. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (New King James Version)
The contrast of the starving and obese children can be startling and sad, but the problem of malnutrition and poor health is not limited to children. They are often the silent victims of circumstances beyond their control. There is a growing number of people—adults—around the world who knowingly or unknowingly cause their own health problems. Here in the United States, we are in the middle of the longest holiday season of the year, a time of feasting and cheating on diets that often ends with half-hearted and easily forgotten resolutions to make wiser, healthier choices in the New Year. Certainly, there are plenty of people who are content with the status quo and have no genuine desire to change their habits and lifestyle; however, there is a growing number of individuals who are waking up to the importance of living a healthier life. They are tired of battling poor health and are seeking help. With the raise in childhood obesity and its corresponding health risks, many parents are desperate for guidance in making healthier choices for their families.
Are we ready? In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, page 370, Ellen White wrote: “There is a message regarding health reform to be borne in every church.” Yet how many of our churches are sharing the health message with its community? How many church members practice what we may preach in our own lives? How many of us are ready and willing to share the principles of a healthful lifestyle with those around us who may be seeking relief from their suffering?
I am not talking about browbeating everyone around us to conform to one specific diet and condemning anyone who does not subscribe to an extremely narrow view. I have seen dietary fanaticism create schisms in local congregations and even drive members and visitors alike out the doors. In south Georgia, I witnessed the battle between vegetarians and those who followed Leviticus 11's guidelines of clean and unclean meats. In Virginia, I experienced the unpleasantness of being caught in the middle of a vegetarian and vegan war at one particular church. In fact, after having a family member called “the devil” for not being vegan, my family and I promptly decided to stop attending that specific Adventist church. We need to be cautious that in our zeal to share the message, we do not cross the line into fanaticism. The enemy celebrates when internal turmoil distracts the children of God from our purpose, our mission.
A two-fold ministry has long characterized the Adventist church: evangelism for Christ and health reform. In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, page 112, we are admonished: “As a people we have been given the work of making known the principles of health reform. There are some who think that the question of diet is not of sufficient importance to be included in their evangelistic work. But such make a great mistake. God's Word declares, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” The subject of temperance, in all its bearings, has an important place in the work of salvation.”
In some Adventist churches, and for different reasons, talking about healthful living is no longer welcomed. But brothers and sisters, we cannot keep silent in regard to the health message, not when there are people all around us slowly dying for the lack of knowledge and encouragement. The principles of a healthful lifestyle are deeply rooted in the Word of God. “It is the Lord's design that the restoring influence of health reform shall be a part of the last great efforts to proclaim the gospel message” (Medical Ministry, 259).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord spoke to the scattered children of Israel: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope”(Jeremiah 29:11). This promise still holds true to the children of God today. The Lord wants all of His children to have a future, to have hope, and it is clear from the Scriptures that the Lord also desires for His creation to be free from illnesses and poor health. A significant portion of Christ's earthly ministry was focused on physical healing.
Fortunately, the year 2012 has seen the sparks of a revival of the health message. Many churches that may have avoided this area in the recent past have begun supporting conference-wide and division-wide initiatives, such as Adventists In Step for Life, or ministries, such as CREATION Health. This year Hope Channel has launched a new series, Go Healthy… for Good!, for educational purposes and encouragement. Some churches, like the church my parents attend, whose health ministry had all but died due to over-zealousness and in-fighting a handful of years ago, are recognizing their responsibility to meet the needs of their local communities and reviving their health ministries. One of the local churches near where I live recently completed The Daniel Challenge with a great response from young adults and young families.
It is vital to remember that before we can minister effectively to the needs of those around us, we first need to tune our own hearts and lives to the Master's plan. Hypocrisy does not bring glory to the Lord. So let each of us humbly strive to improve our own health, not forsaking nutritious foods, moderate exercise, fresh air, rest, and the other basics of healthful living. When we are healthy, our bodies free of preventable illness and our minds clear, we are better able to serve the Lord and our neighbors.
This holiday season, a time we often pause to reflect on the blessings the Lord has bestowed on us, let us share these blessings by giving for those aid and relief organizations such as ADRA that are able to go to areas of the world we cannot sharing the message of hope and love through meeting very real needs: food, clean water, education, and more. And let us not forget to be generous with our time by sharing with those among our family, friends, and co-workers who are open to hearing how to make improvements for their health.
In the words of the disciple John, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 1:2).