June 17, 2009

The Pitfalls of Healthful Living

2009 1517 page14 capiseases resulting from overeating, large doses of sugar, lack of exercise, globs of fats, poisonous alcohol, and deadly tobacco are killing and bankrupting our nation. Because of what some term the “epidemic” of childhood obesity, parents today may even outlive their children.1

The secular world has never been more open for help. People’s lifestyle habits are out of control—and they know it. As a church, we’re sitting on a gold mine of health and happiness. Through the prophetic ministry of Ellen White the Lord gave priceless counsel on healthful living because He loves humanity! Adventists are in a position to add immense value to the lives of family, friends, and neighbors—but we must catch the vision of “bringing good news to the afflicted.”
Prepare Food—And They Will Come
Adventist congregations in Michigan are committed to the health ministry. After holding health outreach programs, some churches have organized supper clubs, during which they continue to educate as well as share healthful cuisine. The monthly club meetings have an attendance ranging from 15 to as many as 120 guests. Baptisms occur regularly as a result of these programs.
Watch for Pitfalls
Yet as these new opportunities present themselves, we must be on guard for dangers and avoid the pitfalls.
2009 1517 page14Many are confused about the theology of healthful living. Here is where the confusion comes in. It’s easy to confuse the principles of healthful living with the application of healthful living.
Death is the result of our sinful condition. By living wisely, however, we can preserve our health so we can serve the Lord more effectively. That is why we cannot ignore a commitment to the principles of healthful living.
The application is not always easy. Sin has been damaging our genes for 6,000 years. Our personal needs and physical makeup vary. It is impossible to apply every aspect of healthful living perfectly all the time and in every situation.
For example, when my parents first became Seventh-day Adventists they accepted Ellen White’s counsel as divinely inspired and began to practice what they learned. One of those applications was that “most people enjoy better health while eating two meals a day than three.”2 Even though we ate a hearty breakfast at 6:30 every morning, it just wouldn’t hold us for 11 or 12 hours through work and school. Were we breaking the sixth commandment because we ate three meals a day rather than two? Of course not! In fact, going that long without eating would itself be violating the principles of healthful living. Even though eating three meals rather than two may have not been the ideal, it was the best practice under the circumstances.

In this sinful world circumstances dictate how the principles of healthful living are applied. As Ellen White wrote, “There is real common sense in health reform.”3 Taking care of our bodies is a command. But healthful living must be applied practically.
Another danger is to assume that everyone will benefit alike under the same application of health principles. Listen to this commonsense statement from Ellen White: “People cannot all eat the same things. Some articles of food that are wholesome and palatable to one person may be hurtful to another. . . . Some stomachs have become so sensitive that they cannot make use of the coarser kind of graham flour. So it is impossible to make an unvarying rule by which to regulate everyone’s dietetic habits.”4
Individual Application
Healthful living must be applied in an imperfect world with multitudes of variables and cultures. My body handles a vegetarian diet just fine. I have no food allergies. So for me, eating flesh food when I am surrounded by large varieties of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, and so forth is not wise or right. But what if I were in a place where there was no supply of fruits and vegetables? What if the only way to maintain good health was to eat clean flesh food? Would that be wrong? It might be personally distasteful, but not wrong. The principles of healthful living must be applied in light of the conditions in which I find myself.
Another danger we need to avoid is a wrong attitude. People must have the freedom to apply the principles of healthful living to meet their own personal situations. In fact, that freedom is a principle from heaven, as well. When health education loses this attitude, it loses the Lord’s blessing. This is ministry—not force. As Ellen White wrote: “Do not drive the people. Lead them.”5
Also, notice this: “God calls upon those for whom Christ died to take proper care of themselves, and set a right example to others. My brother, you are not to make a test for the people of God upon the question of diet; for they will lose confidence in teachings that are strained to the farthest point of extension.”6
Jesus never intended for healthful living to be a false guilt trip or for His people to be troubled over every little nuance of information. Instead, He wants our journey of healthful living to be happy and satisfying. His desire is for us to glow with healthy attitudes and bodies. A difference exists between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and cajoling or inappropriate social pressure.
Enjoy the Gift of Life
So enjoy life by following the principles of healthful living. Feel guilty only if you have not surrendered to the vital principle of taking care of your health. But do not feel guilty if your application doesn’t land perfectly every time. Happily try again. Soon you will develop effective health habits that will bless your life.
Let us also minister to others. Educate, educate, educate with the Savior’s love. Let us avoid extreme statements and rigid positions. May people always feel our love, our acceptance, our grace, and our commitment to freedom and to the principles of healthful living. 
2Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 176.
3White, Counsels on Health, p. 154.
4Ibid., pp. 154, 155.
5White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 465.
6Ibid., p. 205.
Jay Gallimore is president of the Michigan Conference, a position he has held since 1990.