Healthy Lifestyle Assessment Overview
Did you know that approximately 27% of all deaths are due to heart attacks and another 23% are due to strokes?1 Almost all American adults have significant coronary artery disease.2 This process begins early in life. Autopsies of young trauma victims who died before the age of 35 revealed that 78% of them already developed significant blockages in their heart.3 We will inevitably develop the diseases that accompany a standard American diet unless we break free from cultural norms.
Fortunately, we can draw on God’s word for inspiration.
We are called to live in the world but not to be of the world. 4
We are called to be good stewards of all God puts in our care, including our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.5
We have an overflowing sense of purpose!6
Good news also abounds in the research. Heart Disease is not the inevitable consequence of aging - and even when present it can be reversed through lifestyle changes! Two of the most notable researchers in this area, Dean Ornish M.D. and Caldwell Esselstyn M.D., have published multiple studies in major medical journals demonstrating that lifestyle changes reverse heart disease.7-14
Dr. Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation followed 18 patients with advanced heart disease who adopted a plant based diet with the addition of cholesterol-lowering drugs. These individuals experienced 49 coronary events in the 8 years prior to the study but none in the 12 years following the study. Adherence to the diet was the key factor in determining the absence of future cardiac disease.8
Dr. Ornishs’ participants followed a very low fat, primarily plant-based diet coupled with exercise and stress reduction. They experienced significant reversal of plaque buildup in heart arteries along with a 90% reduction in chest pain in 3 weeks. One patient went from being unable to shave without chest pain to climbing the equivalent of the Empire State Building on his Stair Master exercise equipment.
For more articles, audio and video go to the Heart Disease section of our Wellness Library.
Did you know that about 22% of deaths in America are due to cancer?2 The high and increasing rate of cancer in America and other westernized cultures is in large part nurtured by our choices. Our genetics may load the gun, and then our choices pull the trigger. Unfortunately, some people start life with a fully loaded gun – but that doesn’t mean they ever have to pull the trigger. Consider the cancer protective habits below and whether your choices cause you to live out the inevitable consequences of an American lifestyle.
While it’s true that genetics and some environmental factors are outside our control, our choices still make a huge difference. God designed your body to be a self-healing machine – given the right food and the right environment our bodies have the potential to “heal themselves”. For example, when consumption of plant foods increases by 20% in a culture, cancer rates go down 20% regardless of whether the plant foods come from organic sources. Even better news, as cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.) intake goes up by 20% cancer rates go down by 40%.3,15-17 The cancer-protective effect of eating vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds has been demonstrated in nearly 300 case-controlled studies. Americans typically consume fewer than 13% of their calories from plant based foods - half of this 13% is from potatoes and fries. We typically eat a diet that is more than 87% refined, processed, and rich in saturated/trans fat.1 Is it any wonder that we have such a sick nation?
While our diets play a significant role in making us resilient to disease, diets alone aren’t the only answer. Our bodies were designed to move. The American Institute for Cancer Research estimated that healthy lifestyle changes such as maintaining a normal weight and becoming physically active could prevent about 35% of cancers or about 340,000 cases in the US.19
For more articles, audio and video go to the Cancer section of our Wellness Library.
One in every three adults in North America has high blood pressure. People with hypertension are three times more likely to have a heart attack, five times more likely to develop heart failure, and EIGHT times more likely to suffer a stroke than people without hypertension, or normal blood pressure.
- Reduce your salt intake. Surprisingly, hypertension is uncommon in 70% of the world’s population where salt intake is also very low. In places where salt intake is high, as in Japan, the disease is epidemic, affecting approximately one half of adults. Americans consume an average of 10 to 15 grams of salt per day. That’s two to three teaspoons, which is 10 to 15 times more than the body should process! The lifetime probability of developing high blood pressure in the US is 90%.9Many different studies show high salt intake is linked to increases in all-cause mortality and that the death-hastening effects occur even in people who are not sodium sensitive enough to develop elevated blood pressure.11
- Lose Weight. Nearly everyone who is significantly overweight will eventually experience high blood pressure. It’s just a matter of time.
- Take steps to reduce arterial plaque. Narrowed and plugged arteries force the body to boost the blood pressure in order to deliver necessary oxygen and food to body cells.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A diet containing several servings of each may reduce your risk of a stroke.
- Lower the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. Eating less cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat may reduce the plaques in your arteries.
- Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase your good cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels. Gradually work up to at least 30 minutes most, if not all, days of the week.
- Quit Smoking.
- Avoid added estrogen. This hormone, found in birth control pills and used to ease menopausal symptoms, is also a salt retainer. It can raise blood pressure and weight by holding excess fluid in the body.
- Eliminate Alcohol. Scientific studies have demonstrated that even moderate use of alcohol may account for 5 to 15% of all hypertension.
Dementia is not a normal part of aging, but is caused by a number or health issues that usually result from diet and lifestyle choices made over a lifetime. Two major causes of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (loss of brain function due to a series of small strokes). Most people are aware that poor life stewardship leads to heart disease and strokes but few realize that lifestyle choices can also lead to dementia.
- More than half of Alzheimer’s cases globally could be prevented if modifiable risk factors such as depression, obesity, and smoking were eliminated. 1
- There is a 90% lower risk of developing significant cognitive decline if you are active, even if you start exercising later in life. 2
- High intake of saturated fat doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and even moderate intake of trans fat increased the risk by 2-3 times.3
- In one study of over 4,000 New Yorkers, those who ate a better (mildly better by ideal standards) diet that was higher in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans and low in red meat had a lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s by 65%. 4
- Specific foods like blueberries and colorful vegetables rich in flavonoids have been shown to be especially protective against the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. 5
- Vegetable and fruit juice consumption also has been shown to offer protection, but not antioxidant vitamins such as E, C, or beta-carotene or tea consumption. You actually have to eat the vegetables or drink their juice to get the protection. 6
- The same dietary pattern that causes heart disease (high in animal fats and low in plant foods especially green vegetables) also creates a biochemical environment that promotes dementia.7
Vegetable Consumption - Basic guidelines recommend 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. However the USDA basic guidelines actually promote disease formation. Vegetables should be a cornerstone of your diet and for some people this may be 7 or more servings a day. Vegetables are low in calories, high in fiber, and contain the highest nutrient-per calorie bang for your buck. The best vegetables are the highest in nutrients per calorie.
Intuitively you know spinach is more nutritious than potatoes. In cultures where plant food consumption increase 20%, cancer rates go down 20% regardless of whether the plant foods are certified “organic”. Even better news, as cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc.) intake goes up by 20% cancer rates go down by 40%.28 Did you know that 40-50% of the calories in green vegetables come from protein? You are setting yourself up for serious health problems if you avoid or go light on eating vegetables.
Fruit Consumption - Basic guidelines recommend 5 servings of fruit and vegetables daily. However the USDA basic guidelines promote disease formation and for optimal health you should strive to incorporate more than the recommended levels. Fruit is a great source of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals – all of which make your body resilient and vibrant. Invest in your health by eating a variety of fruit daily. Try to increase your servings by choosing whole fruit for your snacks and meals. Frozen fruit can be less expensive, it keeps well, retains its nutritional value, and it makes tasty smoothies. Adding any green leafy vegetable fresh or frozen to your smoothie gives it a significant nutrient boost and may go unnoticed as far as taste is concerned.
Bean, Pea, and Legume Consumption - You should eat an absolute minimum of 2 servings of beans, peas and legumes per week. Beans are a very inexpensive source of protein, fiber and micronutrients and they are very easy to incorporate in your diet. Beans are a rich source of isoflavones and flavonoids, both of which are strong anti-cancer compounds. One study demonstrated a 50% lowering of colon cancer risk with those who ate beans as little as twice per week.36 Try including lentils, chick peas or black beans in your salads for snacks or meals – and perhaps try having a bean-based dinner once or twice a week. If you use canned beans you can remove up to half the salt with a thorough rinsing. Dried beans cook up quickly in a pressure cooker. Beans may cause gastrointestinal distress when you first incorporate them in your diet, but as you consistently have them in your diet, these issues will resolve themselves.
Low Fat Dairy - Interestingly countries with the lowest consumption of dairy products have the lowest rate of hip fractures.25 One major finding from the Nurses’ Health Study, which included 121,701 women was that data does not support the hypothesis that the consumption of milk protects against hip or forearm fractures.26 Those who drank 3 or more servings of dairy had slightly higher rates of fractures than those who drank none.
This does not mean that Osteoporosis is caused by dairy or calcium. The contributing causes of osteoporosis are complex and involve many factors such as dietary acid-alkaline balance, excess caffeine, excess salt or trace minerals deficiencies, phytochemicals in plants, exercise, exposure to sunlight, excess animal protein, alcohol, drugs such as antibiotics or steroids, excess supplemented vitamin A and more.2-24 Even the Harvard School of Public health calls the USDA standard guidelines flawed and recommends 0-2 servings of fat free dairy per day.27
Full Fat Dairy - Full fat dairy products are best suited to rapidly grow a calf – and they do the same to people. Significant research shows that consumption of full fat dairy products promotes the growth of cancer including prostate, ovarian, bladder, colorectal, and testicular cancers.67-79 For example a Physician’s Health Study report in April 2000 demonstrated that 2.5 servings of dairy each day boosted prostate cancer risk by more than 30%.73 The Nurses’ Health Study on 80,326 women reported that women who consumed the highest amount of lactose (one or more servings of any type of dairy per day) had a 44% greater risk for all types of invasive ovarian cancer than those who ate the lowest amount (three or fewer servings monthly.79
Dairy products are the primary source of our nation’s exposure to dioxin.54 The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that dioxin from dairy fat such as butter, cheese, and ice cream is the prominent cause of many types of cancer.55 In addition full fat dairy is our nations primary source of saturated fat which has well established links to heart disease, strokes, and cancer. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians 10:23, which states that everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial, we need to prayerfully examine our consumption of foods that challenge our health.
Whole Grains -The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends 6-8 servings of whole grains and bean/legumes per day. Whole grains are a great source of energy. They can help an athlete or active person get through the day but whole grains may limit one’s ability to lose weight if eaten in excess. At a bare minimum we should eat a few servings of whole grains per day and replace the extra servings with nutrient dense calorie light vegetables or fruit. This formula allows people to eat large satisfying nutritious meals and still reach their weight loss goals.
Processed Food - Since our body does not require processed foods the ideal serving size is zero. Most foods that come in packages are highly processed, manufactured foods. Check the ingredients list on the side if you are unsure if your packaged food is manufactured. Unprocessed foods and whole foods have few ingredients and those that are listed can easily be pronounced. If they are grain based then it will say “whole” before the grain type or list the grain like “brown rice.”
Processed foods significantly hinder your body’s ability to thrive. We need to realize the significance of our meal time prayer if we’re asking the Lord to bless this “Big Mac” to the nourishment of our body. Surely God expects us to do our part and be good stewards of the fuel we put in His vessel. As you ponder where cookies fit into your diet consider 1 Corinthians 10:23, “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” We have freedom in Christ to eat anything but we should consider our health status and be great stewards of all God places in our care.
Fish - The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 or more 3.5 oz. servings of fish per week and cautions children or pregnant women from eating fish known to have higher mercury levels. Unfortunately fish is one of the most polluted sources of food. A senior cancer research scientist for the Roswell Park Memorial Institute reported to the American Cancer Society that “It can be shown in some instances that a person would have to drink the lake water from the Great Lakes for 100 years to accumulate the same quantity of PCBs present in a single 8 ounce serving of Great Lake trout and salmon.”29
Fish may be healthier than other animal source foods but you need to know the type of fish and where it is from before consuming it. Don’t eat fish from questionable waters or with high mercury content (tilefish, swordfish, mackerel, shark). A highly purified fish supplement might be an even better source of fish oil. 28 If you are planning to become pregnant, are pregnant, nursing, or have children, you and your children are more sensitive to contaminants that can be present in fish.30-35 Red or Processed Meat - To avoid raising cancer risk the American Institute of Cancer Research recommends limiting red meat consumption to less than 18 ounces a week and processed meat consumption to zero. Did you realize that 90% lean ground beef has half of its calories coming from fat? Yes, 90% lean red meat is 50% fat. The leanest beef on the market still has 29% of calories coming from fat. Meat is not as lean as you think because labels express fat percentages based on weight not based on calories. Red meat is also a significant source of saturated fat which is a major contributor to heart disease, stroke, dementia, and other vascular disease. For these reasons, we believe that more than one serving of red meat per week is too many.
Poultry - If you are eating 3 or more servings a week, you should consider the information below.
- Apolipoprotein B levels present in meat (of any kind) correlate strongly with coronary heart disease.37
- All animal protein has a significant effect on raising cholesterol levels.38-41 In our experience coaching over 850 clients each month, 2 servings of chicken per week can cause the cholesterol of participants to increase by 50 points.
- In one large study of over 32,000 adults, conducted over six years, even those who avoided red meat but ate white meat regularly had a more than 300% increase in colon cancer incidence.42
- Chicken has about the same amount of cholesterol as beef and a potent cancer-causing compound called heterocyclic acmines (HCAs) is even more concentrated in grilled chicken than beef.43-45
- A New Zealand study found the great contributor of HCAs to cancer risk was from chicken.44
- Epidemiological studies of poorer countries around the world, whose populations consume small amounts of animal products, have less than 5% of their population dying of heart attacks.46-49
- All poultry or any type of meat is a significant source of cholesterol and fat. Even skinless chicken breast has 23% of calories coming from fat.
We are not saying that eating meat is bad but it may be worthwhile to consider the amount and frequency with which our culture has become accustomed to eating these foods. Free range and more natural sources of meat may be a better option, but we do not have enough research to make that case. Most health authorities agree that using meat as a condiment and not a main course is a wise approach.
Caloric Drinks - Drinking your calories is an easy way to undermine maintaining your weight and does not help a person feel full. Some claim that using no-calorie sweeteners is a good alternative while the research shows people who consume no-calorie sweeteners end up consuming more calories elsewhere in their diet.50-53 It’s best to learn to drink water. Consuming 100% fruit juice with no added sugar may be ok, but eating the fruit with a glass of water is the best option of all, especially if you need to lose weight.
Water - Generally 6 or more cups of water per day is recommended. More water may be needed if you are exercising, active, or in an environment that makes you sweat. Drinking adequate water may help with weight loss. Your body may only need 4-6 cups if you are one of the very few Americans that eats a lot of whole plant foods and does not consume much or any added salt. Whole foods can add a significant amount of water and eating a low salt diet means that your body requires less.
Eating Out - Even the “healthy” items on a menu can be very high in salt. Take 2 minutes to Google a few items from your favorite “chain” restaurant that you frequent. You may be surprised by what you find. You should try to eat less than 1,500 mg of salt each day. One slice of pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut has 840mg of sodium and one slice of their meat lover’s pizza has 1180mg. Even if you exercise prudence at McDonalds you will still likely eat over 1,100mg of sodium; cheese burger 750mg , medium fry 270mg, 1 ketchup 110mg, and medium Coke 58mg. One McDonald’s Angus Bacon and Cheese has 2070mg of sodium alone. A 10 piece chicken nuggets has 900 mg of sodium.
Salt and Salty Foods - All salt impacts your body the same way. It doesn’t matter if it is table salt, a sports drink, tomato sauce, or sea salt. All salt is 2,300 mg sodium per teaspoon. Keep your salt intake under 1,500mg per day and check food labels for sodium. The DASH study showed that Americans consume 5 to 10 times more salt than the body needs and high sodium intake clearly increases blood pressure.86-88 Salt also pulls calcium and other trace minerals into the urine where excess is excreted, making excess salt consumption a contributor to osteoporosis.82,83
Unsurprisingly, hypertension is uncommon in 70% of the world’s population where salt intake is also very low. In places where salt intake is high, as in Japan, the disease is epidemic, affecting approximately one half of adults. The lifetime probability of developing high blood pressure in the US is 90%.80Many different studies show how high salt intake is linked to increases in all-cause mortality and that the death hastening effects occur even in people who are not sodium sensitive enough to develop elevated blood pressure.81,84
A good physical activity plan should include aerobic, strength and flexibility components. Daily physical activity can be cumulative throughout the day. Two 15 minute walks are as beneficial as one 30 minute walk.
Recommended minimum fitness routines include:
- Aerobic Exercise: 5 days per week of moderate-intensity activity or 3 days per week of vigorous-intensity activity.
- Strength Training: 2 days per week (8-10 exercises, 8-12 repetitions of each exercise)
- Flexibility or Stretching: 2-3 days per week
The Mayo Clinic’s Top 10 reasons to get physical:1-5
- Keep excess pounds at bay - Combined with a healthy diet, aerobic exercise helps you lose weight and keep it off.
- Increase your stamina - Aerobic exercise may make you tired in the short term. But over the long term, you'll enjoy increased stamina and reduced fatigue.
- Ward off viral illnesses - Aerobic exercise activates your immune system. This leaves you less susceptible to minor viral illnesses, such as colds and flu.
- Reduce your health risks - Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of many conditions, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as walking, reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
- Manage chronic conditions - Aerobic exercise helps lower high blood pressure and control blood sugar. If you've had a heart attack, aerobic exercise helps prevent subsequent attacks.
- Strengthen your heart - A stronger heart doesn't need to beat as fast. A stronger heart also pumps blood more efficiently, which improves blood flow to all parts of your body.
- Keep your arteries clear - Aerobic exercise boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good") cholesterol and lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol. The potential result? Less buildup of plaques in your arteries.
- Boost your mood -Aerobic exercise can ease the gloominess of depression, reduce the tension associated with anxiety and promote relaxation.
- Stay active and independent as you age - Aerobic exercise keeps your muscles strong, which can help you maintain mobility as you get older. Aerobic exercise also keeps your mind sharp. At least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days a week seems to reduce cognitive decline in older adults.
- Live longer - Studies show that people who participate in regular aerobic exercise live longer than those who don't exercise regularly.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation that uses height and weight to estimate body fat. BMI is a good tool for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to serious health problems. Sometimes exceptions need to be considered for those who are competitive athletes, body builders with a low percentage of body fat or pregnant women – but these exceptions do not apply to the general population. Usually, as BMI increases, the risks for many diseases increase as well. Consider these statistics:
- Obese people spend more on medical services and medication than daily smokers and heavy drinkers.1
- Being obese is like aging 20 years. Obese individuals at age 30 are at the same risk for disease as non-obese individuals age 50.1
- The excess medical expenditures that result from treating these obesity-related diseases are significant. Roland Sturm showed that obese adults incur annual medical expenditures that are 36 percent higher than those of normal weight.1 This analysis, however was limited to people under age sixty-five. People age sixty five and older now account for roughly one-fourth of the obese population, and , because of the chronic nature of obesity-attributable diseases, medical spending for treating elderly obese people is likely to be much higher than spending for non-elderly obese people.
- Obesity is closely associated with an increased risk of a number of complications that can occur alone or together including hypertension, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes, gallbladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers. 1,2
- The prevalence of becoming overweight or obese increases with advancing age until a person reaches their sixties when it starts to decline.3
- Obese individuals have a 50-100% increased risk of death from all cases, compared with normal-weight individuals (BMI 20-25). Most of the increased risk is due to cardiovascular causes.4
- Disease risk and costs increase substantially with increased BMI. The risk of hypertension for moderately obese 45-54 year old men is roughly two times higher than for their non-obese peers (38.1% vs. 17.7%), whereas the risk of type 2 diabetes is almost three-fold higher (8.1% vs. 3.0%). Lifetime risks of coronary heart disease and stroke are similarly elevated (41.8% vs. 34.9% and 16.3% vs. 13.9% respectively), whereas life expectancy is reduced by one year (26.5 vs. 27.5 years). Total discounted lifetime medical care costs for the treatment of these five diseases are estimated to differ by $10,000. Similar results were obtained for women. The conclusion is, the lifetime health and economic consequences of obesity are substantial and suggest that efforts to prevent or reduce this problem might yield significant benefits.5
Tips for Reducing Weight:
- Get physically active for at least 30 minutes daily (see the Exercise section for more details). In studies on identical twins, physical activity was the strongest determinate of both total body fat and central obesity (intra-abdominal fat).6
- Eat healthy foods (see the Eating section for more details)
- Get support from family and friends.
- Sometimes we literally carry 10-40lbs of emotional problems. Consider counseling or over eaters anonymous.
- Talk with your health care provider.
The single most reliable indicator of risk for heart disease and diabetes may well be the amount of fat carried within the abdominal cavity, generally corresponding to a person’s waist size. A waist size greater 35 inches for a female or 40 inches for a male carries a high risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and hypertension. Waist size related risk starts to increase for females beginning at 32 inches and males 36 inches. For example diabetes risk for men doubles from 34-36 inches and is twelve times higher from 40-62 inches.4
The visible fat that can be measured with a tape usually correlates with how much fat is being stored within the abdominal cavity or wall. One can even have the fat over the abdomen suctioned away, but it does not reduce the risk for major disease because the fat within the abdominal wall has not been removed. The high level of intra-abdominal fat leads to a chain of events that begins with the transport of fat to the liver, insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
Tips for Reducing Weight:
- Get physically active for at least 30 minutes daily (see the Exercise section for more details). In studies on identical twins, physical activity was the strongest determinate of both total body fat and central obesity (intra-abdominal fat).6
- Eat healthy foods (see the Eating section for more details)
- Get support from family and friends.
- Sometimes we literally carry 10-40lbs of emotional problems. Consider counseling or over eaters anonymous.
- Talk with your health care provider.
Moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink for women or two drinks for men. A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 ½ ounces of liquor.
According to the Centers for Disease Control there were approximately 79,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use making it the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death for people in the United States each year. 1 Alcohol increases your risk for heart disease, cancer and other major preventable disease. Alcohol is high in calories and offers no nutritional value. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant.
According to the American Psychiatric Association three or more of the following signs indicate Alcohol dependence:
- Alcohol use for longer than intended
- Desire and/or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control consumption
- Considerable time spent obtaining or using alcohol, or recovering from its effects
- Important social, work, or recreational activity given up because of use
- Continued use of alcohol despite knowledge of problems caused or aggravated by use
Medi-Share members do not share medical bills with members who are using tobacco products during membership. Please read the Medi-Share Guidelines Section III. A. and VIII. C.:
Any exposure to tobacco products increases your risk of preventable disease.
Your usage of tobacco products exposes you to increased health risk. The good news is over time that risk diminishes but it takes longer as you increase smoking and chewing pack years. In some cases the damage cannot be undone. A 30 year pack history is typically considered the tipping point for permanent damage. Someone smoking 2 packs per day arrives at the 30 year pack history in half the time, 15 years. Anyone with a significant tobacco usage history would be wise to be conservative with their lifestyle choices so their body has every opportunity to repair the damage. God created our bodies with an amazing self-healing potential. Habits that cultivate healing include balance in all major areas of life: knowing God, achieving closure, having healthy core beliefs, taking time to relax, exercising aerobically, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a diet rich in nutrients (fruit, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts/seeds) and light in calories.
There are more than 2,500 chemicals in tobacco. During combustion, these are transformed into more than 4,000 chemicals, over 50 of which are carcinogenic.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke include:
- Hydrogen Cyanide
- Carbon Monoxide
- And 4,000 others
Health effects include:
- Cancer of the lung, bladder, pancreatic and other forms
- Emphysema and other respiratory diseases
- Heart disease, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases
- Premature death
Other Tobacco (chewing/snuff)
- Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. It may also cause heart disease, gum disease, and oral lesions other than cancer, such as leukoplakia (precancerous white patches in the mouth)
- Because all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer, the use of all of these products should be strongly discouraged. There is no safe level of tobacco use.
Most Heart Attacks victims have a total cholesterol between 175-225 and heart attacks rarely occur when levels are below 150. Therefore, we recommend adopting lifestyle behaviors that lower cholesterol into a more conservative range, under 175.1 Many health professionals tell patients that they are fine when numbers are in the “normal” range because a specific disease or condition doesn’t need to be treated. However, that doesn’t mean a serious storm isn’t brewing. Did you know that 62% of all Americans die from Heart Attacks, Strokes, Diabetes, and Cancer.2 Don’t aim for normal.
Cholesterol Lowering Tips:
- Avoid or eliminate cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat. These items are concentrated in all animal source foods such as white meat, red meat, and dairy products. Non-fat dairy may be an exception but some evidence suggests all animal source protein plays a role in elevating cholesterol.3In our experience coaching over 850 participants each month we have seen just a few servings of animal source foods raise cholesterol as much as 50 points. We’ve also seen these cholesterol lowering tips lower cholesterol over 100 points in just 3 weeks.
- Achieve your ideal weight. A heart healthy diet is one that gets the fat off your waist and out of your heart. Excess weight raises bad cholesterol LDL and Triglycerides and lowers your good HDL cholesterol.
- Be Active. Activity helps control weight and raises good HDL cholesterol.
- Learn to enjoy a vegetable-based, rather than grain or meat based diet. The goal here would to be to eat 90% of your calories from nutrient dense foods such as vegetables (greens and others with color), beans, fruits, nuts, and seeds (unless needing to lose weight). Meals should not revolve around grains, oils, or animal products.
- Eat beans every day. They’re high in fiber, full of nutrients, and prevent food cravings. If using canned beans look for the no added salt varieties or wash the salt off. Up to 50% of the salt can be washed off with a thorough rinsing. Pressure cooking dried beans is another ideal option that is quick, cheep, and easy.
- Do not over eat cooked, starchy foods. If you are overweight or have heart disease limit the healthy starches to 1-2 serving daily and the less healthy starches to 0-1 serving weekly. Starchy foods even whole grains can raise triglyceride levels.
- More healthy starches: turnips, squash, corn, sweet potato, peas, carrots, wild or brown rice, quinoa or millet, oats.
- Less healthy starches: white bread, pasta, white rice, quick cooked hot cereals, tortillas, cold breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles
- Keep learning. See the additional resources below.
- Ask for help.Consider enrolling in the Health Partnership program where you will work one-on-one with a health coach to help you achieve your goals.
Remember: These tips are for people who want to see a significant change in their cholesterol and heart disease risk profile. We are not saying that eating meat or drinking in moderation is bad but it may be worthwhile to consider the amount and frequency with which our culture has become accustomed.
LDL CHOLESTEROL - LDL or “bad” cholesterol is needed by your body in normal amounts for the repair and growth of cells. However, if blood levels of LDL cholesterol become too high, a plaque buildup on the walls of blood vessels occurs. This leads to blocked arteries, the main cause of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Plaque can break away from the vessel walls and form blood clots that block the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to areas of the body. This is the cause of most heart attacks.
LDL levels vary proportionately to the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in one’s diet. For example, one study showed a 33% lowering of LDL on a high nutrient, plant based diet vs. 26% lowering with statin medications, 16% on a low fat vegetarian diet, 6% on the American Heart Association diet, and no significant change with the Mediterranean or Atkins diet. The difference between the high nutrient-dense, plant based diet and the low fat vegetarian diet is that the nutrient dense approach emphasized eating vegetables, fruit, and beans while the low-fat vegetarian approach put more emphasis on grains.
The American Heart Association diet calls only for replacing red meat consumption with chicken and fish while putting limits on fat intake and cholesterol. Unfortunately, the AHA “Heart Healthy Diet” has negligible impact on cholesterol, allows heart disease to progress, and mirrors Government Guidelines which the Harvard School of Public health called “biased by special interest groups.”1-6 The “Heart Healthy Diet” still allows heart disease to progress, it only slows the progress slightly. When the dietary guidelines most commonly recommended are already known to be biased and ineffective, is it any wonder that doctors and pharmaceutical companies boldly recommend drugs?
HDL CHOLESTEROL -HDL is called “good” cholesterol because it helps to carry “bad” LDL cholesterol away from blood vessel walls. Research shows that higher levels of “good” cholesterol help protect us from blocked arteries. If your blood levels of HDL are low in comparison to the LDL levels in your blood, it may be necessary for you to make lifestyle changes. For good health, it is important to maintain the proper balance between HDL and LDL levels.
Keys to improve or raise your HDL cholesterol include aerobic exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week, maintain a healthy weight, remove trans fatty acids from your diet (don’t eat anything with the word hydrogenated in the label), and do not smoke.
As one’s LDL drops below 100, the importance of HDL is diminished since people with LDL levels below 100 rarely, if ever, develop cardiovascular disease. Cultures around the world with the lowest rates of heart disease also have the lowest HDL levels, but they are accompanied by low LDL. When your arteries are not clogged up with excess LDL cholesterol, there is no need for high HDL cholesterol to clean up the stored lipids within the plaque.4
TRIGLYCERIDES - Triglycerides are the most common type of fat found in our bodies. Triglycerides have some effect on heart disease so they are usually included in the tests done for blood cholesterol levels.
Triglycerides, unlike LDL cholesterol do not stick to the walls of blood vessels. Triglycerides can be described like a “thick cream” in the blood and increase the bloods natural tendency to clot. As this clotting tendency becomes greater in the blood, the risk of heart disease increases.
LDL to HDL Ratio - Keep in mind that it’s not good to be an Average American when most Americans die of lifestyle related diseases like heart disease, diabetes, strokes and cancer. Research also indicates it is important to obtain a LDL of less than 80-100, regardless of the HDL value, especially in the presence of multiple other risk factors for heart disease (family history, weight, blood pressure, diabetes). Having high HDL levels is good but offers limited protection against high LDL levels. Populations with the highest HDL levels also have the highest rates of heart disease. When you earn low LDL below 100 as a result of lifestyle choices your HDL may drop as well. Lower HDL in this case is not a risk factor for heart disease. When you arteries are not clogged up with cholesterol, there is no need for high HDL cholesterol to remove stored lipids within the plaque, thus your body keeps the HDL level low.
Ratio of LDL to HDL
1/2 Average Risk
2x Average Risk
3x Average Risk
You may also be getting a false sense of security if you are medicating your cholesterol into normal ranges as opposed to lowering your cholesterol numbers through lifestyle choices. Consider this, the WOSCOPS study of very high risk men (44% smokers and 1 of 5 had symptoms of blocked arteries) showed only a modest reduction in heart attack risk when medicated to reduce cholesterol. 3 In addition, the study showed that 100 men had to take cholesterol medication for 2 years to prevent even one single heart attack.3 That is a lot of side-effects, risk and money that 100 men took to reduce their risk factor by 0.5% per year.
Similarly, the AFCAP study showed a “significant” relative lowering of heart disease risk (37%) for lower risk men when medicated with statin drugs.4 However this overall lowering of heart disease risk was offset by the increased risk of developing any kind of serious illness during the study period. The overall disease development process was identical between the treated and untreated group.4 This is a good place to stop and ask yourself; What’s the point of medicating to lower your risk for one disease only to die of another serious disease because the fundamental lifestyle issues were not addressed? Similarly in this study, it would take 2.5 years of treatment for 1 person in 100 to prevent a heart attack so the absolute risk reduction is not as impressive.4 Wait, it gets a little less impressive because to prevent 1 death from cardiovascular disease 100 people would have to be treated with a statin drug for 25 years!4
These studies are representative of other studies on cholesterol lowering drugs. However, what if the results of these studies showed that nobody developed heart disease in the treatment group and the side effects were all positive? Outcomes like this would produce the biggest blockbuster pharmaceutical of all time.
We have good news! Multiple research studies already prove that it is possible to make yourself heart attack proof- but not by popping pills. You have to earn your good health with a very specific lifestyle approach- made even more important if you have disease or have been living like a typical American. The side effects from this lifestyle change include a reduction in all types of health risk, disease, and causes of morbidity.
On the cholesterol lowering front one study showed a 33% lowering of LDL on a Plant based diet vs. 26% lowering with statin medications, 16% on a low fat vegetarian diet, 6% on the American Heart Association diet, and no significant change with the Mediterranean or Atkins diet.
The only reason you should be concerned about your cholesterol is to reduce your risk of heart disease or all causes of death for that matter. To that effect, Dr. Dean Ornish published research in the Lancet Medical Journal showing that a low fat vegetarian diet combined with exercise and stress reduction reversed heart disease and in most cases lowered cholesterol. Unfortunately, the control diet which was the American Heart Association’s “Heart Healthy Diet” (based on government guidelines) allowed heart disease to progress - but that’s another story. Apparently modest changes like those recommended by the American Heart Association, which include reducing processed foods and replacing red meat with chicken and fish, were not enough. Within 3 weeks the patients on the Ornish plan reported a 90% reduction in chest pain which for some participants meant that instead of not being able to shave or walk across a room without chest pain they were able to begin enjoying normal activities of daily living. The symptom relief in the Ornish group would be comparable to the relief a patient gets when having a stent or bypass surgery, except of course with no recovery time for having your chest cracked open, no lifetime commitment to drug therapy and no large cash expenditure.
We are not suggesting that you stop taking medication your doctor has prescribed. You don’t know if you’re the 1 in 100 that will benefit over the next 25 years. The main point is to highlight the real benefit of medication and the major benefit of enjoying a lifestyle that nearly eliminates your risk for all major disease!
Normal, less than 120/80
- Prehypertension, 120-139/80-89
- High, above 140/90
People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop congestive heart failure, have a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.1 One in four people are not aware that they have high blood pressure and the lifetime likelihood of developing high blood pressure for Americans is 90%.2 Often health authorities claim that high blood pressure is a natural consequence of aging however this phenomena does not occur in cultures that eat low salt diets consisting predominantly of whole foods.3,4,5,6 When people from these non-westernized cultures move to westernized cultures and adopt western diets, they develop westernized lifestyle diseases like heart attacks and strokes.7 Fortunately, studies well document the substantial effectiveness of weight loss, salt reduction, and dietary improvements on blood pressure.8-16
Tips for Reducing Blood Pressure:17
- Lose any extra weight.
- Get physically active for at least 30 minutes daily (see the Exercise section for more details.)
- Eat healthy foods (see the Eating section for more details.)
- Quit smoking (if you smoke).
- Limit how much salt you eat even if it is exotic sea or Himalayan crystal salt. All salt is 2,300 mg sodium per teaspoon. Keep your salt intake under 1,500mg per day and check food labels for sodium.
- Eliminate or limit alcohol if you drink.
- Make time to relax. We recommend knowing God’s word and prayer.
- Talk with your health care provider.
A significant body of research shows blood pressure medication carries significant side effects with benefits that may be overstated. Life style changes should be the first line of defense for high blood pressure however you should always work with your doctor to explore every option to get your blood pressure under control.
The AHA recommends beta-blockers, along with diuretics, as first-line treatments for people with high blood pressure even though beta-blockers can cause fatigue, sexual impotence, lower exercise tolerance, weight gain, and increased risk for diabetes. Studies show that betablockers, taken by millions, may cause more harm than good for most people taking them.
Evidence presented in the August 14, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology stated that despite three decades of using betablockers for hypertension, no study has shown that beta-blocker therapy reduces morbidity (disease suffering) or mortality (death) in hypertensive patients. 1
This comprehensive meta-analysis indicates that in patients with uncomplicated hypertension compared with other antihypertensive agents, beta-blockers were associated with an increased risk of stroke (and the risk of stroke was even worse in the elderly on beta blockers), with no benefit for the end points of all-cause mortality or cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The conclusion of this comprehensive analysis of all research studies on beta-blockers was this: Given the increased risk of stroke, their “pseudo- antihypertensive” efficacy (failure to lower central aortic pressure), lack of effect on regression of target end organ effects (such as left ventricular hypertrophy and endothelial dysfunction), and numerous adverse effects, the risk–benefit ratio for beta-blockers is not acceptable for routine blood pressure lowering. The Cochrane Review found the same thing.2 It can’t be denied; prescriptions written for beta-blockers to lower blood pressure do no good.
The AHA’s Council for High Blood Pressure Research and the European Society of Hypertension/European Society of Cardiology are no longer endorsing beta-blockers as a first line treatment for uncomplicated hypertension.
You might think that calcium channel blockers are a better option since beta-blockers are ineffective and dangerous, and diuretics increase the risk of diabetes and increase your fall frequency. Unfortunately, calcium channel blockers could be an even worse choice of medication than beta-blockers for some people.
Incredible as it sounds, as reported in the December 15, 2004 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, these commonly prescribed blood pressure medications almost double your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease (CVD) such as heart attacks and congestive heart failure.3 This huge study followed 93,676 women, aged 50-79 years at baseline for six years and found the women treated with a diuretic plus a calcium channel blocker had an 85% greater risk of CVD death versus those treated with a diuretic plus a beta-blocker.
Calcium channel blockers have not been found to prevent heart attacks better than diuretics. In fact, a meta-analysis of all studies combined showed that treatment with calcium channel blockers did not decrease the risk of heart attacks or heart failure, and were inferior in this regard compared with angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.4,5 In spite of this, calcium channel blockers continue to be a blockbuster success for the drug industry, with sales in the billions of dollars.
Blood pressure-lowering drugs may reduce stroke risk by about 30 percent, but because they increase the risk of heart failure and fatal heart attacks, their overall reduction in mortality is minimal.
Before deciding to use drug therapy, you not only should weigh the risks versus the benefits of each medication available for your condition, but also determine if there are other options that have better risk–benefit ratios. Serious consideration should be given to programs of salt avoidance, coupled with a high-nutrient, whole-food, plant-based diet, vigorous exercise, and stress reduction. It has no risks, and it provides substantial benefits.
It is well established in the scientific literature that diets rich in vegetables and fruits maintain lower blood pressure levels.7,8 It also has been demonstrated that when the ratio of vegetable protein to animal protein is high, blood pressure is much lower.9,10 This means that increased consumption of chicken, meat, and dairy products raises the blood pressure, and increased consumption of protein rich plant foods such as beans, seeds, nuts, and greens lowers it.
Overconsumption of salt and overconsumption of animal products are the major contributors to the development of high blood pressure, but baked goods and sweets also contribute. The consumption of refined carbohydrates does not merely drive up glucose levels. It also contributes directly to a heightened load of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), both ingested and fabricated by the body in response to ingestion of processed foods. This results in endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress. A pathological role for AGEs is substantiated by studies showing that dietary interventions that attenuate insulin resistance and/or lower AGEs are effective in decreasing oxidative stress, lowering blood pressure, and lessening atherosclerotic vascular changes.11
Studies already document the substantial effectiveness of weight loss, salt reduction, and dietary improvements lower blood pressure.12-16 When the dietary intervention is even more aggressive and the salt reduction is even more dramatic, the potential exists to achieve systolic blood pressure readings that rival multiple drug regimens, without any of the drug risks. One of the reasons for this success is that a truly health-supporting diet with a high micronutrient intake leads to dramatic weight loss benefits. Reducing body fat, while maintaining nutritional excellence, is the secret to reversing atherosclerosis inside the blood vessels and restoring lost elasticity.
However, some people’s blood pressure is more resistant and takes longer to resolve. In these individuals, other tools may be needed to make progress.
Isometric hand squeezing machines provides a simple and effective natural way to lower blood pressure. Even after eliminating salt from the diet, it can take years for the heightened sympathetic tone (from years of salt use) to reverse itself. Certain isometric hand squeezing machines like the Zona machine, can help reset sympathetic tone within six to eight weeks. By repeatedly constricting the muscles and blood vessels in your forearm, the body reacts by increasing local vasodilators to relax the blood vessels and increases the elasticity of blood vessels flowing from the heart. All exercise is beneficial, but using this well-researched blood pressure-lowering technique designed for maximum effectiveness, for about 10 minutes a day, added on to all of the other exercise recommendations, may be extremely helpful. The medical studies on this technique demonstrate an average lowering of 15 points in the systolic blood pressure, rivaling the effectiveness of medications.20-23
Controlled breathing machines like the RESPaRATE have also been demonstrated to be effective for most people and can be another stress reduction technique used with documented effectiveness, though not as powerful as isometric machines, for most people.23 Buteyko breathing exercises, where the participant is instructed to slightly under breathe, creating a temporary, but mild, oxygen debt for 5 to 10 minutes a few times each day, also are helpful.
When diet changes, exercise, and salt avoidance are not sufficient in bringing blood pressure down to a favorable level, a period of moderate fasting (complete abstinence from food while drinking only pure water) is almost always effective. Fasting can be dangerous and should be pursued under the direction of a medical doctor. Fasting does not just lower blood pressure temporarily; it results in long-term restoration of blood pressure to favorably lower levels. Fasting does what drugs can’t do; it reduces pulse pressure, too. Though fasting causes weight loss, and weight loss causes blood pressure to lower, fasting provides benefits far beyond weight loss alone. Fasting always should be preceded by superior nutrition (high-nutrient, no added- salt diet) for at least one month prior to the fast. In addition, fasting is not compatible with the use of blood pressure medications. You must be weaned off those medications prior to, or early in, the fast.
The largest study to-date on fasting patients tracked the results of 174 people who fasted for an average of 10 days. The average drop in systolic blood pressure was 37 mm Hg, and all of the subjects were able to maintain their improved blood pressures after the fast without medications.24
Chronically high levels of blood sugar will damage organs and may indicate that a person has diabetes. A fasting blood sugar below 100 or HbA1c below 6 is considered normal, but even a fasting level in the 90’s or HbA1c above 5.7 are associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Diabetics, untreated, will commonly have a fasting blood sugar above 125 or HbA1c above 6.5.
Unfortunately the damage caused by having higher than normal insulin production (as a result of excess body fat) begins years before a person is diagnosed as being diabetic. The excess insulin promotes clogging arteries which in turn eventually leads to heart attacks and strokes. Diabetics have a more than 400 percent higher incidence of heart attacks than non-diabetics. One-third of all patients with type 1 diabetes die of heart attacks before the age of fifty. This accelerated clogging of the arteries and resulting high death rate is present if both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.1,2 Based on these findings alone, reason would suggest that diabetics should receive heart protective lifestyle advice that also offers blood sugar control. Unfortunately, diabetics typically receive the same dietary advice that has proven not to work for heart disease patients.3 Diabetics can expect a normal life span and high quality life if they adopt a more conservative lifestyle approach because dismal statistics are the result of a modern disease-causing lifestyle, not merely being diabetic. God has designed our bodies with an amazing capacity to heal. Consider the encouraging results below.
Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet makes a major difference for lowering elevated blood sugars.
- Type 1 diabetics were able to lower their insulin medication by an average of 40% in three weeks.4
- Fifty percent of type 2 diabetics have normal blood sugar without medication in as little as three weeks.5
- Twenty-four of twenty-five type 2 diabetics had to discontinue their use of injecting insulin in a matter of weeks.4
- One man had a 21 year history of diabetes and was taking 35 units of insulin each day. After three weeks of eating a whole foods plant based diet his insulin dosage dropped to eight units per day. After an additional eight weeks he had to stop using insulin all together.
- The Pritikin Center achieved similar results. Thirty-four of forty patients were able to discontinue all medication after only 26 days.6
- In a three-week study at the University of California, 140 of 197 men incorporated a similar dietary approach with exercise had to discontinue medication.7
- Another study isolated the effect of dietary changes by asking participants not to alter their activity levels. A whole-foods plant-based diet caused blood sugars to drop 28% on average. Two-thirds of participants had to decrease or stop the use of medication altogether.8
Additional steps to take to achieve ideal blood sugars include:
- Work closely with your doctor or medical team - especially if you apply any of the information in this section. Your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight may radically change in a short period of time.
- Lose weight – as little as 5lbs of extra fat can inhibit your body’s ability to allow insulin to carry glucose into your cells. With 20lbs of excess fat your pancreases may be forced to produce twice as much insulin and with 50lbs it may be forced to produce six to ten times as much insulin as a lean person.
- Learn more about the whole foods plant based diet that produced the results above. Explore the additional content below.
- Aerobics – at least 30 minutes most days of the week but as much as 90 minutes most days of the week if weight loss in needed.
- Strength Training – at least 2 times each week.
- Activity after meals functions much like medication as your muscles burn sugar upon exertion. As little as 5-15 minutes of walking can make a big difference.
- If you are taking medication ask your doctor if he would be willing to reduce or remove medications known to make weight loss difficult. Allowing your blood sugar to temporarily be elevated may be a good long term approach if your lifestyle changes can ultimately produce weight loss and long term blood sugar control.
As little as 5lbs of extra fat can inhibit your body’s ability to allow insulin to carry glucose into your cells. With 20lbs of excess fat your pancreases may be forced to produce twice as much insulin and with 50lbs it may be forced to produce six to ten times as much insulin as a lean person. After years of impaired insulin sensitivity the results eventually show up in the form of rising blood sugars. By this time damage has already been done to the artery walls. The pancreas essentially becomes exhausted or reaches maximum capacity and loses the ability to keep up with the huge insulin demands.
Oral medications like Glucophage have few side effects and help many maintain normal blood sugars. The major down-side is that most patients allow this medication, and the lack of information about their ability to reverse the condition, stop them from addressing the fundamental lifestyle issue. For most, weight gain and more medication become the inevitable consequence of not making therapeutic lifestyle changes.
When a diabetic progresses to taking additional insulin beyond what is required for a normal healthy adult, the arterial disease and related conditions gain momentum. Insulin blocks cholesterol removal and delivers cholesterol to cells in walls of blood vessels. This accelerates the creation of plaque buildup. Almost 80% of all deaths among diabetics are due to narrowing of the arteries especially in the heart. Controlling your blood sugar with insulin is risky business.
The first line of defense should be addressing the underlying need for additional insulin. Diabetics need to treat maintaining their ideal body weight, ideal diet, and ideal exercise program as important as taking medication.
The Gospel – THE Bridge
Matthew, then age 4, and I were getting into the car to drive to a restaurant. I looked over at him and, as he pulled the door shut with both hands, he turned toward me with a big grin and said, “Dad, I really like it when just you and me go someplace.” That reminded me that the best gift I have to give my children is . . . myself. Amazingly, there is a parallel here with God, and what He wants most from me – He wants me. God, who lacks for nothing; God, who is perfect and complete and content within Himself - delights in our fellowship with Him. Consider His own words:
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man boast in his might, Nor let the rich man boast in his riches; But let him who boasts boast in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
And what is God’s delight? “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hos 6:6) What an amazing thought – that the awesome God, the creator of the universe desires my fellowship!
That is from God’s perspective; let’s also consider our own need. It has been said that we have a “God-sized vacuum” inside us. There is a paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 3:11 in the Amplified Bible that says, “There is a sense of eternity in Man’s heart which nothing under the sun, but only God, can satisfy.” But there is a serious problem here - even if we did seek out God on our own initiative, there is a great barrier between us and God.
We are sinful creatures; the Creator God is holy and cannot simply overlook sin. The great question of human history is, “How can a sinful man or woman, guilty before a holy God, become not guilty?” And how can I cross what, humanly speaking, is an unbridgeable chasm between myself and God? The answer is that God has provided the means – a way so amazing and unexpected that no human being could have ever have anticipated it. In fact, Scripture speaks of the plan of salvation as a mystery which, in God’s timing, was revealed to us. Even the angels in heaven did not know how God was going to provide a way to himself until He revealed it in history:
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, bothwhich are in heaven and which are on earth—in him. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
Faith that removes our guilt assumes the obvious: that God exists and that Jesus Christ – God incarnate – has entered human history:
Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
One must also believe that Jesus is who He (and the Bible) says He is: “and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:3) But intellectual assent – i.e., merely believing in your head that these things are true is insufficient: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19) And even Satan himself knows precisely who Jesus is.
A faith that entirely removes our guilt and applies the sinless perfection of Christ to our account is summarized in the full meaning of the word believe from Jesus’ own words in John, chapter 3:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)
Jesus’ call to believe means that
I acknowledge my guilt before a holy God. I understand that I can do nothing to earn my way to God; I am absolutely helpless to remove my own guilt. I acknowledge that Jesus Christ, who is without sin, took the punishment for my sin upon Himself when He died upon the cross. I accept the free gift of what he did as payment in full for my sin and that His righteousness was “credited to my account.” I commit on a heart level to follow Jesus, who was raised to life, as my Savior and the Lord of my life.
Walking through the door of Faith to begin a relationship with God is just the beginning. Following are four familiar ways of growing in our relationship with God:
Like our human-to-human relationships, our relationship with God has to be nurtured through spending unhurried time with Him on a regular basis via reading what he has to say in His Word, and through talking with Him – i.e., prayer. Prayer’s common ingredients include praise of God, confession of specific sins, expression of gratitude, and requests on behalf of ourselves and others. Without this one-on-one fellowship with God, in spite of how many “spiritual” things we participate in, we become a mere religious shell. If I were playing the role of the devil’s advocate I would do everything in my power to prevent people from spending regular, intimate time with God each day. I believe it was Martin Luther who said that he spent an hour at the beginning of the each day with the Lord – except, that is, on really busy days when he spent two hours!
Many years ago I met Auca, a missionary woman in her 70’s, at a Christian camp. I walked into the main lodge early one morning saw her off in a corner of the room, reading and praying. I approached her when she was finished and asked how long she had been doing that – meeting with the Lord in the morning. She said that she had made a commitment at a Christian camp as a teen-ager to spend the first part of each day with Him. I asked how she had done over those years, because this was an area of discipline that I had struggled with. She said, “I’ve never missed a day.”
We need to worship and fellowship with other believers. Participation in the life of the church is critical for having a vital and growing relationship with God. We find the model for this in the book of Acts: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, in the breaking of bread (taking communion), and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42) Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake assembling together “as is the habit of some.” Sometimes a person is hurt by someone in the church and withdraws from participation: “I don’t need to go to church to worship God,” they say. The church building is not what is so important; we can gather in a magnificent cathedral or a home church. We will be spiritually undernourished if we withdraw from fellowship and worship with other believers.
Study is also critical for spiritual growth. We are to know what we believe and why we believe it. Christian books can be helpful (or not), but they should not take the place of a diligent study of the Scriptures. The Psalmist says that “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” The writer of Psalm 119 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You.“ Peter, in the New Testament says, “Be prepared to give a defense when anyone asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you.”
We need to live biblically-informed lives; we need to apply and put into practice what we learn from the timeless teaching of Scripture. I once conducted a survey among the members of a church. It was a computer-scanned survey and each person’s responses were kept confidential. I was given permission to report to the church’s ruling body how the members had responded as a group. One of the items on the survey was, “There is one area of my life in which I repeatedly struggle and fall short of what God commands.” I reported to the body of church elders that 93% of those surveyed said yes to that item. One of the senior elders abruptly spoke up and said, “and the remaining 7% are liars!” This may or may not be so. Dr. R.C. Sproul once said that it is inevitable that we sin; but individual sins are not necessary. As Scripture says, God always provides a way of escape when we are faced with temptation. What is important is that we consistently seek to know and follow what Christ teaches.
All of us have areas of vulnerability. The Apostle Paul warns us to be careful in our times of confidence lest we fall. When we do fall, God has provided the way of healing:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only ours but also for the whole world. (I John 1:8, 9 and 2:1, 2)
Though we daily fall short of God’s perfect standards we can experience a level of success that could only be explained as a result of His continuing activity in our lives. Paul’s words to the Christians in Philippi can be applied to us today – “I am confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Our Relational Nature
People were made for people – to know, enjoy and serve one another. In Genesis, Chapter two it says, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Here is Adam, lacking nothing in himself, placed in the perfect setting of the Garden. He has fellowship with God unhindered by sin. Yet for this man, Adam, it is not good for him to be alone. Adam’s response to the woman reflects a need which could only be filled by a peer – an equal – a person in the image of God: “At last, this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” We are incomplete apart from community, apart from vital, growing, intimate relationships with other people. This is the image of the person throughout the Scriptures and clearly evidenced in current scientific research.
Just as we are incomplete apart from knowing God in a deeply personal way, so we are unfulfilled apart from relationships with other people. How can this be so? After all, is God not all-sufficient in the life of the Christian? Are the words of the song, “Jesus Christ is all I need, all I need,” not true? Would you conclude that the believer who is mature in his faith has no need for physical nourishment or oxygen? Just as God provides food and air to nourish our bodies, He relates to our need for people by providing opportunities for community and relationships. When we do enter times of hunger or loneliness He is sufficient to bear us up in our pain. And there will be pain in such times – just as the body needs food and oxygen, our humanity hungers for fellowship. These needs cannot merely be written off or ignored.
Throughout the Bible people are portrayed as people in community. For example, the family is the fundamental unit that God establishes in the beginning of human history. Family and community fulfill a need which was built into the nature of the man and woman as God created them. At one time anthropologists claimed that the family was a more recent development; the product of slow evolution. Claude Levi-Strauss and others have pointed out that the evidence does not support this theory born of biological evolutionism. He states, and anthropologists in general now lean toward this view,
. . . that the family, consisting of a more or less durable union, socially approved, of a man, a woman and their children, is a universal phenomenon, present in each and every type of society.
An article in Time Magazine more than two decades ago stated, “Loneliness can kill you.” James Lynch, a specialist in psychosomatic medicine wrote, “Loneliness . . . is pushing our physical health to the breaking point,” claiming that social isolation leads to physical and emotional deterioration. Even people in deep comas, the article points out, show improved cardiovascular response to human contact.
Infants who are insulated from regular human contact fail to thrive and soon die.
Children born prematurely, in intensive care, when stroked and touched for significant periods each day, are less prone to infection and fare better developmentally.
Children with inadequate human interaction and contact are more prone to illness and fall behind developmentally.
Adolescents – even if surrounded by people day-to-day – are more at risk for depression and suicidal thought and acts if they feel there is no one they can openly talk with when the need arises. Adults who are isolated from others have a significantly higher all-cause death rate than those who are not isolated from others.
Christians whose childhood years were characterized by interpersonal isolation – by a lack of intimacy with parents or a close friend – are more prone to doubt God’s acceptance of them, i.e., to not be assured of their salvation. It is as if their line of reasoning, if it could be verbalized, would be something like this: “If I haven’t experienced the love and intimacy with people I can see and touch, how can I know and be assured of the love of God, whom I can neither see nor touch?”
The biblical narratives are filled with examples of relationships which not only reflect our need for one another, but also represent God’s desire for us. The command says that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. The love for neighbor involves more than reaching out to those with physical need; it requires a giving of ourselves. Take note of the friendship and enduring bond between David and Jonathan reflected in these words from the record of 1 Samuel: “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. . . . Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1-3) In Song of Solomon the relationship between a man and woman is a thing of beauty as romantic love grows within the context of a love that lasts. The involvement of Paul in the lives of those he cared about so deeply stands as a model for us. Paul’s deep love for others is reflected in his letters to the young churches. People loved Paul. In Acts, chapter 20, Paul is quoted as saying to his fellow believers in Ephesus, “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.” (Acts 20:25) As Paul was about to leave them we read this account:
And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. (Acts 20:36-38)
Who are the special people of your life, and are you taking the time with them to build the kind of relationships that God calls us to and that we all need? Quality relationships cannot be built solely in the context of the group or family gathering – they also require a significant amount of one-on-one time. Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, once wrote, “When you add the third person, intimacy is destroyed.” Harry Chapin’s song, “Cat’s in the Cradle”, carries an important message for these times in which we are too busy to spend adequate time with one another. It starts out with the words, “
A child arrived just the other day; he came to the world in the usual way. But there were planes to catch and bills to pay. He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it . . .’
And there is an exchange between father and son:
Son: When you comin’ home, Dad?
Father: I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then. We’ll have a good time then, son. You know we’ll have a good time then.
The problem was that the son grew up fast – and father and son never really did get those special times together.
I once gave a lecture that I began by playing Harry Chapin’s song. In the audience was a couple – a very busy pastor and his wife - who had brought their 13 year old son. As the last note of the song sounded the son jumped to his feet and shouted, “That’s my parents!!!” The parents were red-faced; the rest of the audience fidgeted uncomfortably in their chairs. These were loving, devoted parents who were over-committed in their work in the community. They were so busy “saving the world” that they inadvertently neglected their own children – and one another. Billy Graham was once asked in an interview what he would do differently in his life if he had the chance. He said, that he would preach less, study more, and spend more time with his family.
Charles E. Hummel wrote an essay in 1967 entitled, “Tyranny of the Urgent”, in which he states that many of us are so busy responding to the urgencies of life that we don’t take time for the important things. One of the “important things” is spending time with those who mean most to us.
How are you doing when it comes to spending one-on-one time with the special people in your life? Do you know enough about the worlds of those closest to you to pray for them in an intelligent, well-informed way? Are there barriers in your relationships calling you to take prayerful, thoughtful initiative to begin the process of healing and reconciliation?
Our Vocational Nature
We were made for meaningful work. The model presented in Scripture is that our vocation or calling characteristically fits the way in which God has made us – our work is to be a self-consistent expression of our talents, aptitudes, gifts and passions.
Example: Whom did God call to be the 70 elders to work alongside Moses? It was “men of reputation” – people who had demonstrated qualities of maturity and judgment.
I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness!” So the LORD said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” (Numbers 11:14-17)
Example: Whom did God call to accomplish the task of building the temple? There were laborers with strong backs: “Solomon selected seventy thousand men to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry stone in the mountains, and three thousand six hundred to oversee them.” There were also chosen gifted artists and craftsman for that work, some of whom had to be recruited from Lebanon because there were none with the skills to cut timber from Judah or Jerusalem:
Send me at once a man skillful to work in gold and silver, in bronze and iron, in purple and crimson and blue, who has skill to engrave with the skillful men who are with me in Judah and Jerusalem, whom David my father provided. Also send me cedar and cypress and algum logs from Lebanon, for I know that your servants have skill to cut timber in Lebanon; and indeed my servants will be with your servants, to prepare timber for me in abundance, for the temple which I am about to build shall be great and wonderful. (2 Chronicles 2:7-9) Example: Whom did God call to write the central doctrinal books – Romans, Galatians, Ephesians - of the New Testament? It was Paul, a most brilliant, disciplined and articulate scholar. Paul had an understanding of Greek thought and was trained in Judaism: “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee . . .” The intellectual capacity of Paul has been compared to some of the great philosophers that preceded him.
Example: Whom did God call to write the detailed history recorded in the books of Luke and Acts? It was the physician, Luke. His work has often been put to the test by historians. Luke’s record has withstood rigorous examination. Luke’s work has been admired by Christian and non-Christian scholars alike.
How does one choose a vocation? First, let’s distinguish between vocation, occupation and job. Vocation or calling is me, who I am – the talents, gifts, passions, interests and personality characteristics that can be expressed in my work. Occupation is the particular line of work I engage in for my vocation. It has a label – homemaker, artist, musician, craftsman, tradesman, laborer, educator, politician, physician, psychologist, scholar, writer, theologian, pastor, etc. My job is the particular focus and setting for my work. I can lose my job, yet my occupation and vocation are still intact. For a season I may have to commit to a job that is not my first or second preference. Ideally, vocation, occupation and job all line up. Family and peer pressures, insecurity, need for status and recognition, pursuit of wealth, however, can throw us off track.
Often I hear an enthusiastic, well-meaning person say to someone, “You can be anything or accomplish anything you want!” Most recently it was a professional athlete inspiring a group of young kids and teens with that message. People do tend to underestimate themselves. One can accomplish much, and possibly far beyond what most would imagine, but there are a lot of things you and I cannot do, no matter how long and hard we try. The truth is that I can do what God has equipped me to do; I cannot rise above my own capacities. For example, I may aspire to be a great artist. P.R. McIntosh, my art professor at the University of Florida, looked over the lineup of paintings I had completed. (The course was “Studio for Non-Majors.”) He jotted down a course grade of C+ as I peered over his shoulder. Then he erased the C+, entered a B in his grade book, and turned to me and said quietly, “You tried hard.” I tried very hard – then, and over many years before – I just cannot draw or paint! Nor will you find me in first chair, or any other chair, for a symphony orchestra, or securing a recording contract with my singing ability. Woe is me! I did not make the pros in football or baseball, either. How does one choose a vocation? While God sometimes leads in dramatic ways, this is not the usual manner in which we are brought to an understanding of the work we are to train for and pursue for our vocation or calling. John Murray wrote,
What path of life each individual is to follow in reference to this basic interest of life is to be determined by the proper gift which God has bestowed, and this is the index to the divine will and therefore to the divine call.
John Calvin recognized our tendency to grasp different things at once and our failure to recognize God’s boundaries in our lives, boundaries which are prescribed by the gift or gifts God has given us:
He (God) has appointed to all their particular duties in all spheres of life. And that no one might rashly transgress the limits prescribed, He has styled such spheres of life, vocations, or callings. Every individual’s line of life, therefore, is, as it were, a post assigned him by the Lord, that he might not wander about in uncertainty all his days.
Do you want to know God’s will for your life in the area of work? Then, know yourself – your aptitudes, talents, personality, passions and enduring interests. All types of work have their toilsome dimensions, but overall, joy and satisfaction are found in work that is a good fit, and done out of a love for God, in His service, and with a spirit of gratitude.
It is important to note that every vocation is to be offered as service to the Lord. In Scripture, there is no distinction between secular and sacred in the area of work. It is true that those with certain responsibilities and roles will be judged by a higher standard (e.g., the teacher – James 3:1), but the homemaker, laborer, artist and physician can all work to the glory of God.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of your inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23, 24)
Do you think you’ve missed your calling? It may be that your doubts are born of the promptings of the Accuser, rather than the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The question to ask is, “Are you dissatisfied?” If your work does not line up with your talents and interests, it is quite possible that you are to find an honorable way to change direction so that you are more in line with the way in which God has made you. Pray fervently, dream boldly, seek feedback from those whom you trust and who know you well, examine yourself through the window of things you have done well and enjoyed in the past, and survey what is out there in the world of work – until God gives you a new way to go. In the meantime, continue to do what you do with energy and integrity “as unto the Lord” for this is pleasing to Him.
Our Need for Recreative Expression
There is an old saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It is also true that all play and no work will eventually leave one with a sense of emptiness – the 25 cent word for it is ennui (pronounced än-’wE), meaning a feeling of weariness, dissatisfaction, or boredom. There needs to be a balance of work and recreation if we are to fulfill God’s calling and to be equipped to serve effectively.
The concept of rest is built right into creation. God created the heavens, the earth and all living things in 6 days. On the seventh day He rested. The primary focus of the Sabbath is rest – rest for the land, one year in seven; rest for man and beast, one day in seven:
Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:10-12)
God is not arbitrary. His law is a self-consistent expression of His perfect nature, and His law beautifully corresponds to how we are made. His teaching is a yoke that fits. God commands that we rest – it is more than a piece of friendly advice. If we go against God’s teaching, we not only violate Him but we violate ourselves. While we have a built in need for periods of rest from our labors, the application of the concept goes beyond one day in seven. Common experience and current research confirm that we do well to rest daily, in the midst of our work, and at the end of each work day. Many of us run on a daily high dose of adrenaline which, over time, will cause damage to our bodies. Studies have shown that even a 20 minute, restful break during the workday will break the cycle of adrenaline buildup, and help us to avoid consequent injury to our bodily organs.
And then there are vacations – those extended times of rest each year that we are supposed to find restorative. It doesn’t make sense that a vacation should be a stressful, whirlwind experience that takes several days (or longer) to recover from. Careful, thoughtful planning is in order when scheduling a vacation.
Extended leave: Some employers have a policy of allowing their staff to take an extended period – 6 months to a year - for a sabbatical leave. Many school districts, for example, allow a staff member to take 6 months to a year off, at half salary, after 6 years of service. A person who takes advantage of the policy may have that much more to give when they return to the formal workplace.
When it comes to rest, it can be active rest. We can select from a wide range of things we love to do that restore our energies, and that are edifying. There may be some other things in your life that feel compelling, but they are not really necessary. Dr. Francis Schaeffer recalls from Scripture that King David wanted to build the temple. God said he was not to build the temple; his son, Solomon was to build it. He was only to begin gathering materials for it. To build the temple was a good thing. “For David to build the temple would have been a well-intentioned act of disobedience.” How many “good” things are you and I involved in that are not what God has called us to? Maybe God would have you jettison some good things, in order for you to accomplish His things.
Are you taking the time you need for recreation - daily, weekly, yearly? Woody Allen says, “Most of the time I don’t have much fun; the rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all.” If this statement describes you, you are long overdue for a change!
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. (Proverbs 23:7)
What we believe and how we think will, to a great extent, determine the course of our lives – whether we will be at peace or anxious; happy or miserable; experience the sweet smell of success or the bitter taste of repeated failure; even whether we live or die. This is an inference we can draw from the Word of God written, - the Old and New Testaments - and backed by experience. Our beliefs and thought patterns shape our emotions, direct our choices and our actions, and provide the blueprint for the life we’re going to build.
The life-shaping power of our thoughts is evident in the following anecdotes:
A tribal member has just broken a taboo; the “witch doctor” points a bone at the man, a gesture that brings the curse of death. His family begin digging his grave and preparing for his funeral. In 48 hours he is dead.
A homeless man climbs into a train car and pulls the door shut, realizing too late that he has just locked himself in the refrigerator car. Hours later, when a member of the crew slides open the door he finds the man’s lifeless body and sees a message scratched onto the wall: “Help me, I’m freezing to death.”
A group of patients are released from a mental hospital, but within a short span of time a high percentage of them relapse and are again hospitalized.
A prisoner of war in Viet Nam, in relatively good health and known for his resilience, suddenly begins to deteriorate and dies.
Sixteen of seventeen elderly women die after moving to a home for the aged – 8 within 4 weeks and 8 more within ten weeks.
The “Rest of the Story” (borrowing the catch phrase of news commentator, Paul Harvey)
What these men and women had in common was the deeply held belief that they were at the mercy of external circumstances. It is this belief that shaped their destiny.
The tribal member knowing that he was “cursed,” believed he was going to die. If that same witch doctor pointed the bone at you or me, we would simply shake our heads and laugh.
The homeless man as it turns out, had locked himself in a refrigerator car that was not turned on – the temperature was not sufficient to cause death by hypothermia. He believed he was freezing to death and . . . he died.
Each of the patients who relapsed had been told, upon their initial release, that they were doing well because of their treatments. At the same time, another group of patients with similar diagnostic profiles were told that they were being released because of the steps they had taken to better their lives, not because of medication or medical treatments. This second group had a very low relapse rate. They felt a sense of hope and freedom, believing that they had a say in their lives.
The prisoner of war had come to firmly believe that he would never be released, and went into a steep decline with the loss of all hope.
Sixteen women died believing they no longer have the freedom to shape their lives, and that the home for the aged symbolized that there was nothing worth living for.
Romans, Chapter 12 begins with these words:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
In Philippians Paul states:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
The Psalmist says, “your word I have hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
God is Truth – He would have us believe the truth about ourselves, about others, about the world and universe around us and about Himself. What follows is a series of categories of core beliefs. For each one consider:
What do I believe? Why do I believe this way? How much has the teaching of Scripture shaped my thinking and how much is born of the influence of other people and my life experience. How does my belief in this area shape my attitudes, feelings and actions? Is my belief really true – does it correspond to reality?
What Do I Believe?
Nature of persons – What is our essential nature and source of our dignity, worth? What is our moral nature? That is, are we basically evil, good, . . . ?
Who is God? What does He require of me?
What is my need for salvation; what is the path to salvation?
What is really important in life?
Am I a victim? Hero? Advocate for others?
Extent to which I am bound or limited by negative influences of my past
Extent to which I am bound by any negative influences from my family history
Leverage, clout, impact I have for shaping my future – including health and longevity
Impact I can have on my world; influence I can have on those who count most to me
Generally, what is my level of self-confidence? (The “I can do it” attitude, with the emphasis on the “I”.)
Generally, what is my level of task confidence I.e., the confidence that I can master or perform a designated task well. The “I can do that” attitude. Note: A person could have a generally low level of self-confidence reflected in their reluctance to learn new tasks while having a very high level of confidence in one specific area.
What is my level of self-esteem and self-worth, and what is the basis for my belief?
Do I have a sense of entitlement?
What is others’ responsibility to me or for me (e.g., physicians are responsible for my health; the government is to supply my needs, ________ has the responsibility to make me happy, etc.? )
What is the level of threat or danger that I perceive in my world?
What is the meaning of life?
What happens after death?
What can I know for sure? How do I know anything? What or who is my authority - my source of truth? How can I know right from wrong; how can I separate out what is true from what is not true?
A child psychiatrist, Dr. Marvin Shapiro, was speaking about a young boy who, though very, very intelligent, believed he was stupid. When asked how one could get this child to recognize his ability Dr. Shapiro said,
You can’t convince him through persuasive words alone. What you can do over time is create a setting in which he begins to challenge his false impression of himself – to say, in effect, “I sure feel that I’m stupid, but maybe I’m not.” As soon as he begins to challenge his false assumptions about himself he becomes open to new evidence. Over time that new evidence becomes persuasive and overturns and replaces the old belief. In the past, for example, when he got a high grade on a test he assumed it was a fluke. Now, that “A” on the test is somewhat persuasive, moving him toward the conclusion, “Maybe I’m smart after all.”
If one clings to a false belief in the face of all evidence to the contrary, there is probably something else going on in that person. For some reason they need to cling to the false belief – there is some protection or some kind of reward or benefit in holding on to it. One of the best examples is that of the atheist. Theologian and prolific writer, Dr. R.C. Sproul wrote a book many years ago entitled, “If There is a God, Why Are There Atheists?” He says that, basically, there are two reasons why people try to rid themselves of God. The first is that if God is, we stand guilty before Him. The second is that if God exists, then we are fully accountable to Him – under His authority – and not autonomous (free from all restraint) as we would like to be. On the matter of guilt, Nietzsche once made the statement that “man killed God because he couldn’t stand to have God looking on his ugliest side. Man must cease to feel guilty.” Examples of doing away with the existence of God in order to escape accountability to Him are found among the God is dead “theologians.” Author William Braden stated that the death of God people are, by and large, a jolly and optimistic lot. . . (This happiness) stems from the fact that God is no longer around to spoil the fun, so to speak. (The Private Sea, LSD and the Search for God)
It is about choosing to be healthy. Do you believe that, regardless of your current health and circumstances, that God has given you a range of choices that can make a positive difference? We believe that the evidence is overwhelming. Health is much more a matter of choice than it is of genetics, gender or age. We hope what we’ve written here will be both a challenge and an encouragement to you.
Picture Santa Claus with a large bag of toys on his back.
Now picture yourself. How great is the load that you are carrying, and what’s in the bag? We can become burdened with many things in life. Jesus says that we are to take it one day at a time, without being anxious about tomorrow:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)
But it is not just the worries of tomorrow that most of us carry; it is also the lack of closure for past issues that weigh us down. Unresolved issues from the past – accompanied by hurt, anger, shame, guilt, fear or grief – siphon off our energy and impact our attitudes, thoughts and behavior in the present. It is no secret that our health is also negatively affected by a lack of closure.
Achieving closure by taking steps to address past challenges can be a complex matter. While God provides a way for what Dr. Francis Schaeffer referred to as “substantial healing in the life of the Christian,” it is a process that may require a significant investment of time and often the help of a competent counselor. Our intent here is to draw attention to our need for closure and to present a frame of reference for beginning the process of identifying and resolving past issues. Our discussion here will be limited to just two major themes - guilt and anger. Unresolved guilt or anger can wreak havoc in our lives, and take a toll on our health.
Guilt - What does God Do with it?
I walked into our living room and saw one of my sons, then 4 years old, pinching himself on the arm. The look on his face conveyed determination more than pain. This unexpected sight prompted me to ask a simple question: “Matthew, what are you doing?” Ask a 4 year old a direct question and you get a direct answer: “Pinching myself,” he said. I tried again. “Matthew, why are you pinching yourself?” “Because I hurt David.” “Well, Matthew, let’s talk about that.” I sat down, putting us at eye level. I spoke to him about God’s way of handling our guilt, a message I was sure he had heard many times before. I spoke of how we can say the words, “I’m sorry,” to the person we’ve offended, repair any damage we’ve done, and simply confess our wrong to the Lord. As I talked his eyes communicated attentiveness and understanding. I ended with these words, “And Matthew, when Jesus as forgiven you, you are to forgive yourself – there is no need to punish yourself.” A wide grin came over his face as he shook his head from side to side and said, “Daddy, nobody ever told me that in my whole life!” I believe, having heard the message in the midst of the experience of a guilty conscience, Matthew appreciated in a new way what Jesus had done for him. He understood that when God forgives, the forgiveness is total. There is nothing left for the Christian to pay.
“Though our sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” So God speaks in Isaiah. David, in the 103rd psalm, expresses the same good news to the believer: As far as East is from West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” And the Apostle Paul carries the same word in saying, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Do we get the message? Christ’s work on the cross, His resurrection, His righteousness imputed to us means that we are free. Nothing remains to be paid off; God’s forgiveness is complete, and there is nothing we could possibly add to what Christ has done.
If your sin seems too great to be forgiven, take another look at the events leading up to the cross. William Lane describes Jesus’ ordeal in the Garden of Gethsemene, just prior to His arrest and trial. He speaks of the experience of Jesus after giving instructions to Peter, James and John to “sit here and watch,” saying
The urgency of Jesus’ instruction was underscored by his experience of shuddering horror. The suffering which overwhelmed Him is forcefully stated: He was “appalled and profoundly troubled,” and spoke of a depth of sorrow which threatened life itself . . .
Dr. Lane describes the resolute calm which characterized the demeanor of Jesus in His approach to the arrest and trial, and then says
The dreadful sorrow and anxiety, then, out of which prayer for the passing of the cup springs, is not an expression of fear before a dark destiny, nor a shrinking from the prospect of physical suffering and death. It is rather the horror of the One who lives wholly for the Father at the prospect of the alienation from God which is entailed in the judgment upon sin which Jesus assumes.
When we consider who Jesus is, and view the cross through His eyes, how could any sin be beyond His reach? Could any act of mankind be greater than His finished work on the cross?
Guilt - Does God really forget?
God not only forgives our sin, He forgets our sin as well – i.e., He no longer charges our sin to our account. “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17; Jeremiah 31:34) He has wiped the slate clean. God sees us as clean because Christ’s perfect righteousness has been credited to our account.
God’s forgiving ways may be difficult for us to grasp, not only because of the magnitude of sin when measured against the Holiness of God, but because it is so foreign to what we experience in day-to-day relationships. So typical is the attitude, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” In the 15th Psalm we read that the mature man “does not take up a reproach against a friend.” That is, he does not remind him of past sins repented of. With just a look or a single word we can remind others of past failures. We are not to accuse those whom God has forgiven, and we are not to accuse ourselves when Christ has forgiven us.
Guilt - God is often pleased to remove the consequences of our sin
When Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon Himself, He took all of our punishment. And He is often pleased to remove from us the consequences of our sin. “Well,” you say, “this certainly doesn’t seem to be the case with King David after he got Bathsheba pregnant and had her husband killed. David was told that he would see violence – the sword would never depart from his house – that God would raise up evil against him from his own family, and his son, born of Bathsheba, would become ill and die.” But look more closely at the narrative in 2 Samuel 12: God did forgive David and spared him the death penalty: “The Lord has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” As for the son’s death, God gives a reason: “Because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme . . .”
Any consequence of sin that remained for David was not punishment; the sins of David were covered by the promised Messiah yet to come. The lingering consequences of David’s sin were used by a loving God for the building up of His people, including David himself. God disciplines those whom He loves and we are not to confuse discipline with punishment. The Psalmist says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Psalms 119:67) The punishment for sin has been satisfied on the cross; God’s chastisement is to be viewed as His loving, healing work in us. That may be especially difficult if we have disciplined others, or been disciplined by others, in anger.
“All right,” you say, “so in the strictest sense God doesn’t punish His people. But what about the natural consequences of sin?” They may still remain, but this is not to be interpreted as punishment. The man who commits murder and then repents still faces the punishment of the civil authorities – a life sentence or death. The promiscuous man or woman may have to deal with recurring bouts of venereal disease. The former addict may face the prospect of early death from the damage done to bodily organs – brain , heart, lungs, liver, kidneys. Total healing will be effected at the return of Christ. It is important that we don’t allow the results of sin continue to remind and accuse us when we have been forgiven. We are not to put chains on ourselves where Christ has set us free. If past sins have left their mark, God can give us the strength to handle them. How many Christians are forgiven, yet live under self-imposed limits and self-inflicted punishments. When one believes that there will be lasting consequences of sin, that belief can become the very cause of those consequences through self-fulfilling prophesy.
In closing, we return to the 103rd Psalm:
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:8-13)
John and Clara were in their 80’s. John was badly disabled with rheumatoid arthritis. He asked my assistance as he struggled to rise from his chair. He groaned, with his face evidencing strong feelings of pain and frustration. Clara, usually soft-spoken, raised her voice and exclaimed, “That’s why you are crippled! You’re angry and keep it all inside!” Indeed, he was angry. He had harbored a searing anger and resentment with the death of his young son many decades earlier. It is quite possible that Clara’s statement was true - his anger may have been a factor in his disease. In fact, unresolved anger can wreak havoc on every system in the body. It can lead to a variety of signs and symptoms - from hypermotility (over activity) of the digestive tract, to ulcers, to high blood pressure, to bumps and blotches on the skin. It can be a “pain in the neck” and can cause recurring headaches. It can disrupt sleep, alter the appetite, bring on fatigue, compromise the immune system or precipitate a heart attack. It can express itself in the form of depression. Like guilt, anger disrupts relationships and inhibits intimacy. It can erupt in a flash of temper. It is impatient, particularly in the face of failure. It is irritable and is quite liberal in giving out criticism without being able to receive criticism. Anger can enslave a person in a vicious cycle of self-defeating behavior. I once asked a very angry teen-ager why she would not forgive her parents. Her answer: “Because then I would have to stop punishing them!”
If you are angry and cannot identify the cause, or have identified the source but cannot resolve the underlying issues, it would be wise to seek guidance from a competent Christian counselor. Our discussion here will be limited to a Biblical framework for the management of justifiable anger – anger in the face of real injustice. God made us in such a way that we are inclined to protest at the sight of injustice, and to celebrate when injustice is quelled. I don’t see it so much now, but when I was a kid going to Saturday afternoon movies, I remember outbursts of cheers, applause, and stamping feet in response to the hero coming onto the scene and giving the bad guys their due. As it says in Proverbs: “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish there is glad shouting.” (Proverbs 15:30) And, “By transgression an evil man is snared, but the righteous sings and rejoices.” (Proverbs 29:6)
There are four Biblically-based assertions that provide the framework for managing anger in the face of real injustice: Anger can be an appropriate response to circumstances; indeed, not to be angry can be an inappropriate response. God is absolutely sovereign God is just and will work justice in accord with His own timetable God is gracious and merciful – while we were yet enemies of Christ, He died for us
Anger - When is it appropriate?
Jesus displayed anger when he turned over the tables of those selling in the temple:
When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:15-16)
The Greek word interpreted in our English Bible as Jesus being “deeply troubled,” or having “groaned in spirit” usually connotes anger. According to some scholars in the account of the death of Lazarus in John 11, the word “embrimaomai” could be interpreted to mean that he was furious.
Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. (John 11:32-33)
Paul tells us to “Be angry and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger, nor give place to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26, 27). J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase says it this way: “Never go to bed angry – don’t give the devil that sort of foothold.” Paul, with the authority of Jesus Christ, is speaking about anger that may well be justifiable but, nonetheless, can be mismanaged and become ugly and destructive.
The teaching of the Apostle, the life of Jesus, and the various references to the wrath of God all indicate that anger is not inherently wrong. But anger can be wrongly motivated, and anger properly motivated can be wrongly managed. Mismanaged anger takes on many forms. Among these is anger repressed, anger that seeks revenge, and anger watered down through attempts at explaining away or excusing an injustice through psychologizing.
Anger in the Face of Injustice - God is Sovereign
God is in control, working out His plans in history in accord with His perfect wisdom. The sovereignty of God and the legitimacy of human choice and responsibility are taught side-by-side throughout Scripture. My choices are truly my own, and those choices, whether themselves good or evil, serve the purposes of the God who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” According to the Scriptures, even the casting of the lot is in God’s control. God is a God of detail, shaping the entire course of human history: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1) “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) God is not the author of evil, and cannot tempt us with evil, but even the sinful acts of men He limits and directs to His purposes. God hears Habakuk’s agonizing cry for justice and tells him that He is going to judge the people of Judah by bringing the wicked Chaldeans down on their necks. God is going to use the sinful acts of a people to discipline His own people. Yet it is clear that the Chaldeans were going to attack by their own choice, for God says He is going to judge the Chaldeans: “But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their God.” (Habakkuk 1:11) This dual theme is played throughout Scripture: On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign; on the other hand, we make very real choices with very real consequences. How the absolute sovereignty of God and human choice can both be so, we are not told. As Dr. Francis Schaeffer once said, “the Bible states both and walks away.”
The implications should be clear: Nothing that happens to us occurs outside the providence of God. This is beautifully illustrated in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Some of Joseph’s brothers intended to kill him, but one brother, Reuben, persuaded them not to take his life. Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later and talked the brothers into throwing Joseph into a well. They did so, but soon seizing an opportunity to rid themselves of him, they sold Joseph into slavery. In Egypt Joseph followed a winding and precarious path to power. Many years passed, and eventually the brothers stood before Joseph, who now had the power of life and death over them. Their father was now dead and they feared Joseph would take his revenge. Joseph, knowing their minds said, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Joseph did not reject his past. Being thrown into a well, sold into slavery, separated from his family, falsely accused and thrown into prison - it all occurred under the sovereignty of God. Nothing is by mere chance. Things ended well for Joseph. But where evil remains and hurt is prolonged, anger is not to turn into bitterness. In this sense we “accept” even the most negative circumstances of our lives. While God is not the author of evil, He limits and directs even the evil acts of men and women to His glory and to the building up of His people.
To acknowledge the events of our lives as providential, doesn’t mean passive compliance with evil. The text in 1 John says that Jesus came “that He might destroy the works of the devil.” In the book of Acts it speaks of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” It is clear from the book of Acts and from the Gospels that we are commissioned to continue the work of Jesus in destroying the works of the devil, by overturning the consequences of sin in the world. Our life situation – whether it be good or bad - is our God-given assignment in which we are to continue to faithfully serve and honor Him. When things have been tough, we are to devote our energy to redeeming the present, not wasting our time fretting over the past.
The road can be tough, but God will not permit us to get in over our heads. There is always a way forward. Consider the man born blind whom Jesus healed. If his situation is representative of those who receive their sight through surgery in our day, the challenge was just beginning. Research shows that when a blind person receives his sight that he is faced with tremendous adjustment problems. The man Jesus healed did not sit around complaining bitterly of his years in darkness. He went about the business of living life in the present. We, as Christians, are said to be new creatures - new creatures with new power and new potential. How will we utilize the power of God’s Spirit? Paul states: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” If anyone had past injustices to wallow in it was Paul: Being dragged out of one town, having rocks hurled at him and then left for dead; beaten time and time again; thrown into prison repeatedly; having those closest to him turn their backs on him in betrayal. But like the man born blind, Paul acknowledged that everything is under God’s rule; with gratitude for what God did through Christ, and with confidence that God was working out His plan, he built on the past. We have the same Lord, the same Spirit living within us. We can do like Paul, no matter what kind of past we have to build upon.
Anger and Injustice - God Is Just
The One who rules the universe has also promised to work justice. God cannot overlook even one sin. It is totally contrary to the holy nature of God to simply overlook sin. This is why Jesus had to die. Every offense, great or small, must either be paid for by the death of Christ on the cross, or it must be paid for by the offender. No sin is erased without proper payment, and only God is big enough to make the payment. God’s timing may not always be in keeping with my impatience as I wait for justice. But He has guaranteed that, in His own perfect timing, He will work justice. “. . . God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” It may not be worked out even in my lifetime, or in the lifetime of the offender; but God’s promise of justice cannot be broken. Having used up every God-appointed means for dealing with a wrong committed against me, and still not being satisfied, I can give the matter over to God who judges with complete fairness.
Anger, Sin and Injustice - God Is Merciful and Gracious
In the parable of Jesus, the slave pardoned from his very great debt to his master goes out to one who owes him a very small sum to exact payment. When the debtor cannot pay, the slave has him thrown into prison. Are we grateful for what Christ has done on our behalf? It was “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Surely this should affect the way in which we respond to those who have hurt us. I once talked with a young woman who had been hurt repeatedly by an apparently abusive mother and father. I asked her if she could forgive her parents if they acknowledged their sin. With a look of intense hatred she said, “If my parents were to come crawling on their hands and knees with tears streaming down their faces, begging my forgiveness I would spit in their faces!” Initially, it was impossible for this woman to see beyond her own pain and anger to the implications of the cross of Christ for her relationships with her parents. But over time, very gradually, she changed in her posture toward them. I suspect that, as God’s Spirit worked from within, it was the love of many other Christians toward her, that God used to chip away her hatred and melt away her defenses.
Are you angry? Anger demands to be heard. It will, one way or another, express itself. Common approaches to dealing with enduring anger - repression, seeking revenge, and psychologizing – are damaging physically, interpersonally and emotionally, and offer no solutions to the problem of injustice. Acting out destructively is not the answer. Angry outbursts, aggressive behavior, temper tantrums or seeking revenge can compound our anger with guilt and further alienate us from God.
The One who has promised to work justice has satisfied the demands of justice on your behalf. Consider what Christ has done for you. When you placed your trust in Him, through God’s grace you received mercy – rather than what you deserved. Scripture has provided a way of healing for those burdened by anger. When justice is delayed we are to put anger aside, understanding our pain in the context of the sovereignty, justice and grace of God. Do you desire the same mercy and grace that God has extended to you for those who have hurt you?
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