Texans see health & fitness as spiritual issue

William Rainey was overweight, came from a family with weight problems and enjoyed satisfying his cravings for food.

But then a colleague in ministry experienced significant professional and medical setbacks because he had ignored his health for too long. That’s when Rainey, executive pastor at Glen Meadows Baptist Church in San Angelo, realized that the same could happen to him unless he made significant lifestyle changes.

So he began a new emphasis on personal wellness and lost 30 pounds as a result.

His story of declining health is one repeated all too commonly among Southern Baptists, especially ministers. But fortunately, his story of renewed commitment to fitness is also one that is becoming increasingly common.

“My wife and I will go walking in the morning,” Rainey said. “In spare moments, when I’m at work and I need to refresh my brain, I’ll get up and I’ll walk around the building at a fast pace. We’ve got stairs in our education building, and I’ll go up and down those stairs to raise my heart rate a little bit.”

He also started paying closer attention to the quantity and types of food he ate.

“We began to eat a more healthy diet, a more balanced diet with the appropriate amount of fruit and vegetables and the right portion of meat,” he said, adding that he made a point to order smaller servings of food and not go back for seconds.

That discipline paid off as he dropped to 165 pounds over six months. Rainey said, however, he needs to lose more in order to be optimally healthy.

Still, he knows that weight loss is more than a physical challenge; it has deep spiritual significance as well, he said.

“Often there was the sin of gluttony,” he said of his old lifestyle. “Gluttony is an aspect of lust. It’s part of my lust of the flesh. And in the pursuit and satisfaction of that lust of the flesh I was eating things that weren’t good for me. But I ate them because my flesh desires them, because they were something that seemed to be good. And God began to convict me of my sin of gluttony.”

Two key avenues God used to convict Rainey were Scripture and going on mission trips. He noted that the Bible contains numerous passages about eating and said nations like Turkey, Mexico and China highlighted the extent to which many Americans abuse their wealth through indulgent living.

“It wasn’t that I just needed to lose weight, but that I needed to get on top of this aspect of lust?that lust for food or these cravings for Blue Bell ice cream at 11 o’clock at night, these types of things,” he said.

“It was more than a health issue. It was a spiritual issue with me. I don’t think that’s true of everyone, but definitely with me God made it a spiritual issue. And so I had to get on top of it.”

As a part of overcoming sinful cravings, Rainey employed the spiritual discipline of fasting. He said fasts remind him of the weakness of his flesh and how much he needs the Lord’s help to form godly eating habits. He also plans to join a local health club soon and put in place a network of accountability to ensure that he exercises.

“It’s not enough for me to lose weight and have portion control, but I need to maintain vitality and fitness through exercise, not deifying my body, just tuning it up,” he said.

Yet now that Rainey has become so health conscious, he faces a new challenge: Being too critical of others. While God calls all believers to be healthy, Rainey said he does not call them all to employ the same avenues of diet and exercise.
“Just like there’s no person against alcohol like a reformed alcoholic, there is no one who is more critical of being overindulgent than one who’s been convicted by God of gluttony,” he said. “So I’ve had to watch that in my own walk, that this conviction that I have that God has brought me to see?that I don’t use it as a platform to affect others that God has not convicted. ? For someone else, he might be working on their tongue. Or he might be working on their thought life.”

Rainey was not the only Baptist in Texas trying to be healthier at last summer’s Southern Baptist Convention meeting. Many visited GuideStone Financial Resources’ Wellness Fair booth in Orlando, where they underwent a mini-physical that measured blood pressure, weight and cholesterol among other things. Several told the TEXAN that they were attempting to make lifestyle changes for the better.

Jim Salles, pastor of West End Baptist Church in Beaumont, said he is concerned that being overweight robs him of joy in life.

“As I got older, I decided I wanted to feel better,” Salles said. “I lost probably a ton in my life of ugly fat. I’ve gone from 400 to 224. I’ve looked bad. I’ve not taken real good care of myself, but I’ve enjoyed what I do. But I want to enjoy it more in my remaining years. Whatever they may be, I want to have more fun.”

So recently he changed his eating habits and lost 17 pounds in five months.

Quincy Jones, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, said he wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to sustain his studies and ministry. He is especially conscious of his physical condition because his family has a history of heart disease and diabetes.

“Sometimes in the lifestyle of seminary and ministry, you kind of get on the go and you think you’re healthy because you feel OK,” Jones said. “But that doesn’t mean you’re OK.”

His wife, Rhonda, admitted that busyness often keeps her from paying attention to her health and expressed thankfulness for the opportunity to have a health assessment at the SBC.

“I don’t stop to take care of myself,” she said, “so I am glad my husband had me come and get a checkup because I do need to sometimes stop and take care of myself. So I’m so glad that GuideStone has offered this service for busy seminarians.”

For Stan Fike, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Princeton, the report in Orlando by GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins served as an encouragement to think about his well being. When Hawkins told pastors to consider their physical fitness, it spurred Fike to visit the Wellness Fair.

“One of the reasons I came (to the Wellness Fair) is that I haven’t been watching it as much as I need to over the last few months,” Fike said. “? I probably need to (change my lifestyle) because I’ve got the underlying blood pressure.”
Though not a visitor to the Wellness Fair, Jim Sibley is another person with a story of self-discipline and weight loss. Director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, Sibley realized more than a year ago that he weighed more than he ever had. So he joined a health club, went on a diet and soon found that he felt better.

“Diet, as important as it is, is not everything,” he said. “Exercise is tremendously important. And for me personally, although I could always eat more healthfully, my eating habits were not the major problem. The major problem was the lack of exercise.”

Sibley worries that many in the ministry may face a problem similar to his, and he urged them to get more physically active.

“The demands of a busy schedule” were the main obstacle to exercise, he said. “Directing the Institute of Jewish Studies here at Criswell College, teaching, editing a journal, working in a doctoral program?with all of these different responsibilities and more, I decided I didn’t have time to exercise.

“And yet what I came to see was that you don’t have time not to. It’s just a discipline that has to be a part of your life.”

Another Southern Baptist who has struggled with health and weight loss is Fox News Radio reporter and anchor Todd Starnes. He chronicled the experience in his recent book “They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick,” which combines humor and sometimes apocry

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