How Healthy Are You? – Building Your Core

Health has become a national obsession. Never before have so many worried about it. For some, the worry leads to frequent examination of the latest food research. this motivates an endless pursuit of foods with the best nutritional value, the lowest fat content and the least carcinogenic contamination from additives or the environment. And of course, the regular jog, power walk or aerobics is a must.

Predictably, a strong backlash has come from those who resent “those health nuts” who spoil everything and take the joy out of life. The anger turns to passive aggression, often expressed in ramped-up overeating, the choice of unhealthy comfort foods and refusal to exercise. The result is that though medical science is able to keep us alive longer, we are less and less healthy.

Spiritual HealthThe health movement, however, continues to thrive. We now have health specialists in the medical field. Wellness groups of one sort or another abound. A huge and lucrative industry has emerged around the obsession with health. It ranges from nutrition-loaded drinks, to vitamins, to drugs that fool us into thinking we are now “healthy” by eliminating our pain. Numerous commercials prey on our guilt about our own unhealthy behavior, and some mislead about the results as well as the safety of this food or that drug.

This incessant obsession with health, as well as the confusing information (and misinformation) about it, challenge us to raise two important questions: What does it really mean to be healthy? and How do I become healthy?

Nothing Peripheral
Most ideas about what it means to be healthy are one-dimensional. The merchandisers of health claim their product will deliver health, and it may indeed help us feel better physically or emotionally. Others may say the only thing that is important is spiritual health while failing to connect it with our physical and emotional life. An atheist dismisses the supernatural as fiction, urging us to claim health through the self-realization of mind and body. But none of these is full health.

What is Full Health?
To answer this question we begin with how God created us. God has made us, at one and the same time, spiritual, emotional, social and physical creatures. Our bodies, our feelings, our relationships are not disconnected from our spirits. We do not live as spiritual islands. God also made us persons with bodies, a range of emotions and a need for relationships with others.

None of these aspects of our lives is peripheral to our health. God cares about the health of our bodies. Why else would His Jesus have been such a generous healer? He cares about the health of our emotions. Why else would His Jesus have healed the emotionally deranged, given comfort to the grieving and confronted those living in apathetic complacency? He cares about the health of our relationships. Why else would His Jesus tell His followers the world would know they really are His disciples if they love one another?

The One Binding Ingredient
Our health is not simply a matter of the condition of our bodies alone or the state of our minds alone or the richness of our relationships alone or personal spiritual experience alone. It is all of these, and none of these alone. A healthy person is someone on a journey in which he is moving closer and closer to what the Old Testament calls shalom, often translated “peace.” The word describes a condition of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. A person living in God’s shalom experiences what it means to live as God created him to live. He is not perfect in every way, but he is on the way.

What is this way traveled by those who have embraced the shalom of God, the life of full health? Jesus calls it entering the Kingdom of God and living by its radical values, summarized by Jesus Himself as loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. This simple summary is the core of everything we call health.

When we love God, and our neighbors as ourselves, our spiritual life can be integrated with our lives and with each other. As those who are loved by God, we are free to value ourselves and invest in the health of our bodies. Our loving one another will bring wholeness to our relationships and begin the healing of our damaged emotions.

We now begin to see what health really is. Love binds together every dimension of our lives. That is why the apostle Paul calls love the greatest thing of all (I Cor. 13:13). Love is what finally matters (Gal. 5:6b). The healthiest people on the planet are those who know they are the beloved of God. They love God with all their soul, mind and strength. They love the neighbors that are close (family and friends) and those that are far (the marginalized, the persons with appalling lifestyles and values and the misunderstood foreigner). And they love themselves with a humble self-acceptance. These are persons who are whole. They are truly healthy.

Why Do Problems Persist?
This profile, however, seems out of touch with the truth of what we see and know of human behavior around us, and even what we know of ourselves, if we are honest. Few of us are fully healthy in all the ways we have described. So, does Christian faith call us to an impossibly idealistic life? And what would it say of God if that were the case? What kind of God calls us to a life He knows we are incapable of living?

Let’s get even more specific. If the Church is supposed to be the place where truly healthy people reside, why are there so many Christians who are still spiritual infants? After years of participation in congregational life, why do they show little sign of the spiritual depth to which Jesus calls His disciples? Why do so many Christians fail to get along with one another and sometimes act hatefully toward their brothers and sisters in Christ? Why do so many who claim to follow the Jesus who said to love your enemies demonize those who do not agree with them or who follow a different religion? Why are Christians, like everyone else, subject to the same emotional problems and mental illnesses as others? Why do so many Christians get sick and die early, become handicapped and increasingly immobilized?

Strong faith in Christ does not seem to be a magic wand that in one fell swoop heals our spirit, emotions, relationships and body. We are not yet perfect. Far from it.

So what does this mean for all our unhealthy ways? Does it mean that shalom, full health and well–being, is reserved for eternity only? Is our only recourse in the present life a simple “grin–and–bear–it”? I think not.

Taking True Measure
Life is a journey, and every day is different. Each of our lives is an unfolding story, and each day is a new chapter. Every journey and every story has a beginning. The fact is, our journey begins in a world that is not only imperfect, but fallen. As we are born into a sinful world, we cannot live our story without being affected and even infected by it. Through no fault of our own, some of us are conditioned early on to be hateful and mean. Others treat us in cruel ways and damage us emotionally. Some are raised in loving but over–protective, self–serving families and come to look upon “outsiders” as threats. We all inherit genetic codes that make some of us more susceptible to certain life threatening diseases. Some even begin life with disease or handicap. And even the best of parents and other early influencers in our lives are also on a journey and are not yet perfect; to the extent that they pretend to be perfect, they are teaching their children to hide their imperfections and not address them. We are affected and infected by all this.

We are not, however, victims. In whatever way we are damaged, corrupted, impaired, belittled or conceited by influence or birth, the journey toward health is one we can choose. No one is responsible for where his life on this earth begins. We are all responsible for where it ends.

This brings us to the second important question: How do we become healthy? Perhaps the question is better phrased: How are we becoming healthy? The best way to approach our health is to think of it in terms of progress rather than perfection. We need not be ashamed of the process of healing, pretending a state of health that is far from reality. The journey toward health can only begin when we know and admit where we are when we begin and where we are along the way.

We all begin the journey at a different place. Spiritually, some begin in total or relative ignorance of matters of faith; others begin in an environment of toxic faith; still others in a place of healthy spirituality. Emotionally, some begin the journey with deep hurts and the scars of abuse; others begin in a setting of rigid expectations and ensuing guilt feelings; still others in a place where feelings are honored and shared honestly. Relationally, some begin the journey in broken relationships and social isolation; others begin with a background of dysfunctional or addictive human interaction; still others in a place where relationships are open and affirming. Physically, some begin the journey with serious health issues, whether present at birth or brought on by an accident; others begin in an unhealthy condition brought on by their own unwholesome lifestyle and lack of self–care; still others in a place where they have enjoyed a predominantly wholesome body life. Where some begin in a place where they must battle very difficult odds, others are positioned with fewer obstacles. What progress means for one person—and how it is best measured—is different for another person. For example, we may think a person with certain emotional issues is mentally unhealthy and should have made more progress as a Christian by now, but the reality may be that he has come a long, long way from where he began his journey. He needs both our encouragement and our honesty to help him on the way to health.

Spiritual HealthYour Toolkit
If our health is a lifelong journey, what are the resources available to us on the journey? Spiritual health is nurtured in many ways, but some of them are crucial: regular engagement with Scripture, attentiveness to the life and teaching of Jesus in particular, practice of the spiritual disciplines that help us live the life of Jesus and seeking the counsel of a pastor, spiritual guide or mentor. Emotional and relational health is nurtured by spending enjoyable time with family and friends, choosing healthy and helpful relationships, removing oneself from dysfunctional and damaging relationships, being part of a caring fellowship, pastoral counseling to address specific issues and perhaps professional therapy to deal with persistent emotional pain and paralysis. Physical health is improved by eating nutritional rather than comfort food, moderate exercise and relieving stress with relaxation, enjoyment and creativity.

Beginnings and Endings
Where does spiritual health fit into this total picture of health? It is part and parcel of the whole, more so than anything else. There is a spiritual dimension to everything in our lives. Our spiritual health affects our emotional, relational and physical health, and can be affected by them. A healthy spiritual life will give strength and foster healing in these areas, as an unhealthy spiritual life will spread illness everywhere. For example, a person can suffer excruciating pain from a spreading cancer in his body, but his healthy spirit, born of a deep relationship with a loving God, will make of the cancer a defeated enemy, even though the defeat may have to await the Resurrection. In the final analysis, we who know ourselves to be the beloved of God and who love God with all our hearts, will make the journey to full health.

When we reach the end of our earthly life and stand on the edge of eternity, we will have brought with us an emotional life still not fully formed, some relational hurts still not fully healed and a body now diseased. And then something amazing will happen: our spirits, now caught up fully in the love of God, will bring us—every part of us—on to completion. We will then begin another journey, only this time we’ll travel in full health.

Until then, we travel this earthly life attentive to the health of our spirit, our emotional life, our relationships and our body—preparing ourselves to be fully whole.

By Commissioner Phil Needham

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Getting Fairly Started

The Salvation Army’s relationship with the African–American community in the United States began early and enthusiastically rather than later and grudgingly, as was the case with some holiness denominations.

For example, the Church of Christ (Holiness), Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and the Church of the Nazarene typically sent missionaries to evangelize overseas rather than in U.S. urban areas, where the majority of African Americans lived.

In contrast, William Booth’s protégés, such as James Jermy and James Fackler (both of African descent) saw urban areas in the United States as ripe for evangelism. In 1872, Jermy and his family immigrated from England (by way of Canada) to the United States and together with Fackler (an African–American pastor who had moved from the South), established The Christian Mission’s first outpost in a Methodist church in Cleveland, Ohio. Among other things, they saw this undertaking as an opportunity to bring healing to communities recovering from the ravages of the Civil War and generations of wretched slavery.

“It is of God!” The men said of their task. When Jermy wrote to Booth in London to say he and Fackler had “unfurled the flag of the Christian Mission in America,” Booth was so excited that he rose up from his bed of affliction to read the letter to his workers at a Friday morning meeting. The workers responded with applause and thanksgiving. Then the workers knelt, spread the letter before the Lord, and prayed that He would bless and guide the two men in their endeavor.

When Booth wrote back, he said, “God will give you this. I feel He will, even while I write. All glory to His name!” The ailing Founder continued, “So you have raised the banner of The Christian Mission in Ohio. Amen! May it never be dishonored, but may it float over an Army of men and women whose sole aim shall be the glory of God in the salvation and happiness of men.”

Booth gave them more words of advice, saying, “Remember, our motto is, ‘Holiness to the Lord, and the world for Jesus!’” Booth then wrote to his friend William Crow on Dec. 16, saying, “Our flag has been unfurled, and a branch started in Cleveland, Ohio.”

Although that ministry lasted just five years, it was effective in planting a seed for future endeavors. And The Mission Harvester, a newsletter founded by these early Army pioneers, was published for 57 years and was well–respected and widely read in holiness circles.

George Scott Railton, another protégé of William Booth who was committed to racial equality in ministry, longed to leave England and join the battle for souls in the United States. Also a strong advocate for women’s rights, he arrived in New York a year after his colleague Eliza Shirley had landed in Philadelphia.

With “Seven Hallelujah Lassies” to accompany him on his mission, Railton brought them, as he had said, “to show what women, inspired by the power of the Holy Ghost, could do.” He also expected each woman to marry an American, thus insuring, through intermarriage, “that the Army in America would be American.”

So, on March 10, 1880, when “Commissioner” Railton and his “invasion party” marched onto the docks of the greatest port city in the world, they boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus Christ in Battery Park and sang distinctively African–American songs, such as “Way Down on the Suwannee River” and “Old Kentucky Home.”

Why did Railton come all the way from England to sing such songs, particularly when just 10 years before, New York City had endured the worst race riots in its history? Those events had been so devastating that the mayor had banned all open–air meetings for fear they would lead to even more riots.

Despite the prevailing law, Railton stood his ground. And if the music and the diverse crowd that gathered weren’t enough to signal his intention to reach people of color, he stated it plainly when he said he wanted to get “Africans … fairly started.”

African American Salvation Army Contingent 1904 CongressRailton recognized that African Americans had the potential to bring empathy to ministry, to engage, and to combine passionate worship with soul–stirring music. On the docks that day, he offered a promise.

“We are honored today to be the only white people in whose company, whose platforms, whose operations, colored people have had the same welcome as others … if they will not join themselves with other races, we will go farther still, and there will be found officers ready to leave off association with their own race in order to rescue those of another.”

People of color were among the Army’s effective leaders. In the 1880s, in an attempt to fulfill Railton’s promise of racial and ethnic pluralism, Captain S.W. Brathwaite, a former Methodist pastor from British Guyana and a Harvard College graduate, was appointed to lead the Army’s “Great Colored Campaign and Combined Attack on the South.”

As an immigrant, Brathwaite offered a fresh fire to the cause. After years of slavery and oppression, most Civil War–weary African Americans were eager to leave the plantation, find long–lost family members, and finally pursue the American Dream. Brathwaite’s campaign was successful, resulting in many corps that today continue to serve communities in the South.

Although Railton had planned to locate the Army’s national headquarters in New York City, local ordinances on street preaching and public assembly restricted such privileges to clergy of already established denominations. To his dismay, Railton was prohibited from holding further open–air meetings.

So he headed for Philadelphia, where Eliza Shirley had conducted her breakthrough meeting just six months before. It was an historic moment for The Salvation Army in the United States when Railton’s contingent met Eliza Shirley’s followers in Philadelphia on March 24, 1880. They held a special public meeting so that Railton could formally present the Army flag, sent by Catherine Booth to the Shirley family.

Railton was amazed by the crowd’s size. “This was the biggest meeting of my life,” he later wrote. More than 200 soldiers, wearing Army hatbands, cheered on the platform. Approximately 1,500 people—both black and white—had made their way into the Athletic Hall, rented for the occasion.

Railton would remember for the rest of his life the joyous singing of the African–American spiritual that helped inaugurate the Army that day, “My Lord, What a Morning, When the Stars Begin to Fall!”

Excerpted from Soldiers of Uncommon Valor: The History of Salvationists of African Descent in the United States, an Others Press® book, available at Trade.

By Warren L. Maye

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Bible Study: Songs of the Soul – Psalm 23

NO PASSAGE OF SCRIPTURE IS MORE BELOVED THAN PSALM 23. Whether read in the classic King James or a more contemporary version, the message is one of endearment, comfort and assurance of God’s tender love. Meditating on it brings new insight as well as warm remembrance.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (vs. 1). In this psalm David departs from the fearsome image of a distant, dominating God, impossible to please and ever looking out for wrongdoing. Like a child nestled in his mother’s arms, he draws close, calling God in loving confidence “my shepherd.” He speaks of God not as a king, a deliverer, a sword, a shield or a high tower but a gentle shepherd. The image is one of the shepherd with a little lamb tucked safely and securely beneath his arm. Sheep by nature are willful and prone to wander. Despite their nature, the shepherd leads them home, still wanting them. With no natural defenses of their own, sheep are vulnerable to attack unless shielded by the shepherd. And so the shepherd fights off their enemies and gathers them under his care.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul” (vs. 2, 3a). Although sheep thrive in semi-arid country, they still need water. Drops of water obtained from the dew on the grass are not enough. Water can be obtained from wells, but wells are deep and dangerous. Springs, are deep as well, and survive through drought. Sheep like still water, not the rushing of rivers or creeks. So it is the quiet waters of springs where the shepherd brings them to drink. Our Lord knows our need and invites us to drink from the spring of eternal life that only He can furnish (see John 4:14).

His refreshment is more than just food and drink. Sheep are known to fall down, unable to stand again because they tend to grow fat, have short, weak legs and feel the weight of heavy wool. Restoration from the shepherd includes having the wool shorn from time to time. So we as believers, weighed down by worldliness and care, need to experience the Good Shepherd’s pruning to allow us the freedom to grow and to serve Him. The fat that plagues sheep is due to their inherent laziness. We, too, suffer spiritually when we are undisciplined and self-indulgent. Out of His love for us He dutifully makes us work, stretch and grow.

“He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake” (vs. 3b). Sheep are creatures of habit, constantly seeking the same pasture even though it is stripped of grass. We, too, prefer our own way. Isaiah reminds us, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (53:6a). Many times the sheep’s stubborn nature gets in the way of finding new pasture. That is why shepherds use sheep dogs—to nip at their heels and force them to go where the shepherd leads. Sometimes, for our own good, we must be forced to leave our old ways to find the nourishment we need to feed our souls.

Young girl with hands in a waterfallOur Good Shepherd leads us along the right paths. He expects us to keep moving, not to settle in. There is no permanent residency for the child of God. The reason behind this movement: “for His name’s sake.” Edward Harland has written,

O for a humbler walk with God!
Lord, bend this stubborn heart of mine;
Subdue each rising, rebel thought
And all my will conform to Thine.

O for a nearer walk with God!
Lord, turn my wandering heart to Thee;
Help me to live by faith in Him
Who lived and died and rose for me.

—Salvation Army Song Book #445

Despite the shepherd’s leading, the way for sheep is not a path devoid of threat. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (vs. 4). The Good Shepherd does not take us around the valley where dangers lurk, but right through it. The darkness represents not only death itself, but any experience so painful that it feels as if we are dying. The great British preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “But shadow cannot harm us anymore than a dog’s shadow can bite or the shadow of a sword can wound.”

It is interesting that in this dark passage, the voice changes from “He” to “You.” Now David is not speaking about the Good Shepherd but directly to Him. In our dark hours we do not need an intellectual discussion about God; we need Him close by our side where we can clutch Him and feel His hand rest softly on our shoulder.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (vs. 5). The focus now shifts from shepherd to friend. It is an unusual setting, a table amid enemies. This could indicate one of three things. First, that despite the enemies surrounding me, I am so safe in the Good Shepherd’s care that enemies are powerless to touch me. Second, it could refer to the ancient practice of a king surrounding his banquet table with the kings and generals he has defeated and captured, a reminder of his victory over them. And finally, it could represent a feast that commemorates the sealing of a covenant, the signing of a peace treaty. “The enemies who sought to destroy me are now living with me in peace.”

“Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (vs. 6).
With this Good Shepherd leading and befriending, only goodness and love can be the result. It is not just a brief respite but a way of life. The child of God knows that despite feast or famine, regardless of abundance or abasement, whether young or old, the believer’s normal state of existence is abiding in the love and goodness of God.

It does not stop there. When I take my final breath and can no longer hold or be held by this world a moment longer, I shall not be separated from the gentle Shepherd. In that day, He will lead as surely as He has always, and I will dwell with Him forever.

He leadeth me, O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught,
Whate’er I do, wher’ere I be,
Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

—Joseph Henry Gilmore, Salvation Army Song Book #725

By Major Allen Satterlee

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