God's message is one of turning things 180 degrees: the blind shall see; the lame, walk.
Once upon a time this man weighed 455 lbs. yet now leads a fitness ministry dedicated to encouraging others on their journey to spiritual, emotional and physical health.
If anyone would have told me four years ago that my life's greatest weakness would become the focal point of my ministry, I would have believed that impossible. At that time, the life I lead today would have been unconceivable.
Why? As an morbidly obese pastor, feelings of rejection, insecurity and pain were simply a daily part of life. While the purpose of this article is not to share my entire story, I would tell you that God changed my life and he used the popular television show Biggest Loser to do it. Although I certainly had an incredible physical transformation, the truth is that God changed my life – me, a pastor of 25 years – from the inside out.
People have asked me numerous times over the last few years what I'm doing now, and why my son, Austin, and I started RetroFit Ministries. I could list a myriad of reasons we made this decision but I want to share three of them with you.
1. The Call
Quite simply put, I felt the call of God to do so. For almost 20 years I had pastored in Pasadena. My children had grown up in Pasadena. I was comfortable in Pasadena and thought I would live out my entire ministry in Pasadena, but the call of God has a way of moving us out of our comfort zone. Though there were several moments when this was made very clear to me, one stands out which came from the story of King David in 2 Samuel 5.
After David has been crowned King over both Judah and all of Israel in Hebron, he immediately turns his attention to Jerusalem. Here in the heart of Israel, Jerusalem had remained a stronghold of foreigners. When David went down to drive them out, they taunted him. David knew that for Israel to be blessed Jerusalem must be his. David took what was once the enemy's stronghold and made it his own. He then made it his capital, and ultimately turned Jerusalem from an enemy stronghold into a place of worship.
Through my time on the Biggest Loser Ranch, I had focused on the fact that I needed to tear down the stronghold of unhealthy living in my life. I had read this story numerous times and asked God to give me the strength to embrace the healing I needed from the inside out so that I could be free. As I began to seek God for what he had for my future, I felt very strongly called to help tear down the stronghold of unhealthy living and obesity in others and within the Christian community.
2. The Need
By 2030, it is estimated that 51% of Americans will be obese according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in June of 2012. Not just overweight – morbidly obese. The problem of unhealthy living permeates American society.
What is even more startling is that the Christian community may even be worse off than society at large. People ask me all the time how I know this is true. There are actually research studies to prove this fact, one in particular that caught my attention. In 2011, a Northwestern University study found that young adults who participate in religious activities are 50% more likely to become obese by middle age than young adults who do not. Although we all know that statistics can be used to emphasize certain viewpoints, we need to realize that this study was based on more than 2,400 participants who were tracked for 18 years in this first longitudinal study examining obesity and religious participation. We should be greatly concerned for our children, young people, and young adults.
Let's just agree that there is a huge problem in the church. When a baby is dedicated, we eat! When someone gets married, we eat! When someone passes away, we eat! Just about every Sunday after church, we feast and that is after we have served donuts in the lobby before service. Our church culture is built around food and I don't believe that has to change. What does have to change is what we eat.
The obesity problem in America is something that is widely addressed, but what has not been adequately addressed is the obesity and unhealthy living problem that permeates the Christian community. After coming off of the television show, I was receiving messages almost every day from people asking for my help and it was the requests from pastors that touched my heart the most. You see I came to realize that the problem was not only a statistical reality but as I read many emails from people asking for help, I began to see the face of God's people.
I began to understand how Moses must have felt as he watched his people enslaved to the Egyptians back in the days of the Exodus.
3. The Core Issue
Many who approach unhealthy living want to focus only on nutrition and exercise; I believe this is a mistake. Certainly these two foundational areas are important elements to a health journey but I believe the issue for many of us is much deeper – a core issue involving our hearts.
Do not misunderstand me; in the ministry that my son, Austin and I offer, we do offer the best nutrition and exercise information we can, but this is not enough for many who struggle with overeating. I am reminded of a passage of scripture from Jeremiah. Jeremiah is addressing the poor leaders of Israel and he writes:
They offer superficial treatments
for my people's mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
when there is no peace.
One of the translations I enjoy reading is The Message and in it this same passage reads: My people are broken—shattered!—and they put on Band-Aids, Saying, 'It's not so bad. You'll be just fine.' But things are not 'just fine'! This is truly the case for what most of America is looking to in trying to address food addiction and emotional eating.
I myself experienced program after program; lost weight and gained it back. I have even experienced two bariatric surgeries and the surgeons fixed my stomach but I needed God to fix my heart before I could lose weight and keep it off.
Our health journey begins at the feet of Jesus. When Jesus heals the brokenness in our lives then we can can be free from emotional eating. Our faith can help us cope with stress, pain and depression. This is the 180 degree turn my life took. I looked beyond the superficial band-aid to something more. There is hope. We can change and be free to live healthy.