You may not know the name Eric Orton unless you are an avid long-distance runner, but Eric is a most amazing guy. Eric became popular amongst the running community after he coached an author, Christopher McDougall, who wrote a book called ‘Born to Run’, that tells the story of the Tarahumara Indians, indigenous peoples of northwestern Mexico who are known for their super-human feats of long-distance running, and a race that was organized to help share in a conversation about multi-culturalism and the joy of running.
In response to the enormous outpouring of interest in the minimalist running movement, Eric decided to write a book of his own called ‘The Cool Impossible’, sharing with the reader insights into his preparation, philosophy, and training habits that he uses in training his many running students throughout the country.
Now, some of you are thinking to yourselves, ‘well, I don’t run, so what does this have to do with me?’
What I discovered about this book was that it is not only about running, this book is about how we live our daily lives as a whole, from the way we walk, to our mentality and attitudes, to the foods we eat each day that helps us reach our goals in our lives never before thought possible.
Now, Eric seems to be pretty extreme in his ideas within this book; after all, they don’t call ultra-marathoners part of the extreme sports movement for nothing. I was challenged when he offered several foot strengthening exercises to try. I was a little fearful of his suggestion to ditch my well-supported running shoes for minimalist running shoes which sometimes feel like you are running in socks rather than actual shoes. I was nervous about his suggestion to meditate on success and use positive thinking to accomplish whatever goal I may imagine. But I was outright bewildered when he started talking about his diet challenges for the reader.
One of these challenges includes not a vegetarian diet, or a gluten-free diet, nor a paleo diet. No, Eric suggests eating a SUGAR FREE diet for twenty days. Sugar free? Are you kidding me? What foods DON’T have sugar in them? Well, I was eased a little when he writes that we are allowed to eat foods that have naturally occurring sugars like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. But it still meant saying no to most cereals and breads, most any restaurant food besides plain salad or meat, and NO DESSERT!
To say that humans today have a sugar problem is a gross understatement. Humans love sugar. Our ancestors learned quickly of the energy that is found in it. But that was before the United States of America, and before free refills. About 200 years ago the average person consumed about 45 grams of sugar every five days. Today’s Americans consume about 765 grams of sugar every five days. Recent statistics will reveal that the American Heart Association suggests individuals consume no more than 9.5 teaspoons (45 grams) of sugar each day. In reality, American adults consume on average 22 teaspoons of sugar daily. And children? Guess how many. Children consume about 32 teaspoons every day. The result has been an alarming increase in rates of diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and of course obesity. Most dieticians will admit that sugar is more addictive than cocaine.
I read this part of the book and thought to myself, ‘yeah, okay, Eric! I’m going to put this into the category of fun ideas that I’ll never try.’ But then I read more. He tells story after story of people who have had wonderful results after eliminating, or at least greatly reducing, sugar from their diets and their bodies. So I thought I’d give it a shot. I was ready for a sugar detox.
How do you think you would react if you all of a sudden decided to stop consuming sugar? How would you feel? What would your energy levels be like? What would you eat and drink? How would your friends describe you without sugar?
As human beings, we are prone to the familiar. Call it a survival instinct, or part of our genetic makeup; we, as humans, are compelled to live the lives that we know are safe and understood. We like to eat at the same restaurants and order the same meals. We spend our free time doing many of the same things like shopping or exercising. We see the same friends, go to the same churches, even sit in the same pews. And this all leads to a pretty challenging question. Could it be that we are even compelled to lead lives that may be unhealthy simply because they are familiar as well?
This is what I’d like for us to meditate on today. This is where a simple story about sugar leads us into a conversation on our spiritual journey, the very nature of humankind, and the Good News of Christ.
I’d like for us to get back to the reading from Colossians, chapter 3, verses 1-11. Here we have Paul writing about the Christian spiritual life. He’s talking about embracing a new identity in Christ; in short, we are new creations. And this is something that I think we can all get behind, right? We have heard the Good News of Christ Jesus! Everything is new! Life will be better!
But Paul knows that following the risen Christ is not that easy. There are still parts of our lives that we live with each day that simply are not in line with the teachings of Jesus. How can we claim Christ as our Lord and Savior if we are still worshiping other gods? How can we say that other Christians are our brothers and sisters, if we keep them in slavery. How can we hear the message of forgiveness if we do not show forgiveness and compassion for those who have sinned?
Paul will go on to give a pretty detailed list of some of the behaviors and attitudes that are simply no longer acceptable to those seeking to follow Christ:
5Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).
…now you must get rid of all such things-anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another…
Paul then gives a larger picture of what is going on beyond by simply disposing of these actions; God is at work:
seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!
Yes, for Paul and the new followers of the risen Christ in Colossae, being a Christian is not only about putting things to the side, but also about embracing a new identity in Christ that tears down the barriers that society has established over the years. We are new creations.
It seems simple, right? I’m reminded of several movie scenes when a character gets baptized, and waits for the world to instantly change because they are now a baptized Christian. Well friends, life is not always that simple. Being a Christian is not that simple, and giving up unhealthy living habits is not simple.
The very first day of my sugar detox I realized just how tough this new life would be. I found myself amazed as I read the nutritional value and ingredients list at the local grocery store. I felt constantly hungry for the first few days, shoveling my new snacks of carrots instead of chocolate. I even found myself bargaining…with myself…about whether or not it would be okay to drink that orange juice in the morning. How bad can it be!? In short, I was struggling.
How many of us have wrestled with trying to give something up, only to go through the disappointment and shame of our grand idea not working out. Maybe it is smoking, or drinking, or little harmless lies to your friends. Maybe it’s something pretty light natured, like too much time on your cell phone or an annoying habit. Maybe you are wrestling with a more serious life issues, like adultery or drug use.
Whatever the behavior or habit, it can be quite tough to turn things around. Most people end up more surprised than anything with the way that their lives have turned out. Maybe it started with that cigarette every once in a while when you had a drink. Now you smoke a pack a day. Yes, we have all been there in some form or another.
And oh, we know the pain of trying to turn that life around. The ups and downs of mood swings as the addictive properties leave the body. The changes in appetite and energy. The constant doubt that we face when we don’t know how much longer we can continue on; it would be so easy to just go back to our past life for one more moment.
We all know just how impossible the idea of changing our life from the past sounds.
But not for Christ. And this is the Good News this morning, sisters and brothers. In the resurrected Christ, we witness the joy, pain, and ultimate victory of our savior for not just some people who had their lives figured out and lived righteous lives, but for all who sought his mercy and love. In Christ Jesus we are no longer bound to the addictions or habits of our past, but we are given a new identity; a new beginning in this world here today.
Yes, we may still struggle with our addictions, or behaviors, or attitudes from day to day. For some, it may be a struggle every single day of our life. Yes, there will be moments of great joy and accomplishment, and there will be moments of defeat and disappointment. Yes, there will be joy, and there will be agony, as our bodies, and our spirits re-learn how to go about daily living. But this is all possible in Christ Jesus. Jesus tells us to give him our brokenness, our sin, our addictions and past, and he will make us new. Remember it was not the rich, lawyers, or religious leaders who were drawn to follow Jesus, as much as it was the marginalized, the sick, and the lowly; and Jesus welcomes us all.
So what are you living with today that you would like a new beginning with? Maybe it’s something like eating too much sugar. Or maybe it’s something more serious and tough to overcome. Whatever you are living with in your life today that you have felt controlled by over the past days, months, or years; today we hear the message that in Christ we are made free. We are no longer bound to our former lives, or identities, or behaviors. Yes, the detox process may be tough, even grueling at times, but if we keep our focus on Christ, then we will be ultimately victorious. Our lives will never be perfect, but we will be free. We are new creations in Christ.
Who would have thought that what started out as an interesting read in running could turn out to be a reminder of the life-changing power of Christ? I guess running may be a little better for us than we thought! May our hearts and minds be forever transformed by God’s Word in our lives this day. Amen.