Two Things Everybody Wants
Everybody here wants two things: Health and Happiness. We want other things—but without these two things, the other things hardly matter. Today we are going to talk about health and a long life which go hand in hand. On another Sunday we will talk about happiness. For health and happiness also go hand in hand.
There are some easy ways to be healthy. Br. Bishop D. Wayne Burkett likes to quote the doctor who said to him, “The best way to be healthy and live a long life is to avoid salt and choose the right parents.” There is no substitute for good genes—spell that g-e-n-e-s, not j-e-a-n-s. If we have the wrong genes—there is very little we can do about it. Some of the best parents pass on some of the worst genes. I know I am blessed because both my good parents lived past ninety. I know I have wasted at least some of that blessing because I did not take care of myself half as well as they took care of themselves. For instance, when confronted with a bag of potato chips, my mom could eat just one. I can’t. I always wanted the whole bag and still do.
Race and gender matter, too. Asian Americans have the longest life span, 83 years and change, then Latino-Americans, 81, years and change, European Americans, 78 years and change, and African Americans, which are 7 to 8 years behind European Americans. On average, women of any race live several years longer than men. Of course, these are pre-Covid numbers, and all of them are down. In the age of Covid, the average white European Male has a life expectancy of 73 years 2 months, which I will achieve on September 21st of this year. Ouch!
You might be thinking—my parents died young, I am doomed. Not so. Where you live matters,t oo. We are all blessed to be born in the good ol’ USA and not in a country mired down in poverty, war, and terror. We are blessed to live in a country where science matters—or, at least, it did, and science can defeat a lot of the diseases that drain our health and take our lives way too soon, whether individual, or corporate.
Aside from genetics and the luck of the draw. It is a proven fact that we can do lots of things to prolong our life.
If we want to be healthy and live a long life, we can move to the Zip Code. I kid you not. Consider the U.S. alone. If you live in Hutto, Texas, just outside of Austin, zip code 78634 you have a life expectancy of 97.0 years, the highest in the US. If you live in Fort Worth, Texas, Zip code 76104 you have a life expectancy of 66.7 years, the lowest in the US. In case you are wondering about states, Hawaii ranks first, with a life expectancy of 82.2 years, West Virginia Ranks last at 74.8. years, and North Carolina is 36th at 78.1. All these are pre-Covid numbers.
It seems a small thing, but if we want to be healthy and live a long life, we can take care of our teeth. It has been said that a dog never outlives his teeth. People frequently outlive our teeth, but there is a lot of evidence that dental health—a direct result of brushing and flossing and seeing a dentist with regularity can add as much as 7 years to one’s life span. I wish my mama had told me this! It could have saved me a lot of money, too.
If we want to be healthy, we can get enough rest. Yogi Berra had the right idea when he said, “I usually take a two-hour nap from one to four.” Not everyone can take a nap, and not everyone rests well at night. For many years I was lucky if I slept five or five and one-half hours a night. My doctor was concerned. I told him I could sleep when I was dead. He said, “Well—unless you start getting proper rest, you will be dead a lot sooner than you think.” I could not sleep because I carried my worries with me to bed. When I told my bishop I was not sleeping, he told me that it was okay for me to sleep because we served a God who neither “sleeps nor slumbers.” He told me to start giving my problems to God, on by one, as soon as I lay down in my bed. You may have a similar problem. In Philippians 4:6 St. Paul said, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Of course, not everyone misses out on sleep because of worry. Many people cannot sleep because they have sleep apnea or some other medical condition, especially men, who accept getting up and down all-night as normal. We need to confront these problems if we want to live a healthy long life.
If we want to be healthy and live a long life, we should not smoke. My primary doctor told me that smoking reduces one’s life span an average of 12 years. Don’t ask me how much or how long one must smoke to achieve that reduction, I don’t know. I used to believe that smoking in moderation was not harmful, but several doctors and nurses I trust have told me that any smoking demands a price. And it is not just smoking. My friend Ron died of kidney cancer, but his first brush with the disease was oral cancer he developed as a result of using snuff. The good news is that 15 or 20 years after quitting the ill effects can be wiped almost completely out.
If we want to be healthy and live a long life, we should not drink to exccess. Several authorities say that a glass of wine improves one’s life span, but two glasses is a liability. And they are talking about 5 oz. glasses. Of course, it is hard to argue against all drinking, because in John 2 Jesus turned the water into wine, and in 1st Timothy 5:23 the apostle advises his young friend timothy saying, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” On top of all that, Psalm 104:15 declares that “(God ) made wine to gladden the heart of man.” I drink a little wine now and then, but I admire people like Jay Leno who never smoked his first cigarette or sampled his first glass of wine.
If we want to be healthy and live a long life, we should exercise. Dr. J.C. McPheters was the first President of Asbury Theological Seminary. At the age of 85 he got up each morning, sang “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned on the Savior’s Brow,” then dropped down to do 50 push-ups. The school administration commissioned his portrait and asked him if he wanted to add some words to the plaque beneath his picture. They expected something like, “Holiness unto the Lord!” He chose, “Be wise, Exercise!” He asked they hang his picture in the gym. An article in the New York Times during the pandemic declared that the single most important thing anyone can do to add years to their life and life to their years was to exercise. It is never too late. With help from one’s doctor, almost anyone can do some sort of exercise. It helps.
My dad had a massive heart attack at the age of 59. I walked around the corner at Forsyth Hospital and saw him lying on a gurney waiting on an elevator. I said, “What are you doing here?” He said, “I am having a heart attack, what are you doing here.” After his heart attack, his doctors gave him five years to live. My dad had been running several years—it probably saved his life as his father and brother had died at a similar age, and as soon as he could he resumed running. When he no longer could he started walking and walked daily for the rest of his life. He lived to die on his 94th Birthday. When I agreed to come to Fries as an interim, I told the board about my heart disease and said I would let nothing interfere with my morning walk.
If we want to be healthy, we can watch our diet. It goes without saying that we need to eat the right things and avoid the wrong things. The right things include five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. If I eat my five servings, I don’t get hungry. If I don’t, I keep the munchies all day. We also need to avoid the wrong things. Many of you remember Charlie Petersen. His brother Ed was also a member of this church, and he was treasurer of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, Co. One day, when I was visiting Ed, he took me into his kitchen, opened his freezer and took out a TV dinner. He read the ingredients to me. I did not recognize most of them. He then said, “They say smoking will get you—but you can’t tell me that this stuff is not just as dangerous.” Today, we know that to be true. We supersize all the wrong things. One study reveals that in the decade and a half between 1987 and 2003 Americans added 30 percent more calories to our annual intake of calories, including a whopping 15 additional pounds of sugar. I absolutely mirrored this statistic. When I left Fries in 1988, I weighed 185 pounds. By the early 2000s I had added 47 pounds to reach a high of 232. I achieved this gain even though I ran not less than 15 miles every week. Looking back, I am certain this is the single most important factor in my development of heart disease. I ate a lot of the wrong things!
Overeating and lack of exercise is particularly prevalent among our young. Lieutenant General Mark Phillip Hertling oversaw Initial Military Training for the 160,000 civilians each year that wanted to become soldiers. In a 2012 Ted Talk, General Hertling said that much to his chagrin he discovered that seventy-five percent of Americans 17-24 years old who wanted to join the Army were not qualified because of their obesity. He said that of those who were eligible to join up, 60 percent of of them could not pass the initial Physical Fitness Test which consisted of 1 min of sit-ups, 1 min of push-ups, and a 1-mile run. General Hertling said that he considered the condition of our young people a threat to national security. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Just imagine what this is going to do to Social Security and Medicare.
Now, this is pretty discouraging, so I better quickly add that if we want to be healthy and live as long as possible, we have to defeat depression. Sometimes depression starts with a chemical imbalance. Some of my problems started when my thyroid went bad. I beat depression with exercise. I wish I had known about Synthroid six years before I did. Other people are depressed and they treat themselves with drugs like cocaine and alcohol or by eating impulsively. Many go on to damage their health and their relationships. They would have been much better off going to God and to a good doctor.
My friend C_____ came from a family with a history of stomach cancer. His father and his brother died of it. He asked his doctor to keep a careful watch on him, but his doctor ignored his pleas until it was too late. They had to do surgery and removed all but a tiny fraction of his stomach. He could not eat or drink more than a few spoonsful. He became severely depressed. One day he told me he knew he did not have long to live, and he was okay with dying, but he could not stand his depression. He asked me to pray that God would heal his depression. We made that our prayer, and I suggested he speak with his doctor. He did. lived another 18 months—and he suffered greatly, but he was never again depressed.
We all want to live longer. Most of us can anticipate reaching the Biblical standard of three score and ten, and by reason of strength, four score. Of course, we do not want to stop there. Last week I sang the birthday hymn to two men and a church all celebrating their 90th Birthday. Of course, the real star of the whole week was the pastor of the church who had just turned 96. His church has asked him back for another year. I asked him to lay hands on me and give me his blessing. Then I took his hand and prayed that God would let him see the far side of 100.
Those who live to grow old do two things:
1) When they are young, they guard their bodies against those things which destroy health, and they practice those things that promote health. For many, this means turning themselves over to God. In Romans 12, St. Paul said, “I plead with you, therefore, brothers and sisters, to present your bodies unto God as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, for it is our reasonable service (or spiritual worship).” Notice that Paul did not ask to present “our minds” or to present “our souls” to God. He asked us to present our bodies! When God gets our bodies he gets the rest of us, too. For, in the Bible, body, mind, and soul or (spirit) form a unity! Years ago, I gave God my mind and soul—and my hands and feet and voice and thought it was enough. It never is. Paul warns that for some, “their god is the belly,” meaning “the unchecked appetites.” Ouch!
2) As those who live long full lives old grow older, they continue to give themselves the care they deserve. This means they are honest with themselves. When they are hurting themselves because of disobedience and sin, they recognize it, confess it and move on. When they have a physical problem, they do not deny it, they face it. For they know that diagnosis is not just bad news, it is also the first step toward a cure. In the early 2005 when I stepped on a scale at Weight Watchers and saw that I was fifty pounds heavier than I needed to be, the counselor said, “Worth, that is the last time you will ever see that number, but you needed to see it.” She was right, I did. Unfortunately, I was happy when I got down to 210. I should have tried for more, as I became pre-diabetic and that affected my heart, despite having low cholesterol. Don’t kid yourself; it can happen to you.
Growing old is not easy, and the older we get the harder life gets. When we are young our troubles come one at a time as “single spies.” They seek out our weaknesses and attack them head-on, or, sometimes, secretly. But Shakespeare’s Claudius was right, as we grow older, “our troubles do not come as single spies, but as battalions.” If we run from our numerous knit-picky problems with our health, they will overtake us and destroy us. If we turn and face them head-on, with God’s help, we may defeat the latest onslaught, and survive to fight another battle another day. Psalm 103 is right: God truly does heal all our diseases, except the last one. And Psalm 139 is right: God truly knows the days that he has prepared for us, even before we are born. The question is will we get to enjoy them all? Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t sell God short! As the late James S. Stewart once opined, “The central business of preaching today is telling men and women that the same power that took Jesus Christ out of the grave is available to us, right now, not in the moment of death, but in the midst of life!” It is true. God is able to do far more than all we can ask, think, or imagine! Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!
Everybody Wants Two Things
In the first part of this sermon, I suggested that everybody wants two things. We want other things, but without these two things, other things do not matter. The two things are health and happiness.
The first thing we want is health. We want to live a long time, and we want to be healthy as long as we live. When we pray about our health and the health of others, we often pray that God will add years to our lives, and life to our years.
The second thing we all want is happiness. Happiness is harder to come-by. The Declaration of Independence guarantees all Americans the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everybody can pursue happiness but not everyone will catch it.
Tolstoy said, “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In the same way, all happy people are alike, and all unhappy people are unhappy in their own way. I believe that all happy people have at least five things in common:
All Happy people know that forgiveness is the first ingredient of happiness. Much of the misery in this world is due to a lack of forgiveness. Sometimes, the person with a grudge strikes out at others; but in the vast majority of cases, the one who fails to forgive is the one who suffers. And here is an idea: Jesus said that when it comes to forgiveness, “the measure we give is the measure we get.” Ouch!
All happy people have learned to simplify life. Happy people know that if they own it they have to dust it, feed, gas it up, and care for it. Everybody likes the Jack Reacher character invented by novelists Lee Child. Reacher wanders from town , carrying only a passport, a toothbrush, and the clothes on his back. He lives on his Army pension and sleeps in cheap motels when he must. When he gets his clothes dirty, he goes into a thrift store and buys new ones. Except for all the sex and violence, he lives a lot like Jesus and his disciples during the height of his ministry. Few happy people will choose to live this simply, but all of them live more simply than they must live, and that is the point.
All happy people are grateful and kind. They are mindful that life has been good to them. They count their blessings; “…they count them one by one.” And having counted their blessings and marked their own happiness, they, in turn, want to be good to others so that others can join them in their happiness. 1st 1:4 John reminds us that our happiness is never complete until all those we care about are happy, too.
All happy people enjoy exploring and experiencing new things. If people, especially young people, tell you they are bored, they telling you they are unhappy. Happy people are seldom bored. They greet each new day and each new experience with what John Calvin called, “A perpetual adolescence,” the kind of joy young people should have just because they are young. They are awed by the variety and beauty of life and that is a great way to live. It goes without saying that happy people are not just watchers, they are doers.
All happy people are good at finding and maintaining true friendships. Of course, as Aristotle reminds us, not all friendships are true friendships. There are three levels and thus three kinds of friendship. First, friendships of convenience, in which both parties to the friendship chiefly value the utility of the other. “You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours.” These friendships never last beyond the utility. Second, friendships of pleasure, in which both parties to the friendship enjoy the same ideas and activities. This friendship last longer than the first, but seldom forever unless it matures. Third, and finally, true Friendship, in which each party of the friendship wills the others highest good. In true friendship, we cry when our friend cries, and laugh when our friend laughs. When they hurt we hurt; when they are dying a little piece of us is dying with them. Jesus promised his disciples true friendship when he said, “Greater love hath no one than this, that he or she lay down their life for their friends.” Then he demonstrated the depths of his own friendship, not just for his disciples but for us all.
Now this raises a question: Are happy people always happy? Sooner or later every human being will know sorrow and grief. F Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said, “Show me a hero, show me a heroine, and I will write you a tragedy.” Jesus knew great suffering and sorrow. Thus, in 1st Peter 4:1 we are warned, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought.” And 11 verses later 1st Peter warns “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.” It has happened to everyone else, eventually!
As people pass through life, we are happy at different times for different reasons. In his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, the great Jewish Psychologist Abraham Maslow examines happiness as it relates to our place on the hierarchy of human needs. If you know your Bible, you will be familiar with all seven rungs on Maslow’s hierarchy, for all seven are in there. Let’s go through them.
We all have Physiological needs—shelter, food, drink, sex, and elimination. In our gospel lesson, at a minimum, Lazarus needed shelter, and food, and drink. I even found myself wondering, “Where did this homeless man go to the bathroom?” The man tradition calls Divvies had everything. Yet he as Lazarus lay at his gate, Divvies ignored all of Lazarus’ needs until he himself ended up in torment and it was too late to help Lazarus or himself. In Romans 2:4 St. Paul tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance,” but, as in the case of Divvies, it often does not. It is a shame, for Divvies had enough and to spare.
We all have Safety needs—It is impossible to be happy when you are afraid for your life. We may be sitting on the top of the world and at the peak of the Maslow’s hierarchy. We may be rich and satisfied, concerned only with truth, beauty, and self-actualization. But if our life or welfare is suddenly threatened—whether by violence or serious illness, or legal action, we revert all the way back down to our need for safety. It becomes all we can think about, and we will do almost anything to regain it. God certainly understands our need for safety. According to our Old Testament Lesson, at God’s direction Jeremiah bought a field in the presence of many prominent Judeans to assure the people of Israel the Nebuchadnezzar and the Army of Babylon would not be the final end of their nation, for, someday, property would again be bought and sold in Israel by her people.
We all have love and belongingness needs. For most people happiness depends upon relationships. I will limit myself to family and friends. Most of us have the love of our parents. If we lack a mother’s love, or a father’s, we spend the rest of our eyes looking for it. Eventually most of us leave our mother and father to cleave to a spouse, and we raise a family of our own. Our allegiances shift but they never go away. We also need the love of friends. Our friends change, but like family, we keep our true friends. Proverbs 18:24 reminds us that “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or a sister.” And the Girl Scouts of America rightly advise, us to “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold”
We all have a need to be esteemed. The theme song for “Cheers” declares, “Sometimes you just have to go where everybody knows your name.” Some find that in a bar, others in a church kitchen or basement or sanctuary. My friend the late Stanhope Lineberry, was the Chief of the Mecklenburg County Police and a mnemonics expert. When I met him, he said to me, “Worth, just think of me, standing here hoping your will remember my name.” He went on to quote Dale Carnegie the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People who wrote that “…the sweetest sound any of us every hear is the sound of our own name.” We all want people to know our name, and we all want people to know who we are. This morning, more than anything else, I want everyone to know that “My life means as much to me as your life means to you (or anybody else in the world).” And I know that, “Your life means as much to you, as my life means to me (or anybody else in the world).” If we fail to understand either of these two truths—life can become hard, very hard. Putin has certainly failed to see the value that people put on their own lives and freedom and has joined the ranks of Hitler, Stalin, and all the rest of histories bullies.
We all have a need to know the truth but not everyone has the desire to know the truth. It has been rightly said that “Ignorance is bliss!” and many people will settle for bliss. Not everyone climbs this high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but those who want enduring happiness do. Those who have a need and a desire to know the truth seek two things. First, they seek the truth about themselves. The Delphic Oracle declared, “Know Thyself!” Jesus would have agreed. In John 2:25 we read, “No one had to tell Jesus what was in human beings for he knew what was in human beings.” Jesus knew what was in human beings primarily because he embraced his own humanity fully, and he knew what was in himself. Second, those who have a need and a desire to know the truth seek the truth about all things, beginning with those things that affect him or her most. Like an ideal system of justice, a wise person seeks to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Let me say it again, “We all have a need to know the truth, but not everyone has the desire to know the truth.” That always leads to tragedy. In the story of the Fall from Paradise, the first sin is not eating the apple. The first sin is the lies told by the serpent in order to convince Adam and Eve that God did not really care for them.
The next stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy is beauty. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That is okay. If you have achieved self-knowledge and learned to sit with humility at the feet of the facts, and follow them where they lead, then you can find beauty where you will and it will be beautiful in God’s eyes, too.
The final stage of Maslow’s Hierarchy is Self-Actualization. Not everyone achieves self-actualization. Those who do are truly blest. Jesus found it in seeking the will of his Father. In John 4:34 Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Jesus invites each of us to find self-actualization in service to him. He said, “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his or her life for my sake, and the sake of the good news will find it.”
I think it is interesting that when he was asked, “What is the secret of happiness?”, B.F. Skinner, the father of Behaviorism could do no better than to quote or let us say “mis-quote” Jesus. He said, “Whoever saves his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life, will find it.” Skinner left out Jesus which was his one mistake.
If you want a text for this half of the sermon, you will find it in Psalm 34 which declares, “O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the one who takes refuge in him!”
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.