By COSHANDRA DILLARD
The first day of the New Year fell on a Sunday, serving as an appropriate time for David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, to begin his series, "Habits of Healthy Christians."
Many Americans use the New Year as a spring board for goals, mostly related to health. But just as health experts and doctors have told us, Dykes also emphasized to his congregation the need for developing healthy habits year-round. He declared the first week of January "physical fitness week" at the church.
"Now it didn't mean we're just going to do it for just one week," he said. "All that meant was that we devoted one full week to very intentional opportunities to get people moving."
It kicked off with a 6 a.m. weekday prayer walk at the church's Family Life Center. The focus on physical health culminated into Fit Fest, an event that offered exposure to exercises classes, boot camps, a health expo and health screenings. Several hundred people showed up for the walks and the event.
Throughout the year, there are activities from which to choose at the church, including Zumba, Body Pump and Body Vive. Today, it's not unusual for churches to offer exercise classes or even house a gym. However, Dykes said Green Acres was among the first to offer recreational amenities, with the Family Life Center built in 1976.
"We have a real emphasis on that, but what I think people did not realize, and what I really stressed a few weeks ago is how it is a calling of God to be physically fit," he said "It's not just a nice, healthy thing to do. ... Physical fitness really is an act of worship."
Dykes said in feedback he received from his congregation, his new year topic was the first of such they'd heard at a church.
Ravin Johnson, 28, said he doesn't believe churches, in general, do enough to encourage physical health.
"I think they should," he said. "They should talk about every part, body, mind, spirit, everything."
Johnson is not a member of the church but has been working out at Green Acre's Family Life Center for about two months. Appearing physically strong, he runs and lift weights.
"If you do right by your body, your body will do right by you," he said "If you do right by God, everything will fall into place. You've got to put God first, always. Without Him, you'll be sick, unhealthy. You can have all these muscles, but still, if you aren't right by God, everything can still fall, no matter how much you work out."
It's a sentiment Dykes also shared during his Jan. 1 sermon: "When your body is right, you're healthy; when your soul is right, you're happy; when your spirit is right, you're holy," he said. "When you're healthy, happy and holy, you have achieved God's plan for your life."
So what exactly does the Bible say about physical health?
"What a lot of Christians don't even realize is that when the Bible says that God made us in his image, in Genesis, Chapter 1, it doesn't mean we look like God," Dykes said. "It means that just as God is a tri-unity. ... When God created us he also created us as a tri-unity: body, soul and spirit. So once you understand that, then you understand that both physical fitness, emotional fitness, which has to do with your soul, and spiritual fitness is a real responsibility for every Christian. A lot of times physical fitness is neglected in Christian circles."
Dykes said inadvertently neglecting health may stem from a Greek philosophy that says the body is evil and the soul is good, so it doesn't matter what happens to the body. In other words, there is a total separation of the inner and outer person.
Kasey Vogel, 22, began working out at Family Life Center on Wednesday. He works out daily and plays baseball at Texas College. Vogel believes most people want to be healthy, but that many work out just to make themselves look good for other people.
"I think you should take care of your body because it's says in the Bible that it is your temple," he said in between some weight lifting.
Dykes also called fitness a "spiritual calling."
"For a Christian who is really trying to live a life according to the Bible, we have another motive, and that is to please God ..." he said. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good. There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be healthy and live longer and better, but there's another layer of motivation for Christians."
Dykes has struggled with his weight most of his life and noted that his father, a large man, died at 58. He's lost about 25 pounds during the past year and is aiming to lose 10 more.
"It's a constant challenge for me," he said. "I'm in there with everybody else. I'm not really the example. I'm kind of the fellow struggler."
One thing that has worked for the pastor is the "Daniel Diet," a plan that mirrors a vegetarian diet and is based on scriptures found in Daniel 1:12-16. He said about once a year, he tries it for 10 days to "reboot."
In a Northwestern Medicine report last year, its researchers concluded that young adults who go to a religious event at least once a week are 50 percent more likely to become obese by the time they are middle-aged.
Another report, done in 1998, stated that Baptists tend to be the heaviest, while Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist adherents are the least overweight.
It may stem from age-honored traditions, such as "dinner on the grounds" or covered-dish gatherings that are common at the church or after funerals.
"Baptists love to eat," Dykes said lightheartly. "When we think about the word fellowship, we think about the word food. Baptists, we love our covered dish suppers -- fried chicken, the whole thing."
But he contends that he won't tell people what and how to eat, but rather, provide the resources and inspiration to make healthy choices.
"Most of us know the right way to eat," Dykes said. "We just don't. For instance, knowledge is knowing that apples are good, potato chips are bad. But wisdom is the ability to apply that knowledge to your life."