E-pistle January 28

A here and now gospel

Jack LaLanne died this past Sunday at age 96. Boomers and older remember Jack LaLanne for his television show, fitness centers and power juicer, among other things. LaLanne was one of the first in on the realization that a suburban, mechanized and eventually digitalized world would lead to the ubiquitous couch potato if we didn’t do something about it.  One of the many news reports this week said, “He preached the gospel of exercise, raw vegetables and clean living long after his contemporaries had traded in their bicycles for nursing home beds.”

Apparently Jack LaLanne was working out a couple hours a day well into his 90’s and was both physically and mentally vigorous until just recently. Good for Jack LaLanne.  While I am not very fond of the cheapening of the word, most of us would do well to heed his gospel.

But even at 96 and even with life as a testimony to the power of his “gospel,” Jack LaLanne died.  There are no exceptions to the rule stated in Hebrews 9:27 that each of us has an appointment with death.

Jack LaLanne was a master of promotion and used one-liners to make his points.  Especially in his 70’s and beyond, he would often say, “I can’t die. It would ruin my image.” It was a not a metaphysical statement, just a good reminder to stay fit no matter how old.

As he got older and faced the reality that some day death would ruin his image, he put off any serious discussion of things beyond physical and mental fitness by saying, “Billy Graham is for the hereafter. I’m for the here and now.” He was half right.

Indeed, Jack Lalanne and the awareness of, if not our adherence to, the importance of physical fitness is for the here and now. But the Gospel Billy Graham has faithfully preached for eight decades (the capital G, good news Gospel) is about both the hereafter and the here and now.

Americans are famous for our ability to compartmentalize. We deal with the pieces better than we deal with the whole. We’ll spend a trillion dollars to jump start the economy today and let our kids worry about the debt tomorrow.  We’re scandalized by the filth and squalor of a local abortion clinic, but not by abortion itself. We’ll shake our heads at the moral dissipation of  Charley Sheen, but do not think twice about joining the laugh track laughter next time we see him on “Two a Half Men.”

The Gospel-containing Scriptures of the Old and New Testament won’t let us compartmentalize.  They speak about debt and passing on debt to future generations (and they don’t like the practice; see Leviticus 25). They talk about the miracle of every life fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139).  They tell of us a strong joy that is so much deeper than nervous laughter at the not very funny (see Colossians 1:11 among many).

And these same scriptures speak of physical fitness – our bodies the very temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) – and mental fitness – our minds thinking about excellence, beauty and truth (see Philippians 4:8).

Jack LaLanne said in jest that death would ruin his image, but his “gospel” was, in the end, only a here and now gospel.  For all of us here and now someday ends.  We don’t need another gospel to deal with the hereafter.  What we need is a Gospel, a strong and true Gospel, that is a Gospel for the here and now and for the hereafter.  That’s just what we have in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God.