As the guest preacher at a country church in North America, I was invited to eat lunch with the members at the fellowship meal. After the worship service I went downstairs to the fellowship hall. The woman in charge of organizing the meal requested that I come to the front of the line and ask God to bless the food. As I opened my eyes following the prayer, a plate was held in front of me, and it was clear that the woman wanted me to be the first through the line.
I felt uncomfortable with this because several children who were far hungrier than I were lined up behind me; but reluctantly I took the plate and moved forward down the table. As I did so, the woman pointed to the first dish and in a stage whisper dripping with criticism that everyone in the room could hear, she said, “This dish has r-e-a-l c-h-e-e-s-e in it.”
Had nothing been said, I probably would have skipped this dish, as it wasn’t a favorite of mine. Now every eye was watching to see what I would do. While tempted to pass it by, I was impressed to take a small spoonful. As I did, the woman who’d pointed it out to me loudly exclaimed, “Oh, no!”
SMALL GESTURE—BIG DIFFERENCE
I filled my plate from the many delicious, healthful dishes available and enjoyed sweet fellowship with the people I sat with at one of the tables. Most of the group was already gone by the time I left the room, but as I entered the hallway, I noticed a woman quietly weeping.
No pastor or elder was present, so I asked her if she needed some help. More tears coursed down her cheeks as she said, “I’m waiting for you, Dr. Hardinge! I’m the person who made that dish with real cheese. I was just baptized a few weeks ago, and this is the third time something negative has been said about the food I’ve brought. I didn’t include the ham that the recipe called for, so why are the people critical?”
We walked upstairs to the foyer to talk. What had happened was inexcusable, but at least it provided me an opportunity to share with this dear sister the purpose, beauty, and balance found in the Seventh-day Adventist health message.
We prayed together, and she thanked me for taking the time to talk with her. Then she said tearfully, “I told my husband this morning that if it happened again, I would never come back to this church. But you took a spoonful of it and ate it, and then you talked with me. I will be coming back!”
BE A FRIEND
About 18 months later I talked with the pastor about the incident, and I learned that his wife had made a point of befriending the woman and had given her some cooking lessons in their home. Today she is a solid, faithful member of the church—and is now the one in charge of potlucks! Even better, her husband has since been baptized.
What a difference one small serving made! Praise God! We must always ask ourselves, “Do we love people more than we love health principles?”
A PRECIOUS HEALTH MESSAGE
As Seventh-day Adventists, we’ve been blessed with a most precious message regarding health. It was given not only for our own personal health and well-being, but equally for the purpose of sharing healthful-living principles with others in a way that will attract them to Jesus Christ and His soon return. The primary goal of health ministry activities is to lead people to Jesus as the agent of transformation in their lives. People are to be taught that it’s the power of God that provides a miraculous change in the life.
Earnest health reformers can learn much from Joseph Bates, one of our early pioneers. Even prior to the disappointment of 1844, the crusty old sea captain had given up alcohol, tobacco, rich foods, and grease, and had become a vegetarian. D. E. Robinson in his book The Story of Our Health Message said this of Bates:
“Sometimes his friends would ask him why he did not partake of flesh meat, or grease, or highly spiced foods; and he would quietly reply, ‘I have eaten my share of them.’ He did not make prominent in public or in private his views of proper diet unless asked about them. Naturally he was gratified when many of his fellow laborers at a later date adopted and began to teach the principles of health reform. He then heartily joined them in speaking freely upon the subject.”¹
Extreme views and practices of health reform have plagued our church from the earliest times. This caused Ellen White to write, “These extremists do more harm in a few months than they can undo in a lifetime. They are engaged in a work which Satan loves to see go on.”² It seems there are always some people who take good and correct principles to the extreme.
Ellen White was very balanced and loving in her outlook. In a sermon preached on May 16, 1884, she said, “We don’t make the health reform an iron bedstead, cutting people off or stretching them out to fit it. One person cannot be a standard for everybody else. What we want is a little sprinkling of good common sense. Don’t be extremists. If you err, it would be better to err on the side of the people than on the side where you cannot reach them.”³
Paul pleaded for the same! “So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat” (Rom. 14:19, 20).⁴
“In teaching health reform, as in all other gospel work, we are to meet the people where they are. Until we can teach them how to prepare health reform foods that are palatable, nourishing, and yet inexpensive, we are not at liberty to present the most advanced propositions regarding health reform diet.”⁵ Oh, that all would exhibit this balance and understanding.
You can visit the General Conference Nutrition Council site⁶ for valuable and balanced information on nutrition—and even on potlucks!⁷
Health reformers should always bear in mind the words of Paul: “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Col. 4:6).