Godly Sorrow

On occasion, I’ve written about my weight, type II diabetes, and running. If you wanna get caught up, check out this post. I’ve even written about how food and weight loss is a spiritual issue for me. To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with diabetes and decided to fight back. I lost around a 120 pounds and developed a fondness for running, or at least the slow shuffle I refer to as running. I’m ashamed to admit that my old-self has fought back somewhat. I suffered some nagging injuries and started a new desk job last year. Admittedly, these are poor excuses, but the end result was gaining back about 60 pounds. My last trip to the doctor led to an ultimatum; get control over this or go back on medication for your diabetes. So I am once again fighting back. I rejoined Weight Watchers in January and have lost 13 pounds or so since. Something about paying for my weight loss inspires me to stick with it.

But the point is, I’m fighting back. I even ran today. It sucked, but I did it. I could have chosen to give up and allow myself to be characterized by my many, many past failures. But I chose instead to do the best I could.

It occurred to me today that we often face the same choice in our spiritual walks. Too often Christians allow themselves to be characterized by their past sin and failures. We never experience the abundant life Christ offers us because we simply can’t let go of our past. Time and time again I hear the same cry, “I just can’t forgive myself!” 

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Sin is nothing to take lightly and sorrow is the natural reaction to it. Sin should break us and bring us to our knees. But at some point, we have to look up. The Apostle Paul wrote that Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). There is a reason for the pain and sorrow that sin causes. It causes us to reach out for Christ. Paul also wrote that a worldly sorrow brings death. Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. When we neglect repentance, our sin is all pain and all sorrow with no gift. Godly sorrow lead to repentance, worldly sorrow leads to death; it’s our choice.

My sinful relationship with food has lead me to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight and to diabetes. Where has your sin led you?

More importantly, how will you respond? 

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Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

Food and Diet as a Spiritual Issue

1rm9glhv0ua-brooke-larkGenesis 9:3 “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

1 Timothy 4:1-5 “… deceiving spirits …. Order [people] to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a long and complicated relationship with food. My weight has fluctuated greatly throughout my adult life ranging from as high as 390+ pounds to as low as 178. I do not have a healthy relationship with the food I eat.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with a very bad case of Type II Diabetes to go along with the high blood pressure I was already being treated for. I weighed in at 368 pounds and, at 45 years old, things looked a little bleak. My health issues were exacerbated by mental and spiritual issues. I knew my diet and weight had become sinful. And I was deeply depressed as a result. So I confessed to some close Christian friends that my gluttony was a spiritual issue and I prayed for God to help me make a change.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I began dieting and exercising more. Cycling and running became staple exercises for me and my body responded well. I’ve lost weight (more on this later) and was taken off all my blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol medications. But I must confess that as I write this in January of 2017, I still don’t have a healthy relationship with food. I have tried nearly every diet out there. I did Weight Watchers. I have abstained from carbs, eaten an all-clean and natural diet, and even drank buttered-coffee while fasting from all foods in an attempt to get control over my gluttony.

Nothing has really worked.

I still struggle mightily. This morning I weighed in at 282 pounds. My lowest weight in 2016 was 249 pounds so I’ve gained some weight back over the winter … and I am frustrated. I feel like I’m standing at the crossroads. Either I’ll get a handle on this now or I’ll gain all my weight back … and I refuse to gain my weight back.

I am keenly aware that, for me, my weight is a spiritual issue. I cannot regain control of my food addiction without leaning on God Almighty. I am turning to Him in prayer and asking Him to speak to me through His Word. Today’s passages from Scripture suggest that a healthy relationship with food is one that partakes of “everything that lives and moves” and “all the food that God created” provided it is eaten with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides.

These passages leave me with some things to ponder and pray about. What types of food can be considered “provided by God”? Certainly, these passages suggest a person should eat from all food groups both plants and animals; but what about pizza or rich, decadent desserts? Did God provide these types of junk food or are they too tarnished by the hands of man?

As I ponder and pray over these questions, one thing is for certain. Whatever I eat, will be eaten in thanksgiving to God. I will stop and acknowledge Him before I put any food in my mouth. I will praise Him for supplying my needs and ask for His strength to help me moderate my food intake.

One thing is for certain … food and diet is a spiritual issue.

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Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

Living the Abundant Life: Overcoming Sin

I’ve never posted a sermon I’ve preached to this blog before, so I thought I would try it out. Attached to this post is an mp3 of a sermon I preached on July 19th at Real Joy Community Fellowship titled Living the Abundant Life: Overcoming Sin.

We can’t live our life with one foot in the abundant pasture and one foot out!

Is Sin Relative?

Is Sin Relative?

A friend recently sent me a link to an article written by pagan author Patti Wiggington titled, Do Pagans Believe in Sin? I offered my friend an unsolicited rebuttal and thought I would share an edited version with my readers.

First, let me say that Wiggington is a wonderful writer. She clearly and articulately states what it is she and other pagans believe. I appreciate that because it makes it much easier to digest and rebut.

Having read the article, I found that Wiggington was suggesting that sin is “relative” – as such, she argues that sin is subjective. Here’s a quote that illuminates her argument, “Ultimately, what matters most is that you find a way to remain true to your own values and ethics.”

Christianity argues that sin is objective. It doesn’t matter what I think is a sin. If I think murder is okay, God still says it is wrong. If I think being a drug addict is okay, God still says it is wrong. Here’s where it gets tough … If I think lust is okay, God still says it is wrong. God says hate is akin to murder, it doesn’t matter what I think. To me, this seems far more realistic and practical than the argument that it is our own values and ethics that are important. Why? Basically, people are susceptible to stupidity. If you think about, responsible fathers treat their children the same way. We don’t leave our naive children to live life on their own as they see fit – we instruct them on the best way to live and the best choices to make. God treats us in the same manner.

Christ teaches that sin is objective, acknowledges that none of us meet a holy standard, and gives us a plan to deal with it and strive to be better. Again, this is exactly how a responsible parent handles their own children. You give them rules and guidelines to live by. When they mess up … you forgive them and love them anyway … just like God the Father does for us through Jesus Christ.

As such, I argue that Christianity is far more responsible than the pagan view and closely resembles an actual parent/child relationship.

In our lives, hind-site is twenty-twenty, right? In her article, Wiggington argues that multiple sex partners are okay as long as everything is consensual. Let’s put this concept to the test. Let’s say a married couple decides the wife should have a fling … everything is consensual, everyone’s adults, and what matters most is that everyone remains true to their own values and ethics. So the wife goes ahead and does it two or three times (now keep in mind that this whole time the Christian God is screaming that it’s wrong and begging her to stop). Somewhere along the way, the husband regrets his decision and finds that it is painful to know his wife has been intimate with another man. He asks her to stop and she does even though she was enjoying herself. Do you think the husband will ever get the image of his wife cheating out of his mind?

This is a case of a human being’s values and ethics changing. We do it all the time. This is why as we grow older we often regret the choices we made in the past. Meanwhile, the one true God has never changed His opinion on sin. Adultery was wrong before the wife did it and it is still wrong now. But even after such a mistake, Christ wants to draw us near, help fix it, and restore our relationship with God the Father.

Wow … God loves us just like we love our own children.

Solomon's Slow Descent Into Sin

king solomonMany people are familiar with the manner by which King Solomon (David’s son) became the wisest man to have ever lived. As the story unfolds in the third chapter of 1 Kings, God appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5 NIV). In perhaps his wisest action, Solomon replies to God, “… give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:9 NIV). God is so happy with Solomon’s request that He grants him a wise and discerning heart like none other and gives him the additional blessings of riches and honor (1 Kings 3:10-13).

Many of us are familiar with the Biblical account. But do you know the rest of the story?

Solomon faltered greatly during his tenure as King and eventually turned his back on God. If the wisest and most discerning man of all time turned away from God, what hope is there for the rest of us? First, let’s take a look at what Solomon did wrong …

1 Kings, chapter 11 clearly tells us where Solomon made his mistake. First, he took over 700 wives and 300 concubines. This was done in direct violation of God’s standard that the marriage relationship was created to be shared between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). Additionally, in Exodus 34:16, God explicitly warns Moses that His chosen people are not to marry foreign women and risk being pulled into the worship of pagan gods. Solomon knew the risks and God’s warnings yet he married these women anyway? Why? Solomon was a king. It was the practice of ancient rulers to marry foreign women as means to accumulate wealth, power, and to extend peace throughout the land. You can almost hear Solomon justifying his actions, “I know you prohibited it God, but certainly in this case the good outweighs the bad. Beside, I’ll never be seduced by pagan gods … I’m Solomon!”

Despite his discernment, Solomon does indeed succumb to worshiping pagan gods. The Bible records that in his old age, his wives (whom he loved dearly) seduced him into following their gods. Solomon began to worship the false gods of the Sidonians, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. He even built an altar to them on the Mount of Olives (1 Kings 11:4-8). Some of these pagan deities were known for the child sacrifices that were made to them. It was a form of worship that was detestable to God.

Yet Solomon did it anyway.

I ask once again … if the wisest of all men can stumble as badly a Solomon did, what hope is there for us?

To put it bluntly … there is nope hope for us. Regardless of our intentions, we are going to sin. We all do it; even the wisest among us. So what do we do?

When telling the story of Solomon’s fall, Scriptures make a comparison between him and his father David. 1 Kings 11:4 says, “… [Solomon’s] heart was not completely with the Lord his God, as his father David’s heart had been.” Like Solomon and the rest of us, David was a man who sinned greatly. His sins are perhaps among the most famous in history. He lusted after Bathsheba (Solomon’s mother) and had her husband killed so he could take her as his wife. It was a terrible sin; however, David’s response to it was different than Solomon’s. When rebuked for what he had done, David acknowledged his sin (2 Samuel 12:13). David made no excuses for his actions; rather, he repented and continued to worship the Lord.

Solomon’s fall seems a bit harder than his father’s. He writes in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14:

13 …   here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Solomon’s sin cost him greatly before he learned the lesson that it just wasn’t worth it. This rings familiar today because most of the world’s religions fail to elevate sin as the problem that separates us from God. Other faiths might try to alleviate suffering or institute practices that will bring a person closer to the divine. Christianity alone  identifies sin as the act that separates us from a perfectly holy God. Solomon, like many of us, had to learn this lesson the hard way.

I tend to believe that Solomon’s descent into sin took a long time. He didn’t see it for what it was because it began with something small and gradually built until he had turned his back on God and began to worship pagan idols. His descent into idolatry was a slow one that began with just a little disobedience.

Solomon’s path is one that we are all at risk of following. We must follow David’s example and learn to repent for our sins. We must accept the forgiveness that is found in Christ Jesus.

Sources

Explore the Bible: Quick Source Leader Volume 6 Number 3 by Lifeway Christian Resources
All in One Bible Reference Guide by Zondervan
Quest NIV Study Bible by Zondervan
https://www.gotquestions.org/was-Solomon-saved.html

 

 

Back Sliding and Bicycles

A few years ago my friend Russ and I decided to get into bike riding. It happened kind of on a whim, but I jumped in with both feet and went out and bought a fancy road bike with all the bells and whistles. Soon after, I bought a nice mountain bike and cycling became my primary form of entertainment. I can remember with great clarity how exciting it was when I first rode over ten miles. Soon, a ten mile ride was nothing to me. Before I knew it, a fifteen or twenty mile ride was common place. I even logged a few rides over fifty and sixty miles. It was a blast. Life eventually got in the way; however, and I got a little derailed. I sort of fell off the bike riding wagon and gained about fifty pounds. Riding the bike was suddenly harder for me. I rode just today and had to work to get in seven miles.

If you put my bike riding into church-talk, you could say that I “back-slid.”

“Back-sliding” is a phrase that I hear often. If you hang out with Christians for any length of time, you’ll eventually hear it as well. Normally, it comes just after someone finds out I’m a Christian, “I didn’t know you were a Christian Clark. I used to be one, but I’ve sort of “back-slid.”

This terminology drives me up a wall. My first response when someone tells me they have ‘back-slid’ is to ask them how. I ask for specifics. I am interested in knowing because it blows me away that someone can think they have fallen so far off the track that they no longer qualify as a Christian. Normally, after I talk to someone long enough, I discover that they don’t mean they have quit believing in Christ or the lessons He taught … what they normally mean is that they have fallen back into a pattern of sin that they thought they had outgrown or given up for good. It is the recurrence of that sin in their lives that prompts them to describe themselves as a “former Christian” that has “back-slid.”

Let me explain why this cheeses me off so much. Being “back-slidden” as described above is a man made concept. Obviously, there are some people who used to believe in Christ and possessed a Judeo-Christian faith that have quit believing for some reason. That’s a different story than I described above. The problem is that most people who describe themselves as “back-slidden” don’t fit into that category; rather, they have allowed the presence of sin in their lives to convince them that they no longer qualify as a Christian. Maybe that’s a concept that their pastor taught them, or maybe it comes out of their denomination’s doctrinal statement; but it certainly isn’t Biblical. The Bible says that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! We’ve discussed the concept of grace in detail on this blog … tell me, whom among us deserves it?

Denominations that allow people to think they can “back-slide” enough to make God quit loving them are doing their members a huge disservice. So you’ve got sin in your life, huh? Guess what … so does every Christian that walks the earth!

The heart of the matter here is cowardice. People that say they have “back-slidden” out of the grace of the All Mighty are cowards. They make it sound like something that happened to them involuntarily. Certainly, there are addictions and what-not that are harder to fight than others, but all of us who call ourselves Christians have to deal with the presence of sin in our lives. It isn’t always easy, but Christ calls us all to deal with the sin in our lives and live for a higher purpose. Paul compared following Christ to running a marathon because it isn’t always easy.

We have a choice … we can dub ourselves back-slidden and fall deeper and deeper into sin …. or we can get back on the bicycle and huff and puff our way for seven miles … and accept the fact that Jesus Christ died for us no matter where we are on the path.

Clark