Lent and the Value of Discipline

So as some of you who follow my blog may know by now I’m not exactly a typical Baptist when it comes to many of the religious traditions I observe. I like to mix a bit of high church tradition in with my simple Baptist beliefs, and Lent is no exception. On the chance you are unfamiliar with Lent, it is a six-week time leading up to Easter that is traditionally observed with forty days of fasting. Some people will give up soda, chocolate, television, or some other material comfort in order to have more time to spend in prayer and meditation and as a means to turn cravings into reminders of the reason for the season.

Unfortunately many denominations do not openly advocate or recognize Lent, which is a real shame in my opinion. If there is one thing I think people today need to work on their self-discipline. We who are in the developed world are really lacking in self-discipline because instant gratification is so readily available to us. We have youtube, netflix, online shopping, fast food, instant coffee, texting, automobiles, and advertisements galore just to name a few. We have to go on “retreats” into nature just to escape the fast pace world we live in. There is very little that is not readily available to us in a matter of minutes and as a result we tend to be very impatient and unappreciative people.

With the beginning of the year I undertook the goal of becoming more disciplined in the way I eat and in staying more physically active. It was difficult and required me to withhold may pleasures and comforts, but so far I have lost seventeen pounds and I look better and feel healthier. So much so that I wonder why I ever could have been so content with lounging around and eating so unhealthy. The point I’m making is discipline and self-control are the tools we need to develop if we ever want to truly live life to its full potential rather than settling for instant gratification.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

– Hebrews 12:11

Now I started my Lent a little early (since most people don’t start until Wednesday) but I want to encourage you to really participate this year and go for something difficult. This year I have given up “time-wasting” which is a very difficult thing to give up. By this I mean that for the past week and for the next forty days I have committed not to do anything that I would consider time-wasting. What does that mean for me? It means I have given up:

  • Television
  • Movies
  • Time Wasting Websites (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc…)
  • Being Bored and Doing Nothing

Now I really do want to emphasize that Lent isn’t simply about learning to resist, but also learning to achieve and work towards something. In the time I have open from eliminating the above things I have filled with:

  • Prayer
  • Scripture Reading
  • Finishing All Those Books I Never Get Around To
  • Exercising
  • Meditating
  • Spending Time With Loved Ones
  • Writing That Book I Always Wanted To Write

And, that’s not all you can do with the time and energy you save during Lent. You could use your time to create art, or finish that product you started a long time ago, learn a skill, or to do what ever you have always wanted to do. Maybe you have a bad habit or unhealthy area of your life you need to get rid of, well this is the perfect time to break it and fill the hole with something you are passionate about. Most importantly though, this is a great time to seek the Lord and prepare your heart for the Easter season.

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

– Proverbs 13:4

If you are not one who gets into scripture regularly I encourage you to do so. If you are not one who prays easily or one who can meditate on the Lord without fidgeting or mentally wandering I encourage you to work on that. This is a great time to grow spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally if you only seize the opportunity. Like me, you don’t have to wait for Ash Wednesday to start. I’m already a week in and I’ve accomplished so much in the this short time.

Take this time and use it to become a more centered person and to grow spiritually in your Christian walk. Giving up chocolate is fine and dandy, but I’d really love to see more people really take up the heart of Lent and actually push themselves to make some big changes. Discipline is not something to feared, it is merely a tool which a person uses to reach the full potential that God has given them.

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A Commitment To A Healthy Life Part 2: Let’s Talk Porn

So in my last post I talked about the area in my life where I struggled with habitual sin (unhealthy eating and over-eating). I talked about how being willingly unhealthy in any area  of your life is not honoring your body and the gift of life that God has given you. I’m only on day four of my low-calorie plant and water based diet and only two days into my exercise routine. I’m hungry and sometimes a bit winded, but it feels good to be actively doing something instead of ignoring habitual sin. Since I’m on a bit of a health kick right now I decided to address another very unhealthy habitual sin that I think is just as harmful and wide spread (if not more so) than over-eating. That of course being pornography. I already showed you guy sin the last post a chart of the four areas of health.

slide37My last post I dealt pretty exclusively with physical health since it was the area I probably lack in the most and need to do the most work in. In the spirit of good health I decided to devote today’s post to an area of health that I know plagues most of the modern male community even more so than laziness and gluttony.

Now granted I know that there is a sizable chunk of the female population who also struggles with pornography, and I don’t want to exclude you or pretend that you don’t exist, but since I am a male and can only speak from a male’s perspective, this post will probably be pretty male-centric. Having said that let’s begin.

First of all we need to address why pornography is unhealthy. Some of you may be shocked to learn that this needs to be clarified, and others may already be ready to attack my claim and defend your beloved porn. In order to save some time here’s a link to Gary Wilson’s “The Great Porn Experiment”:

As you can see in the above video, this porn problem isn’t merely a matter of spiritual health, but it also has mental and physical consequences. One could venture to say that pornography negatively effects all four areas of health in some way or another. Not to mention the fact that it is a time consuming, antisocial, and counterproductive way to spend your time. To put it in simple pro-con terms, the benefits (an orgasm by yourself) in no way even compare to the detractors.

What are these detractors you might ask, well for starters let’s be honest and just admit that porn is exploitive. No matter who your object of lust is, when porn is concerned they become just that… an object. When a person watches porn they don’t seek to know the person or people involved. They don’t want to build a relationship with them, know their heart, grow them as a person, or help them along life’s trials and tribulations. The images you masturbate to are nothing more to you than things you can use to get what you want. You have degrades that person to little more than a virtual prostitute, and how does that reflect the love of God to them?

Sex was designed to be a bonding experience between married couples. It creates a physically intimate connection that is meant to mirror and compliment the already strong emotional connection. Porn spits in the face of what sex was designed for. It separates rather than binds, it creates loneliness rather than intimacy, and it objectifies the other person rather than fueling your love for them. It’s a filthy addiction that has become far too normalized with the passage of time. We are reaching a point where people are poisoning themselves so frequently that they don’t even realize that it’s poison anymore.

It’s also worth noting that pornography is very rarely a one time sin. Porn is so readily available today that upon giving in to temptation once it becomes increasingly easier to give in again and again in an endless cycle:

CycleOfAddictionCropped

Think of all the time and energy that is devoted by the person described in the above image. I know quitting can be extremely hard, and for a large chunk of my life I don’t think I ever went more than a week without porn or masturbating, but I can tell you that it’s worth the effort. I can’t tell you how much emotional and mental energy I used to devote to watching porn, quitting porn, and relapsing again. It was so exhausting that at times I would just give up on recovering and settle in my little rut of porn for weeks at a time. It’s not healthy and I guarantee you there has never been a person who on their death bed wished they had spent more time masturbating.

When I was on porn I was more anti-social, more introverted, more self-conscious, and always in a state of fear that my dirty secret would be uncovered. Off porn the temptation does not go away, but it get’s easier with time. I’m more energetic, outgoing, and confident. I have more free time and I don’t have to devote so much mental and spiritual energy to combatting porn or dealing with regret. It’s liberating to know I can lend my computer to someone without having a panic attack over whether or not they’ll see my browsing history. A life without porn is a life of freedom that those still trapped in its binds cannot yet understand.

As the great C.S. Lewis wrote:

“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.”

-C.S. Lewis

If for no other reason porn is a lapse of self control and needs to be mastered if one ever hopes to master himself. No one wants porn, what they want is intimacy with another human being. This desire that is built into us is meant to spur us towards greater and better things. To give into porn is to settle for loneliness.

If you who are reading this are struggling then know that you can do this. It is possible to quit, you just have to motivate yourself to actually do it. If you are tired of starting over, then for the love of God (literally) stop failing! Maybe that sounds over simplistic, but if we are were all honest with ourselves the only reason anyone ever gives into temptation is because in that moment they chose the easy way out and gave up.

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

-Romans 7:19-20

Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus.You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

-Ephesians 4:19-24

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

-Galatians 5:24

Seriously, guys. It’s time to man up and take control of ourselves. If you are in habitual sin with pornography the first thing you need to do is to pray for forgiveness from God and for strength and determination to quit. The Second thing is to find ways to avoid temptation and healthy ways to deal with temptation when it inevitably arrises. The third thing is to seek accountability. As scripture says, “cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) and “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17). It is important to have someone keeping you accountable, someone you trust, someone who want’s what is best for you. You can do this.

If you want a more in-depth guide to helping you or someone you know quit for good I highly recommend the following books:

Every%20Man's%20Battle_low

“Every Man’s Battle” – By Stephen Arterburn (For Married Men)

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“Every Young Man’s Battle” – Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker (Unmarried Guys)

A Commitment to A Healthy Life: Not Just A New Years Resolution

slide37

The four areas of health.

So I’m opening this post up with a confession. I’m a “class 1 obese male.” For those of you who are like I was and didn’t know anything about this that means, it means that I have moved from being “over weight” and now qualify as “obese.” There are two more levels of obesity known as “severe” and “morbid” but my point is that I’m on the wrong side of physical health and I need to do something about it.

I’m not a very insecure guy, and most days I think I’m looking pretty good (pride might need to be addressed too) but the fact of the matter is that what I was calling “self-confidence” and “accepting who I am” was really just excusing sin in my life. For me and the vast majority of people with weight problems, obesity is completely preventable. What I lacked (and what many people lack) is a good motivation for actually getting out there and exercising or eating right. I was perfectly content with being the outgoing, funny, over-weight guy at the party. I joked about over-eating and not exercising as if gluttony and laziness were something to be proud of. “Die young and make a pretty corpse” I would say, or “I’m just gonna beat you to the finish line. ” It wasn’t until my Pastor delivered a message on physical heathy Sunday (honestly when’s the last time you heard a sermon on that) which really kicked my butt that I started taking my sin seriously. What I hadn’t considered, and what I needed to realize, was that my lack of physical health wasn’t just me accepting my faults. I was cheating God of my best.

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul was addressing sexual sin’s in the church, but I believe his teaching here pertains to what I’m talking about:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

-1 Corinthians 6:19-20

I’m going to be blunt and say you can’t honor God by being unhealthy. My lack of endurance, my low energy, my excessive eating, my future health problems (that are sure to come if I don’t make a change), and my shortened lifespan do nothing for the kingdom and can only serve to hinder my ministry. As a youth minister, how could I think that I could lead my youth away from habitual sins when I had a big one right in front of me that I was ignoring.

“Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

-Romans 12:1

I think saying no the fatty foods and getting some exercise is one of the least things I can do for my God. Abusing this gift he has given me (my body) serves no purpose and only hinders. I’m committing to a healthier life style, not for myself, but as an act of worship.

Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

-Proverbs 23:20-21

Look, I’m a guy who loves a good beer. I’d go so far as to say I get mad cravings from time to time, and though it has been over a year since I last got drunk (I went through a rough patch for a while) I still will occasionally indulge myself. I’ve share the gospel with people in a bar, and believe it or not you can drink and honor God at the same time. Just like a shared meal can lead to great fellowship, neither alcohol or food are evil in and of themselves. It is when taken in excess that these things become accessories to sin. For the time being (until I get a healthier control over myself) I’m putting away the booze along with the fat.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

-Galatians 5:16

My encouragement for everyone who reads this is that you would live by the Spirit and learn not to gratify the sinful nature. Habitual sin is no joking matter no matter what form it takes. Regardless of if you are physically, spiritually, mentally, or emotionally unhealthy (or some combination of the four) we don’t need to sit on our butts and do nothing about it. We should be doing everything in our power to honor God with our mind, body, soul, and heart, especially if you are like me and know exactly what needs to change in your life. Don’t wait another day, start now. First repent of your sins and make a commitment to change your life, not for yourself, but so that you can bring glory and honor to God. Go forth and be the best you can be to the glory of the one who made you.