Thursday, July 25, 2013

Expect a Hard Long Bloody Fight

"Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." - Hebrews 12:3-4

In the fight against sin, what do you expect? This is a vitally important question to answer, because our expectations influence our attitude and response in the midst of the fight.

It's common in the Christian life to expect our fight against sin to be easy. We can think, "Great! All I need to do is repent once in a big display of vulnerability and contrition, have God wave His magic wand over my struggles with porn, drugs, cutting, food, depression, anger, impatience, selfishness, and BOOM... healed! Just quick, easy, clean, once-and-done healing. Sweet deal!"

When this is our expectation, it sets up a very dangerous scenario. As soon as the fight takes longer than we expect, or is harder, or we fail, our world crumbles. We lash out at God. "What the heck God!? I thought you were a good Savior? I thought you were going to help me? WHERE ARE YOU? Why do I feel even WORSE than I did before?" And as the fight drags on, and more failures happen, we begin to grow radically bitter, jaded, and cynical. We begin to forget the gospel, we mistrust God, we become discouraged, and we eventually stop fighting altogether.

What if we had a different expectation? Expect the fight to be:
  • HARD, Not Easy: The fight will be hard. Up until this point in your life, you've just coddled and nurtured and aided your sin. But when the Holy Spirit stepped in, your heart was transformed. You were given NEW desires, because you became a NEW creation in Christ. For the first time, you truly FOUGHT against your sin. You went from peacetime to a state of war. This makes life harder than it was before. It means the fight has STARTED for the first time. It's going to be HARD with many painful decisions to cut off your hand, gouge out your eye, repent in radical painful ways. It will cost something. To make it, you will need to be strengthened, and properly equipped for the battle. You will need to train yourself, develop strategies, and enlist help from others. Sober up!! This is brutal. It is no cake walk. John Owen said it well of constant violence, "Always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you."
  • LONG, Not Short: The fight will be long. In God's sovereign wisdom, most of the time He allows you to wrestle with a besetting sin for longer than you would prefer. When you realize this difficult truth, you will have a decision to make, if you are going to scrap it and ditch God, or choose to rest in HIS forgiveness amidst your horrible performance. This is radically humbling. The fight will not be over in a few weeks after some 30-day Bible study program. Don't expect change overnight, or even over a year. Growth is best measured in decades, not days. It could take the rest of your life. How will you survive?? You will need the perseverance and endurance that only the Gospel can bring. That is the larger war that you're fighting, to remember and believe the gospel. Only the Cross of Christ provides the kind of empowerment that you need to make it long-term. 
  • BLOODY, Not Clean: The fight will be bloody. There will be failures. There will be compromises, betrayals, times when everything in you screams for your sinful idol to be gratified, AND YOU WILL CAVE. Expect this. Expect failure. If you expect it, you won't freak out when you find yourself slurping up the broken cistern toilet water that you vowed never to drink from again. This is pretty normal. Newsflash: You're a sinner, and you can't save yourself. That's the whole point of why Christ HAD to come to save sinners. We could NOT save ourselves. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much self-discipline you muster up, no matter how much you HATE failing, you WILL sin, you will fall, and it'll be YOUR blood on the ground. How can we make it?? You will need the encouragement of the gospel RIGHT AFTER the failure. You will need to stop going it alone, and gather brothers and sisters around you who can point you to Jesus. 
We MUST expect the fight to be hard, long, and bloody. If you have the wrong expectations, you will wind up dead, real quick. Have the proper expectations, and even when things get hard you will be even MORE encouraged. When someone tells you an experience will be hard before you get into it, somehow it becomes easier, because it's helpful to have a proper expectation. It validates your feelings of frustration and difficulty, and it assures you that you’re not crazy. It centers you and gives you a balanced mind. And it sobers you up to get hunkered down for a long-term fight. Get serious! Get sober! This is not gonna be a cake-walk to fight against your sin. Change your expectations!!

Consider three short applications out of this changed expectation:
  • Be Encouraged!: Is the fight hard? GOOD, that means you're fighting! Take that as a GOOD sign that you are nearing the enemy stronghold, you are gaining ground.True growth means a harder fight. The ONLY kind of growth is filled with bloodshed and pain. Victory is costly. You will strive and struggle for every INCH of gained ground in the fight of the Spirit vs. the Flesh. When it's hard, that means you're winning. 
  • Remember the Gospel: What is the gospel? Hard, long, and bloody. So be encouraged! Your Savior Warrior King is fighting alongside you. This is the kind of fight that HE is best at, the kind of fight that He knows. Dig in for a long term fight. Remember that the Cross is for failures, and it all depends on Christ, who has already won. When you remember the gospel, that means you're winning. 
  • Get Back in the Fight: You know what to do. What is just ONE next step you can take to deliver a shocking blow to the enemy? Take a deep breath, call on The God of Angel Armies, and keep fighting until He calls you home. Keep fighting. You're winning. 
Expecting Victory,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, July 8, 2013

Love to Eat, Hate to Eat

"their god is their stomach" - Philippians 3:19

Elyse Fitzpatrick is a prolific speaker, author, and discipler of women. She has written over a dozen books and has contributed to the Resurgence on over a dozen blog posts. Published in 1999 as one of her first books, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is focused on helping women to break out of the bondage of idolatrous and destructive eating habits.

Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because of how it encourages, empowers, and equips women for the great fight of faith, particularly in the discouraging world of food idolatry.

The book is written to women who feel like they've lost the battle with food, either through overeating, undereating, or struggling with body image (If keywords are helpful: anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, gluttony, eating disorders, self-image). It's designed to give women a renewed focus and identity founded in what God says in His Word, and then offers practical and relevant methods for change, along with several appendixes of resources.

One nuance to note: Often food and body image is painted as ONLY a women's struggle, similar to how pornography and lust is painted as ONLY a man's struggle. But neither are exclusive struggles for men or women, because sin is an equal opportunity enslaver. Body image and lust are HUMAN problems that both men and women often struggle with. That being said, it is generally true that many men struggle with porn and lust, and many women struggle with food and body image.

Here are some brief highlights from the book:
  • Food as an Idol: The book paints a vivid picture of food and body image as an IDOL, as a good thing made into a substitute god. The archetype of "idolatry" (wrong worship) is one of the most helpful and deeply nuanced resources that biblical Christianity brings to bear on our modern struggles with eating disorders and addiction cycles. The title "Love to Eat, Hate to Eat" describes the painful dualistic ambivalence that results from idolatry. We love our idol, and yet we simultaneously hate our idol. Why? Because we believe the enticing promises it makes to us, but feel betrayed and angry when it doesn't deliver and instead backfires with guilt, shame, and death. And food is a horrible idol! It makes crazy rules for you, and when you break them it piles on guilt and condemnation that forces you to run to a false savior. Only Jesus through the gospel can free us from this destructive cycle! "What would happen if you ran to Christ, instead of the refrigerator, to save you from your trouble?" Page 182.
  • Focus on Heart Change, not Weight Change: From a worldly perspective, it would be easy to focus on just the behaviors of eating and seek to change those. But the book goes much deeper to the heart, seeking to uncover what motivates us through our beliefs, thoughts, and feelings, and reorients our hearts back to Jesus! "Remember again that our goal isn't merely weight loss (or gain), but rather a heart and life that reflects the great goodness of our heavenly Father." page 187.
  • Detailed Strategies and Tactics for the Fight: The author is speaking out of her own personal experience of struggling with food and body image, and because of that she's able to share relevant strategies and tactics for the fight.. So AFTER you've meditated on the gospel and are ready to get back into the fight, and you're wondering "what are some good strategies?" then this book is a fantastic resource!! Elyse identifies godly eating habits through the D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E-D Eating acronym, which gives 12 questions to help you examine your own heart to see what your motivation is for eating, to bring greater awareness and sensitivity.You can view the DISCIPLINED Eating acronym on her website here
  • Remember the Gospel, and Keep Fighting: Real change takes a long time, and we often want just a quick fix, as if God would ZAP us in a spiritual microwave to make us instantly holy. So how do we make it for the long term battle? We need to keep coming back to Jesus, and endure in the fight. "The first few times you step into the ring, you might find yourself a little bloodied at the end of the round; but if you keep fighting, you'll soon find yourself standing at the bell. That's because, if you are seeking to please God, He'll be in your corner!" page 186.
In summary, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat is a great introductory resource for folks struggling with food and body image. Practical, helpful, biblical, and focused on God's word and redemption, it is highly recommended. If you struggle, read it. If you don't struggle, you should still read it in order to develop compassion and empathy for friends that struggle, so that you can help and encourage them in this fight. Buy the book here

Feasting on God,
The Relentless Fight

PS: Another helpful resource for food and body image struggles is a talk from Mars Hill Church by Crystal Munson on Gluttony.