The theme found in the popular TV show, "The Biggest Loser," offers a good series of examples in overcoming. Christians are called to lose the pounds, figuratively, by casting aside all weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us. We need to be big losers and shed the sin. Points two through four of seven intended points for being a successful big loser are shared in this scheduled three part series in preparation for Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Point #1 - We need to rely on a well-trained coach! Point #2 - Admit you have a "weight" problem. Point #3 - Commit to lose the "weight". Point #4 - "Exercise" on a daily basis.
Brethren, do you remember what I asked you in the last sermon that I gave here? I asked, "Are you a big loser?" That's right, with a capital L; are you a big Loser? It was a reference to a very popular reality show on TV that has produced some absolutely amazing results in the lives of thousands of people. I don't know if you are aware of it, but this show has 'ignited' around the world. It's in seventy or so countries besides the United States, where it began in 2004. If you'd like to check up on it, you can go to Wikipedia and they'll give you all the titles of the shows in other countries. In some countries it is called "The Biggest Winner"; in Asia is something like "Super Diet King"; in one country it is called "Weighted". The people in that country are said to get on the scales to be 'weighted'. The title "The Biggest Loser" doesn't translate very well into the languages of some countries.
As I said before in the last sermon, I don't care if you are the "Biggest Loser", but I do want you to be a 'big loser'.
The show is about fifteen seriously obese people who are selected to compete for a quarter of a million dollar prize. There were at least two who weighed over 400 pounds to begin with; there were a couple of people over 300 pounds, and several over 200 pounds. In reality the largest and most valuable prize of all is simply the weight that the winner loses, because these people have been struggling with a weight problem for years and years; they haven't been able to get control of their weight. Getting control is more important to them than money. Every contestant is really a big winner because every one of them is a 'Big Loser' on the program; they all lose a lot of weight. You and I have been called to be big winners on the road to eternal life, but in order to be big winners we must be overcomers. To be an overcomer, we must lose the SIN that weighs us down spiritually. That's what I'm talking about when I say you need to be a 'big loser, you need to lose your sins. You need to have your sins forgiven and STOP SINNING! Then you'll be a 'big loser', but also a very big winner from God's perspective. We must be overcomers, in fact Jesus Christ says, "To he who overcomes, I will grant to sit with me on my throne." There are many scriptures that talk about overcoming and say there are rewards for being an overcomer.
God has called us at this time to be not only called, but also chosen and faithful. We are now on a road that is very narrow and difficult and right now there are few that find it. The Bible says God isn't calling everyone now, and of the ones He is calling, very few are responding and doing something about it, so very few are right now 'chosen'. As we are on this narrow and difficult road, it is important that we stick with it and endure to the end, running the race with patience and receiving the crown of life at Christ's return. This is a vital subject as we prepare ourselves to take the Passover in just about two weeks now. The time for Passover will be here very quickly. I had hoped to get this three part series of sermons done today, but when I got sick that slowed things down so I'll finish the series during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
If you didn't listen to the first sermon in the series, I would encourage you to go to UCG.NWA to hear that. This is an important subject that will help you prepare for the Passover. Are you determined personally to lose the weight, the sin that pulls you down spiritually? What will God the Father and Jesus Christ, your Savior do to help you along the way? What can you do to aid yourself in losing the weight, the sin and become spiritually lean and fit?
The show "The Biggest Loser", as I mentioned has caught on around the world. It's been instrumental in changing thousands and thousands of lives all around the world. You may have heard the expression "IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD, YOU MUST START WITH YOURSELF'. That is a very true saying, you must start by making yourself a better self and the world will be just that much better. This world will, of course, still be desperately lacking; we still need the return of Christ and the government and Kingdom of God at Christ's return; nevertheless, it can get better now if we all change our own lives.
Rachel Henderson was the actual winner of the contest; she started at 260 pounds. She had formerly been an Olympic athlete, a swimmer, but she got sidetracked, discouraged, and depressed and started eating and put on a lot of weight. By the end of the program, she had gone down to 105 pounds. She dropped 155 pounds, 59.62% of her body weight. I'll be quite honest, Rachel went a little too far because at 105 she didn't look nearly as good as she did at 140 pounds. She almost looked like she was bordering on anorexia. She had a $250,000 carrot, so I think she may have thought, 'I'm this close, let's just go for it and I'll put the weight back on.' I think she has actually put some weight on since then. There was a lot of publicity about her being so thin, but she is the "Biggest Loser" of all time. She beat out Danny Cahill of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; we used to live in Broken Arrow, but I don't actually know Danny Cahill. He was the "Biggest Loser" up until Rachel. One thing that Rachel said in the course of this program was, "I'm sick of hiding" and as she progressed she said, "I see the athlete coming out in me; I've found her, I'm never going to let her go." You could just see her life being transformed; she was becoming more and more positive about being able to make changes, about being able to actually lose this weight and move on.
David was one of the favorites on the show to a lot of people. He started at 409 pounds. He was actually the second largest, I think Reuben was 430 pounds or something like that; I don't remember his exact starting weight. David went from 409 pounds to 222 pounds, so he lost 187 pounds; some of us don't weigh that much. He lost 54.36% of his body weight. He said, "I'm half the man I used to be, but twice the man in every other way." He was really encouraged by what was happening in his life. He said, " I lost seven buckets of fat." That's seven heavy buckets of fat. He said, “You have to have a breakdown before you can have a breakthrough." David was having emotional issues and problems. He began eating for comfort and got way too big. He said, "I was inspired, but not really changing in the beginning of the program because I didn't really think that I could, not deep down inside, but the winning step was the first one." That is often the case, you have to take that first step to be able to get 'into the groove' and get things going, and get things started. David's teen-aged daughter, half- way through the program said, " I am crazy proud of my dad." That's how kids speak these days, I guess. It was really cool to hear her say that she was 'crazy proud' of her dad for losing all that weight and he was making some very positive changes. Bobby was the one who came in third place; he lost 52.51% of his body weight. He started at 358 pounds and went all the way down to 188 pounds. He wasn't one of the hardest workers, but he was able to lose a lot of weight anyway. He had a good metabolism or something working for him.
Tumi was one of my and my wife's favorites. She got sent home earlier, about two-thirds of the way through the program. She started at 319 pounds and she went all the way down to 144 pounds, so she lost 174 pounds; 54.86% of her body weight. She actually lost more than Bobby or David. She would have come in second if she hadn't been sent home early. There was a $100,000 prize for the person who went home and then lost the most weight, and Tumi won that prize. She said, "I spent the first forty years of my life in fear." She wanted a second chance so she could live the life that she wanted to live. In fact this last series of "The Biggest Loser" was called: "Biggest Loser Second Chances". She is now making plans to run a marathon. It's amazing that she did weigh 319 pounds, but now she's planning to run a marathon, that's a huge change!
I mentioned last time in Romans 14:17 that the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, it's not about physical weight but it is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. So, obviously this is a sermon, not about losing physical weight but it is a sermon about losing spiritual weight or sinful weight, you might call it. I have these questions for you. How much excess ungodly weight and baggage, otherwise known as sin, have you put on because of being a spiritual 'couch potato'? I want you to be honest with yourselves. Some of you have been in the church a long time and perhaps you've let down some over the years; perhaps you've allowed some ungodly excess weight and baggage to creep in. That's what happens to a lot of people who end up with a lot of excess physical weight, it just creeps up on them little by little and before they know it… they're fifty pounds overweight. It can also happen spiritually and we can become a spiritual 'couch potato', not really doing what we should be doing. That's what this series of sermons is about: doing what we ought to be doing so we can put the sin out of our lives and grow and be overcomers.
What sinful junk food and decadent desserts, sins, have you been indulging in? Is there anything sinful that you've been indulging in that you've been cozying up to and making excuses for not changing? Those things will add harmful 'weight' and threaten your spiritual existence. We need to examine ourselves this time of year and be honest with ourselves. Hebrews 12:1 "Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." "Let us lay aside every weight" goes very well with the theme of this sermon and also "the sin that so easily ensnares us" because sin is deceitful and it can creep up on you.
We're covering in this series of sermons seven principles for losing the weight, the sin that so easily enslaves us. Last time we covered POINT NUMBER ONE: TRUST, LISTEN TO, AND FOLLOW YOUR COACHES. Of course, ultimately our coaches are God the Father and Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of the Church and God has also chosen some human beings to also aid Christ in leading and guiding you, shepherding you. We must recognize from scripture that God does use human beings. Some people say, 'It's just me and God", they don't want to listen to anyone else, they don't want to get any input, they're turned off by organized religion (which I can understand), because a lot of men have set very poor examples. It's easy to get disenchanted and discouraged by that type of behavior.
The first step on the road to salvation and becoming a 'big loser' is to RESPOND TO GOD'S CALL AND TO BEGIN TO SURRENDER YOUR LIFE TO HIM AND TO HIS SON. That is part of listening to your coaches, and surrendering to them. On "The Biggest Loser", there are three coaches who lead the way for the fifteen contestants. In order to succeed, the contestants must be willing to submit to the coach's instructions and rules because the coaches know something about helping people lose weight. They know something about the kind of program they need to be on, the kinds of foods they need to be eating, and also the kind of exercise program they need to be on to help them optimize the losing of the physical weight. God the Father does the calling; HE calls every individual who is part of his one true Church and Christ is the head of that Church. In order to be in God's Kingdom, in order to receive salvation, it is absolutely imperative that we surrender to our coaches and realize they do know what's best for us. Father does know best. There used to be a series "Father Knows Best", that goes back a ways… that dates me quite a bit. Some of you know what I'm talking about. Our Father really does know best in this case and we need to follow our Father and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves us; He died for us, He laid his life down for us. Both God the Father and Jesus Christ desire to give you the Kingdom; it is their good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. They want you to be in their Kingdom, they want you to become just like them. They want you to be born of the Spirit of Almighty God; they want to share their glory with you. They want you to be glorified, just as they are glorified. They're not jealous or envious of anything that we might become. We know that we'll always be subject to them and they certainly understand that. God is all-powerful. We are created beings, we're only what God allows us to be, but He wants us to share in his glory. He wants to give us his Kingdom; He wants us to become like his Son, Jesus Christ. Christ is the first-born among many brethren so we have a wonderful calling and future ahead of us. So, we need to surrender to our Coaches and allow them to lead and guide us. We need to have faith and trust in them. The Father and Son have called human beings also to serve under them on earth, the scriptures bear that out. You can't deny the scriptures we went through last time. God called some to be apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, evangelists and so forth. There are scriptures that talk about following those who lead and guide you, not rule over you. That's not a good translation because a good shepherd doesn't try to rule over his sheep. A good shepherd leads and guides the sheep to still waters, he restores their soul, he takes care of them and nurtures them, he lays down his life for them. These are the things a true shepherd should do. It is very important that we follow men as they follow Christ. Follow human leaders in God's church as they follow Christ's lead and example. Give them due respect as they serve well. That's what the scripture teaches, but do not follow them into sin and do not follow them into rebellion. Keep the commandments and keep the laws and statutes of Almighty God. We believe in God's commandments; let them be your standards for living, not just in the letter of the law, follow the spirit of the law. Christ came to magnify the law, to make it honorable; He wanted to go beyond the letter of the law and for us to keep the spirit of his law. The spirit of God's law should permeate everything we do, it should lead and guide us.
God is LOVE, you can trust him and follow him; you can surrender fully to God and know that He will take care of you. In order to have your sins forgiven, you must yield and surrender to God that's what the Passover is all about. Have you repented of your sins? Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior, your Lord and Master, your High Priest; your soon coming King? The only way to get rid of your sins is to have them forgiven. We can all strive to not sin and to put sin out of our lives, but we've all sinned and we all fall short of God's glory. WE ALL DESERVE THE DEATH PENALTY FOR OUR SINS, the only way to shed our sins and the consequences is through the sacrifice of Christ. Overcoming sin is possible because of Christ living in you and him doing the work in you; because of ourselves we can do nothing. Through Christ I can do all things Who strengthens me.
So the first step in salvation and in being a 'big loser' is following your coaches. We took a whole hour about that one point last time because you have to get the foundation. We have to realize that God the Father and Jesus Christ are our Coaches and if we follow them, we'll be fine. The other six principles will fall in line if we're putting God first.
THE SECOND STEP ON THE ROAD TO SALVATION AND IN BECOMING A 'BIG LOSER' IS THAT YOU MUST ADMIT THAT YOU HAVE A 'WEIGHT' PROBLEM.
You have to admit you have a problem or you will never overcome it. Of course the 'weight' problem is a sin problem. We're talking about sin that infiltrates; it is deceitful and it will pull you down and it will harm you, so we need to seek the gift of repentance that only God gives us. Repentance is a gift; you can't work up repentance on your own. God looks at your heart, your attitude and then He grants repentance. God grants repentance based on your approach and heart and attitude; God knows the heart. People who are obese and have a serious weight problem generally know that. It's pretty easy to see it and to feel it so they're generally aware of it but that's not so true of people who have a lesser weight problem. They still have a weight problem, but not a huge weight problem; so from a spiritual perspective if you're not an ax murderer, but you're a liar, you're still a sinner, aren't you? You still have a 'weight' problem; you still have something that needs to be dealt with. Some of us who need to lose just a small amount of weight physically, think we're doing fine but we don't realize twenty or thirty pounds still pull down on our heart and cause some stress for it and also on our joints. It's causing some kind of physical issues even though we might not be aware of it. So being just a little overweight is deceitful; there may be a weight problem there and we don't even realize it. SIN is deceitful; it's not always so easy to detect as physical weight.
Hebrews 3:13 "…Lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." That's the part I want to focus on, 'the deceitfulness' of sin; it is very easy to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We can think we are doing well, but sin is deceitful and sometimes we can become self-righteous and we can look down on other people thinking about how bad they are; thinking they're such sinners when we ourselves are also sinners, and we can be hardened in our self-righteousness by the deceitfulness of sin. We need to be careful that we're not hardened toward other people or toward ourselves. Sometimes we can be hardened and make excuses and justify ourselves when we don't see our own sins.
1 John 1:8 "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves" . This is written to church members long after Christ had died. Sin was still in existence; the law was not done away because sin is the transgression of the law and God's people were still subject to sin. They didn't just become perfect; none of them became perfect just like none of you are perfect. We all have this sin problem that we have to deal with. I've been in the Church a long time… forty years now and I've had to deal with the sin problem every single one of those years. It's not something that goes away, it's something you still have to deal with, something you have to admit: that you're a sinner and you fall short of the glory of your Savior, who never sinned. He was tempted in every point you are, but He never sinned. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." That goes for every one of us.
Sin can come in from all different directions. Some sins are more easily seen than others. 1 John 2:4 "He who thinks he has no sin is a liar and the truth is not in him." That is pretty blunt; if you know the truth, you know that you are a sinner. If you know the truth, you know what sin is and you know what human nature is. The carnal mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. Unless we are walking in the spirit, allowing God's Spirit to lead and guide us, we're going to have some issues with carnality, with sin. The lust of the flesh, the pride of life… these things are going to ever be at our heels, so to speak, trying to overtake us. Satan is the great adversary and he uses these things; he stirs these things up in us. Romans 3:23 "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We're not perfect; so admit that you have a 'weight' problem; admit that you have a sin problem. Don't waste time and energy denying it.
We're going to go through some sins, so I ask that you consider yourself. I would hope that you're not guilty of all these sins, in fact I don't think you are guilty of all these sins I'm going to go through, but if any of them apply… take it to heart. Admit that at times, you have taken sin too lightly. Can you admit that? ADMIT THAT YOU ARE WASTING TOO MUCH TIME ENTERTAINING YOURSELF. We are told to redeem our time and use it wisely in Godly pursuits, so I think this sin is one a lot of us probably do; I've been guilty of that, I sit down in front of the TV and an hour goes by and I know I should be up and moving, but I'm still there. I try not to let that happen too often, but I must admit that that has happened far more than it should. We could be wasting time in other ways entertaining ourselves… if you like to golf and play four or five hours every day, then that's probably too much. ADMIT THAT YOU SOMETIMES INDULGE IN TRASHY ENTERTAINMENT. Sometimes you may take too much pleasure in things you shouldn't. I remember that I used to like Robin Williams from "Mork and Mindy", but then I saw his stand-up comedy act and it was one of the most vulgar things I had ever heard. It was just really vulgar so I didn't sit around and listen to it for very long but there may be times when we allow ourselves to be entertained one way or another where we shouldn't.
PERHAPS YOU NEED TO ADMIT THAT YOU GOSSIP TOO MUCH. How much gossip is too much?
ADMIT THAT YOU ARE LAZY SOMETIMES. Are you ever lazy?
ADMIT THAT PERHAPS YOU LOVE MONEY TOO MUCH. Money may be too important to you at times.
ADMIT THAT YOU'VE BEEN TOO SELFISH. Has anyone here ever been selfish?
ADMIT THAT YOU ARE SOMETIMES ENVIOUS OF OTHERS. I don't really have a big issue with this one, but I never have gotten a decent bass boat yet. I see these big bass boats going by me all the time, but I don't think I have a big issue with that. I'm just kidding for the most part.
SOME OF YOU MAY HAVE TO ADMIT THAT YOU LOVE ALCOHOL TOO MUCH. For some people alcohol becomes too important and it becomes a crutch, they drink more than they should and some have become alcoholics in the Church of God.
SOME STILL STRUGGLE WITH GETTING OFF CIGARETTES. I know some in the church who still struggle with addiction to cigarettes.
PEOPLE CAN STRUGGLE WITH MANY THINGS; YOU NAME IT. There can be other things we like too much.
ADMIT THAT YOU'VE BEEN COVETOUS AND GREEDY AT TIMES. Have you ever been covetous a little bit?
ADMIT THAT YOU'VE CATERED TO YOUR LUSTFUL NATURE AT TIMES.
ADMIT THAT YOU ARE SELF-RIGHTEOUS, PRIDEFUL AND EVEN ARROGANT AT TIMES. I've been arrogant at times.
ADMIT THAT YOU'VE BEEN A LIAR AND THAT YOU STILL LIE ON OCCASION.
ADMIT THAT YOU HAVEN'T ALWAYS OBSERVED GOD'S HOLY SABBATH PROPERLY. Admit you've gone over the line and have done some things you shouldn't have done.
ADMIT THAT YOU HAVEN'T ALWAYS KEPT YOUR FESTIVAL TITHE PROPERLY PERHAPS, if you didn't save it like you're supposed to.
ADMIT THAT YOU'VE BEEN LAX PERHAPS IN EVEN PAYING YOUR FIRST TITHES.
ADMIT THAT YOU ARE A SINNER.
There are lots of other sins, I was merciful, and I didn't go through all the sins that are out there. There are a lot more.
The admission that you are a sinner needs to be heart-felt. It does need to be genuine or you will not lose the sinful weight that God expects you to lose and actually requires you to lose. IF YOU TAKE SIN TOO LIGHTLY, YOU WILL NOT OVERCOME.
Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness”; the Kingdom of God should be our goal.
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth and addressed a situation in 1 Corinthians 5 and then in 2 Corinthians 7 he commends them for their response, but he is also giving more correction.
2 Corinthians 7:9 "Now I rejoice not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow lead to repentance; for you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you may suffer loss from us in nothing." Verse 10 " For godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to salvation, not to be regretted, but the sorrow of the world, that produces death." There is a certain sorrow we might have because maybe we got caught in our sins and we were punished and maybe we were more sorry about that than sinning against God. God wants us to be sorry that we sinned against him. He is our Creator. We owe everything to him so we should obey him and follow him. When we break his law, we show disrespect toward God. GODLY SORROW PRODUCES REPENTANCE. When God looks at the heart and He sees that you truly are sorry, in a godly way, and then He will grant you repentance. If He sees that it is just a worldly sorrow, He will not grant repentance and eventually that will lead to death, eternal death. Verse 11: "For observe this very thing that you sorrowed in a godly manner; what diligence it produced in you" this is what repentance will truly do. The real kind of repentance that God grants us will produce diligence, because you'll feel bad that you've sinned and you'll have motivation to go and sin no more. That is what Christ told the woman caught in adultery, to 'go and sin no more'. Verse 11 continued: "what clearing of yourselves" there's a great clearing that comes about by no longer having to feel guilty. Guilt is a good thing, because when we sin, we should feel guilty about it. Guilt will help us realize that we do need to repent and so we'll seek repentance and God will see our heart and He will clear us of all that guilt. IT IS A BEAUTIFUL THING TO HAVE YOUR SINS FORGIVEN AND TO NO LONGER HAVE THAT GUILT AND CARRY THAT GUILT AROUND WITH YOU. Verse 11 continued: "what indignation'; there should be an indignation against sin. God abhors sin and we're supposed to learn to hate sin as well. Verse 11 continued: "what fear" this helps produce in us the proper indignation. When we truly repent, we see that God is the One we must really answer to and that He is the One who can destroy us, not any man, not any human being; Satan can't even destroy us. It is God who will cast us into the lake of fire if we don't repent and if we don't change. We should have a proper godly fear and reverence and awe of God; repentance will lead to that. Repentance will give us a vehement desire to go and do the right thing. Verse 11 continued: "what vindication" when we truly repent, we are justified, vindicated. Verse 11 continued: " In all things you prove yourselves to be clear in this matter." Paul is commending the people because they did repent of their sins.
SO THE SECOND STEP ON THE ROAD TO GOD'S KINGDOM IS TO ADMIT THAT YOU ARE A SINNER! You need to admit it and then seek repentance and God will grant you repentance based upon your heart. So the second step in becoming a "big loser" is to admit that you have a weight problem; that you are a sinner, to confess your sins, and to go under the blood of Christ and be forgiven of those sins.
THE THIRD STEP ON THE ROAD TO SALVATION; THE THIRD STEP ON BECOMING A 'BIG LOSER' IS THAT WE ALL NEED TO COMMIT FULLY TO LOSING THE WEIGHT.
Step number three is all about commitment. You have to be fully committed; that gets back to what I said about surrendering and following your coaches. You have to commit fully to your coaches and to losing the weight, which is the goal in your life. Sin has to be dealt with because the wages of sin is death; that is what we all deserve, so that has to be dealt with. Matthew 6:33 "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness". The Kingdom of God should be our goal and his righteousness should be our goal. God doesn't sin; He's righteous. James talks about being fully committed by being a doer of God's law. Just coming to church, just being here isn't enough, and just listening isn't enough. You must go beyond hearing to being a doer of God's law. James 1:21 "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." If you live by every word of God, if you allow God's word to become a part of you, then it will save you. Verse 22: "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." It's not enough to come to church and sit there and think that you're all filled and warm and everything is perfect, because if you walk out of here the same person and you haven't changed at all, then you haven't really grown closer to God or learned anything; you're more a hearer than a doer. Verse 23: "For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he's like a man observing his natural face in a mirror". Verse 24: "For he sees himself and immediately he forgets what kind of man he was." Verse 25: "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." So when we look in a mirror, what should we see? Should we see somebody who's perfect? Should we see somebody who doesn't need to change? We should humbly look into that mirror and see someone who desperately needs to change, someone who needs to get the sin out of their lives; someone who needs to draw closer to God and become a DOER of God's law; not someone who just hears, but someone who puts it into action in their lives. Verse 26: "But if anyone among you thinks that he is religious, but does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless." The tongue is a powerful weapon, a powerful evil if you don't watch it. You can hurt people with your tongue very easily. Verse 27: "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." This means to do something unselfish, to get away from the self and to help the orphans and widows, to stand in the gap. To keep oneself unspotted is talking about putting sin out and not following the way of Babylon. Satan is the god of this world and the Babylonian system is in full swing here in the United States of America; we need to be careful that we are not spotted from this world.
Luke 9:62 "But Jesus said to him, "No one having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God." Christ is telling us what we need to be doing in our lives in terms of our total commitment toward him and toward the Kingdom of God and the way we should be living our lives. What does this verse mean? What does it have to do with total commitment? If you put your hand to the plow and you look back, what is going to happen to the tractor? You're going to be going off course. You have to look ahead; you have to have a goal in front of you and go toward that goal. If you look behind, you can't stay on course. I've done a little bit of plowing in my day and it's not that easy to plow straight, but if you're looking behind you, you really can't stay on course. That's one thing this verse could be referencing, but there's something in the Old Testament that is actually reminiscent of this, an incident that happened with Elisha. Elisha became a prophet of God, but Elijah was the prophet before him. (I'm adlibbing here.) God basically told Elijah to go get Elisha because Elisha was going to succeed him as prophet. Elisha was out in his field, and guess what he was doing? He was plowing with ten or twelve teams of oxen, so he was probably a wealthy landowner, probably a successful farmer. He was running one of the teams and Elijah comes up and basically says, 'Come and follow me, you're going to be a prophet.' Being a prophet in some ways was not the most venerated position to have; in fact prophets often were ridiculed. They were sometimes thrown into dungeons (or worse), not everyone loved prophets. So Elisha had a decision to make. He was out there having a good time making money in his field and then Elijah comes along and says, 'Follow me.' So what does he do? He takes his plow and he sets it on fire and then he takes his oxen and he sacrifices his oxen on the fire from the plow. Basically what he is saying is that he is leaving everything behind and he is going to go follow Elijah and do what he is called to do… follow his commission. His actions show he is going to walk away from everything and he isn't going to look back. When people in the New Testament would have read this they would have been reminded of this incident with Elisha. In fact this is a technique called 'Remez', we might cover that in the Bible Study we're having later because it is fascinating. God expects you to put your hand to the plow and leave everything else behind. Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and his RIGHTEOUSNESS. God expects you to be an overcomer. Overcoming is losing the sinful 'weight', putting sin out of our lives; that's what the Days of Unleavened Bread are all about… putting Christ in and putting leaven out. You'll be getting the leaven out of your homes in the next couple of weeks. We need to be doers of God's law, not just hearers.
After a time on "The Biggest Loser" ranch, contestants must not only change their habits, but they learn to actually have a different perspective on exercise on food and on themselves. I know when some of them came to the ranch they were eating all kinds of junk food and they weren't exercising much. A lot of them probably couldn't exercise a whole lot because they were too heavy and it just didn't work very well, so they had to make a lot of changes. They had huge amounts of weight to lose, some over 200 pounds, so they had to stay focused and be fully committed to reaching their goal without allowing themselves to become discouraged. The first pounds probably came off quickly and easily with proper diet and exercise. Some of these people were losing fifteen or sixteen pounds a week, most of us can't do that; we don't have the time or coaches or resources or the willpower. There are a lot of reasons most people don't do it that way. Most people will begin to hit a plateau and then it's hard to get rid of the weight. That is how it is oftentimes spiritually with us; we may make some real progress initially when we first come into God's church. At first we change a lot: we stop eating pork, we stop lying and stealing and whatever else we might have been doing. We change our behavior and clean up our lives but we too can reach a plateau. The people who are on the "Biggest Loser" are ordinary people, but they are people with great determination and they are able to turn their lives around if they get on the right program and they get focused. Many have sad stories and many have emotional baggage that they need to shed in order to move forward; we all have to do the same thing, we all have baggage that we bring into God's church and God has to help us deal with that and help us move beyond that. They and we have to heal emotionally; we have to find better ways of coping with stress. Some people who become obese do so because they eat to deal with stress, then they just keep eating more and more to deal with the stress instead of learning other ways to cope. Then when they are really heavy, they have more stress because they don't feel good about being so obese. We have to deal with the issues in our lives, also, but first we have to commit fully to becoming like God and like Christ. So, the third step is to commit fully to losing the sin, the weight that so easily ensnares us.
THE FOURTH STEP TOWARD GOD'S KINGDOM IS TO EXERCISE SPIRITUALLY ON A DAILY BASIS TO LOSE THE WEIGHT (THE SIN) AND TO KEEP IT OFF.
These steps work in losing weight and in the process of conversion. These seven principles will really help us grow and overcome… IF WE WILL JUST DO THEM. That's the key, we can hear them easily enough, but that's not enough, we must do them.
We need to be exercising to lose the spiritual weight, but if you need to lose physically, you need to exercise also even if it's just walking. Some people don't even walk; they won't even walk down to the corner. They'll walk maybe to the TV set, no they don't even do that anymore, and they have a remote. We don't even have to walk there. Some may walk to get something to eat once in a while to stock up and bring it back. I'm speaking honestly; some people just hate exercise and are just unwilling to do it. If you'll begin to exercise just a little bit more than you are, you'll get stronger and it will be easier; it's something we all need to do to lose the weight. The same thing is true spiritually. The most serious weight we can carry is the sinful 'weight' that easily ensnares us and hinders us from finishing the race.
Those on the "Biggest Loser" ranch commit themselves to over three months of rigorous training and serious diet changes. Last week I told you that potluck would be off limits, or at least some of it would definitely be off limits. No matter how much they lose at the ranch, they know those killer pounds are coming right back on if they go back to the lifestyle they came out of. It will be very easy for some of them to put that weight back on now that the program is over and no one is there making them exercise and they don't have a $250,000 carrot any longer. They still have to apply the things they've learned or the weight will come back on, so there must be a total change and not for just three months, there must be a complete change of mind, mindset, attitude, heart, focus, and habits. Habits are very important; your habits will become your destiny, eventually. If you have good spiritual habits, you'll be in God's Kingdom, but if you have just the opposite, then God can take his spirit away from you because you are so neglectful and unwilling to change. During the course of the "Biggest Loser" program, they had a sprint triathlon, so they swam for half a mile, biked for twelve miles, and then ran three miles. This was to help them lose weight and also to win a prize, maybe a car. I think it was a car, a Ford Fusion that Rachel won. I think it gets 108 miles per gallon in a certain mode. She won that plus the quarter of a million dollars.
I'm suggesting that we all get on a spiritual quadrathlon. Have you ever heard of that before? The first leg of the spiritual quadrathlon is prayer; we need to be praying people. You need to have a daily habit of praying. David and Daniel set the example of praying three times a day, morning, noon, and night. Paul talked about praying without ceasing; having an attitude of prayer as we go throughout our day having a prayerful approach to everything we do and to let that help to guide our decisions throughout the day. So praying is extremely important, in fact our president, that is The United Church of God president, Mr. Kubic said a few months ago, "As we strengthen our relationship with our Father in heaven, I would like to ask for a church-wide day of fasting". Do you remember that back in January? There was a two week period where we were supposed to fast, we were asked to fast. He said, "We're not in a crisis, nor is there any monumental decision to make, I'm just asking us all to humble ourselves before God so we can grow and bear fruit." Then he said, "Prayer is our lifeblood." The life is in the blood and prayer is our lifeblood. If you're not praying, that shows you're not really seeking God's will and you're not seeking to help others either. Because when we pray, we seek to know God better; we're seeking His will; for Him to guide us; to direct us; to show us things we need to know and we're praying for one another. There are certainly enough people to pray for, so if you're not praying, then you are neglecting to pray because the Scriptures show that we should be praying people. THE FIRST PART OF OUR SPIRITUAL QUADRATHLON IS PRAYER.
Mr. Kubic went on to say that Bible study is our food; Bible study is the second part of our spiritual quadrathlon… study the Bible, read the Bible, put God's word into your mind and into your heart. You need to be studying the Bible and when you do that, you will be growing spiritually. If you'll read it, some of it will stick; you may forget a lot of it, but some of it is going to stick and it will make a difference because it is our food. We need to have good spiritual food and Bible study is our food. Our booklets are good, they can supplement the Bible, but we should be reading a few chapters of the Bible every day. In fact, if you haven't read the Bible, why not challenge yourself to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation? It takes only three or four chapters a day to read the entire Bible in one year; we're talking fifteen or twenty minutes a day. Can you at least start doing that if you're not studying the Bible much? Read three or four chapters a day and march through the Bible. If you haven't read it, that should keep you busy for at least a year. Fifteen or twenty minutes a day, is that too much to ask for the One who created you and formed you in his image? THE SECOND PART OF OUR SPIRITUAL QUADRATHLON IS BIBLE STUDY.
Mr. Kubic goes on to say it is fasting that is a catalyst to focusing our spiritual attention upon doing what we should. FASTING IS THE THIRD LEG OF OUR SPIRITUAL QUADRATHLON. Remember what Christ said… that some things don't happen except by prayer and fasting. It is a very dynamic duo. We need to be fasting on a regular basis. You have to decide what regular is. I'm not going to tell you how often you should fast. I know you should pray daily and study God's word daily; I don't think you should fast daily that would cause some problems unless it was for a few hours a day. Fasting regularly is important. We should all be fasting. Remember the Pharisees said they fasted twice a week. I've always wondered, "Was that a full fast, twenty-four hours without food or water?" I've never really studied into that, I suppose I should. I'm questioning whether they were really that diligent. Maybe they did; it is possible to fast twice a week. We could do that; it would be healthy for us probably. I don't know if they were fasting fully twice a week, but I do know that Christ said, "Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees." That doesn't mean you have to fast three days a week, but it means you have to have your heart right, because they didn't have their hearts right. They did it to be seen of men, not for the right reasons. THE THIRD LEG OF OUR SPIRITUAL QUADRATHLON IS FASTING AND THE FOURTH LEG IS MEDITATION.
Meditation is very important; as I grow older I put a greater importance on meditation. It's something we should be thinking about continually throughout the day. As I get older, I tend to wake up earlier, but I don't necessarily want to get out of bed at four o'clock or three thirty in the morning. I'm too awake to go back to sleep, but I'm not really gung ho about hopping out of bed yet. That's when I get a lot of my meditation in; I try to reflect on God and his commandments; things I need to be doing in my life. That's a good time to meditate, but you should meditate throughout the day. As things happen around you, you should be meditating on how God would want you to handle these things. All meditation is thinking about God and spiritual issues, spiritual things. Meditation is thinking to yourself, "What would Jesus do? What would God do? What would He have me do?"
"Only God can provide spiritual growth to his Church," Mr. Kubic said, "and we are praying that our labors produce good results in people. But the growth you and I are personally responsible for comes from inside our lives." We all have to be responsible for our own lives; we all have to grow spiritually. That's one thing I really liked about the last fast, it wasn't because we were having a crisis, not a huge issue we need to seek God's help with, it was just because we need to grow spiritually and draw closer to God; that's the right kind of fast, that's fasting for the right reason. Hebrews 5:11-14 (This is after speaking about Melchizedek and the qualifications for the priesthood, and how Melchizedek is our high priest and how Christ came according to the order of Melchizedek.) Verses 11-14 " Of whom we have much to say and hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing." The point I want to bring out is that it is possible for God's people to become dull of hearing. The writer of the book of Hebrews was addressing God's people. He says you've become dull of hearing, you're not sharp, you don't pay attention, and you’re not listening. So sometimes even the hearing is lacking. God says we should not be hearers only, but doers; in this case even the hearing was lacking. Verse 12: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God and you have come to need milk and not solid food." Verse 13: "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe, Verse 14: "But solid food belongs to those who are of a full age, those who are mature; that is those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." God wants us to be able to discern both good and evil and to choose to do that which is good. I remember that Mr. Armstrong used to say that's what character is all about, knowing the difference between good and evil and choosing to do what is good. That is real godly character… to choose to do good instead of evil. Exercise is also resisting sin and doing right, that's part of the spiritual exercise that you need to have: resist sin, with prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditating. If you do all of these, you will have the strength to resist sin in your life and do the right thing. We have our senses exercised by being doers of God's law, that's what this is talking about. In verse 14 the word 'USE' is the Greek word "Hexis" which means habit or practice. This use is a habit, something that is going on continually, habitually. By having these kinds of habits, we have our senses exercised. " Exercised" is the Greek word "Gumnazo" which actually means to practice naked in the games. This is a reference back in the old days in the time of the 'Isthmus Games" when the athletes would actually practice in the nude.(I don't recommend that. In fact I don't even like Speedos. Have you seen some of the swimmers that wear Speedos? That's actually not enough; not wearing anything would be way out of bounds.) Anyway, that is where the word comes from:" to practice naked in the games or to train". Strong meat is referring to being able to apply and use godly principles in your everyday life choices. Those who are eating strong meat know evil when they see it and they reject it. You have to be active; you have to get out into the 'gym' of life. You have to exercise, use wisdom, and practice the fruit of God's Spirit. What are the fruits of God's Spirit? Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Self-control.. these are the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. Those are the things that we need to be sure that we're producing. That's being a doer of the law, producing fruit, getting something done that's affecting other people's lives; that's not selfish, that is very outgoing. The fruits of God's Spirit are unselfish; they're flowing out of us to help others.
We all need to "turn on the heat" now, we need to get fired up. Watching these shows did fire me up some I'll have to admit. They were inspiring at times. WE NEED TO BEGIN TAKING STRONG MEASURES TO ENSURE CHANGES IN OUR LIVES. Remember some things don't happen except by prayer and fasting. TO DO THIS QUADRATHLON, YOU HAVE TO BEGIN PRAYING, STUDYING THE BIBLE, FASTING, AND MEDITATING ON A HABITUAL BASIS. These need to become a habit in your life. One thing I've learned is that if you don't plan to fast, generally you won't fast. You have to plan ahead a bit to fast, because generally you don't just wake up and decide to fast that day. You have to look ahead and try to find a day that will work well for you so you don't have too many distractions and then put it on the calendar and plan to fast on that day.
I'd like to read a few quotes from some of the contestants that I found inspirational. I remember Rachel Henderson the one who became the "Biggest Loser" said, "I can't believe I'm seeing this day. Rachel in week one would be absolutely floored at how much progress has been made in fourteen weeks. I have come so far on my journey and I have arrived at who I love." She didn't really love herself all that much before because she just felt bad. She knew she wasn't doing the things that she needed to be doing and she looked in a mirror and didn't like what she saw. She had to change her mental outlook and start doing some things that would get her into a more positive frame of mind. If you're having trouble loving yourself, make the changes you need (it's not wrong to love yourself); how can you love others if you don't love yourself? We're supposed to love others as we love ourselves. We're created in God's image; He loves us so we ought to love ourselves. We should be good to ourselves. She gave some words of advice. She said, "Keep pushing hard because it is so worth it." She had to push herself hard and we have to push ourselves hard, too. We can't be wimps spiritually; we have to discipline ourselves. We have to bring our bodies into subjection, that's what the Apostle Paul said.
Dolvett was one of the coaches one season on the show and he said, "What a journey we've been on. You come here, you show up, you find yourselves." That's awesome because he saw big changes in these people's lives.
Jillian Michaels said to one of the contestants, "Get up there! Let's go! You want it! Show me how bad!" That's Jillian Michaels; she pushes them on. She was a pretty hard-driving taskmaster you might say.
David is the one who was 409 pounds when he started out. His first wife died of cancer and he promised her that he would lose weight for their four children's sake, because he was being left with four children. He said," I told my family that I was going to finish strong. Here I am in the last week working out with Dolvett in the final week." Then it shows him working out on day one when he first started and he has a bucket of sweat just pouring out of his body and he's looking like he's about to have a heart attack. I think he's pumping iron or doing a rep or lifting a medicine ball; I can't remember exactly what he was doing. Dolvett is looking at him saying, "Breathe, breathe." David said, "Looking back to week one where defeat was part of my vocabulary, where going home was an option; but look at me now, look at how strong I am." This was a flashback showing him how weak he was. He could hardly do a rep and then fourteen weeks later he's pumping iron, looking stronger, not sweating nearly as much, and just looking a lot healthier. He said, "There was something deep down inside me and it was that heart of a warrior that I knew was in me and I've been able to reveal that guy a little bit more each week." I think there's a spiritual warrior in each and every one of us. I really do. I think there's a spiritual warrior there; we're created in God's image… there has to be. God wants us to find that spiritual warrior and He wants us to stir that up and reveal that a little bit more each day of our lives. Draw closer to God and become a warrior for God's truth and way of life. David went on to say, "How do you like me now?" Kind of cocky, but he earned it; he worked hard. He lost one hundred eighty seven pounds.
Jennifer said, "The feelings I am having today are so much different than the ones I had in week one." (This was in week fourteen.) "In week one, I was nervous, apprehensive, scared.. but today I'm excited about working out. I've been chipping away and busting through my safe zone, my comfort zone since I came here. This has become my life now." Her total approach toward exercise had changed.
Chelsea said, "It's been six years since I've been in the one hundreds" . She was over two hundred pounds, and she's a little girl, five foot four for something like that. Chelsea continued," Chelsea from week one would not even believe Chelsea from today. I knew that Chelsea could do it, but I don't believe she knew just how far she would come. Now I'm so much stronger and more positive. I'm happy, I want to live life." There was a total transformation. In fact, that was one of the titles in one of the countries, "Total Transformation".
Our spiritual journey is a much longer and more arduous one than just a few months of intense physical exercise. It would be very difficult for the contestants of "The Biggest Loser" to keep their exercise regimen going for their entire lives; it's not very practical to exercise four hours a day. They'd probably burn themselves out or waste away. That would be a bit extreme, but they got themselves off to a good start. Now they must be diligent in maintaining their habits. They don't have to keep doing the same things, they just have to eat less, eat better foods, keep exercising (not four hours a day, but maybe thirty minutes a day), and stay on a right program to maintain what they've accomplished. This life can be spiritually discouraging at times, it can seem to be a slow process and we may have some ups and downs, too. Maybe we were flying high for a while and then Boom! Something happens. Maybe Satan gets a hold of us, he develops a stronghold in our lives, maybe even an addiction of some kind and we have all kinds of problems then. So, we have to be careful that we don't become so discouraged that we give up. We can become impatient; we can stop trying because the sinful "weight" doesn't come off fast enough. The process of conversion is not an instantaneous one. It takes continual effort. After you're baptized, you have to keep studying, praying fasting, and meditating in order to maintain and grow spiritually. SO WE MUST FOCUS ON THE GOAL..THE KINGDOM OF GOD and know that one day we will have the perfect mind of Christ. When Christ returns and He changes us, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, we will become like him. We are going to see him as He is and we're going to be like him, so we will have the mind of Christ. We don't have it fully yet, but we have to know that we will get there if we endure to the end… if we keep staying on the right course, the right track, keep fighting the good fight, and running the good race.
Are you still working hard? Are you exercising spiritually in your life, or are you neglecting your daily Bible study? Are you neglecting to pray daily, to pray fervently for others, to pray faithfully? Are you getting spiritually lazy? Are you resisting temptations or are you giving in to temptations? Are you becoming a spiritual couch potato? Maybe you were twenty years ago and you're moving in that direction again. These are questions you need to ask yourself. You need to examine yourself this time of year and be honest with yourself. If you're doing everything you can and you're not shedding the spiritual baggage and putting on the mind of God as fast as you'd like, then look back at how far you've come and take some encouragement in that. Take some encouragement that you are still with it, you are still here, you're still working at it. You've most likely hit a plateau (that happens sometimes when you're in a marathon), but then you get a second wind and you can run better. Keep pushing, and just like those on the ranch, you will eventually break through. They made a lot of breakthroughs and we will, too.
Hebrews 12:2-4 "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. Verse 3: "For consider him (Christ) who endured such hostility from sinners against himself…” (He was crucified by sinners.) "…lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls". Consider Christ's example; Christ was crucified for being faithful. You haven't been crucified, things may not be going as well as you like, but you haven't been crucified. Verse 4: "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed striving against sin." Christ even shed blood as He was praying the night before his crucifixion because his prayer was so intense. There's actually a medical term for that, hematohidrosis. He was praying fervently all night long, diligently and his sweat was like drops of blood coming from him, pouring forth from him. We haven't done all that have we? We need to look to the author and finisher of our faith, to see his example. Let's not become discouraged. Let's continue to fight the good fight, continue to do what we can do, continue to apply these principles. Let's not compare ourselves among ourselves, either. Scripture tells us not to do that. Sometimes some people seem to be making more progress, and maybe they are and we're discouraged because we're not making such progress, but don't compare yourselves among yourselves. Know that God is a just and loving God and He loves you and He's there for you. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you.
So the fourth step on the road to salvation is to: DEVELOP GOOD SPIRITUAL HABITS THAT WILL HEIGHTEN, MAINTAIN, AND SUSTAIN YOUR SPIRITUAL FOCUS. Let's consider this; we've gone through four steps so far. These things will help us draw closer to God as we approach the Passover season. I'm scheduled to be here on the Sabbath during The Days of Unleavened Bread and we'll end this series of sermons at that time. On the Passover baptized members will come here and wash one another's feet and eat a small piece of unleavened bread, and drink a small portion of wine. We know the wine is symbolic of Christ's shed blood and the unleavened bread is symbolic of his broken body, broken for us. We will all have some unity as we eat that bread, and remember that Christ died for each and every one of us. We're all part of his family; we're all made in his image. So the Passover is a very meaningful ceremony that renews our covenant with Jesus Christ. We will reflect on how Christ is our Passover, how He is the Passover Lamb. He is the perfect sacrifice that takes away our sins through genuine, loving forgiveness… lasting forgiveness. The next evening we will meet in one another's homes or in private settings, perhaps in a restaurant and we will reflect on how God lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. It is called "The Night to Be Much Observed" or "The Night to Be Much Remembered". We're going to reflect on how the Israelites came out of cruel bondage, how they came out of harsh slavery. We're going to reflect on how God is bringing us out of spiritual bondage. He is helping us get rid of the sin that does beset us. Then on the next day, the First Day of Unleavened Bread, we are going to meet together and speak about the importance of putting sin out of our lives as we have diligently put the leaven out of our homes. So, be diligent in putting the leaven out; you don't have to go to extremes, but do your best to put the leaven out of your homes. Certainly don't do so much physically that you don't have time to pray and study during this time. That would be defeating the purpose, wouldn't it? Get the leaven you can see out; don't break your back because you are never going to get every single spore of leavening out anyway. Again, it's our attitude and our approach. It has to be balanced. The spiritual aspects are more important than the physical ones, but we should put the leaven out of our homes. We should get it out and out of our cars. We're going to go to The First Day of Unleavened Bread and the leaven will be out and we're going to have some wonderful days ahead of us. I wish we could be here with you guys. We'll be here during The Days of Unleavened Bread, but not during those first days. But, I know you'll all get together and you'll be well fed, I'm sure. God will provide. Remember we're all called to be "big losers" because we're all called to lose the weight, the sin, which so easily ensnares us. SO LET'S THANK GOD THAT WE HAVE VICTORY OVER SIN THROUGH CHRIST OUR SAVIOR. Let us go forward to keep the feast, not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but as the scripture tells us "Let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth". Let's continue to be "big losers" as we approach and as we observe the Passover.