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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Breaking the Rules; Taking the Plunge



Two friends, Christin and Ebahi were nice enough to let me in on their one-month fast.  The rules were simple: no gluten and no sugar or you jump into the lake.  No sugar?  “Sure!” I thought presumptuously.  And, “Gluten? What’s gluten?”  My long-time friend Angie who lives a gluten-free lifestyle said, “No wheat, rye or barley.”  Huh?  Really?!  Well, I knew I didn’t want to jump into cold Lake Michigan after October was over, so I felt that would be enough motivation to drastically change my diet.  I could do it!  So, I started reading everything, every label before I ate anything.  Well…except this one time.

It was late in the afternoon and I forgot to bring my lunch to work.  Our fridge at work was meant to service the guests in the hotel, but I bought a beverage for myself.  This drink will restore your spirits, hydrate your body with electrolytes and quench your thirst.  Who would have known that Gatorade had sugar in it?  Isn’t it supposed to be healthy?  I broke the rule of no sugar.  I would have to jump into Lake Michigan.  What was more confounding was the name of the Gatorade that led to my defeat.  That’s right folks—Arctic Blast!

As I look back on my defeat to sugar, I have a few thoughts. 

Learning My Tendencies

First, I have more consistent energy levels.  I was having zero sugar and limiting my intake on both carbs and caffeine.  As my body adjusted to the change, my highs and lows were more like hills in comparison to the mountain tops and valleys associated with a reliance on sugar and caffeine.   While I love mountain tops of energy, I am especially vulnerable to fatigue and its associated mishaps when I don’t have my “drug.”

Second, I am in better shape.  While carbs are necessary for energy, any carbs not used are converted into glycogen and stored in our bodies for a later time.  While this may be the scientific explanation, everyone knows what happens around Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We all gain a little bit of “holiday heft,” if you know what I mean.  Going through a gluten-free diet forced me to eat less carbs.  I learned the benefits of portioning my carbs in accordance with my weight and protein intake.  As a result, I lost two sizes in one month and could fit into my old jeans!

This diet is helping me to first, increase my energy levels; second, get in shape; and third, become more aware of my choices.

Before I went on this diet, I did not know what I was eating.  While I would definitely not claim a guru status now, I have learned a lot about establishing a diet, reading labels, selecting foods and portioning meals.  It was the goal of no sugar and no gluten that brought me to evaluate, leading me to a greater awareness.  It could have been a different diet.  The point is not about the diet.  The point is about the rules of the diet.  It was the rules that lead me to my awareness.  This reminds me of the apostle Paul who also had something to say about rules:

“Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful?  Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin.  I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet’” (Romans 7:7, NLT).


The Goodness of the Law

Paul is saying that God’s rules are not bad.  In fact, he ends this section by saying that God’s law is good.  As the command ‘You must not covet’ (and others) revealed Paul’s transgression, so also did the rules “no sugar and no gluten” reveal my “transgressions.”  Yet, without having the rules about sugar and gluten, I would have been oblivious to my actions.  I would have continued on eating without and consideration for my actions. 

I grew up in a household, and in a denomination, that believed in confirmation.  I spent years going to church.  I would have even told you that Christianity was the right way before I was 20.  Yet, ten years ago, while on a men’s weekend, we did an obstacle course.  The first time around, it was easy.  However, when we had to get in line to share our struggles, the game changed.  Struggling with purity, Bible time and community, I was given duct-tape hindrances (representative of Hebrews 12:1-2 ‘hindrances’), which made the obstacle course much more difficult!  When I laid there on the ground, pondering how I have viewed Christianity, I remember the many times I told people that Christianity is the truth.  I then imagined myself having those same conversations from the ground, telling people, “Look at me!  I have the answers.  Become a Christian!”  How foolish was I!  It was then I saw that I need to not just preach repentance, but to live it.  Then, in accepting Christianity as a personal message to me, I accepted Christ that weekend at the age of 20.

Two Different Lakes

And why do my actions matter?  The consequence of jumping into Lake Michigan is called negative conditioning.  God’s law has both blessings and curses attached to it—both positive and negative conditioning.  No amount of positive thought can make that Gatorade drink not have sugar.  No amount of wishing or wanting can stop that sugar I consume from affecting my body.  The rules are the rules.  While the rules of no gluten and no sugar are subject to personal preferences, the rules of God are not.  When we covet or resent, we injure ourselves.  When we gossip or outburst in anger, we injure others.  When we have sex outside marriage or lie, we injure both others and ourselves.  God is the Creator who made the world how it works, the One who made us in His image.  It is God who will be the Judge of those who injure themselves and others, since it is He who sees all our actions, there will one day be a consequence for the choices we make—and be sure of this, it will not be a brief dip in a cold lake.  No.  For some, it will be an eternity in a lake of fire.

You see, for 20 years I assumed I was avoiding the lake of fire.  The problem is that I did not see my need for Jesus.  How could I? The rules of the obstacle course showed me how I was failing.  It is the rules of this life (the Law) that showed me my need for Jesus. 

Why is Jesus so important? —Because we assume wrongly that heaven is the default for everyone.  We assume that unless we do something real, real bad, we will go to heaven.  Yet, we are quick to want a just God for other peoples’ evil, but not for our own.  It is true: God is love.  But is He holy?  Is He just?  God cannot overlook sin.  Someone has to pay the price.  This is why Jesus is so important.  Jesus paid the price so that we, who cannot follow all the Law all the time, can go to heaven.

Let me make something clear that Paul already said about the Law.  The rules are good.  The rules are to be followed.  However, the purpose of the rules is not to get you into right standing before God—only Jesus can do that!  In summary, the rules before Christ reveal our need for Christ; after Christ, when followed, they reveal that our faith in Christ is legitimate.
 
If you cannot name your sin tendencies, then become well-acquainted with God’s Law.  Observe your mouth, consider your thoughts, watch your actions, and soon, as you think on the holiness of God, you will see your need for Jesus as well.


© Colin Barrett, 2014

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