10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

What Is Idolatry?

Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion, it is self-idolatry.

“Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind.”

In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.

The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom

Leaning on our own wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They literally suppress the truth with their own sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).

An Idolatrous Conundrum!

Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators really worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection?

Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be found in our hearts.

10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

  1. You search you heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
  2. Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
  3. You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
  4. You routinely reject Apostolic pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
  5. You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
  6. You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
  7. You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
  8. You use and manipulate people while simulataniously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
  9. Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  10. You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).

Idolatry Inside the Church

I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).

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Heroic Leadership – 10 Lessons

Like most little boys, my son is fascinated with superheroes. Maybe that’s why I’m writing an article about the parallels between leadership and ambiguous fictional superheroes. For the most part, I’m critical of pop culture. However, the cultural fascination with fictitious superheroes (it’s a multi-billion dollar industry) is interesting from an anthropological perspective because it demonstrates that people have an innate desire to see good triumph over evil in spectacular fashion.

People are fascinated by the idea of a super savior that defeats evil and overcomes extreme obstacles. From here I could launch into a diatribe about the disturbing trend towards the cultural celebration of “bad guys” winning, and the glorification of evil, but I’ll refrain.

Oddly enough, fictitious superheroes often instigate seemingly innocuous conversations with my son about very deep topics. For example, the reality of good and evil, the importance of doing the right thing even when it’s hard, doing what’s right even when everyone is against you, and how to be a leader. That might sound silly to you, but those are things I want my son to take seriously.

During one of those “deep” conversations, it dawned on me that most people want to grow up and be heroic. Sadly, age and the strains of real life have a way of tainting that desire if we’re not careful, but the desire is there somewhere. And that brings me to the topic of leadership. Ask any good leader and they will tell you that they were drawn to leadership because they wanted to help people. This is never truer than in the case of pastoral leadership. Godly ministers desperately want to see people saved. That’s our number one goal. I recently spoke with the CEO of a billion-dollar medical device company and I asked what drew him to the industry. His answer was typical; he wanted to help people.

Obviously, there is an evil side of the leadership coin. Those are the Hitler’s, Stalin’s, false prophets, and wolves in sheep clothing kind of leaders. But I’m writing to the “good guy” leaders today. The ones who desperately want to make a difference and truly help people. But maybe leadership isn’t everything you thought it would be. Maybe leading has left you feeling more and more jaded. These ten “superhero” inspired leadership lessons are for you.

  1. Heroic leadership is a lonely business.

Heroic leadership will often cause you to be misunderstood and mistreated. Doing the right thing means swimming against the current of popular culture and failed methodology. Heroic leaders must be prepared to endure times of loneliness and isolation.

  1. Heroic leadership is a dangerous business.

When you shine a light on evil, expect evil to retaliate. When you challenge the status quo, expect the status quo to retaliate.

  1. Heroic leadership is often a thankless job.

Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to be respected, but heroic leadership does not lead for accolades. Heroic leadership leads to help people. Jesus spoke of avoiding the pharisaical spirit that does good deeds just to be seen (Matthew 6:1-16). Heroic leaders don’t need a pat on the back to keep doing the right thing.

  1. Every heroic leader has an inner villain.

In the biblical sense, this is the epic struggle between the Spirit and the flesh. Even heroic leaders have inner struggles and temptations that constantly threaten to overthrow righteousness. Our villainous nature must be crucified every single day or it will gain dominance in our lives.

  1. Every heroic leader has a super-nemesis.

It’s tempting for heroic leaders to view wicked people as the enemy, but this is not the Christian worldview that God wants us to hold. We don’t wrestle with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). There is a super villain named Lucifer who is the arch enemy of everything that is good. Knowing the source of evil is paramount if you are going to effectively combat evil.

  1. Every heroic leader has unshakable core convictions, values, and drive that sustains and propels them against overwhelming odds.

Heroic leaders have solid principles that are unchanging. Genuine righteous values don’t shift with circumstances. Adversity exposes cowardly leadership. Cowardly leadership sacrifices values on the altars of convenience, popularity, and self-preservation.

  1. At the end of the day, heroic leaders take off the mask and look like everybody else.

Heroic leaders wear a mask of professionalism. Heroic leaders can’t be everybody’s buddy or best friend, they are leaders. I know the big buzz word these days is “real”. Everyone is talking about being real, authentic, and genuine. Some of that is good. I get it. But often, just being “real” is code for lack of composure. Heroic leaders aren’t fake or plastic, but they do maintain composure, high standards, and a work ethic that sets them apart from others.

But when heroic leaders get home they are tired and human just like everybody else. They need genuine connections, love, and relationships. They need interaction with their family and close friends. Heroic leaders must learn to let down their guard at home or risk alienating their deepest, most important relationships.

  1. Heroic leaders aren’t trying to be heroes.

There’s a difference between being a wanna-be hero and simply being committed to doing what is needed, necessary, and right. Heroic leaders are like David when he saw Goliath intimidating the entire army of Israel. David wasn’t trying to be a hero when he faced Goliath, he just couldn’t stand by and let evil win.

  1. Heroic leaders always have a kryptonite that the enemy will try to exploit.

Even heroic leaders have a weakness (or two, or three). Knowing what your kryptonite is and learning how to deal with it is critical.

  1. Heroic leaders sometimes lose their way, but they face their failures and make things right.

In the quest to do right, heroic leaders sometimes lose focus or let the ends justify the means. They falter, they fail, they miss the mark, they err, they misjudge. That’s because they are human beings. However, heroic leaders know how to say, “I was wrong.” They learn how to say, “I’m sorry.” They face their failures and own their mistakes. They don’t shift blame or pass the buck. Owning and correcting mistakes is one of the most heroic things a person can do.

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15 Ways to Win the Battle Within

I’m a statistics kinda guy, but I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale.

Certainly, temptation, in general, is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.

These problems begin in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually act upon. If you engage your mind with darkness you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).

That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul refers to the battle of the mind in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces the old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in garbage out and vice versa.

My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning.

Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.

Below is a list of fifteen things that will truly guard our minds. Fifteen powerful defensive shields. If you’re looking for a shorter Twitter-friendly list just know, there are no shortcuts to safety.

1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8). Have you ever been so tired you just didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it simply can’t be avoided, but there are also times where we simply haven’t made rest a priority.

2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16). We should help others because it’s the right thing to do. But there are benefits attached to helping others. It takes our minds off us and our problems. Helping others forces us out of selfish habits and self-destructive thoughts. It’s amazing how quickly our attitude can change when we empty ourselves out in the service of others.

3. Only listen to Christian music. Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus the better. Listen to it a lot.

There’s literally nothing that has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea.

By listening to that kind of music you are literally handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).

By the way, everything listed above applies to all your entertainment choices. Everything from books, magazines, movies, television, internet, games, and more. Surely, you can’t be entertained by filth and wonder why you long for filth. Surely, you can’t watch horror and wonder why you battle anxiety. Surely, you can’t watch (and laugh at) immorality and wonder why you’re full of lust. Clean it up, throw stuff out, make a covenant with your eyes and ears. Take Philippians 4:8 seriously and you’ll be surprised how quickly your mind will be renewed.

Everything else on this list of defenses will be weakened if you constantly subject your eyes and ears to worldly entertainment.

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4. Spend time daily reading the Bible. If you need direction, search the Scriptures. If you need encouragement, search the Scriptures. You need the Word daily. Why would you leave your greatest resource untouched?

The word is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105), which means it protects us from painfully stumbling and falling. But it’s also a sword (Ephesians 6:17), meaning it is our greatest offensive weapon against the enemy. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness his strongest offense and defense was the Word (Luke 4:1-13). If you know what is written you will know how to confidentially respond to temptation.

5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sincerely, pray and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms.

It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.

Don’t just pray when you need something, pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers. Talk to God about your hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, pains and triumphs, and all the in between stuff too. We’ve all known people who only called when they needed something. Don’t be that way with God. Be that person who maintains the relationship in the good times and the bad.

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6. Make sure you’re being obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking). Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting the demonic and suffering the Lord’s wrath at the same time.

Disobedience produces guilt, condemnation, pain, and spiritual resistance. The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before he realized he needed to go back home. If you’re living in disobedience, things will get progressively worse until you repent and make things right with God.

7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25). Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your closest friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible). Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.

There are some things that aren’t sinful by themselves but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. Obviously, if possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.

9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13). There’s a reason that we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our own benefit (Mark 2:27).

Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak we need the strength of fellow believers, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking very large prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the herd to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim.

Years of ministry has taught me that many people avoid church when they are struggling to win the battle for their mind. That’s literally the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.

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10. Worship the Lord all the time even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1). This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell him.

11. Add fasting to your prayers. In Matthew 17:14-21 a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had literally destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples but they had been unable to cast the demon out of him. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19 Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21 he reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity. Our mind is sharpened and our spirit is quickened when fasting. And yet, this is the most underutilized tool in most people’s spiritual belt.

12. Keep a prayer journal. For me personally, this has been one of the most helpful things I have ever done. I write thoughts, prayer requests, questions, goals, hopes, dreams, study findings, and testimonies. The Bible speaks of overcoming by the word of testimony (Revelation 12:11). We humans have a bad habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

13. Study a specific subject in the Bible. This is different than just daily Bible reading. Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

14. Stay busy. Boredom is the Devils playground (1 Timothy 5:13).

15. Listen to a lot of good anointed Apostolic preaching. I highly recommend downloading the Holy Ghost Radio app and the Revival Radio app. They’re free and they’re awesome. Also, you can catch my church Podcast here or on iTunes here.

FINAL THOUGHT: The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that he was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). There are countless other biblical examples, but if you know this to be the case you can be prepared and respond appropriately.

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Weekly Ramblings (Critics, Free Speech, Gluten & Earth Day)

Ramble alert! Consider yourself forewarned, this is going to be a little scattered and verbose.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that my posts usually have a clear and central theme. I typically only write about a subject that I have thought through thoroughly, and that meticulousness keeps me from being prolific. Time constraints simply don’t allow me to produce interesting articles on a daily or even weekly basis. Furthermore, as the readership has grown, the critics and detractors have increased as well. Don’t get me wrong, support is strong and I’m truly grateful for the unexpected connections this blog has cultivated. I only mention the critics because they challenge me to be very sure of something before I hit publish and send another article into cyberspace.

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In a way, the critics serve as an inspiration to be especially well prepared to explain my opinions and theological views. I much prefer preaching over writing, and pre-Apostolic Voice I would have assumed that preaching invites more criticism than writing ever could. Interestingly, the reverse seems to be true. I’ve introspected about this reality and landed on the theory that preaching is intellectual and emotional, while theologically driven opinion piece writing is almost entirely detached and cerebral.

To illustrate the difference between preaching and writing, try to remember the exact wording of the last sermon you heard. It’s really hard, isn’t it? That doesn’t mean you weren’t touched by it, you could likely explain what the theme of the sermon was or describe how it impacted you in some way or another. But the exact phrasing is probably fuzzy. Also, we don’t stop preachers’ mid-sermon and ask them to repeat something we missed, or ask them what they were really trying to say if it was a little unclear. But with writing, we can read it over again, ask a question (in a blog fueled by social media), and even challenge a point. I think that’s a good thing if it’s done with mutual respect. In best case scenarios, that kind of interaction generates healthy discussion. However, it does cause me to weigh every word written with great circumspection.

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All of that to say (I warned you this would be wordy), that’s my main excuse for not writing more often. Well, that and being busier than a tax preparer in April. Nevertheless, many extremely kind people have asked me to pick up the pace and post more often. With great hesitancy, I’ve decided to begin posting a weekly article of random thoughts, comments, inspirations, and semi-chaotic opinions. I should qualify by saying, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes. So, let’s go!

The recent Berkeley debacles have forced most well-informed people to solidify their opinions about free speech in America. Christians really have an obligation to take notice, whether you like the people involved or not. In my opinion, we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away from violent protestors trying to silence churches that aren’t “PC” enough. Free speech must be free whether we agree or disagree. I don’t like what a lot of people are saying, but I believe in (and would defend) their right to say it.

I’m predicting that freedom of speech will become increasingly controversial and contested. Secularism doesn’t care if you label yourself a Christian if you stay silent about cultural hot button issues like abortion, sexual immorality, and other prevalent sins. Remember, preaching is the mechanism that God ordained for the advancement of the Gospel. Freedom of speech is an important liberty that intertwines solidly with freedom of religion; the unraveling of one weakens the other.

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My beautiful wife is severely allergic to gluten. She literally can’t eat it. Period. If you don’t know what gluten is, it’s basically the substance that makes everything yummy.

For years we didn’t know what was causing her to have so many health issues. It was such a huge relief to finally figure out that it was a food allergy. It’s nothing short of impressive the way she has been able to cut vast categories of food out of her life. To be fair, for her the repercussions just aren’t worth the instant gratification of a glutinous Krispy Kreme donut (or two, or a dozen, or whatever). Although, if I was allergic to gluten I’d probably die in a blaze of gluten fueled glory.

Because of her allergy, I really try (often unsuccessfully) not to eat things around her that she loves but can’t eat. At the very least, I try not to be totally in her face about it. Also, my name is Ryan and I’m a donut addict and I have the empty Krispy Kreme box to prove it. In the effort to reconcile my efforts to be sensitive to her allergy, and my need to eat donuts, I’ve become a sneaky donut eater. The struggle is real.

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Remarkably, I really wasn’t all that wild about baked goods until the moment they started to seem forbidden. And therein lies a profound insight into the human condition. We have this innate pull towards things that seem forbidden. Especially if the perceived rewards are immediate and the consequences seem far removed (or uncertain). For my wife, the consequences are almost immediate if she consumes even one donut, but for me, the consequences creep in gradually (almost imperceptibly).

Ironically, this human psychological conundrum can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve ate the fruit and didn’t keel over dead. The serpent seemed vindicated momentarily because death was not instantaneous. But the process of physical death was activated by sin and spiritual death was triggered the moment she swallowed that forbidden bite.

Admittedly, this empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts is undoubtedly inspiring this little guilt-ridden rant. But when it comes to spiritual things, we would all do well to remember that just because consequences are mercifully delayed doesn’t mean they aren’t looming undetected (Galatians 6:7-8).

Another Earth Day has come and gone. This is me reminding you that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof is his (Psalm 24:1).

Also, don’t you think it’s interesting how secularism always has a generic substitute for biblical things? Skeptics love to mock Christians for preaching apocalyptic theologies about the impending end of the world, but we’re all supposed to take baseless, apocalyptic, unproven, calamitous theories about global warming seriously. Here are two good related articles from National Review: Bill Nye’s View of Humanity Is Repulsive, Science vs. Science. WARNING, that second article quotes actress Rachel Bloom and she is vulgar, but such is the state of “mainstream” science today.

Oh, and the earth isn’t your mother (thanks for that witty insight Andrew Grant).

I’ll leave you with a relevant Earth Day passage of Scripture:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof (Psalm 19:1-6).”

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I’m A Loser, And You Can Be One Too (How I Lost 50 Pounds)

Hi. My name is Ryan and I’m a loser. Specifically, I’ve lost 50 pounds over the last 10 months.  If I can do it you can do it too (relax, there’s no sales pitch embedded in this article). I’ve really hesitated to write about this subject because it is such a drastic departure from my usual writings, and because it is such a deeply personal topic. Having said that, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again about my weight loss. Overwhelmingly, people simply want to know the magic secret to quick weight loss, and that leads me to the first lesson I had to learn on my journey to losing 50 pounds.

There is no magic secret to quick weight loss! Ok. So there are unhealthy ways to lose a quick few pounds here and there. Usually, they are “gone today and back tomorrow” kinds of pounds that leave us feeling unhealthier than before we started. Pills that make your hands shake and your chest hurt, or diet plans that work but don’t create sustainable lifestyles like the Adkins diet or the many juice diets. Like millions of other people, I’ve tried gobs of those schemes over the years but they failed me miserably in the end. Sustainable weight loss is not an overnight process or a one-time commitment; it is a lifestyle change.

I’m not a health nut or an exercise enthusiast. By nature, I’m a couch potato. Most of my favorite activities involve sitting down. I’m also not one of those people who hate unhealthy foods and enjoy kale (or any of the other foul tasting health craze foods). I like carbs, butter, and Blue Bell ice cream as much as the next guy (or gal). Neither do I think the whole world should be skinny and obsessed with jogging. However, as a 31-year-old man who has already undergone four open-heart surgeries, I do want to be healthy and live to see my children grow up and hopefully their children too.

Now that we have established that there is no magic weight loss pill, allow me to share with you the basics of how I lost 50 pounds and a few tips that may inspire you too.

Calorie counting. This is the most well-balanced way to safely and sustainably lose weight. Calorie counting is incredibly simple and yet extremely hard at the same time. I don’t think I could effectively calorie count in a pre-smartphone world. At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I downloaded the free app called MyFitnessPal (there are all kinds of other great free calorie counting apps available as well), and it really made the calorie counting process less obnoxious. You simply input your height, weight, etc. and the app tells you how many calories you should consume per day depending on how many pounds you want to lose each month.

Count every calorie. The most difficult thing about calorie counting is being honest with yourself about what and how much you eat at each meal. When I first started I was shocked by how many calories I was consuming per meal. The great thing about calorie counting is that you can technically eat whatever you want. Technically, you can have french fries but you find yourself drastically reducing portions in order to stay within your calorie allowance. In other words, you naturally eat healthier in order to eat more. For example, a handful of french fries contains far more calories than a big bag of baked potato chips, so I usually choose more chips over fewer fries.

The key to being successful with calorie counting is to actually count every calorie even when you know that you’ve blown it (and you will blow it). The temptation will be to not input your calories when you know you’ve really gone over your allotted number for the day. However, that moment of truth is very important. Looking at it and seeing it for yourself will help keep you motivated and on track. Also, a day or two of not counting because of excuses quickly becomes weeks and months. Make counting your calories a daily habit (a lifestyle).

Count your calories before your meal whenever possible. If you’re like the average American you do a lot of eating out and it’s important to calculate those calories before you eat, otherwise you’ll choose your meal, eat it, and then find out that you can’t eat dinner because you just ate all your calories in one sitting. At first, this will be very hard, very inconvenient, and very obnoxious but as time goes by it will become second nature. In fact, after a while, you’ll know by memory how many calories certain foods contain and the process will flow naturally. You’ll be able to count and no one will even know that you’re counting.

If it’s not awesome, don’t eat it. That’s become a new theme in my life. I was one of those people who loved to eat just for the sake of eating. I would eat huge portions of things that I didn’t even enjoy all that much. Calorie counting makes you a selective and picky eater. I still splurge and have plenty of days where I eat way more calories than I should, but I don’t splurge on things that aren’t awesome. I don’t splurge for the sake of splurging. If I blow it I want it to be worth it. Whenever you’re tempted to splurge, ask yourself this question, “Is this something awesome, or will I just regret wasting calories on it later?” Of course, it goes without saying that if you indulge more than you abstain you won’t lose weight. So splurge within reason and splurge selectively.

If you know you’re going to blow it fast until that meal. Most people have a social calendar that requires them to attend meals where they are not in control of the menu and it would be rude to not eat what is provided. This is a regular occurrence for me, and I have found that if I know that I have a calorie busting meal scheduled into my day I fast up until and sometimes after that meal, or at the very least I severely restrict my intake.

Managing calories must become a mindset. What I’ve been describing up until this point is really just having an overall understanding of what and how much you intake on a daily basis. It’s not that we can’t snack or eat three square meals a day, it’s just that we have to manage amounts, which makes us pickier and choosier. This leads nicely to my next weight loss journey truth.

Not everyone will be supportive of your weight loss journey. Ok. So most people are supportive of the idea of their friends and family losing weight and being healthier but if it inconveniences or hinders their lifestyle in any way, they often become frustrated and sometimes even hostile to the process. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of making a lifestyle change. Do it anyway. As you make progress and prove that your new lifestyle is more than just a fad they will get on board (if they are a true friend).

Cardio exercise will help you lose those pounds faster and allow you to eat more (it’s a win-win situation). I’m not talking about lifting weights or bulking up, I’m simply talking about speed walking, 30 minutes on a stationary bike, or something like that to get your blood flowing. You can certainly still lose the weight without the exercise if you just count calories, but when you do regular light exercises, multiple times a week, you can input those into your calorie counting app, and for every calorie that you burn you can eat an extra calorie that day (if you burn 300 calories speed walking you can eat 300 extra calories that day guilt free). The basic idea is to speed up your metabolism and your body will actually burn more calories throughout the day. Think of exercise as a mechanism that ignites a calorie burning oven. I didn’t start using the stationary bike (my exercise of choice) until about the halfway point of my weight loss journey, and the difference was drastic. I went from losing about a half a pound a week to losing a whole pound a week.

Do not let your failures be final. Millions of people give up on their weight loss goals because of one day or one week of dieting failures. Expect to mess up and plan to get back up. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Also, don’t be discouraged when you don’t see immediate results. Usually, visible results are about a month delayed (if you have a month of diet perfection you won’t see those results until about four weeks later).

You will feel better long before you look better. This is either good news or bad news depending on your perspective.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Not to over spiritualize weight loss, but as I have learned to exercise self-control in my eating habits it has been easier to exhibit self-control in other areas of my life as well.

Try to make it a goal to not eat after a certain time in the evening. Certainly, there will be exceptions to this some days of the week (probably because of social calendars), but try to set a time (maybe 7pm or 8pm) where you simply will not eat after that point no matter what. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your meals and keep you from sleeping on a full stomach and bogging your metabolism down.

Good news! Once you reach your weight loss goal (and you must set a goal) you get to eat more calories per day. That’s right. The number of calories that you can eat to simply maintain your weight is substantially more than you can eat if you are trying to lose weight. And after an extended period of time eating less than your body needs, eating just enough will seem like a feast. I promise.

If I can lose 50 pounds you can too. I mean that sincerely. I don’t have super willpower or exceptional health savvy. I’ve never been nor am I now athletic, naturally active, or extremely outdoorsy. I’m not particularly fond of fruits, veggies, or other healthy foods. I love all the bad stuff like cheese, soda, butter, bread, anything fried, pizza and the list could go on and on. To top it all off, I really don’t enjoy exercise either. But I do enjoy feeling healthy and knowing that I am doing all that I can to ensure that I will live a full life with my little family.