How Sweet It Is

You may eat freely from every tree in the garden…but one.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize God’s voice when He speaks. It is usually profound, concise, and startling in its clarity. He most often takes a Scripture and applies it to a current situation in my life.

So when I kept hearing this verse repeating in my mind one mid-October morning, I recognized the Messenger. I just didn’t like the message. 

I knew that God had given Adam and Eve these instructions when He placed the pair in the garden. They were free to eat from any tree but the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” We all know how well THAT went. (See Genesis 2.)

But now those words were directed at MeMy garden. My tree.

I even knew the name of the tree He was referring to.

“Sugar.”

No, I didn’t like this message at all.

In my work at our local pregnancy center I’ve encountered alcoholics and drug addicts. Some are in recovery; others are in denial. One pregnant client admitted that she was a heroin addict, but was reluctant to pursue treatment, even though she knew her baby would be born addicted. When I hear the word “addict,” stories like these come to mind.

But there are many kinds of addictions. Some are perfectly legal and socially acceptable. Like my own.

I’ve always said I have a “sweet tooth,” and have often joked about being a “chocoholic.” I’m a “Life’s uncertain. Eat dessert first.” kind of gal. Did you know that most alcoholics can remember exactly when they took their first sip? Well, I can recall the taste of my first chocolate Easter egg.

I’ve fasted from chocolate a few times in the past. But give up Sugar? You’ve got to be kidding!

I googled “sugar addiction.” At the top of the results page, in bold, was this:

Scientists have found that sugar is addictive and stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain as cocaine or heroin.”*

In fact, studies showed rats preferred sugar over cocaine**.

Whoa. This was no joking matter! Sugar was my drug of choice. Could I be addicted?

The Holy Spirit was clearly convicting me. But He was also pointing the way to freedom. It was drastic, but it was beginning to make sense.

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you…” (Jesus, in Matthew 18:8, NAS)

Ouch. This is a difficult teaching. But when dealing with an addiction, there is no middle ground. When hearing from God, there is no place for compromise.

So I did something I never thought I’d do. I cut down the cane tree, and cut processed sugar out of my life.

Next week will mark five months “sober.”

Going sugar-free has had its bitter moments. Five weeks into my journey, my family went on a Thanksgiving cruise, and I had to navigate around the ever-present desserts. Then came the sweets-laden Christmas season. But I learned that I could enjoy baking–without partaking! With every “chocolate holiday” on the calendar, I’ve bid a fond farewell to each of my holiday favorites. (So long, Hershey’s Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Eggs.)

But you know what? It’s actually been much easier than I thought it would be! After I heard so clearly from God, it became a simple issue of obedience. There is sacrifice, but also great joy in surrender. I’ve experienced a freedom I’ve never known before. Once I accepted that this particular tree was off limits for me (at least for this season), I felt at peace.

I doubt I’m the only one who struggles with this addiction. Perhaps the Lord is using my story to put His finger on this–or some other–area in your life. If so, here’s what I would say to you, my friend:

When God speaks, listen! Even if you don’t like what He’s saying. Even if He asks you to give up the one thing you think you can’t live without.

You can do it! He will help you.

On the other side of a hard obedience is an amazing freedom.

Oh, how sweet it is!

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, NAS)

 

*From an article titled “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Here’s How to Break the Cycle” by Sarah Elizabeth Richards at www.dailyburn.com.

**From a NCBI–National Institutes of Health report: “Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward” by M. Lenoir, 2007.

 

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I Just Wanna Be a Sheep

One of the perks of being a youth leader is having permission to act immaturely relive one’s younger years. (Right, Morgan?) The following kids’ song was repeatedly requested in our fifteen passenger van as we drove to and from the “Desperation” conference last month. I found myself happily singing along, belting it out with the rest of them.

(Go ahead. Push play. You know you want to.)

(Now you too can have that song stuck in your head! You’re welcome. Baa Baa Baa.)

Let’s get baaack to the purpose of this blog post.

If you know me, you know I have a thing for sheep.

Apparently Jesus did too.

In John 10 He uses the imagery of a shepherd and his sheep to illustrate the special kind of relationship He has with His flock. Lately John 10:27 has also been on auto replay in my mind:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me… (John 10:27, NAS)

It’s as if the Lord has been saying to me, “Just be a sheep. It’s that simple.”

If that’s the case, then what does it mean to be a sheep in the Shepherd’s care?

It means that…

1) I belong.

“My sheep…”

I can almost hear the pride in His voice as He refers to “My” sheep. He is fiercely possessive of us. Because we belong to Him. We are His.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1b, NAS)

2) I am known.

“I know them…”

It’s easy to focus on knowing GOD and overlook the wonderful truth that WE are known by HIM. Don’t we all long to be known, understood, and loved? The fact is, we ARE! The shepherd David penned a beautiful description of sheep living under the knowing gaze of God:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
 You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
 Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all. (Psalm 139:1-4, NAS)

3) I can hear His voice.

“My sheep hear My voice…”

Sheep who spend time in the fields with their shepherd come to recognize His voice. It’s the same with our Shepherd. He desires to communicate with us and to teach us to respond to His voice.

Here are a few ways He speaks to us:

Through His Word. Have you ever had a Bible verse just jump out at you? My heart beats a little faster when this happens. Because I know it’s His Spirit, highlighting a particular passage just for me.

Through fellow sheep. He did this last week while I was chatting on the phone with my mom. She just “happened” to say just the right thing at just the right time. God was reaching out to encourage me through her words.

Through prayer. A few days ago, the Lord answered a specific prayer, mid-prayer, by inspiring a new thought in my mind. I knew it was a word from Him, because it was almost startling in its wisdom and clarity.

Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21, NLT)

4) I get to follow Him.

“…they follow Me.”

Sheep have only one job, and that is to stay near the shepherd. He is the source of their protection and provision. It only makes sense to follow Him.

My little dog Beau (who actually reminds me of a lamb when his coat is cut short!), is a great example of this. When I leave the room, he leaves the room. When I go out, he waits at the door anticipating my return. He only has eyes for me.

I want to be more like that. Eyes on the Lord, sensitive to His movement, staying close.

He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. (Matthew 9:9, NAS)

I think it really IS that simple.

I just wanna be a sheep.

Secure, known, and loved.

Listening, watching, and following.

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