Sick As A Dog
May 23, 1999
What do you have in common with a dog, eagle, camel, ant or dove? Don’t dismiss this question too quickly because we all have a larger link with these creatures than we might expect. As you know, this weekend I am launching a brand new series that we have had on the docket for a long time around here. We are calling it Animal Planet. I had the idea for this subject matter about four or five years ago but it actually got legs, no pun intended, at one of our weekly staff meetings. People ask how we come up with some of our topics and I will give you some insider information. We were doing some brainstorming, some creative thinking and our program team was going back and forth and back and forth. I stood up and made this announcement. I asked all of them to pick a couple of creatures in the Bible and do some study on them and report back with the research. I said we would then see what God would do with their ideas, etc. At the following staff meeting, to my surprise, I received reams and reams of rich information and research. I couldn’t believe all of the references and the ideas that our staff had about animals. So what you are going to hear over the next couple of weeks as we tackle Animal Planet is a group-type effort.
Some of you might be saying that this is kind of odd, animals in church! I came to hear the Bible, Ed, not some National Geographic stuff. But, stay with me now. You will be staggered at the numbers of times animals were used as references and illustrations throughout the pages of scripture. And I think you will also see the connection that you have with these creatures. I believe that as you look up close and personal at animals and what the Bible says about them, they will bring about transformation in some of the deepest and darkest areas that need to be exposed in your life and my life.
Having said that, let’s jump right in. The text I am going to read this morning is grotesque. Before I even articulate the words, if you are weak-kneed or squeamish, just grin and bear it because we have got to tackle this text. It is mentioned in the Bible, in Proverbs 26:11 and 2 Peter 2:22, “A dog returns to its own vomit.” Ugggh. “Hey, I realize that, Ed, but did you have to say it?” A dog returns to his own vomit. How sickening. How gross. It is a dog’s nature to do so. It is also our nature to do so. All of us, like dogs, have a tendency to return to our own vomit, that hurtful habit, that sin, we have dealt with and done with and tried to expel. We have thrown it back up, but we seek its scent and we return to it again and again and again. If the reality of your life and mine were truly exposed today, it would be discovered that large blocks of us are returning regularly to our own vomit.
If you look at the side screens, I have designed a little cycle for you. And I call this the sin-sick cycle of dog vomit. First we have the temptation or attraction phase. We all have it. We all have soft spots that the evil one knows about. And from the temptation phase we move to the sin. That is when we mess up, when we fumble the ball, when we commit cosmic treason. And after the sin, we move into a phase I refer to as dog days. You know what I am talking about, don’t you? You know when you sin, when you have violated God’s word and you feel sick as a dog, you feel horrible. You say to yourself that you can’t believe you did that. And from there you move out to what I call pacts and promises. You say, I am not going to do that again. I am not going to return to that vomit again. I am going to turn over a new leaf. I am a different man, a different woman. I am going to have will power and endurance. I can handle it. I can do it. But we go back to temptation, back to sin, back to dog days, back to pacts and promises and around and around and around we go.
God doesn’t want us to live that way. God doesn’t want us to return to our vomit again and again and again. I think about one of the most influential families in all of scripture because this family had problems with their vomit, with their sin. It was passed down from generation to generation. I am talking about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Patriots of scripture. They were great men of God, but when they were backed against the wall, when they were in a tight situation, they had a tendency to fudge, to throw in half-truths, to put their little spin on the deal just to save their necks. But another family member came along, named Joseph and Joseph broke free. Joseph got out of this sin sick cycle. He left the dog vomit, never to return again. Wow, that is good news. Those are comforting words to me and to you. We can leave this place changed individuals. We can leave this place free from the cycle of sin.
Well, how do we do it, you ask. First suggestion, we need to make an admission of our diet. We need to make an admission of our diet. I am talking about what we eat, what we deal with, that sin that has us. And when I am talking about sin, about attraction and temptation, many of you are bringing to mind those things that you struggle with. Maybe someone here can’t get away from gambling. Everywhere you turn you want to take that risk again and you have gone deeper and deeper into it. Maybe for others, it is drug addiction or alcohol. Maybe for some here, it is a sexual hang-up. Maybe for others it could be anger, or control issues. What is it for you? What is it that lures you in? What is it that tells you to come on this way? What is it that causes you to live in those dog days and to return to the vomit? Make an admission of your diet.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it, a no-brainer. I have got a problem. Lord, I want to make an admission of my diet. But you will be surprised at how many people never get to that point. They won’t come clean. They won’t say it. They won’t say, I have got an issue I need to deal with. I am dealing with my vomit. Lord, help me. I can’t do it alone. Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t make an admission of your diet, you are going to sign up for three things. The first thing you will sign up for is fear. A lot of us are living lifestyles of fear because we have never made an admission of our diet. Jump back to Genesis, chapter 3. Right after Adam and Eve had sinned, right after they were chewing on the core of the forbidden fruit, they knew they had messed up. What did they try to do? They tried to play a game of cosmic hide and seek from God. They tried to hide from God.
Well, God knew they were hiding. They were fearful, fearful of being found out, fearful of being discovered. And if we knew what was going on in a lot of marriages here, a lot of occupations here, a lot of lives here, many of us are hiding, fearful of being found out. You are going to sign up for fear. You will also sign up for something else, frustration. A life of frustration. You can’t control yourself. You can’t muster up enough to deal with it yourself. I think of the Apostle Paul, one of the greatest believers to ever walk the face of the earth. Here is what Paul said in Romans 7:21 & 23, “There is something else deep within me that is at war with my mind….” The Psalmist highlighted his poem when he said, “My dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration.” We are not wired to run the show. We are not wired to call the shots. We are not wired to rule our lives. God is. And until we put Him on the throne, until we give Him the reins and say, you take it, I want to make admission of my diet, we will miss opportunity after opportunity to be used by God in a great way.
You will also sign up for some fatigue. Fear, frustration and fatigue. Here is what David said in Psalm 32:4, “My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all of my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them….” Check this out: “…I said to myself, I will confess them to the Lord, and you forgave me. All my guilt is gone.” Isn’t that a cool deal? So many people here are just one step away, one prayer away from gaining freedom, from living life like Joseph did, for breaking the cycle of sin. One prayer away. One prayer away. One prayer away.
What is keeping you from the prayer? It is a force. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to show us there is a diabolical, destructive force in this universe wrecking havoc on the purposes of God. And this force, this being, is referred to in scripture as Satan. How else do you explain a Paducha, Kentucky, a Littleton, Colorado, or a Conyers, Georgia? How else do you explain the extermination of 6 million Jews or the atrocities of war in Vietnam or Kosovo? How do you explain predators preying on children? How do you explain that? A wayward gene? A problem-plagued public school system? A President who chases women?
Oh, give me a break. It goes much deeper than that. We are talking about spiritual warfare here. We are talking about someone who has your number and my number. We are talking about someone who does not want us ever to confess, ever to make an admission, ever to do any work with vomit. Satan will say no, you have got it under control. It is not a real problem for you. You can take it. You are a tough guy. You are a strong-willed woman. You don’t have to deal with this issue. Tune this guy out. Don’t really understand and dissect the scripture. Don’t buy that. Don’t make an admission of your diet.
There is something else we need to do. We need to tackle temptation in a tenacious way. We need to face it. We need to deal with it. And let me explain to you how we do this by telling you something that happened to me several days ago. As you know, last week 63 of us from the Fellowship Church traveled. We toured the beautiful nation of Israel. One day we had some down time. We were staying at a beautiful resort on the Dead Sea. Preston Mitchell and I walked out by the pool, in our shorts and T-shirts, and all of a sudden I heard a little Hebrew voice screaming at me from the pool. He was saying “Brelief, Brelief, Brelief.” I don’t speak Hebrew. He got out of the pool, ran up to me as if I was some celebrity. I didn’t get it. Other children joined in. So I walked into the hotel and asked one of the employees who is Brelief. The employee started laughing and said, “It is not Brelief, it is Brad Lief.” I asked who was Brad Lief. “Brad Lief is Israel’s greatest basketball player.” I told him that a bunch of kids out by the pool think that I am Brad. The employee laughed a bit more and said I did look somewhat like him. Then he asked if I wanted to meet Brad since he was out by the pool with his wife and family.
So Preston and I walked out to where he was. There was a little crowd of autograph hounds surrounding him. Brad stood up and I met him. As I talked to Brad, I found out that we had a lot of stuff in common. I was almost scary. First of all we are both tall and skinny and graying. Also, we both have four children. That is kind of different. We are both Christ followers. Brad shared with me that he became a Christian about two years ago in Israel. We both played college basketball. However, Brad was All-American, I was all-bench. So that is where we had a little bit of a difference.
However, when the Israeli kids saw me, they saw Brad Lief because I definitely have some characteristics of Brad. Well, I ask you. When people see you, who do they see? Do they see the characteristics of Jesus? Do they say, oh, there is the Lord, I see Him reflected, I see those characteristics. If we are going to break the cycle of sin, if we are going to deal with the vomit in our lives, we have got to mimic the methodology of Jesus, specifically when He dealt with temptation. Jesus handled it. He literally went one on one with the Evil One himself. Yes, we have to make an admission of our diet, but also, we have to mimic the methodology of Jesus.
That is why I love Matthew 4. In that chapter, we have Satan’s strategy for temptation that he has always used. He used it against Christ. He uses it against you and against me. Then we have Jesus whose character qualities and methodology is out there for us to tap into when we face temptation. Now the Bible says in the book of James that we will face temptation. Temptation is a part of life. There is no way we can live life temptation free. Here is how Satan works. Let’s go ahead and expose it. He always starts with doubt. Doubt. If I had time I could dissect every word in Matthew 4, but he starts with doubt. Here is what the Evil One said to Jesus. “If you are the Son of God….” If. He always puts that little question mark behind it, that little doubt behind it. He comes to you or he comes to me and says, “Did the Bible really mean that? Are you really a Christian? Are you really going to buy that prayer works? Do you really think that this is something in which you shouldn’t involve yourself?” Just a little bit of doubt.
From doubt, he always moves to desire. Doubt sequeways into desire. In fact, it is hard to separate the two because he is so conniving. He is such a great liar. He begins to fan those flames of desire, those dark desires, those passions that he wants us to use in an ungodly way. That is what he did to our Lord. He said, if you are the Son of God, do this and do that. Well, notice, Satan really turns up the volume on his temptation after Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, after the pangs of hunger were really eating away at his stomach. That is when he tempted Him. That is when he fanned the flames of the desire and that is what he does in all of our lives. He knows your soft spot. He knows my vulnerability. What is it? If you have authority issues any time you are under a leader, he will fan those flames of a critical nature. He will tell you to rip that woman apart or tear that man down. If you have sexual issues, he will fan those flames. He will give you that desire, tell you that you need to take that person to bed. Or if you are struggling with pleasure seeking tendencies, he might say, oh, life is a party. Just have a good time. Don’t worry about being prompt. Don’t worry about keeping your word. Just go from this fun fix to that fun fix. He always starts with a doubt and a desire.
And in the midst of this doubt and desire, Satan tells us that it is a private matter. It is a special deal. No one will know. It is just between him and you. And when he tempted Christ, it was just the two of them. Hey, your small group, your home team, will never know. Hey, your spouse and your family will never know. The people at work will never know. The church will never know. Your classmates will never know. That is how Satan works. Doubt, desire and working in a discrete, personalized manner.
But here is what happens. After we go from the doubt to the desire, we face the decision phase and we can choose one of two ways. We can go the Evil One’s way, the way of destruction, the way of devastation. And here is what he does right after we choose his path. He always works this way. Right after we have sinned, right after we have messed up, he’ll say, what you just did is unforgivable. What you just did in not under the blood of Jesus. God can never use you again. Forget about involvement in the church. Forget about ever speaking again. Forget about ever doing anything for God again. You have blown it. You are so self-centered. What a sinner. You let God down. Satan is the accuser. And he has a lot of people right there today, buying the lie that God can never, ever use you again because of what you have done.
Well, I have got great news for you. You can be cleansed. You can do a 180 and leave the Fellowship Church a changed man or woman. But I want to tell you something. The choice of destruction is a bad one, isn’t it? We have all be there. It is horrible. He is a liar.
Well, we don’t have to choose that way; we can choose another way. We can choose the way of victory, not vomit. We can choose the way of development. And if we go God’s way, we are going to grow. We are going to mature. We are going to overcome a temptation and every time we do so, we are going to climb higher and higher and higher concerning our spiritual development. But sometimes, we are just going to have to say no to the Evil One. When it comes down to decision-making time, we will just have to say no. I am running. I am getting away from the vomit.
I think about the first house that Lisa and I ever purchased. We were so proud of it. After we had been in the house a couple of months, a close friend of mine called and asked me if he could spend the night at our home on his way home to Victoria, Texas, for the Christmas holidays. I said, sure, come on. So, he showed up with two surprises, his two Labrador Retriever puppies. He said that he would keep them in the backyard. I said no, since at the time I had a rottweiler which would have eaten them for appetizers. He told me that they were expensive and well trained and wouldn’t mess up the house. He told me he would sleep on the couch and get up about 5 AM and get going before anyone else was awake. I told him that was cool. But it wasn’t cool. At 6am our nostrils began to flare. Lisa and I woke up to the most horrible stench. We walked out and looked in our tiny den and there in the middle of the floor was a basketball-sized stain of dog vomit. And my friend, who was single, had used a couple of paper towels to wipe it up and had, instead, ground it deeper into the carpet. The smell was so bad we had to vacate the house.
I called a friend of mine who ran a carpet cleaning business and when he showed up, it near about knocked him out. A week went by and my friend called me from Victoria and asked if he could spend the night on his way back. I said, No. I told him he could come by, but not his dogs. Those dogs were not returning to their vomit. So oftentimes we have got to say no.
Several days ago, our group over in Israel had an opportunity to pray in the Garden of Gethesame. The trees around us were over 2,000 years old; the same trees that Christ saw when He prayed the night before He was crucified. Do you know what Jesus said to His followers? He told them to watch and pray with Him. He didn’t just say pray. He said watch and pray. Watch means that we are to use our common sense and stay alert. Pray means we are to communicate with God.
Temptation is going to come down in your life and my life and we have got to watch and pray. Some of us have got to use our common sense. If you know you are going to sin in New York, don’t buy a ticket for the plane that travels to New York. Say no, I am not returning to my vomit. No.
Let’s look back to Matthew 4, back to the temptation of Jesus. Every time the Evil One lied to Jesus, every time he gave Jesus a doubt, fanned his desire, Jesus said, “No.” I am going My Father’s way. And He said, “It is written….” Jesus, get this, quoted scripture back to the Evil One. Many times we are going to have to use the Bible as an offensive weapon. That’s why it is so important to know this book. We are to know it and apply it and to incorporate it and to live it out. You see, this stuff is very fresh in my life. Just recently, I went through a strong season of temptation. I felt the doubt. The flames of desire were moving. God seemed so far away. But because I had spent time in the Bible, because I had spent time talking to God in prayer, because I have close brothers and sisters in Christ, God gave me the strength to say no, to go the other way. And when I went Christ’s way, I cannot tell you the affirmation and the blessings and the growth that I have just recently experienced.
We many times skip this verse, Matthew 4:11, “Then Satan went away and angels came and cared for Jesus.” Every time we go the way of development, we are going to have a time of love, affirmation, appreciation and growth from God Himself. I love what Philippines 2:13 says, “For it is God who is at work within you….” See those words, at work? It is God. The moment we invite Christ into our lives, we rely on the Holy Spirit. And if we listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, the Holy Spirit will drown out the voice of the Evil One. “Giving you the will and the power….”—willpower. Willpower comes from God, giving you and giving me the willpower “to achieve His purpose.” As I said several times thus far in this talk, God wants to bless our lives. God has incredible things that He wants to do in your life and in my life. But for many of us, we are missing opportunity after opportunity after opportunity because we are involved in this cycle of sin. Temptation, sin, dog days, pacts and promises, temptation, sin, dog days, pacts and promises.
Many of you are just one prayer away from being free from this whole deal. Hey, don’t do life any more sick as a dog. Learn from this text, from example after example from scripture because God can give you today the kind of freedom that He has in store for every sincere believer on the planet. That freedom of walking in His way and by His power.