Stuck Week 4: Virtue or Vice?
Here I am again. Just stuck. Hey, can you see me? Can you not tell that I’m upside down? Someone help me get out of this. How long will it take to flip over? I don’t even know where to start, so maybe I should just give up. Why do I feel like I’m the only one here? It would be really nice if someone could help me get unstuck. Score.
I just want to remind everybody, and especially those watching via the internet and the mobile app, no animals were harmed during the filming of that video. Okay? But good to see everybody, and good, also, to see all those who watch via the mobile app and the internet. We’re in a series called “Stuck.” At the beginning of every sermon I do in a series, I try to go back and recap what we’re doing. That way, if you’re new, if you’ve missed a week, or even if you’ve been here, it just sort of puts us all on the same page and makes everybody feel comfortable as to what we’re doing.
In this series, we’re talking about those areas in our lives where we get stuck. It’s a number of things. It may be in decisions, like, “How do we make a decision? How do we get unstuck? How do we make the right one?” It might be a relationship or a job or whatever. So, the big idea in this particular series is this. This is the big idea: We want to learn how to get unstuck when we are stuck, so when we get stuck, we don’t stay stuck. That’s the idea here of what we’re trying to do. We’re looking at practical things and practical ways to not only get unstuck, but also, maybe, to learn some things that we could put in our toolbox so that we don’t get stuck in the first place.
This weekend, what I want to talk to you about is something that many of us experience in our lives. We’re familiar with it. We get stuck in bad habits. Just things that we sort of find in our lives that we wish that we wouldn’t do. I know Barna is a group that does questions a lot to Christians, and does surveys. There’s a number of other groups that do the same thing. They find that about 70% of Christians have things in their lives that we would call a bad habit, or something that they wish they that they wouldn’t do, that they carry with them, but they don’t really tell a lot of people about, but it’s something that they struggle with.
I ran across a great quote about bad habits, and it’s really profound if you think about it for a second. This is the quote. It says, “Bad habits are chains that are too small to be felt until they’re too strong to be broken.” There’s a real profoundness to that quote. So, I want to talk about bad habits. What’s interesting, though, is this. There’s a passage in Scripture that I could go out on First Friday and I could not tell anybody that it came from the Bible. If they weren’t a Christian at all, or if they were a Christian, all of us would go, “Yeah. That’s true. There’s no doubt about it.” You might even tell a non-Christian that Paul wrote it and it’s in the book of Romans, and they may still say it’s true. But I guarantee you if you don’t tell them it’s in the Bible, they will absolutely go, “That’s true.”
So, this is for Christian and non-Christian. If you’re in here today and maybe you’re not a Christian, or you’re not sure about the Jesus thing — you’re here from First Friday, or somebody brought you. That’s totally cool. We’re glad that you’re here. You can belong here before you believe. You can hang out with us and all this stuff. But I think that all of us, wherever we’re at in our faith, will be able to say, “Yeah. This is absolutely true in my life.” And this is what Paul says. He says, “I don’t understand my own actions. I don’t understand why that hand went up on 75 in traffic at that car next to me. Not quite sure why that happened. I don’t understand my own actions.”
And he goes on to say, “I don’t do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” If you tell that to most people, and read that to them, they’ll say, “Yeah. That’s true. There are certain areas of my life that I want to do this thing, but for some reason, I do this thing. I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know what the situation is. I wish I could get some help.”
Most people would readily agree with that. That’s a life experience that we all have in common. Of course, I know there are some religious people out there that would say, “Oh, I walk on water. Me and God have got it together. I never do anything wrong.”
God bless you. For those of us like me, we don’t walk on water and we still get mad at our kids and we still do things that we wish that we wouldn’t do. So, the reality is that we all struggle with that. Now, everybody’s cool with that. If you say that to people, they go, “I’m in. That’s cool.” Whatever. But where Paul goes and what he says — because he’s just giving you a symptom. When he goes to the root of the problem, that’s where the rub comes in. Let’s look here at what his solution is to this, or what he says is the problem with this. These things that we do that we wish that we wouldn’t do.
He says this: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
It’s like there’s a part of me that wants to do the right thing. I know inside that I really, genuinely want to do this thing, but for whatever reason, I don’t do it. It’s like there’s a deficiency at some level. He says, “For I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” He’s like, “There’s just something that is fundamentally wrong here in my life.”
He goes, “If I do what I do not want, it’s no longer I who do it.” In other words, he’s coming to this conclusion: “Hey, I genuinely, on the inside, really, genuinely want to do this right thing. I really, genuinely do. There’s something within me that wants to do this. But there’s also something that’s keeping me from doing this very thing.”
And here’s what he says: “But sin that dwells within me.”
In other words, Paul’s conclusion is that the fundamental problem of humanity is that sin is here. So, the best way I could explain it is this: Paul’s assessment of the human condition is that we’re all fundamentally flawed. He calls that sin. This isn’t something that most people get excited about. This isn’t the sermon where everybody’s like, “Yeah, man. This is awesome.” This is just one of those things where a lot of people push back. They just push back on this. They go, “I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to deal with this because I just don’t believe that. I think I’m a decent person. I don’t want to hear that I’m a sinner.”
And that’s fine. Listen, you are more than welcome to take what I say and chew on it and look at it or whatever. What I am saying to you though is as a pastor, and as your pastor, and as a teacher, I feel like I have a responsibility to be honest with all of Scripture, not just picking and choosing the parts that I like so that you’ll like me, or anything like that. And I’ve got to deal with this stuff. And I don’t know how we deal with a sermon on “Stuck” and not talk about some of the problems that we have. And Paul is not the only one. Like, if you were to go, “Well, that’s Paul saying it. I know Paul says in Romans 3:10 there’s none righteous, no, not one. I know he says in Romans 3:23 that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I know all that stuff, but that’s sort of Paul.”
It’s not, though, because it goes throughout all of Scripture. Isaiah says that our righteous deeds — I mean, check this out. This is not what you want to hear on spring forward. You know what I’m talking about? But it’s the truth here. He says our righteous deeds — in other words, the best I’ve got, the best I could put together is like a polluted garment. It’s like, “Whoa. Man.”
So, that shows you, if we’re talking about God and who He is and His holiness that the best I could do would still be completely insufficient and a problem. He’s not the only one. Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Like, “Man, I don’t want to hear that.”
I’m just the messenger. Okay? I’m just reading Scripture. Sometimes the Scriptures that we read, we don’t like. But the fact of the matter is that the fundamental human condition in Scripture is that you and me, apart from God, are problemed. And I think that if we’re honest — even if you’re in here today and you’re like, “I’m not really sure about what I think about God,” just be honest. Forget the name “sin,” which just basically means to miss the mark. Forget that for a second. Just look at your own life and ask yourself the question, “If I were to look at my own life, are there things that I’ve done more than once, more than twice, more than four times, more than ten times?”
At some point, you’ve got to go, “Do you know what? Those aren’t just mistakes anymore. I’m not a mistaken. There’s something more going on here that’s wrong.”
The Scripture refers to that as sin. Now, if that were the only thing that Scripture talked about, it would be ugly. It would just leave us all miserable and depressed. But it doesn’t. There’s a reason why it’s called the Good News. There’s a reason why Jesus came. Historic Christianity has said, “Jesus came because we were estranged from God. We were sinners in need of redemption.” So, Jesus came, died on a cross, and rose again on the third day so that we could be forgiven and that we could have eternal life and all of that good stuff. It’s called Good News. That’s why it’s called the Good News because it doesn’t leave us here.
And I know a lot of times, in church, we’ll sort of paint this picture. It’s all bleak and nasty. Leave it there and it makes us all feel bad and there’s nowhere to go. But the good news is that there is a solution and His name is Jesus. But I’ve got to come back to this because we’re talking about bad habits. If we’re talking about bad habits, and if we’re going to solve bad habits, then we have to deal with the real issue in those bad habits or else we’re going to be firing at something that’s never going to give us a real solution. So, we have to talk with the humanity where we’re at. We have to talk about sin.
So, here’s what I’d like to suggest to you. If what I’ve talked about is true, if we’re fundamentally flawed within our own selves, if that’s true, then the question I would like to pose is this: If this is in fact true, then what objective means do we have to determine good habits from bad habits? How do we know right from wrong? Like, how do we know that? If I’m saying to you I believe that Scripture says, and I believe that Scripture is something God has spoken to you and me, if I believe that — and if you don’t believe that, and you’re not there yet, that’s okay. But if I believe that, if you’re a Christian that says, “I believe that God has spoken to us through His Word,” okay, then what way would I have, honestly, to determine right from wrong? Because if God has spoken to us through His Word, and He tells me that I’m fundamentally flawed, then probably just about everything that I think, at some level, is deficient, which means there are two ways I can go about determining right from wrong in life. We need to talk about this because this is the spirit of our age and the spirit of our day, and it’s creeping into the Church and all of this stuff is going on. I want to try to deal with this. There’s one way we can deal with this. We can say, “I’m going to use my mind and my reasoning to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.”
And when we do that — and I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes. I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I’m not trying to be snarky. I’m just trying to be honest with Scripture. When we reason ourselves to right and wrong, it usually goes something like this: “Well, that’s just who I am. I was born this way. Don’t judge me. This is who I am. Chip, I understand, as a man, when a really pretty girl goes by, I have a roving eye, I watch and then I start thinking about things. Don’t tell me that what I’m doing is wrong because I’m wired that way. That’s just who I am. Don’t tell me about Jesus when He says, ‘When you look on someone to lust...’ — I don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to hear that at all because it’s just who. I am. I understand, Chip, when stuff comes down, the first thing that I do is I just sort of lie about it because I don’t want to deal with the ramifications. Don’t put that garbage on me that something’s wrong because it’s just who I am. Don’t do that.”
This is the spirit of the day. This is the spirit that’s creeping into the Church because we’re relativizing things and we’re not being honest. How do we determine what is right and wrong? The way we determine that is not through reason. It’s through what God has said to you and me. In other words, He has spoken what is true to you and me. Now, you can reject that and you go, “I don’t believe that God has spoken to us,” and that’s fine. Isn’t that really the first question that goes to Adam and Eve, “Did God really say? Did He really say that?”
And so, what I want to do is I want to talk to you for just a minute about a passage in Scripture where we see the slide of people that call themselves followers of God. In fact, these are priests. These are people that put on the right garbs, that minister. We’re going to see a passage where these two young men have taken what is God’s Word and they have perverted it and they’ve changed it for their own likings. We’re going to read that passage of Scripture to just take a moment, open up our heart and say, “Hey, God. Is it possible that maybe I’m not dealing with some of this stuff the way that I should?” And then what I’m going to do is I’m going to come back at the end and I’m going to give you some real practical steps after we deal with this issue on how to really move forward in our life, and to see God move, and to see what we have historically called sanctification. Where we start to move forward in our relationship with God, and we start to see God’s work in our lives, to where we move forward from just being accepted by God to where we start looking more and more like Jesus in our lives and people see that in our lives, which is ultimately what I think, as Christians, that we want.
So, the story is this, and you may not know this story, and it’s okay if you don’t. It’s sort of an obscure story. You might have read it if you ever had one of those year Bibles. You might have read it, but you might have forgotten it, but you may not have ever read it. It’s a story about two young men that are the sons of a man named Eli. Their name is Hophni and Phinehas. There’s a quick little blurb in 1 Samuel 2 about them. I just want to work through that for a minute. My hope is, as your pastor, that as we look at the Word of God, and as we look at this passage of Scripture, what it’ll do is it’ll help us to look inside our own heart and see if there are areas where I’m not being as honest with God as I should be. Because where this whole thing starts is a disregard for God. It starts from, “I’m going to do it my way. I’m not going to do it God’s way.” So, here’s the passage. Let’s look at it. We’ll go through it line-by-line.
“The sons of Eli were worthless men.”
How would you like for your legacy in Scripture to be that? I mean, man, that’s ice cold. Isn’t it? These are the passages of Scripture where people are like, “I don’t know how you preach on that stuff.” I know. It’s tough.
“The sons of Eli were worthless men.”
The actual Hebrew is not “worthless,” it’s “sons of Belial.” That’s an idiom. Do you know what an idiom is? It’s when you say, “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” I mean, you and I know what that means, but if you were translating that into another language, you probably would say, “They were really, really, really hungry,” because it’s like, how do you translate that? Well, this is the way it is. Some translations say “wicked.”
“The sons of Eli were worthless men.”
In other words, they were like sons of Belial. There were children that weren’t even children of God. They were worthless men.
“They did not know the Lord.”
Now, what is he saying here, the writer? He’s not saying they didn’t know God. They knew about God. They were priests. I mean, they knew a lot about God. What it was is they didn’t regard God. In other words, some translations say that they had no regard for God at all in their lives. This is going to be true as we go through this passage. We’re going to see that what they did is they decided they didn’t want to do it the way God had said it, because in the Levitical law there was a way in which you would do sacrifices. They decided they were going to do the sacrifices the way that they wanted to do it to fit their needs, so what they’ve done is they’ve changed what God says to fit their particular situation. We just want to be careful that we don’t do that because if we’re going to overcome bad habits in our lives, we’re not going to do it by changing God’s Word. We’re going to do it by being honest with what God’s Word says so that we can then let God do the work in our lives to get us to where we need to be. So, they were worthless. They were totally doing the thing that they wanted to do. And then what the writer does is he gives us this sacrificial thing that’s going on to give us some explanation behind why he said that.
“The custom of the priests...”
Now, they had a custom. It wasn’t what Leviticus said. They had created their own custom. They had their own way in which they did the offering. God had said, “Here’s the way you should do it,” and they decided to do it their way.
“The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, which a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself.”
Now, the way it was supposed to be is when the meat was put in there, the fat would burn away and then whatever was left at the end, after all the thing had been consumed, the priests were allowed to have a portion of that. Well, they decided they didn’t want their meat that way. They wanted more juicy meat. They wanted more flavorful meat. So, what they would do is while the meat was boiling, they would get this three-pronged fork and cram it into the sacrifice and pull it up. That way, they got a better piece of meat than if they waited. So, these people didn’t have any regard for God. They were going to take what God’s Word said and they were going to shape it so it made them feel better and work for them. So, this is what they would do. Here’s the scary part.
“This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there.”
Imagine the poor people that came from their farms, that worked in an agrarian society, that didn’t know much about anything, and they come to meet the priests of God to offer a sacrifice, and what they get when they offer the sacrifice is they learn something that’s different from what God’s Word said. So, now, this is spreading to other people. Other people are learning to be selfish and learning to look at things differently and all of this. Because this is what happens. When we go a certain way, it doesn’t just affect us. It affects other people. Well, that wasn’t good enough. The Scripture says this: “Moreover.” That word, “moreover,” says, “Even worse, this continued to compound.” I can assure you in life that when you get bad habits, you get sin in your life and you just let it go, it will continue to compound. It’s not going to get better. It’s not going to just solve itself. It’s like a snowball. It just continues to go.
“Moreover, before the fat was burned,”
The had this custom where they’d put the thing in and pull it up. That wasn’t good enough. That’s why the “moreover.”
“Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’ servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, ‘Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.’”
So, now, they’re like, “Do you know what? This three-pronged fork thing ain’t getting us exactly what we want. Let’s get some raw meat so we can get the choicest parts of what we want, so that we can have it for ourselves and get what we want.” They would come in and say, “Hey, listen, we’re not doing the boiled thing anymore. We’re going to get the raw meat.”
“And if the man said to him, ‘Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,’”
This person here sort of may have been told by his dad or grandfather, or maybe he heard something out of the Levitical system. He’s like, “Dude, this is the way it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to burn that stuff and burn off the fat. This is what God says. And then you get what’s left. You get your portion. God’s providing for you, but you’re going to get what God wants rather than what you want.”
And they didn’t like that idea. They can take anything that they want.
“‘No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.’”
You can see the slide here. I’m only teaching this passage of Scripture because I want us to just see the gravity of when we decided that we’re going to reinterpret, reshape or figure out how we want God’s Word to be. It puts us in a real dangerous situation because the reality is we want to get things out of our lives. If we really love God, we don’t want to have things in our lives that keep us from becoming all God wants us to be. But there’s a way to not do it and there’s a way to do it. So, what’s the summary here?
“Thus the sin of the young men...” — this is Hophni and Phinehas — “...was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt.”
How did all of that start? That all started from a disregard from what God’s Word said, and then it compounded. Before long, it got worse. Not only that, but it spread to other people. And I say all of that just to say, “Hey, let’s be honest.” This might not be the sermon that you run out going, “Hey, man. That was the greatest message you ever preached. You stepped on my toes. You poked me in the eyes.” I’m not trying to do any of that. If you knew — this is as vulnerable as I can be. When you’re a pastor, typically — I’m not saying all pastors, but most pastors as a general rule, we like people. You wouldn’t get in this work if you didn’t like people. I’m sure there are some pastors that can’t stand people. I genuinely like people. I think most pastors genuinely like people. Okay? So, if you genuinely like people, guess what you would like people to do? You’d like for them to like you as well. So, you know when you preach something like this you run the risk of people going, “I don’t like you anymore.” So, the tendency to do in a message like this is to water it down so you like people more. And I’m trying to do the two things here. I’m trying to not be snarky and I’m not trying to bring all the guilty, condemnation and nastiness that’s gone along with messages like this. But I’m also, at the same time, being honest and saying, “You know, look, I don’t want to run everybody off. I’ve got all this stuff here together, trying to put it together and doing the best that I can to just be faithful to Scripture.”
The reality is this: The bad habits that we have in our lives, the struggles that we have in our lives, are not just bad habits. They’re not just something that we did wrong. They’re not just victims. They’re not just whatever. There’s a fundamental issue that’s wrong with humanity, according to the Bible, and it’s the fact that we are sinners by nature, and we are in need of help by a God to fix that problem. That’s why Jesus came. That’s just the — it might not be great preaching, but it’s good Gospel. You know? It’s the truth.
So, I say that to say that there’s hope. We’re not done. What I want to do is I want to talk about some practical steps to moving out of these bad habits. Okay? The first step — and please understand this. This is so important. It’s not really a step. I have to say it that way because I’ve got some things.
The first thing here is to embrace the solution. Let me make this very clear. If you didn’t hear anything else I said, hear this. The solution is not trying harder. The solution isn’t reading five books. The solution isn’t going to a prayer meeting more. The solution isn’t having more devotion. I’m not saying any of those things are wrong. The solution to the fundamental problem that we all have is a person. His name is Jesus. That’s the solution. You go, “Well, how does that work?”
Well, it’s because Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. Jesus came to have a relationship with you and me. It’s in that relationship, it’s in spending time with Him, it’s in understanding who He is and what He’s done that leads Paul to being able to say this: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies.
In other words, we’re still going to have difficulties in this life. Nobody here is ever going to walk on the water perfectly. Nobody here is ever going to get it right. Nobody here is ever going to walk in absolute perfection. What he says is don’t let it reign to make you obey its passions.
In other words, there is something, there is a solution, that you and I can have in our lives to where we’re not doing one step forward and nine steps back every time we try to live out this thing. There is a solution for you and me to where we can genuinely start to see what we call, and the Church has called it for 2,000 years, a progressive walk, a progressive sanctification in the life of the believer. And it’s so difficult. Everybody can’t get it because they go, “Well, but Jesus paid everything. He’s done everything. Everything’s there.”
Absolutely true. But I’m still in the body that I’m in and I still have temptations and I still struggle. Absolutely true. And what do people do? They go, “Well, it just must be this, or it just must be this.” They go to one end or the other. It’s like, “Don’t worry about it. God’s got it all. Don’t even worry about anything. Don’t try. Don’t do anything. Don’t pray. You’ve just got to just love God. He’s got all this grace.” That’s wrong. And that it’s miserable, poor, and everything’s terrible. “Woe is me. We’re going to just struggle all the way through. I carry my cross and wait until heaven.”
That’s not true. The deal is we just have a really hard time embracing the both/and of Scripture. We just don’t know what to do with that, so we go to extremes. The reality is this: Jesus has come and He meets us where we are. We could not earn it. We couldn’t get it. We couldn’t pray it. We couldn’t give it. Nothing we could do would earn our salvation. It is a gift of God. Period. End of story. It is God’s grace. But that God’s grace that meets you and me where we are doesn’t leave us where we are. There is a progression in our lives. We move forward with Jesus. That’s what the Scripture teaches you and me. You go, “Well, man, there’s all kinds of...”
Yes. It’s not easy. It’s a walk. That’s why it’s called a walk. But the solution starts with Jesus.
The second thing is confession. This is something that Protestants don’t really know a lot about. We don’t really think a lot about it, but Scripture is very clear to you and me that confession’s important. We’re told if we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There’s a whole strand of teaching that says this is not for Christians; that this was written to Gnostics. That’s heresy. That is just absolutely bunk. Burn that book if you’ve got it. This is written to my children. That’s who it’s written to. It’s written to Christians. It’s saying, “If you don’t think you have sin, you’re a liar. If you think you’ve gotten rid of sin, you’re a liar.”
The bottom line is, as I write these things to you, that you won’t sin, but you’re probably going to. The fact of the matter is Jesus has already taken care of that. It’s such a conundrum. I’m forgiven, I’m holy, I’m all of those things, but yet I still have issues in my life. God wants us to come to Him and talk about those things. It doesn’t make you more pure. It doesn’t make you more righteous. What it does is it helps you in your walk with God to say the things that they are. The word “confess” means to say the same thing. In other words, when I go, “Well, God, You know, I shouldn’t have probably used those words the way I said it to my wife.”
No. “God, I shouldn’t have yelled this here at Mindy. I am sorry that I did that.” There’s something cathartic about saying, “This is what I did. This was my sin. I own it.” On top of that — and this is what we don’t do — there’s something beautiful about learning to confess your sins to another person. I can tell you in the life of my life as a pastor, I have never seen chains broken in habitual sins, and sins that people are hiding in their back, these bad habits that they have that nobody knows about, till when they’ve been able to sit in a meeting with a couple of people and say, “I struggle with this.” It’s like when they say that word, it’s like God just comes down and starts breaking chains. Here’s the deal: So many people are holding things back. They’re in your life. Nobody knows about them. You struggle with them. They pull you down. They’re dragging you down. Sometimes what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to go, “You know what? Jesus is my answer. I’m going to follow Jesus. What I’m going to do is say, ‘Jesus, this is what I’ve been doing. I’m going to find a couple of people that I can share with, that I know love me, and I’m going to dump that out on the table.’”
And when you do, it’s amazing what God does in your life. It’s amazing. You hold onto that thing and it’ll drag you down. I was in a meeting one time with a board, way back a long time ago, at a whole other church. I was talking to them. In the middle of the meeting, one of the members of the board said, “This is my sin.” We weren’t expecting that at all. I could call that person today, 25 years, and they don’t have that sin anymore in their life. It was like it was broken because instead of holding it in, they dumped it out on the table. There’s such a freedom. Can I tell you something, church? When somebody comes and dumps their junk on your life, don’t go tell others. Stop it. My God. All we do is just run around saying all kinds of crazy stuff. Stop it.
Confession. Okay. Next one. Recognize the loop. Take a picture of this. Understand this. This is the way it works. There is a trigger, there’s an action and there’s a reward. There’s a trigger, there’s an action and there’s a reward. Before long, that action becomes that habit. I’ll give you an example. You feel anxious. Rather than doing what Scripture says, or rather than getting some other people around you, you decide to go to the freezer and get the gallon of chocolate Breyers ice cream. You eat the whole thing. Some people are like, “Amen.”
Well, that’s called gluttony. That’s a sin. When’s the last time you heard a sermon on gluttony? We don’t talk about that? We don’t like to talk about the sins that we sin with. We like to talk about other people’s sins. You know? So, what happens is there’s an action. You eat the ice cream. It makes you feel good. That’s the reward. I’m anxious. I ate the ice cream. I feel good. I feel a little down. I feel a little depressed. I go tell somebody something about somebody else. It makes me feel superior. That’s called gossip. That’s a sin. Trigger, action, habit. Trigger, action, habit. This is the way it works. There’s something that’s deficient. What we do is we try to do something to feel better. Can I tell you something? Sin is pleasurable for a season. When it comes biting, though, it’s ugly. But understand the loop. When you understand the loop — and James tells us about this. Each person is tempted when we’re lured and enticed by our own desire. There’s something that pulls with us within, sin, that wants us to do something. When we give birth to it and we act on it, what happens is it becomes sin. That’s what James says.
So, embrace the loop. When you embrace the loop, what you can do is you can change the trigger. This is really important that you get this. I don’t have an exhaustive list up here, but I’ve got some things. Loneliness. Some people feel lonely, or they don’t feel loved, or they don’t feel adequate. So, what they do is they get online and they start looking and talking to people that they shouldn’t be talking to, looking at things that they shouldn’t, because it makes them feel more loved, or maybe makes them feel more excited, or does whatever.
Okay. Got to change that trigger that’s driving that response or that action that gives you that reward. Maybe it’s social media. A lot of people jump on social media and it’s a fight every time they get on because they see three things that they don’t like and they jump into that and, next thing you know, they’re going at it. Maybe you just need to take yourself off of social media. You’ve got to change that trigger. One-on-one. I used to be a youth pastor. Wikipedia says, “The world’s worth youth pastor ever was Chip Bennett,” if you go check it out. But kids would come to me all the time and say, “Pastor Chip, we get alone in our room and we do bad things.”
I’m going, “Yeah, that’s because you’re alone in a room. Don’t put yourself in that room and guess what’s not going to happen? You’re not going to go to the food court and do the same things that you’re doing alone in a bedroom. Not going to happen.”
You know? Sometimes you’ve just got to change that trigger. I’ll tell you something, you have the Holy Spirit within you, you have people in your lives, you have the Word of God, you have prayer. You have the things to help you move past the triggers so that you can move on and do other things. You can do that. If you’re feeling lonely, call up friends. Get together. Go play basketball. Do something. Get out. Don’t stay where you are. God has given you the ability to make those choices. I promise you the Holy Spirit within you could get you out of your house from watching those things if you trust Him, talk to people, confess things and ultimately lay that at Jesus in a relationship with Him. That’s what we’re looking at.
The next thing you might have to do is you might have to change the venue or the people that you’re around. Paul says it this way: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
The last thing that I would say to you is this: We have to be accountable. I’m going to tell you, in your life and my life, the thing that will help you overcome some of these areas of your life that you struggle with is people in your life that you can be accountable to. I have people in my life that can call my wife at any time and ask how our marriage is. I’ve set that up. I’ve set up things in my life. The IT guy at our church has access to everything in my computer. Everything. Why did I do that? Because I want him to know where I’m going. I want him to know what I’m doing. I did that because I’ve put checks and boundaries in my life because I want to be a good Christian man. It’s not because I’m earning my salvation. I’m not earning anything. That’s been done by Jesus. I just want to live out the things that God has for me, and I realize that sometimes just having people in my life that care, that know what’s going on helps me stay in the right path rather than the wrong path. Because I’m going to be honest with you: I find in my life — and maybe you’re just more of a Christian with me, but given my own desires, my own devices and everything else, I tend to go a little bit more this way than I tend to go this way. What helps me stay this way is prayer, spending time with Jesus, accountability, community. All of those things together help me to become the things that I think God wants me to be. And that’s what we need to do.
We’re not going to arrive in this world. You’re not going to get everything perfectly in this world. What I’m trying to do, as your pastor, is to help you at least take a few steps forward and not a bunch of steps backwards. So, if we get this in our minds, we can help ourselves get unstuck from some of these things we struggle with. But, hopefully, what we learn as well are things that we can do to help us from getting stuck in the first place, which is really where we want to be. Because, ultimately, don’t we all want to be a good witness for Jesus? Don’t we all, ultimately, want our lives to shine as lights, as Paul said in Philippians, so that people can see the good things that are going on in our lives? When we’ve got these things that are pulling us down and keeping us from becoming those things, it’s not a good place to be.
So, the solution is Jesus, being honest and confessing what’s going on, and realizing that loop that we get in, removing some of those things and being accountable. If we do all those things, I promise you you’re going to see your life move forward more than go backwards if you’re serious about that. If you hide stuff and don’t do this stuff, it’s going to be a different story.
But that should help us all because all of us deal with that. I just want to say that I hope you can appreciate the spirit that I’ve tried to say this in today. I know it might not be your favorite one to hear, but I genuinely, as your pastor, want to see you grow in your relationship with God. For me not to talk about sin would not be — I wouldn’t be helping you at all.
So, let’s bow our heads and let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that if anybody’s in here today that is not sure where they’re at with you, not sure about everything, God, I just pray they’d put their hand over their heart and say, “Jesus, I heard that You’re the solution. I’ve heard many times that I’ve got to pray this thing, do this thing or whatever. But Jesus, what I’m hearing today is that You’re the answer. You as a person are the answer, so I want You. I want You in my life. I want to follow You. I want to have a relationship with You.”
If that’s you, just say that where you’re at. When you’re done praying, when we dismiss, go find a pastor or somebody that’s got a lanyard on and say, “Hey, I said I really want to follow Jesus today. I want to know what I need to do. I want to know how that works. I want to know what that looks like.”
Find somebody and let us know that. For the rest of us that are in here that maybe struggle as a Christian, maybe we’ve got that thing in our life that nobody else knows, the little thing that we can’t seem to get away with, start today with saying, “You know, Jesus, You’re my answer. I’ve got a relationship with You. I’m going to do what You say, not what I think or what I feel. I’m not going to hide. I’m going to confess it. I’m confessing it right now to You, but I’m also going to find a few people that I know I love and know that love me, and I’m going to share this, God, because I want to see this thing in my life broken. God, then I’m going to really pay attention to the triggers, pay attention to the venues that bring this out, and Lord, I’m going to be accountable. I’m going to put some accountability in my life so that I can live the life that You want me to live.”
Lord, I pray that that would be a reality in our church and a reality for our people here at Grace for Your glory. So, Lord, as we leave, I pray that You would continue to watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would continue to lead and guide us, and I pray, Lord, that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, help us to stay focused on the calling in which You’ve called this church, which is to genuinely reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
Lord, we love You, we praise You and we honor You. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. See you soon.