What I have below is an approximation of what was preached at Good Shepherd yesterday.
That’s because what is below is better in written form that what the talk looked like on Sunday.
Because the metaphor in many ways became the message.
The metaphor of an assembly in which we regard our bad habits not as a magically-appearing end product but as instead as the result of dozens of small steps and predictable patterns.
Our bad habits, in other words, begin long before they manifest in our lives.
So we had a conveyer belt on stage & I pantomined a production process. Using a tennis racket as my ultimate weapon, I demonstrated the bottom line:
To drop the habit, disrupt the patterns.
In high school, I had a friend who delighted in tormenting me. That shows something about how desperate I was for friends, does it not? “You treat me like dirt but you’re all I got!” Anyway, the one time I had a glimmer of hope for a girlfriend – I mean, just a sliver of the slimmest possibilities that she’d like me back – he said, “She’s gonna drop you like a bad habit.” Meaning: you might have her for a week, you MIGHT get to hold hands, but then you’ll get dumped. But the phrase in all that that has stuck with me is: she’s gonna drop you like a bad habit.
But in those 10, 15 years since high school, I might ask my tormenting friend, this guy who built himself up by cutting me down, do we really drop our bad habits? As I survey the landscape of my own life and the people I come in contact with, I see that many folks want to get away with their bad habits. To keep them up but in a way that they have no consequences on their larger lives. And then others among us have found out that once we develop the bad habit, no matter how hard we try, we can’t give it up. We formed that habit and now that habit is forming us. We didn’t even really notice it – because that’s what a habit is, after all, something you do without thinking – until it had us ensnared.
And the habits I’m talking about really run the gamut. For some of us, it’s chewing on fingernails.
For others, it’s picking at your teeth. Or your nose.
Still others, it’s unconsciously scratching yourself til you bleed. Then others, it’s smoking. Or overeating. Or smoking after overeating. And then for a few, it’s vegging out in front of the TV. Day after day after day. For many of you, I imagine it revolves around speaking without thinking, that you have an unconscious habit of allowing things to emerge from you without filtering how they process within you.
And then the gamut of bad habits runs to the more serious. Compulsive behaviors involving alcohol or Rx pills or street drugs or porn or sex or gambling or cutting or binging/purging. In those cases, no doubt, the habit has become more than a habit and morphed into an addiction. So in those places you wonder: how in the world can you drop something that is holding you back and holding you down? And note one thing about all these habits & compulsions before we move on: they overwhelmingly have to do with your body. Things you put in it, things you put on it, things you do with it . . . it is fundamentally a body thing. That’s imp for where we go.
Because I love what Paul has to say and how he says it. He is writing here to the church in Corinth, a church full of people with bad habits. I mean, the worst kind of habits. And those same people then had the nerve to stand up, beat their chest, and declare “I am the greatest Christian alive!” Look at what he says in v. 12: READ. See the quotes there? He is using things the Corinthians have said themselves; kind of cultural phrases in that city and in that church. A bit like if in Charlotte we were to say KEEP POUNDING, then all would know you’re talking about the Panthers. So the Corinthians themselves in their boasting have been saying both “I have the right to do anything” and Paul gently points out the absurdity of that. And then answers it succinctly with but I will not be mastered by anything. Because, as we’ll see, the things the Corinthians were asserting their rights to do were the very things that end up becoming both addictive and enslaving. And will Paul says he won’t be mastered or overpowered by anything it’s his ways of saying that because he serves the Master of All Things he refuses to be mastered by a thing. And here’s the deal: as we ponder how to – how to drop habits, or, using Paul’s lingo, how to not be mastered by any behavior or compulsion – we go about it all wrong. We go immediately to the OUTCOME – the habit! – without attacking the PROCESS that gets us there. It’s as if the bad habit / unhealthy compulsion / full blown addiction is a PRODUCT and we wait til the end of the assembly line to attack it.
Back to real life . . . let’s say your habit is drinking too much. Well, you don’t just wake up in the morning and say “I’m gonna get plastered tonight!” No, there are patterns at work before you get there. Frustrations, anxieties, even celebrations. And those, in the language of last week, become your CUES. The reward – very temporary – is what the first taste of alcohol does on your lips and the way it APPEARS (falsely, of course) to calm you down. But to stop that habit authentically, you need to interrupt those patterns. Or nail biting . . . there’s a pattern there. Sometimes it’s nerves, other times it’s boredom. But those patterns become your CUE and the next thing you know your fingers are near your teeth and it’s strangely comforting those socially off-putting. And then I know guys who travel and simply seeing that hotel key is a pattern for them – it means they can watch movies that at home they’d never watch. It’s a pattern, followed by a habit that has short term reward & long term devastation.
Every bad habit is merely the product of a series of steps, of decisions, of compromises, of patterns. We all too often attack the END PRODUCT instead of interrupting the assembly line that it took to get there. See, here’s what we need to do:
It’s like this conveyer belt we had built just for today:
DEMO OF WHAT WE DO, CULMINATING IN WHAT WE SHOULD DO, which is destroy the PATTERN before it ever becomes a PRODUCT. Conveyer belt and big hammer needed!
I say that because I believe that’s what Paul does here. The habits he will not be mastered by in the presence of the Corinthian church have to do with the intersection of sexuality & resurrection. Look at 6:13-14: READ. I love this – it’s like the whole of I Cor is written from ch. 15 BACKWARDS. Ch 15 is all about how the resurrection is at the center of Xn faith, hope, and gospel and because that will happen to our BODIES, what we do with our bodies in the here and now matters & matters eternally. (The Corinthians doubted that!) 6:14 in particular lets us know that when it comes to habits & compulsions, resurrection overtakes what has taken over us.
Then look at 6:16-17: READ. Now this is very interesting. We think we HAVE bodies. Ancient minds & ancient Jews in particular believed that we ARE bodies. That’s important to keep iin mind when it comes to habits, most of which as we have seen involve self-destruction of the bodily kind.
All of this theological genius wrapped up in Body Talk culminates in this simple command in 6:18: READ. Don’t get near the sexual habit / compulsion, don’t tempt it, don’t see what you can get away with, don’t ask like 7th graders used to: how far can you go without it being a sin. None of that. Flee. The stopping of the sex act happens miles before the sex act! In other words, a whole series of moves, compromises, negotiations, PATTERS that lead to sexual immorality. Paul sees the conveyer belt, the assembly line, and says STOP THE SOURCE WAY BEFORE THE END! Flee without flirting. Because Paul knew what so many people in habit breaking have discovered: To drop the habit, disrupt the patterns.
Yes! You can’t stop biting your nails if you don’t first disrupt the patterns – whether boredom or tension – that get you there. You can’t stop the compulsion towards porn unless you alter the patterns that get you there – time alone, travel (key!), an unfiltered, unmonitored computer or phone. You can’t stop the binge/purge cycle without disrupting the behavior patterns that get you there – often comparison, envy, complaining. And I’ve even heard from some of you that you can’t stop smoking unless you disrupt the pattern of the eating, coffee, & smoking trifecta.
A couple of years ago, I came to a pretty startling realization. See, driving into work I would listen to Sports Talk radio. Now, if you’re not familiar with the format, the idea for the hosts to be snarky, sarcastic, and combative. Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative. That’s what I’d listen to all along Hwy 160, onto 49 and right here into Moss Road. Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative. And in addition to the programming, who is the major advertiser on local sports talk? The Men’s Club! Where there ain’t no gentlemen! Great. Add one word: Snarky. Sarcastic. Combative. Lustful. Them’s are all bad habits! Well, you know what I realized? To change those AT WORK HABITS I had to change the GET TO WORK PATTERNS! So I decided: I’ve got to filter that stuff out. Music works. Music is good. Sometimes even Xn music! And how do I arrive at work now? Rocked out! Well, I’d say more creative and lyrical for sure. It makes a difference. REF
Our recovery friends know all this so well. They know that when you start down the path towards compulsive drinking, gambling, or more, you’re brain’s trap door shuts. The thinking part of your brain shuts off and you operate by the brute reptilian part at the base. That’s why people will tell you they go into a trance before acting on their addiction. And so what’s the rule in AA, GA, SA? Call someone. The pattern starts, the trance begins, the destination becomes inevitable, and so you don’t wait til the drink is poured before you say, “Oh, no, I guess not.” It’s way too late by then! The brain has put you on autopilot. The disruption happens very early … and so that’s why the mantra is “Make A Call.” Wanna drink, wanna bet, wanna cut, wanna whatever . . . Make A Call. Early. Because REFRAIN.
You may not be in a recovery group. You may not have an addiction. But I deeply suspect you have a bad habit. (If you think, “no, not really,” let me ask your mate – I bet that person would give at least 10!) Whatever that is, identify not the behavior but the dance that leads to that behavior. And then cut in on that dance and make it stop. And to every one of you who says “I can’t. I don’t have the will power.” I say, “you’re telling God he is a liar.” Why? I Cor 6:18-20: READ. You’re a bought person. Your body – the same one you are hurting with bad habits – isn’t yours anymore. It’s his. You don’t have the will power but he has all power. If he’s not Lord of all, he’s not Lord at all. REFRAIN