For Lent, Let’s Lose a Bad Habit (2/28/16)

Posted by on Mar 3, 2016 in Sermons | 0 comments

We are now into a season of preparation for the passion and resurrection of our Lord.  This preparation- which we call Lent- involves reevaluating our Walk and then getting rid of anything that’s getting in the way.

Last Week, Pastor Jim showed us how to give up the “bad attitude” of being judgmental.  This week, we continued the series of “Bad things” by focusing on Bad Habits.

Click the below “Play” button and scroll down to follow along (the recording is from the 11:00 service)…



Luke 11:24-26

24 “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’

25 So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.

26 Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

= = = = = =

Luke 19:1-10

1 Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.

2 Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich.

3 And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature.

4 So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”

6 So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully.

7 But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”

8 Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”


In a Rut?

Here’s what might be a familiar song… you may recognize the tune (if you’re old enough!), but listen to the words…

Bet you didn’t expect to hear words like these…

Doing it God’s way …
Set their people free …
Moses talked to a burning bush…
then he knew all things were possible…
Cross the sea and don’t look back!

That song highlights the root of our bad habits, which is our sin nature.  If we are really serious about eliminating the bad habits that separate us from God, we must constantly learn to find God’s Way.  Self help books won’t do the trick!  God is a god of Change and Power…


Our church’s signboard recently posted the message:


God Loves Us Too Much to Let Us Stay As We Are.”  Signboard 2016-02-02 God Loves Too Much _IMG_3030

Change can be difficult and painful, but it’s the only path to growth.  God loves us so much that He wants us to grow closer to Him!




In order to change, it’s all got to be connected with God.  If you’re stuck in the rut of bad habits, start out if you’re really interested in doing it God’s way.


Good Habits…

In Matthew 5, Jesus clearly laid out the Good Habits that God wants us to take  up.  In Bible-Speak, we call these “Good Habits” the Beattitudes.”

Here are the good habits that God wants us to develop…

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,

…for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn,

…for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble,

…for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,

…for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful,

…for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,

…for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace,

…for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

…for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.


Jesus knew the power, the contentment, the quality of life that there is in good habits.  We all know and the Bible teaches may examples of how destructive, hurtful, and long lasting BAD habits can be.  Bad habits can destroy relationships, and they can devastate us, demoralize us, and dishearten us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.


Zacchaeus:  A Wee Little Man with Big Bad Habits…

Luke 19:1-10 tells  us the encounter between Jesus and a man named Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus wasn’t just a man with a name that’s really hard to spell, he was a TAX COLLECTOR!  That means he was a really bad dude back in Jesus’ time!  If anyone had bad Habits, Zacchaeus was it.

In ancient Israel, tax collectors were very often “Jewish men who worked for the Roman government.   They had the power to collect extra taxes in order to make a profit” (from Harper’s Dictionary). If somebody owed the government $100 in taxes, ‘ole Zacchaeus would force his victim / citizen to fork over $300.  He’d then pocket the extra $200 for his “trouble.”

And it wasn’t really a lot of trouble… Verse 2 tells us that Zacchaeus was very rich, and that his wealth was achieved from some “bad habits.”  These bad habits not only made Zacchaeus rich, but it also had the downside of cutting him off from the rest of the people.  Zacchaeus wasn’t very popular, to say the least.  In a sense, his “bad habits” imprisoned him.

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Luke 19:3 tells us that Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.  Nobody was going to help this short man to the front of the crowd so he could get a decent view of Jesus as He passed by.  In fact, they were more likely to push him away and tell him to shut up!

But Zacchaeus was determined.  He wouldn’t let anything stop him.  So found the closest sycamore tree and climbed up it.  When we want to drop a bad habit, we must resolve to get rid of it right now.  We can’t stand  around waiting for a better moment.  Zacchaeus seized the moment, found a way to see Jesus, and he took advantage of it.  Right away.


Zaccheaus had a lot of things going against him, but this story does teach us some lessons about how to handle our bad habits.  Here are some ideas…


1:  Call Out the Bad Habit

Don’t try to rationalize your bad habit away!  If you’ve got a bad habit of looking in the stands when fielding a pop fly in a softball game, don’t keep saying that the sun was in your eyes when you keep dropping the ball!  In a 12-step program, one of the keys to begin kicking the habit is to acknowledge our need for help.  In our Spiritual struggles, we have to start by acknowledging our need for God’s help.  We need to admit that there’s a problem before we can think of getting rid of it.

If you keep saying, “well that’s just the way I am” that’s the way you’ll stay! Zacchaeus could have said  “I’m only doing my job.”  But he knew something was lacking and he was determined to see Jesus.

And Jesus responded by calling him out!  Zacchaeus was perched in the sycamore tree when Jesus came by.  Instead of walking on by and ignoring Zacchaeus, He stopped in front of the tree and invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner.

Being in the presence of Jesus makes all the difference!

By being in the presence and goodness of Jesus, the bad habits of Zacchaeus we exposed so that even he could see them.

Have you ever gone somewhere and the person standing or seated next to you is so neat, so clean, so “dressed to the nines,” and you’re unkempt and rumpled in your wrinkled sweat pants and sweat shirt?  You’re there with our dirty, weather-beaten sneakers and they have shoes which are polished so shiny you can see your reflection in them? 

You begin to feel under dressed and wishing you had invested the time to present yourself better? 


In a spiritual sense, Jesus has that kind of effect on others.  When we compare ourselves to Him, when we see our habits in light of His perfect holiness, in that moment of being exposed we see who we really are compared to Him and how we do not measure up.

Jesus should be our barometer.  We need to stand next to Him to see how we’re really measuring up.  It may not be a pleasant experience, but we need to regard Jesus as our standard or mirror; not the things of the world or friend’s opinions.


2: Determine to Stop it NOW!


Habits are unusual because they often form gradually and subtly.  Someone has written that “habits begin with a single decision.”  That decision becomes another and another.  Each time it becomes easier to give into it.

Bad habits begin slowly.  But:  They begin with a choice, and they End with a choice!

A mother once asked her minister, “Pastor, how early shall I teach my child religious habits?”

The pastor said, “How old is your child?”  The mother said, “My child is three years old.”

The pastor quickly said, “Hurry home!  You’re already four years too late!”

If we really want to give up a bad habit, it will take commitment and we must make up our mind to stop it now.  Giving up a bad habit is a conscious choice.  Sin doesn’t go away all by itself.

The Prodigal Son came to a moment where he had to make such a conscious choice…

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 

I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’

So he got up and went to his father.

NIV, Luke 15:17-20


In a similar way, Zacchaeus made a similar decision that day in Jericho.  He “came to his senses” and realized that although the life he was leading was gaining him personal riches, it was leaving him with an empty life.  He made up his mind to stop his bad habits right then and there, and he scooted up the tree to get an encounter with Jesus.


3: Replace the Bad Habit with a Good One

Take another look at our passage from Luke 11…

“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’

So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.

Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

It’s not healthy to take something away because we leave a vacuum.  And that vacuum will be filled with something. That’s Jesus’ point in this passage. Replace the words “Evil Spirit” (or demon), and this is what you have…

When a Bad Habit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’

So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order.

Then the Habit gives way to even more bad habits, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”

So it’s all well and good to give up a bad habit, but if you don’t replace it with a good habit, something else will move in, and you’ll have another bad habit.

Cross the sea and don’t look back…

We need the continuing filling of the Holy Spirit to keep the bad habits away.  Sometimes people get into the bad habit of not going to church on Sunday.  People will often say, “Oh, I really should get back to church someday.  I do miss it, but I’m just so busy…

But it all started with one missed Sunday.  And it must end with determination on one Sunday.

Zacchaeus’ determination to encounter Jesus rewarded him with a transformation and a change in attitude:

Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham;

for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”


For Zacchaeus’ transformation to be complete, he had to replace his bad (sinful) habits with something else….

Taking was replaced by Giving.

His Self Serving attitude was replaced with one which Served Others.

His Greed was replaced by Generosity.

The Old Testament Law spelled out how a thief like Zacchaeus should repay his victims, and in his transformation from greed to generosity, Zacchaeus followed the law.  In fact, his transformation was so complete that he exceeded the Law’s requirements by also giving half of his goods to the poor…

Exodus 22:1    If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.

Leviticus 6:1-6    The Lord said to Moses: “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do — when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the Lord, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value.
Numbers 5:6-7    “Say to the Israelites: ‘When a man or woman wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord, that person is guilty and must confess the sin he has committed. He must make full restitution for his wrong, add one fifth to it and give it all to the person he has wronged.
2 Samuel 12:6    He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”


4: Realize that We Have a Source of Strength

Zacchaeus was encouraged to give up the bad habits and to change because he realized that he was not being left alone to figure it out. Because of his encounter with Jesus, he knew he had an amazing outside source of strength to tap into. God supplies a strength which is outside of ourselves.

This is exactly what Jesus tells His disciples in Acts 1:8…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”   NIV

Notice the order.  Jesus says that they will receive the Holy Spirit AND THEN they will be able to perform great and mighty things for Him.  This isn’t anything new; the Bible consistently tells us that it is God’s power working through us that lets us do His will.  It’s not our own ability…

Micah 3:8   But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.

Jeremiah 16:19 O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress,
Zechariah 4:6   So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
Luke 1:35  The angel answered (Mary), “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

Romans 15:19  By the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Dr. Don Webb was born in Wales and served in the Queen’s navy before coming to the Unites States to become a Methodist minister.  While serving in  the Royal Navy he was named the ship’s  captain.  With such a title and the prestige that came with it, Webb wanted to really impress his crew.  He wanted his men to know how brave and wise their new captain was.

One of the first assignments was to go out to sea and check the anchors which were holding the buoys in place.  The only way to do this was to send down a deep sea diver.  When they arrived at the first buoy, the first mate told Captain Webb that his predecessor always liked to go down first when checking these anchors.  Would he, as their new captain, like that privilege?

Dr. Webb had never done any deep sea diving in his life; he had never even worn a deep sea diving suit.  In fact, he didn’t know the first thing about deep sea diving!

But Webb found himself unable to swallow his pride, unable to confess his need for help.  He quickly answered the question by saying, “Of course I want to go down first.  I wouldn’t have it any other way!

diver-146712_960_720 400x550

Captain Webb then began to put on the very heavy equipment… not admitting that he was scared to death as he did so.  He put on the large leaded shoes, the very heavy suit, the thick gloves and the large helmet.  Webb himself describes the locking on of the helmet,  the closing of the window across his face,  and his sudden fear along with the strange sounds coming from within and the onslaught of claustrophobia and queasiness.

He was then dropped overboard into the sea, and he sunk to the ocean floor.  He said at first the water was beautiful and clear, but suddenly became greenish, then gray, then dark black.  He remembers the “thud” as he hit the bottom of the sea, and being so heavy that his feet sank deep into the mud.

He felt awkward and realized that he didn’t know how to walk in this suit.  As he panicked, he fell forward into the mud and lost his lifeline at the same time.  He remembered that before going into the water one of his crew told him, “Whatever you do Cap’n, don’t let go of this.   If you need help, just give a tug!

Webb was lying face down on the bottom of the sea, stuck in the mud, unable to move, and his lifeline was lost.  He began to think, “This is how it ends for me.  Oh my arrogant pride!  Why did I let it get the best of me?  How stupid of me!!!

After several minutes of what seemed like hours, Webb felt a gentle touch on his shoulder.  The crew had sensed that he  had lost his lifeline and realized he was in trouble.  One of the experienced divers jumped in, helped Webb to his feet, restored his lifeline, and then began to show the Captain how to walk and move and do this exciting work.


Help had come from above for Dr. Webb, and he was given a new chance, a new beginning, and even a new life.

Sound familiar?!?

Don was not ready to confess his need for help and to get rid of the bad habit of his pride.  He trusted and learned from the experts who surrounded him.

Isn’t that a great parable of the Zacchaeus story for our lives?  Jesus is our great outside source of strength, our help from above, a saving lifeline.

If we could only swallow our pride and realize how much we need a Savior and how much He wants to jump in and help us out and to get rid of bad habits.

Long ago on a street in Jericho, Zacchaeus saw and felt his need for help.  Jesus came to him and changed his bad habits and changed his life.  And, during Lent, Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me.

  • If we’re willing to confess the bad habits that the Holy Spirit is reminding us of,
  • and if we’re willing to replace them with something good,
  • Jesus is willing to take our bad habits and turn them into good habits.

With the power of this same Jesus, Let’s give up our bad habits!




Quiz Time!

As you reflect on what you’ve just heard/read, give this quiz a try.  If you don’t understand an answer (or if you disagree with the “correct” answer, post a comment)…

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