Not Traditional, Original

A Prayer in this Time of Disease and Uncertainty

As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!” (Psa 41:4 ESV)

Father, you are the God who heals us. People are hurting. People everywhere are getting sick, some are dying, and people everywhere are having to stop their lives and stay apart because of this pandemic.

Father, your servant Paul told us:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Php 4:6 ESV)

So, Lord, we bring these requests to with thanksgiving for all you have done and provided for us.

We thank you, Father, for giving us life in the first place. We thank you, Father, for sending your son to walk among us, to teach us, to lead us with the great power of God, to die on the cross for us, to pay the price for our sin, and to make available that we should have eternal life, and share in the riches of his glory.
But now, Father, the whole world has stopped as this coronavirus, COVID 19, has appeared and spread around the world in a short time.
Dear Father, guide the physicians and healthcare professionals who are valiantly on the front line dealing with this dangerous and deadly new health threat. Thank you, Father, for working in the hearts and minds of people everywhere to heed the wisdom that we have learned on how to resist this disease through handwashing and social distancing. Thank you, Father, for leading men to learn how to treat this disease, and lessen the severity of this threat.
Father, thank you for comforting each and every soul with your divine comfort.
Thank you, Father, for providing for people in this time of economic uncertainty caused by this virus, and that soon people can go back to their jobs and resume their daily lives more thankful to you for your gracious mercy to us.

More than that, we ask you, dear Father, to mutate this virus away from its deadly form into another form without these deadly attributes so that people can resume their lives without fear of it, or, if it be your will, that researchers can find a cure, or a vaccine, or a treatment that mitigates the severity of this pathogen on us.

We know that this is available because of what your son showed us when he rebuked the wind, walked on water, fed thousands of people miraculously at a time, and frequently healed one after another of us. Lord Jesus, we ask that you mediate this for us now because you graciously said you would.

We thank you, Father, that all things are done unto your glory, and that this, as all the challenges of life, only serves to work to make people turn closer to you both in the saving knowledge of your son and in the rightly divided knowledge of being disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ.

We ask these things in the name of our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

March 20th, 2020 Posted by | Prayers | no comments

T 1 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 1, Rightly Dividing the Word of God

In T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, we discussed that a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another. We also looked at the verses that charged believers to follow the tradition that was handed down by the Apostles:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
(2Th 3:6 ESV)

From the above verses we know:

  1. There is a tradition, a set of belief(s) and practice(s), that was set up in original Christianity.
  2. Believers were expected to follow these traditions.
  3. Believers were charged to avoid brothers who walked in idleness or didn’t do the things talked about in this letter, including following the tradition handed down by the Apostles.

To see the tradition talked about in the above verses in more detail we really need to look at the beliefs and practices that the Apostles held forth. We don’t have any recordings of their words spoken, but we do have what was in their letters and the book of Acts:

That set of beliefs and practices is what this website is all about. There is no way to cover the entire tradition in a single post so I will give a sketch of some key points along with references to original Christian beliefs and practices in other posts.

There are already some points about the tradition that started in Original Christianity in the introduction, Welcome to Original Christianity.Net,  to this website.  Here are some of those points about original Christianity with links to posts on the subject.

Also in T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church, I discuss that Jesus taught against the practice of establishing any tradition that negated the word of God. In fact, Original Christianity was devoted to rightly dividing scripture to keep the Word of God to full effect.

Listen to this story about something I experienced at a church not too long ago. At a service that I was attending the pastor geared the service around an exercise. Instead of chairs lined up in rows or circles even, he had the auditorium set up with tables and chairs like for dining. People gathered together in groups, and they were assigned a passage of Scripture, to be used as a starting point for discussion as to what that Scripture meant to them.
The exercise certainly had a good motive for it. The point was to set up a meal like setting and show how easy it was to talk about things around the table. The pastor was encouraging the congregation to evangelize; no problem with the motive.
There were about half a dozen people around the table where I was sitting, and I waited to hear what each would say. Now, to be sure, people took the exercise seriously and endeavored to communicate the impact of the Scripture to them. They each interpreted the verse as best they could,
However, when it came to my turn, I decided to talk about what the words meant in the context and where it had been used before. Immediately, some of the people’s heads picked up, and said, “that’s right I’m going to change what the verse means to me to that.” But not all. One person especially kept promoting a viewpoint that was full of Christianese but was not what was being taught in the verse, and maybe not true at all.  Evidently, in that church, it was perfectly acceptable for people to get different meanings and people were allowed to let loose with their ideas in what scriptures meant.

There are verses in the bible that speak directly to how scriptures are to be handled, Here’s one:

Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15 MKJV)

Rightly dividing in the verse above is the Greek word orthotomeo, literally “straight cutting”.  Second Timothy 2:15 sets up a pair of opposites. On one side is the unashamed workmen of God’s word who “cuts the words” straight. That means he derives the correct meaning. On the other hand, then, is the workmen of the word who should be ashamed because he derives meanings that aren’t there.

Another verse that talks about how Scripture is to be handled is in second Peter:

knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2Pe 1:20-21 ESV)

The words that I want to focus on here are “someone’s own interpretation”. The Greek here is very interesting.  Idios epilusis are the words here and they are very interesting.  Idios, meaning “one’s own”. is used elsewhere in the Bible.  But epilusis is the single occurrence of this Greek word in the New Testament.  “Interpretation” is an okay translation, but my interlinear translates it as “explanation”.  I’ve seen it also translated as “letting loose”, as in letting loose with one’s own thoughts.

Now, to be sure, those words relate directly to how the prophet  gives the words as he gives them. When a prophet is giving a message from God. He gives the message that God says to give. He doesn’t let loose on his own with his own thoughts, meanings, or anything else other than the message that God directed him or her to give.  The prophet is charged not to explain the message with his own understanding.  (If you look at some prophecies like Jonah’s, you will see that he didn’t really agree with the message and want to give it.)

Let me ask you a question. If God is saying that the prophet is not allowed to put his own meaning on the message, what makes you think that you can?
The point of this verse is that it is the utmost importance that the message contains God’s meaning, not the prophet’s, and certainly not yours or mine.

Jesus and the religious leaders of his time conflicted over tradition. Jewish tradition contains the idea that every word that the Lord God revealed has 70 possible meanings. And the end result of that huge realm of possibility of what all the Scriptures mean with all the various meanings of words that are available is that it is impossible just to read something and know what it says. So there must be more than Scripture to help understand Scripture. Thus is the Jewish justification for the Talmud or oral law.
As we will see, the (Roman) Catholic tradition includes the same concept. Scripture by itself, according to Catholic tradition is insufficient. And thus there is the requirement of the church to go beyond Scripture and define what needs to be defined for people to live righteously.

There are not 70 meanings for every word in every verse in the Bible.  To be a true workman of the word we need to find the true meaning of the words we are given.

Again, remember what Jesus said what he thought about the Jew’s need for tradition. He said it made the Word of God of no effect. Yet that is what happened to the Jews and in the Catholic tradition which started right after the gospel of John as we shall see.
Original Christianity was concerned about stopping the use of tradition to interpret scripture and make the word of God of no effect.

This is a huge part of the Apostolic tradition that was handed down by the Apostles.

We will handle more of what was handed down in future articles.


February 15th, 2020 Posted by | Biblical Translation And Interpretation, Tradition | no comments

T 0.2 The Jews and Tradition

Christians follow the Bible, and the Bible starts with the five books of the Law, Genesis through Deuteronomy. Those five books are called the Torah to Jews. The rest of the Jewish Bible includes the Prophets also called the Nevi’im, and the Writings also called the Ketuvim. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings combined are called TaNaKH which is an acronym of the first letters of the Jewish names of the sections. These books are the same as the Protestant Old Testament.

Jewish interpretation of the Bible is not literal. While many Jews believe that the Tanakh contains the word of God, they don’t believe that the words just mean what they say. Rather rabbinic teaching says that there are 70 interpretations for every word in Torah and that they’re all right!i

To the Jews this diversity of interpretation means that there are no clear answers as to how to follow the Law so they look beyond the Torah for answers. Thus the reason for the Talmud.

Traditional Jews believe that Moses not only received the written word but be also was given the Oral Law to be handed down from generation to generation. This, in fact, is part of the Talmudii

A verse used to substantiate this claim is Exodus 24:12:

The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” (Exo 24:12 ESV)

Judaism teaches that the addition of the word commandment infers that there are commandments not included in the Law (Torah) and this proves the existence of the Oral Torah.iii

The Oral Law, the Talmud, is broken down further into the Mishnah and Gemara. The Mishnah is a collection of Rabbinic interpretations. The Gemara has explanations of the Mishnah. The Talmud is a huge part of Jewish tradition. Furthermore, it was completely oral until about the second century when it was finally written down.

The Jewish Virtual Library says:

“The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life.”.iv

The Jewish Virtual Library gives an example of the limitations of the Law, the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. The Torah says that on the Sabbath it is forbidden to light a fire, go away from one’s dwelling, cut down a tree, plow or harvest. But the Talmud adds to it, rituals for candle lighting, reciting the kiddush (a ceremony of prayer and blessing over wine ) and reading the Torah.

That’s just one example of tradition stemming from interpretation about Law specifics with a view of steering followers into strict adherence of the Law and there are many examples.

The scope of tradition in Judaism is huge. Look at this statement from Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Judaism is the complex phenomenon of a total way of life for the Jewish people, comprising theology, law, and innumerable cultural traditions.”v

Innumerable cultural traditions the above statement says. The Jewish religion is rife with traditions and this appears to have been the situation all along. Remember, traditional Jews place the status of the Talmud as equal to the Torah with the declaration of calling it the oral Torah, and crediting its origin to God and Moses on Mount Sinai.

One such tradition is the Haggadah which is “the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover, including a narrative of the Exodus”. vi. One source puts the origins of the Haggadah to bits in the Mishnah which dates to 220 BC although the Haggadah in its current form took form in the middle ages vii See 1.1 Worship Changes with the Giving of the Law; Part 2 – the Feasts for more details on that tradition. Additionally, there is a Haggadah pdf file online that shows all the steps to the Seder Tradition including readings, songs, what foods to eat in what order, what the different cups of wine mean and so forth. viii

Another set of traditions that were in full force at the time of Jesus concerned the synagogues. The word synagogue doesn’t appear in the Old Testament. The closest thing to synagogue references to are appearances of elders before Ezekiel in Ezekiel 14:1 and 20:1. Yet the synagogue liturgy, as well as items in the design of the physical building, are guided by tradition. There is an order of service, different seating sections including men’s and women’s galleries, and chief seats as well as the tradition of people seated facing Jerusalem. See 1.2 The Synagogue Became a Substitute For The Temple for more details.

Here’s a few more examples of how the Talmud’s instruction form many traditions in Jewish life: tefillin straps must be black, a sukkah must have at least two and a half walls, and all the different Halachic measurements and sizes.”ixTefillin straps are the cubic boxes with black leather straps that Jewish man wear during morning prayer. They can only be made by qualified people and there are strict rules for each phase of their production and certification.x A sukkah is a temporary booth or hut that people sit in during a Jewish festival to provide shade.xi Merriam Webster defines Halacha as “the body of Jewish law supplementing the scriptural law and forming especially the legal part of the Talmud.” Thus the Talmud sets measurements that are legal requirements for Jews.

In Judaism there are edicts. The biblical basis for these is:

If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the LORD your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that place that the LORD will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. You shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.  (Deu 17:8-11 ESV)

The above is part of the law, But there is tradition involved here also as Judaism takes the Deuteronomy passage to mean that it has the right to expand upon what is in the Law and pronounce edicts for all future instances of a possible occurrence. Chabad.org cites the example of the law against eating leavened products on Passover which begins at noon on the fourteenth of Nissan, Rabbis added to hours to this ban for safety and made it an edict, The result is that while the law says not to eat leavened products after noon, one could be guilty of an offense if they ate an hour before noon even though that is not in the law. There is a provision for leniency on violations of edicts as opposed to strict enforcement when in violation of the law.xii  But it is still changing the Law, adding to its requirements.

So from the above, we see that throughout history Judaism has maintained that the law as set forth in Genesis through Deuteronomy is insufficient for faith and practice and has thus supplemented it with the Talmud, and traditions that rule Jewish life,

It’s not that everything about the Talmud and Jewish tradition isn’t carefully thought out. There appears to be careful reasoning at every turn. It is a very disciplined approach resulting in a very disciplined lifestyle.

But our interest is to look at it in light of Jesus Christ’s criticism of Jewish tradition, That criticism leveled the charge that in the process of their careful reasoning the Word of God was broken.

In another place Jesus said this:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mar 12:28-31 ESV)

Jesus’ focus was on the application of the love of God in every instance of life.  That requires the flexibility to look at every person and situation and apply the love of God.  Setting edicts for every instance of Jewish life in advance of their occurring shows no flexibility and is just legalism.

I talk about an example of this in Did Jesus Really Break God’s Rules by Healing on the Sabbath? As I write in the post there are teachers that say Jesus broke the Law by healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus’ point was that the only thing that was broken was a Jewish tradition.  Jesus pointed out that someone would be penalized for not helping ox out of a ditch even on the Sabbath. Getting a farm animal out of a ditch is hard work, but you were to be penalized for not doing it even on the Sabbath! That means that some kinds of work were not only okay on the Sabbath, but those works were also mandatory!   Jesus taught us that we are more important than livestock so it must be okay for someone to rescue someone by healing them on the Sabbath.

Paul speaks of the importance of this in Romans:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
(Rom 13:9-10 ESV)

In the example of rescuing people or animals on the Sabbath, it is the loving thing to do!  When certain Jews accused Jesus of breaking the Law by healing they were not following the great commandment by loving enough to rescue and heal, instead they were just being legalistic.

While they may have continued to develop throughout the ages, Jewish traditions trace back through history. From the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai Judaism has added traditions that set the stage for how so many things in Jewish life are to be carried out. One example is a Jewish tradition for services that gives specific instructions on rituals including the order of service, the songs, the readings, and how people are to act. It also adds more details than the law gives on how things in daily life are to be handled on everything from worship services to what can be done with your hair.

When we look at Christian traditions we will see how some Christian traditions have followed a similar path of adding to the doctrine of the original apostles and disciples.

Remember that we are charged as believers to follow the tradition handed down from the Apostles. Not all Christian traditions are handed down from the Apostles even though parts of the tradition may be.  Remember Jesus’ charge that for the sake of tradition people have made void the word of God.  We need to be careful to filter out any part of any Christian tradition that negates the Word that Jesus came to fulfill.

i Judaism For Dummies, Rabbi Ted Falcom Ph.D. and David Blatner, John Wiley and Sons Inc, Hoboken NJ, 2013 p.38

ii Ibid, p.39

vii UNDERSTANDING THE ROOTS OF THE HAGGADAH, KATJA VEHLOW, http://ultimatehistoryproject.com/the-haggadah.html

ix What is the “Oral Torah”? By Naftali Silberberg

xii What is the “Oral Torah”? By Naftali Silberberg

For more on Jews and Tradition see LP4000 The Role of Tradition and its Old Testament Influence

January 16th, 2020 Posted by | Tradition | no comments

T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church

If you go to a Christian church chances are it will be following one or more of many Church Traditions. Some churches advertise themselves as part of a tradition like the Wesleyan tradition, the Reformed Tradition or others.

Some traditions are easy to see. The Catholic church, of course, follows the Catholic tradition. The Baptist Church follows the Baptist tradition. The Presbyterian Church has a Presbyterian tradition, but there is more to it. Presbyterianism is really part of Reformed tradition which traces its roots back to John Calvin, one of the reformers of the Reformation.

It can get complicated. The United Church of Christ traces its start to a June 25, 1957 merger between the Evangelical Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Churches, two short-lived traditions of their own. On the United Church of Christ website we read, “The new church embodied the essence of both parents, a complement of freedom with order, of the English and European Reformations with the American Awakenings, of separatism with 20th-century ecumenism, of presbyterian with congregational polities, of neoorthodox with liberal theologies. Two million members joined hands.” i

The above church also traces its roots to other traditions including the German Reformed Church, and Congregationalism. ii

The above example shows that after a while it can be a mess. As a result trying to say that someone is a traditional Christian going to a traditional Christian Church really doesn’t tell you much. Are they Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist? Who knows? Look at this quote that relates to the subject:

“I consider a faithful Southern Baptist, a conservative Anglican, an orthodox Roman Catholic, and an Orthodox Christian all to be “traditional Christians.” Still … whose tradition? What sense does it make to say that Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics are on the same side as “traditional”? From a Catholic perspective, the Baptists are so far gone theologically from tradition that it makes no sense to think of them as “traditional Christians.” And from a Baptist point of view, the Catholics may be “traditional,” but they lost their way when they began adding man-made things to the pure Gospel like the early church had.” iii

Oxford defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.” It does include a definition that may help illustrate the cause of the abundance of different traditions that all call themselves Christian:

“a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures. “iv

A church tradition consists of more than doctrine. It includes the beliefs, but also the practices, the services, the liturgy, the songs, and church government. Everything down to the way they set up the chairs for seating can be part of the tradition. And traditions are constantly changing as the above examples illustrate.

Recapping, a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another.

Is tradition biblical? The answer is yes and no. There is one place in the Bible that tells us to follow a tradition:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2Th 3:6 ESV)

The above verse does give a commandment to walk in accordance with the tradition that has been received from the apostles. So, there is a place where we are supposed to follow tradition, that is, the set of beliefs and customs that were handed down from the original apostles.

We know that this is the same set of beliefs and customs that the original apostles taught because in second Thessalonians chapter 2, which is in the same context as this earlier verse, is the same charge to follow the traditions taught “by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter”.

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Notice that this admonition is not to follow just any tradition, whether they are considered Christian or not. The commandment is to follow the tradition handed down from the apostles.

But the answer to whether to follow traditions is also no. The other places in scripture where tradition is talked about are not favorable. Look at these verses where one tradition is disparaged by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mat 15:1-9 ESV)

This is quite an indictment. The Jewish community had built up quite a number of traditions by the time that Jesus arrived. But Jesus didn’t mince any words about following these traditions, and he did not teach his disciples to follow them either. In this record, the Pharisees and scribes chastised Jesus because he didn’t teach his followers to wash the way the tradition had been set up. Rather, he chastised the Pharisees and scribes because their traditions violated the law of God. He cited the example of the law of honoring your father and mother being not followed because Jewish tradition had established that the offspring of parents could say to their parents that what they would have received from their offspring is given to God and so they didn’t need to honor their parents. Jesus told them that this tradition nullified the word of God! Jesus calls them hypocrites! Then he says that they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God’s. He calls their worship vain because what they’re teaching as truth are really man-made doctrines.

Paul also writes in Colossians:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col 2:8 ESV)

Jesus talks about the traditions of men above. Paul talks about human tradition. They are both in the context of Judaism and Christianity, living a holy life. I mean, what could be wrong about requiring people to wash their hands before they eat? We teach our kids to do that. The answer is that it is not the word of God. I wash my hands before I eat but I don’t teach that it is a commandment of the Lord according to tradition. It may be some people’s interpretation of the Word of God, but Jesus is saying that it is not righteous to teach man-made commandments as God’s doctrine.

Now my question is how can all the competing traditions that are considered Orthodox all be the traditions of the Apostles that we are supposed to follow? The answer is that they can’t.

In original Christianity, believers were told to follow the tradition of the original apostles and disciples. That is what I want to do and why the motto of this website has been “Not traditional, Original”

Future articles under this heading will take a look at a number of traditions including the oral tradition of the Jews that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 15 above, the Catholic tradition that started right after the gospel of John was written, the Reformed tradition that started with the Reformation, and more.

iThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-united-church-of-christ

iiThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-german-reformed-church , https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_congregationalism

iiiWhat Is ‘Traditional Christianity,’ Anyway?, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/what-is-traditional-christianity-anyway/

ivOxford Dictionary online

January 6th, 2020 Posted by | Tradition | no comments

H4 The Difficulty Of Some Decisions, The War in our Flesh, Renewing the Mind

This article is about both who we may be now, and who we can become even though it may be so hard that it appears impossible. I’ll start off by saying that at one time I was a smoker, and even though after a while I didn’t want to be a smoker I couldn’t just stop being a smoker. I was a smoker and my mind and body were determined that I was going to stay a smoker! It was a huge struggle for me.

The Apostle Paul writes in the book of Romans about the struggles with following God. He doesn’t mince words either. He calls it a war!

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Rom 7:14-24 ESV)

This is no joke or hyperbole. And I believe that Paul is talking about believers here, although I acknowledge that some teach that this was only the struggle of those under the law while others teach that this war is the inner struggle of many believers.i

If you are struggling with something that you may even see as impossible then you are experiencing this war. There are people who want to change something about their life but for one reason or another struggle to the point where the change just doesn’t happen. It could be quitting smoking or drinking too much, or not taking care of your body, or being in a wrong relationship with someone you shouldn’t be, or working in a dead-end job when you have the desire to do something more suited to your talents and dreams.

Let’s talk about decisions. Everybody knows that some decisions are harder than others. You’re in a hurry to get somewhere so you quickly eat some cereal and take a cup of coffee for the road. That was an easy decision. And lots of decisions are easy. We have a number of clothes outfits we wear on a regular basis. We may or may not take a minute to decide which, but the decision is still relatively quick. Innumerable decisions are made this way; which shoes to wear, what time to leave, where to walk today, what to have for lunch etc. Oh, we might occasionally agonize on important dates or momentarily day to day, but there is just not time to agonize over everything so we decide rather quickly on many decisions.

However, I have seen that the more expensive something is and the longer that I will own something I take more time and effort to choose carefully. So I may make pro and con lists, spreadsheets comparing qualities and quantities, and pour over review sites. Buying a car, choosing a school, deciding which job to take, these are huge decisions for a lot of us and we can really focus and put all our skills to use to make these. But they are still not that hard to make, relatively speaking.

Some decisions we make can be easy to make but have hard to change consequences later, When I was a senior in high school I was with people that smoked cigarettes. I decided to do that occasionally when I was with them. My dad had smoked most of my life and so many adults smoked that it wasn’t funny. Yes, there were Surgeon general warnings on cigarette packs but the media, TV shows depicting cool characters smoking, TV ads doing the same, made whatever risk appear not very impactful. The media promoted smoking literally everywhere you looked. When I was in college so many smoked there I decided to start smoking cigarettes daily. Nicotine seemed to give me an edge and help me focus,

It is important to realize that my decision to become a habitual user of cigarettes was a gradual one that was many years in the making. In fact, for a long time, I thought I could quit at any time, the foolishness of my youth.

I didn’t suddenly wake up in college and realize I was a smoker. I was seduced by it, the taste of it, the quick rush of nicotine, the relaxing effect sometimes, even the social aspect of gathering regularly with the smokers. I had a little reservation about the surgeon general’s warning but the lure was too big. After about 5 years I was a pack and a half a day man.

So by then, I was one of the people that started realizing that I needed to change something. I started trying to quit, but never for very long. The illusion that I could stop like I could years before was a fantasy I quickly realized as I tried to stop and failed numerous times.

By the time I was was in my thirties I was smoking even more but I coughed regularly, and cigarettes along with my allergies combined to give me chronic bronchitis.

I tried quitting any number of times and fell back into it every time more quickly each time. There were so many times when a “smoke” just felt good and when I was in one of those times I really had a powerful urge to smoke. There’s first thing in the morning, and there’s after meals. There are the coffee breaks where I was used to gathering with the smokers, and there were times with beer and friends. The urge at any one of those times was powerful and relentless.

I had researched stop-smoking programs, and I had heard some training on what was required to genuinely commit to stop smoking. The concept boiled down this: no matter what aids you use you have to decide that you want to NOT smoke more than you want to smoke. That sounds easy, but it’s not. It’s very hard. The urge to smoke was overpowering me every time I tried to quit. This was no light whim or fancy. I was discouraged by the number of times I had so easily started back smoking.

But the concept made sense. To quit successfully you have to have more of the desire to NOT do it than to do it at every possible temptation.

Have you ever heard the expression, “God is in the details?” This expression refers to the truth that an overview of the plan doesn’t work. Just saying I want to quit without thinking it through was my recipe for disaster. You have to do the detail work. In this case, the detail work is to build up the desire for each and every case where I might be tempted to stop. I recognized that I had some desire to change but when that temptation came, my desire wasn’t stronger than the temptation. So I learned to focus on each scenario when I was in it. I thought about waking up and feeling the desire to smoke and then I focused on building my desire to NOT smoke when I was in that scenario. I rehearsed what I would say to myself in that scenario. I did each scenario that way. I started building the desire to NOT smoke in each situation like waking up, breaks, when I feel stressed, around other smokers, having a beer, etc.

The next part of the plan involves what to do in all the tempting scenarios. We do things because we get some benefit from them. Smoking is relaxing, Smoking has a taste. Smoking and talking go together for a lot of smokers. Smoking gives a pickup. How was I going to replace those benefits? Part of this concept of quitting smoking involves replacing the benefits of smoking with healthier alternatives.

It was months before I finally decided I had the desire to overcome smoking. For actions, I decided to chew gum, do deep breathing exercises, exercise more, drink more coffee if I needed a pick me up, talk with the non-smoking crowd, and avoid the scenario altogether if possible.

The gum was easy to do. I bought lots of gum to always have a taste I liked, and something to do with my mouth. I exercised more and did more deep breathing exercises. I did allow myself to drink more coffee, I stopped hanging out with the smokers, and started talking with the non-smokers. And I tried to stay away from the smokers even in a bar having a beer, but that wasn’t easy at that time because the second-hand smoke in bars back then was so bad. Eventually, I had to avoid bars with any significant smoke.

Every time I was tempted to smoke I focused on the desire I had built to NOT smoke more than that desire to smoke! It was working! It took time because I knew the desire to not smoke had to be more powerful than the very powerful urges to smoke that I was experiencing.

I stopped successfully! Or so I thought! I lasted six months. Then I was at a bar having a beer with a friend, and I thought to myself, I have cigarettes beat, but that smoke smells so good. I know I could have just one and not start again. Boy, how wrong I was! Soon my habit was back full strength. I was so disappointed! And my bronchitis was back, and the cough! And, my wife was pregnant with my son!

I prayed about my dilemma. I knew that the plan had worked except that I hadn’t seen one detail The one scenario I hadn’t planned for was after I had quit for a while and I am tempted to think that I can have one cigarette now and then like before I smoked habitually.

The plan needs to have a provision for handling a relapse and mine didn’t at that point.

So I followed the plan again. And this time it included the scenario of having just one cigarette after I quit for a while. I again took my time, And before my son was born, I quit for good.

I’m proud of that decision and that I was able to carry it out.

So it took me maybe 5 years to quit smoking from my late twenties to the age of thirty-three, But after I failed a bunch of times and really planned it right to the point I knew I could quit it took only about a minute to quit. I just knew I was ready this time.

This time I still was very tempted all the times I had been before; after a meal, with a beer, at a break and so on and so forth. And this time I knew I knew I couldn’t just smoke one. And I haven’t for thirty-some years.

There are people who say that God just takes away the desire for something and they can stop doing something they have been doing wrong for a long time. I believe that some people do get that blessing. Or maybe we all do on different things. But, at least sometimes, stopping something we know we need to stop can be very, very hard and take a lot of work. And even then, only if you want to do the right thing more than the other option will you be successful. You may need to get help for any number of sources including counselors, programs, support people, and more. And you need to not be shocked if you relapse and need to further intensify your efforts to make the change permanent.

Years ago I was running a fellowship when a younger man started attending. After a meeting, he asked if he could talk to me. He told me he was gay and asked what I thought about it and what he should do about it. He didn’t have a long term partner, he was in a series of short term relationships. He said he wanted to get out of the lifestyle but just couldn’t after repeated attempts.

I told him along the lines of what I have written about here on this website (see H1 Homosexuality Revisited). He said that he had tried reparative therapy but it didn’t work for him and some others he knew that had tried it with poor results. He told me of strategies that included professional help, all unsuccessful to that point. The lure of the gay lifestyle overpowered him time and time again even though he had decided to stop numerous times,

I told him that I had little experience with the area other than hearing what a difficult struggle it was. I prayed with him and shared with him my struggles with cigarettes and other things. What I had heard were key elements were thinking through the steps to get out of the lifestyle including avoiding places, media that promoted the gay lifestyle, other gays, and so forth that are part of the lure and replacing them with people, places, and media that promote Godly sexuality. I advised him to find more qualified people than myself to help him. I told him we could talk and pray whenever he wanted. He occasionally came to the fellowship, and we would talk afterward. But He couldn’t break free. I didn’t see him after a while.

Then after years had gone by he caught up with me just to tell me that he had done it. The key for him was finding someone else who had done it and really connecting with that person.

He did it. But even though he had wanted to do it for years it took him all those years to finally get there. He had stopped the lifestyle and relapsed numerous times. But he didn’t quit and kept going. He finally was very happy and at peace with where he was.

There are other hard decisions that could apply here as well. Most people who lose a lot of weight gain it back. Most people know that maintaining weight loss is very difficult. There are articles that say the failure rate is as high as 90%ii Additionally one article says that more weight you gain the slower your metabolism becomes. This makes it harder to lose weight the more weight you gain.

Yet there are people that do.

Also I wasn’t a nonsmoker who happened to smoke, I was a smoker. My friend wasn’t a straight person who had a few gay experiences: he was totally gay.

I was a smoker, now I am not, My young fried was gay, now he is not. But it was neither easy nor fast

Words are often easy to say but the action behind those words can be very difficult.

The Apostle Paul’s solution to the war is at the beginning of Romans chapters 8 and 12:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Rom 8:1-2 ESV)

As believers, we have this very Spirit of life in us. But we need to follow it with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Here’s how:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Rom 8:5-6 ESV)

These verses lay out the battle strategy for winning the war, When I smoked my mind was set on the lifestyle of smoking, I looked forward to the morning smoke, smoking with the crowd, having a smoke after this event or that. My gay friend looked forward to his encounters and relationshonips with other gays. Our minds were set on these things and we stayed in them even though at times we wanted out. That was death to us.

But when I started scheming in my mind about life without cigarettes I started winning the war. When my friend connected with an ex-gay and followed his lifestyle his mind became set on the victory he wanted. When we finally got our minds changed we won those wars,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2 ESV)

The world may tell you how appealing it is to smoke. It may lure you with the concepts of casual sex, adultery, the gay lifestyle, and more. You may want to comfort and indulge yourself with the deliciousness of food way more than you need. These concepts apply to every area of life. Gossiping looks like fun, the next thing you know you are part of the evil rumor mill. The world says “everyone cheats”, maybe you should, even if just a little. The world says “everyone lies. go ahead, everyone does it”. The world says “you can take that. They have plenty.” Or “it’s covered by insurance.” The list goes on and on.

But Romans chapter 12 starts with saying that presenting our bodies as holy sacrifices, giving up these attractions of the flesh is our spiritual worship!

And Romans 12:2 says that it is in the changing (renewing) of our minds that this process can happen! Changing your mind may sound easy. But it can be very hard, and take years on some things.

Victory is available, and hopefully won’t be that hard, but you must be ready to go to war if necessary.

i Is Romans 7:14-25 describing a believer or an unbeliever? https://www.gotquestions.org/Romans-7-14-25.html

iiWeighing the Facts: The Tough Truth About Weight Loss, MARSCHALL S. RUNGE, M.D., PH.D. April 12, 2017 , at https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/health-management/weighing-facts-tough-truth-about-weight-loss

December 14th, 2019 Posted by | Homosexualtiy, Sermons | no comments