January 2012


Marriage

Image by Lel4nd via Flickr

I read an interesting article, “You Never Marry the Right Person.” That article sparked debate in comments from readers. I added my own comment, and then realized it might make an interesting post on my blog. For what it’s worth, here’s my comment, expanded a bit for my own readers:

What if we’ve been looking at marriage out of context for centuries and missed the big picture, straining out gnats and swallowing the camel? This is way over-simplified, but points worth considering:

1. Adam and Eve are two halves of mankind in God’s image. His purpose for mankind is to rule and serve His creation (rule/serve being synonymous) in partnership with Him. (Gen. 1:26) That purpose is the same today. Everything in life, including marriage, feeds that purpose.

2. In biblical perspective, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples) are also two halves of mankind in God’s image. Just as Eve completes Adam, so Gentiles complete the Jews. Two halves make the joined, completed whole. The two shall become one. (more…)

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Scratched wooden plank of house facade.

The 6th and final saboteur of well-being and healthy relationships are judgmentalism and hypocrisy. They’re the unavoidable result of embracing the culprits in steps 1-5. I may sound like a broken record, but sequence is the first key to success. Jesus doesn’t want us to fail. He wants us to win, so he laid it out in optimal order in his Sermon on the Mount.

If you wonder why people can be judgmental or difficult, it’s because they’re still full of willful anger and contempt, obsession over others, swearing or proving, score-keeping, or outer appearance.  Accordingly, people can’t not be judgmental or difficult!

If you don’t want to be this way yourself, you don’t start by trying to fix neighbors. You fix yourself. But you can’t start here; you start further back with the stuff that forms a judgmental, hypocritical spirit.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:1-5)

Double-Crosser

A fine line separates judgmentalism and discernment. To distinguish differences is discernment—a good thing. To judge only by outer appearance is to pass judgment—not good. When you add the element of contempt, it’s double disaster.

For example, when my mechanic says that my Mustang’s fuel pump is going bad, he doesn’t condemn me as a terrible car owner. His motive isn’t to rake me over the coals, but to get maximum performance out of my car. He simply tells me what’s wrong and lets me decide if I want to make repairs. That’s discernment and good judgment. (more…)

English: Tiger jumping through flaming hoops, ...

Culprit #5 is worry over outer appearance. Image. Reputation. Getting notice and applause. Trying to impress. The bad news is that seeking approval from others, when it’s a life-style, will sabotage you.

The good news is that without willful anger, obsession with others, swearing, and score-keeping (steps 1-4), this culprit is much weaker because it has little left to draw on. Add grace and assistance from the Holy Spirit to our practice, and success is built in (assuming we’ve followed correctly).

At the start of this series, I said that chopping the Sermon into random bits causes it to become the Sermon That Doesn’t Count. Well, because the entire chapter of Matthew 6 is devoted to outer appearance, space here allows me to hit just the highlights, but I encourage you to read all 34 verses.

Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, don’t announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full.” (Mat. 6:1-2)

Verses 5-18 bring similar cautions for when you pray and when you fast. (Jesus offers his famous Lord’s Prayer here.) He hasn’t banned public prayer and goodness, of course. The trap is in doing them to get notice and approval. If you get it, you will have received the reward you sought—until the next time you need it. If you don’t get it, you’ll feel like a failure. Either way, your “reward” will be a hoop-jumping life-style that leaves you at the mercy of everyone else’s opinions.

Your Life is Your Treasure

Verses 19-23 talk about storing up treasures in heaven. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Jesus isn’t saying that nothing on Earth is valuable or worth pursuing. Rather, this is about kingdom realities of living well, what we hold dear. (more…)

English: SVG drawing of a baseball bat.

We’ll find relationships and well-being already improved if we’ve implemented steps 1, 2, and 3. It’s important to understand, however, that it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why Jesus says to “put into practice” his words. He’ll help, of course, but he won’t do it for you. That would rob you of the joy of “overcoming.”

To expect instant success is a set-up for failure. Trying it out of sequence also guarantees failure. So, for most of us, it isn’t a lack of “faith” as we’re usually told, but rather, a lack of clear understanding.

Culprit #4 is score-keeping and payback. Both stem from perceptions of indebtedness, i.e., the sense of owing. Owing involves the sense of entitlement on one hand, and the sense of obligation on the other—what we feel we owe others and what we feel they owe us. It causes us to keep score in relationships and usually has a negative impact.

I’ll shorten Jesus’ quote because this step is a bit lengthy, but here are the relevant verses. (This is where most people give up in defeat because they don’t realize that there’s a method to Jesus’ “madness” and they’ve missed his first three steps.)

You’ve heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…

You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Aren’t even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing so much better than others? Don’t even pagans do that?” (Mat. 5:38-40, 43-47)

A Rich Spirit (more…)

"Thumbs up" picture, mostly uploaded...

So far, we’ve looked at Jesus’ first two steps and learned something we seldom hear in today’s churches—steps are sequentially ordered for optimal well-being:

1.) Get rid of willful anger and contempt.

2.) Gouge out the obsession over others.

While it shouldn’t be treated as a mechanical formula, sequence is key to maximum success. If I try to stop obsessing over others, but I’m still an irritated, scornful person inside, my anger alert will trigger over every little offense and I’ll fail because I’m not correctly following Jesus. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46)

Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having our own way. The opposite of pride is humbleness, or, more accurately, love. It’s the pre-disposition to not insist on having our way. Love isn’t proud. (1Cor. 13:4)

So, Jesus’ third sabotaging culprit is swearing oaths. This isn’t about foul language or taking the Lord’s name in vain. Rather, it’s about proving ourselves and insisting that others prove themselves, and the related habit of manipulating ourselves and neighbors into correct behavior. There’s a lot of hidden pride in oaths.

Again, you have heard it was said to the people long ago, ‘Don’t break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the LORD.’ But I say to you, don’t swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it’s the city of the Great King. And don’t swear by your own head, for you can’t make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything further comes from the evil one.” (Mat. 5:33-37)

Oath territory encompasses anything that goes further than simple Yes or No. Promises, commitments, pledges, vows, guarantees, and covenants are all within its borders. It also covers anything beyond “letting”—that is, to insist, force, compel, or persuade.

Make It Happen

Make-it-happen mentality plagues many people, especially type-A personalities like me. The pressure to be responsible, be the best example, and not let others down drives us beyond Yes into dangerous over-commitment. (more…)

Binoculars, 25x100

In this series from the Sermon on the Mount, my previous post looked at getting rid of willful anger and contempt—the #1 culprits that sabotage well-being. Willful, retained anger always seeks to do harm; and harm always returns harm. Thus, the primary benefit of Jesus’ seek-no-harm strategy isn’t for neighbors; it’s for ourselves.

It’s important to keep anger and contempt in mind as we move to the next step, adultery and divorce. Remember, Jesus is a builder and his Sermon is sequential. When we chop it into random bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a collection of divine gripes rather than an intelligent Way to personal wellness.

You have heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…“It has also been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” (Mat. 5:27-29, 31-32)

Although it’s not what we usually hear, the secret is to realize what “woman” and what “wife” Jesus is ultimately talking about. This is primarily about spiritual adultery and divorce from God. Obviously, there’s a corresponding physical aspect, and that’s what we usually hear about (as did first-century crowds).

But the “woman” we lust after is the spiritual harlot depicted in Scripture as Mystery Babylon. The “wife” we shouldn’t divorce is God’s faithful wisdom and “her” children—love, truth, peace, joy, and so on. (Luk. 7:35, Mat. 11:19)

The “adulterous generation” didn’t die with the Pharisees. It lives on in the world (and the church!) because it’s a mind-set rather than any specific act. The point is that all sin is adultery and all sinners are adulterers. “The whole world” chases after Babylon. Once we digest that concept, we can better understand this step.

What Are You Looking At? (more…)

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Few people, even Christians, realize that the secret to well-being is to gradually kill off six universal culprits that sabotage it. Jesus exposes them in his Sermon on the Mount, Unfortunately, however, it has become more and more the Sermon That Doesn’t Count.

When it comes to real life, Jesus has been framed as pretty much clueless, not exactly the modern go-to guy for life-coaching. He’s only good for his blood, his gig on the cross, and a few profound sayings that even Christians pay no attention to. Consequently, it is we who are clueless.

So I thought a series on these sneaky culprits would be helpful since they often come disguised as “right.” The secret to their demise is the Sermon’s sequence. Though we’ve heard it a million times, few people have heard that the order in which Jesus teaches is key. And his first step is to eliminate retained anger and contempt:

You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I’m telling you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment also. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:21-22)

When Jesus says “angry with,” that includes everything from little pet peeves all the way up to raging violence. A “brother” is anyone; it’s synonymous with “neighbor” or “others.” And “subject to judgment” refers to human judgment as well as God’s.

Contempt covers a lot of ground, too. “You fool!” is a dangerous mind-set because it includes all forms of ridicule, shame, malice, indignation, and superiority.

The Mechanics of Anger

(more…)

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