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English: Hypocrite "Love" message. A...We’ve been reviewing Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. There, he addresses 6 sinful habits, common to all people, which make love inconsistent, if not impossible.

He also offers 6 alternative habits which, when practiced intentionally and in the order he presents them, build love into a routine way of life instead of sporadic acts of kindness.

This gradual shift from the old self to the new is known by several biblical terms: repentance, redemption, salvation, completion, and perfection, to name a few.

Step 1 eliminates willful anger/contempt by practicing willful mercy until that feels more natural. Step 2 keeps your eyes on you and God, not everyone else. You add this new habit to the previous one. Then, Step 3 is to stop swearing/insisting on having your way, the “right” way. Instead of demanding or manipulating, you can let Yes be yes or No be no and leave it at that.

Step 4 gouges out indebtedness/score-keeping by adding debt-free thinking. When you don’t feel obligated to the whole world, and they don’t “owe” you respect, apologies, or whatever, you’re well on the way to gracious, unconditional love. Your will/spirit is keeping step with God’s (Gal. 5:25).

Step 5 reduces worry over image and appearance by practicing privacy with God. Instead of sharing every opinion or deed with the world, or jumping through hoops to get noticed, you keep some things “secret,” just between you and God. You’re less prone to spout off and trigger retaliatory anger from neighbors, which degenerates into animosity and all out war.

Like building a house, each new habit is added to the previous ones once they’re well established. Love is cultivated and grown, not conjured out of nowhere.

Step 6 is the culmination, or perfection, of a Christ-like spirit that doesn’t struggle with love as if it’s a two-ton set of weights. This kind of person is complete and whole. He/she wishes God’s good on obnoxious or even dangerous neighbors. They live with a rich sense of relief from sin’s control, abundant in power and blessed delight. (more…)

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English: Tiger jumping through flaming hoops, ...We’ve been following Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, learning about 6 sinful habits universal to all people that sabotage love and good will. By gradually “gouging” them out and incorporating 6 new habits, a more loving heart, mind, behavior, and relationships become the new normal.

In Bible-speak, it’s called repentance. It’s a cumulative process, not a one-time thing, which requires intention and practice, or “abiding in me,” as Jesus put it.

We’ve reviewed 4 of the 6 sinful habits so far: willful anger/contempt, spiritual adultery/divorce from God/obsessing over others, swearing/insistence, and score-keeping/payback. The corresponding new habits are: mercy (Step 1), keeping our eyes to ourselves (Step 2), letting Yes be yes and No be no (Step 3), and embracing a gracious, debt-free mentality (Step 4).

Like building a house, each step ties to the previous ones and presumes they’re in place. The Sermon isn’t random; it’s a brilliant, divinely planned strategy to make good will easier and smarter, not harder.

So the 5th destructive habit is worry over outer appearance, i.e., image and reputation, getting notice and applause, trying to impress. At this stage of spiritual re-formation, people who aren’t habitually angry, aren’t obsessed with everyone else’s faults, have no need to swear to manipulate opinions, and can spiritually afford debt-free thinking won’t find this too difficult. They’ve already substantially overcome the underlying evils that cause it. (more…)

The best revenge is to live well. Remember, yo...Let’s recap the divine strategy behind the first 3 steps: People who overcome willful anger and contempt (Step 1) are less focused on the wrong-being of neighbors. It’s therefore easier to stop lusting after them as objects, make them targets, or wish them ill will (Step 2).

This in turn makes it easier—almost natural—to stop swearing this or that to manipulate neighbors’ opinions and judgments. Yes can be yes, and No can be no without insisting that they see things your way (Step 3).

If you follow the Sermon on the Mount’s sequence, Jesus’ path to love and good will gets easier, not harder, because he builds success right into it. Would he promote something designed to make you to fail? I think if people knew this, they’d be greatly relieved and abandon the false notion that Christ-like love is super-difficult or not very smart. It just takes practice and planning.

You don’t tackle everything all at once. Work on each step until you’re prepared for the next, like learning ABCs before writing words, then sentences, then paragraphs. The new you isn’t conjured out of nowhere, either by you or by God. The power comes from building up to a spirit capable of love. You get that by de-constructing 6 habits universal to all people.

These habits always seem right, so we embrace them like a “harlot.” However, once you divorce this divorce from God, and the Spirit’s strengthening action is added to the mix, you become a person substantially like Christ, mended and whole yet still uniquely you. In his preface to the Sermon, Jesus calls it getting beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Mat. 5:20).

“Death to self” is really nothing more than that. You kill off what’s killing you so that you gain self-control, and your soul flourishes. It’s unfortunate that “self” is a dirty word in today’s Christian culture, yet it’s where the focus must be in a relationship with God that empowers you to move in His direction. Otherwise, you can’t obey Jesus’ command to love your neighbors as yourself, and you remain lost, pulled in a hundred different directions. (more…)

The Island of God

The Island of God (Photo credit: Shaojin+AT)

We’ve looked at the first 2 of 6 universal habits that sabotage love and good will, as well as steps to minimize them as Jesus outlined in his Sermon on the Mount. We discovered that they’re sequential and cumulative, not stand-alones:

1.) Start by getting rid of willful anger and contempt. 2.) Then gouge out the obsession over others.

The Sermon’s sequence, and planning ahead (will/intent), are essential for success. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46) For example, if I try to stop obsessing over others, but I’m still a “righteously” irritated person, my anger alert will trigger over every little offense.

I’m not following Jesus. I’m following a “harlot” that looks and sounds right, but sets me up to wish harm, not good. Instead of overcoming, I give up because biblical love is “unrealistic” and I’m just a no-good sinner.

Now if I give up pride and simply digest and do what Jesus says to do, I will have taken him into my whole being—heart, mind, body, and behavior—and my soul will flourish. Although there’s a learning curve, I’ll soon be prepared (“worthy”) to face challenges with a lighter spirit and a real sense of power and direction.

So, as we move to Step 3, keep these first two steps in view. Like building a house, Jesus is adding texture and detail to the frame. Biblically, houses or temples represent the self, or soul. Of course, there are literal houses, too, but your body “houses” your personhood. In fact, Jesus concludes his Great Sermon by comparing a wise and foolish builder. (more…)

Binoculars, 25x100First, a recap. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is one continuous dissertation on 6 universal habits that sabotage love, presented in a specific order. Last week, we looked at Step 1: getting rid of habitual, willful anger and contempt. These always seek harm, which always returns harm.

By contrast, to love means to wish or seek good for someone. (This does not require affection. You don’t necessarily have to like people or their behavior to love them.)

Anger is a reflexive emotion triggered by an offended sense of internal justice. Its only purpose is to alert you to something that needs attention. Mercy is the antidote, an active force once it’s put in motion correctly.

You practice mercy by acknowledging the offense (not necessarily out loud), but temporarily suspending the sense of indignation until the anger subsides—a day, a month, whatever. Anger has done its job and can be put away. Now you can deal with the situation with a less scornful spirit. You’re thus empowered, in control rather than dragged along by every aggravation.

To most people, this sounds ridiculous or flat wrong, so they refuse to embrace it. But by giving up your “right” to be mad, not only do you break the grip of willful, retained anger over yourself, you automatically bless neighbors because they cease to be targets. Your new, more relaxed spirit feels greatly relieved, and the natural result is improved relationships.

But this takes intentional desire and planning ahead. It doesn’t happen by itself, nor does God do it for you. It’s how you love your neighbor as yourself.

Now then, as we move to Jesus’ second step—adultery and divorce—Step 1 must be in view. It is not a stand-alone. Remember, Jesus is a builder; his Sermon is not only sequential, it’s cumulative, like building a house. When the Sermon is chopped into bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a random collection of divine gripes instead of an intelligent Way to mend the soul.

Also, each new step assumes that the previous one is fairly well-established. Like learning ABCs before writing words, you don’t move on until you’re ready. God blesses and moves with you at your pace and ability. (more…)

"The Thinker" statue at the Rodin MuseumIn addition to our freedom to choose, the human ability to think is a marvelous gift from God. Using our minds is not a sin or curse. Thinking always affects choices and the will (heart, spirit), yet we can also use the will to choose what we mentally dwell on.

One of the most misused verses among Christians is Proverbs 3:5, “Lean not on your own understanding,” which is often code for, “Don’t think.” Yet thinking is precisely where, with God’s help, we take charge and gain self-control over sinful behavior that once seemed beyond control.

We’re often trained from youth to put on our “best behavior” and we carry that training right into adulthood. So anyone can change short-term behavior—like New Year’s resolutions, for example.

But long-term transformation out of ruin into Christ-like wellness begins in the mental arena of ideas, information, images, and knowledge. People perish and are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hos. 4:6) Spiritual renewal requires thinking. A people without understanding comes to ruin (Hos. 4:14), but we’re transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom.12:2).

So if I want to change my behavior into something more compassionate or patient or generous, I don’t do it the hard way by trying to change bad behavior. Instead, I start by changing my thoughts. (more…)

Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

Jesus teaching the crowds . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been blogging about how Christian disciples move from brokenness and ruin to wholeness and well-being.

The goal is to see value in transformation and become people substantially like Christ, able to love God, self, and neighbor even in the most challenging situations. The purpose is to restore our sense of place with God so we can be trusted to rule and serve with Him.

To clarify a common misconception, a disciple is simply anyone who employs disciplines to develop a certain set of skills. For example, the kindergartner learning ABCs is a disciple. The teenager with a learner’s permit is a disciple. The fighter pilot training in flight school is a disciple. A disciple is a student of a master teacher, with a certain child-like, beginner quality.

So, Christian disciples aren’t a race of superheroes; they’re simply students of Jesus, learning from him how to live. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom belongs to such as these.” (Mat. 19:14, Mrk. 10:14, Luk. 18:16)

To aid their seeking and finding a transformed new life in God’s kingdom, God has provided disciples with several means. In general terms, we have the prime model of Jesus, God’s other people, and His Word to show the way. In specific terms, we have Christian spiritual disciplines.

In a crazy world where it can seem that life just happens and there’s nothing you can do about it, these help us shift into the solid sense of peace and self-control talked about all through Scripture—much like passing through churning walls of water on dry ground.

Doable Disciplines

The discipline of Scripture study is one means of learning the ideal way of life for human beings. God has not been silent or left us helpless, and He delights in teaching those who are eager to obey.

The discipline of prayer lets me interact with God. I can invite His power to augment my own; I can welcome His movements (grace) in my life. I can also pray for the guy who cuts me off in traffic or the gossip who tells lies behind my back. This helps carry me away from a spirit of anger or payback that imprisons me in every little offense.

The discipline of meditation or reflection is another resource. I can meditate upon Christ, how he thinks and feels, what sort of person he is, and why he behaves the way he does. I can reflect particularly on his teaching about eternal realities, inner goodness, and sound living, and compare that to conventional human wisdom with its often less-than-ideal results.

With watchfulness, I can observe how other Christ-followers have lived their lives, the freedoms they experienced, the insights they gained, and the joys (and pains) they expressed. (Dietrich Bonheoffer and C.S. Lewis are two examples of twentieth-century disciples.) In addition to biblical men and women, I can find real-life inspiration in an ordinary grandparent, sports coach, pastor, or other neighbor who lives with a Godly spirit.

I can train ahead of time to prepare for more challenging encounters with neighbors. I don’t wait until I’m upset, frightened, or at the mercy of my own offended pride. Instead, I practice while I’m not on the spot and my thinking is clearer. If I pay attention to Jesus’ instruction, I can prepare and build reliable, loving reactions that will be there when my guard is down.

I can plan and organize small steps that will steadily re-shape my thinking and behavior. I can intend to learn, change, and practice taking on Christ’s vision, understanding, spirit, character, habits, and choices. I can repent.

Here and there, I can give up an argument, a demand, or having the last word. The discipline of fasting uses food to practice letting go of all sorts of ideas I thought were important, but actually enslave me. “Man does not live by bread alone.” (Mat. 4:4, Luk. 4:4)

Or I can occasionally loan something without expecting it back, visit a shut-in, or bring a meal to a lonely neighbor (discipline of service). I can greet a stranger (hospitality), give up bragging rights (humility), donate an anonymous gift (secrecy), or keep my opinion to myself when no one asks for it (silence). All these (and more) are simple, specific means to help form Christ within me.

Beginnings

I need not and should not turn these into laws, chores, or obligations. That duplicates the Pharisees’ constant burden and defeats the whole purpose of doing them happily and willingly. After all, children sing the alphabet; teenagers celebrate every driving errand; and fighter pilots dance the skies in laughter-silvered wings. These, too, are disciplines, but a legalistic approach wipes them out in certain death.

I also need not learn and engage them all at once. In fact, I can’t. I’m a beginner, not a spiritual hotshot. I don’t do them for show or to make a point, and I’m not in competition with other disciples. God works with me individually at my pace, according to my abilities and circumstances. What others think of me is none of my business. (This alone brings enormous freedom and self-control!)

We’ve all heard stories of extraordinary acts of heroic goodness, but the hero usually shrugs it off with, “My training took over.” Learning to love ourselves and neighbors spontaneously and routinely is no different because, for better or worse, people are very much the products of their beliefs, training, and experience.

Ignore the widespread rumor that human nature is frozen stuck like some immovable mountain. The most reliable Word says it can be re-born, and every ordinary encounter is an opportunity to re-train and practice something. That’s why God gives us trials, which I think of as try-als. Mistakes, of course, are part of seeking and walking, but God is patient and good-natured. Just watch how often the original twelve disciples fumbled and stumbled at first.

To our great relief, the point isn’t to become flawless; it’s to become perfect (whole, mature, complete). “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher.” (Mat. 10:25) Yet the journey must begin somewhere, so we start with less demanding situations and neighbors, and grow into the obnoxious ones with increasing Christ-like skill.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mat. 11:29-30)

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