Spirituality


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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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…)

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...

English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few people realize that the secret to a more loving spirit and wellness in the soul is to get free of 6 universal habits that sabotage it. Jesus exposes them in his Sermon on the Mount.

You’ve probably heard parts of the Sermon many times, but never realized that it’s one continuous dissertation, not a random collection of disconnected sayings. (Three full chapters, Mat. 5 – Mat. 7.)

Also, Jesus presents it in a specific order, step by step. This is the secret to putting off the old self and putting on the new, as Paul phrased it (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:10).

The Savior has first-hand, divine expertise on the workings of the human soul, and died to ensure that we can put his words into practice without paying a Death penalty for mistakes while we learn. You can overcome sin and evil with good if you simply “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mat. 11:29)  

Therefore, I thought I’d re-post my series on the sneaky habits that Jesus addresses in his talk from the hillside. Because they usually come disguised as “right,” it often feels wrong to give them up. Evil always masquerades as right, exactly why these universal habits remain deeply entrenched in all cultures.

Step One

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 [Jewish equivalent to the Supreme Court]. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:21-22)

Step 1 is to eliminate retained, habitual, willful anger and scorn. (Raca and fool are terms of contempt.) Unless you start here, your spiritual walk might as well be on greased marbles. If you’ve ever wondered why Christ-like love seems impossibly unrealistic, this is why. But Jesus is laying out an intelligent course that leads to a loving spirit quite capable and willing to pray for enemies, bless those who curse you, etc., assuming you want to go there with him.

“Angry with” includes everything from pet peeves to irate rants to raging violence. “Brother” is synonymous with “neighbor.” “Subject to judgment” refers to human judgment as well as God’s.

Contempt covers a lot of ground, too. “You fool!” is evil because it includes all forms of ridicule, shame, malice, indignation, and superiority—which most people consider good and proper as long as the “right” people are shamed and ridiculed. In fact, you’re quite the “fool” yourself if you give this habit up and refuse to indulge it.

Obviously, if you’re full of scorn, you can’t genuinely love (wish goodness for) the objects of your scorn. You’re too preoccupied with making sure they know your disdain. So a soul in this condition is petty and pinched, easily offended, and at the mercy of every situation they encounter. They don’t overcome; they’re owned. Powerless.

The Mechanics of Anger

To merely feel anger is no more sin than to feel a toothache. Anger is a reflexive emotion like pain and fear, and has a legitimate function. By God’s design, we have no control over its arrival, so there’s no need for guilt. But willful anger or nursing a grudge is the sin that Jesus is addressing. Just as we’re not designed to live in constant pain or fear, neither are we designed to function well in constant irritation.

Anger’s only purpose is to alert us to an offended sense of internal “justice.” That can be anything from being cut off in traffic, to a rude remark, to an actual crime. The point of the alert isn’t to put “that jerk” in his place, but rather, to let you know there’s something that needs your immediate attention. Whatever can be accomplished with anger can be better accomplished without it.

Anger’s antidote is mercy—that is, to temporarily suspend the sense of offense for a moment, a day, a month, whatever. This does not mean to deny that a wrong was committed or pretend it’s okay. Jesus never did that. You fully acknowledge the fact, but choose to not take action until the anger alert subsides. You’ll find a new, almost giddy sense of power and control.

This takes planning ahead of time, i.e., intention, will. If you genuinely want to get free of anger’s grip, don’t wait until your blood is boiling to try it out. That moment is too late. So make a plan well in advance and start with small aggravations. As you practice the new habit of mercy over a month or so, you’ll get stronger and better at it until one day, you’ll catch yourself in the act of being gracious.

When it happened to me, Jesus’ words never rang more true: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” While everyone else touts random acts of kindness as a big deal, yours will be routine.

Not What We’ve Heard

Getting rid of anger is the first step to good will and a healthy soul. Indulged anger and contempt always seek to do harm to one degree or another. And that always returns harm: judgment—first from neighbors, then from God. Also, there’s always an element of self-righteous ego in it, however mild it may be. Whenever I get mad, it sure isn’t because I humbly believe I’m wrong.

So the benefits of Jesus’ strategy are first to the self, then to neighbors. This step alone brings greater strength, patience, joy, a sense of direction, life to the full. It isn’t selfish; it’s why Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, if I let go of my “right” to be mad, not only do I un-sabotage my own spirit, I also un-sabotage my neighbors.

Gushing WaterYou and I have human will, the divine-ish ability to originate, plan, choose, and act. We inherit this from our heavenly Father, just as we inherit eye color or other characteristics from earthly fathers.

Now, no one takes the phrase, “You have your father’s eyes” to mean that Dad lost his eyeballs when you were born. Everyone understands that your eyes are your own. Similarly, your will (also called heart) is always your own.

Of all God’s gifts to mere mortals, this is the one that most makes us in His image. While we don’t always use our will for good the way God uses His, it’s nevertheless precious to Him and He won’t override it.

For example, I can maim and murder if I choose. I can harbor ill will in my heart and God will give me over to a depraved mind if I insist. When God “hardened” Pharaoh’s heart, He didn’t strip Pharaoh of his will and thus prevent him from cooperating with Moses. Rather, God augmented Pharaoh’s will and Pharaoh dug his own grave.

Why would God allow such a thing? (more…)

Henry unicorn and butterfly

Henry unicorn and butterfly (Photo credit: bochalla)

Many people live by the philosophy, “Love is a commitment [or action], not an emotion.” These no-nonsense types pride themselves on their ability to repress feelings. The Christian versions often say that God isn’t interested in a feel-good gospel; He’s interested in how He can use you. So your problems are trivial.

Then there are those who believe that love is a gushy, be-all-end-all emotion. These hippie types pride themselves on their ability to turn everything into unicorns and butterflies. Like the tough guys, the Christian versions tend to trivialize problems. “Just give it to God” when you’ve lost your job, house, health, or best friend.

I think both views turn an incomplete picture into the whole story. Biblically speaking, love is definitely an emotion, but not necessarily gushy affection. Love is the steady desire for the loved one’s good, whether or not you like the person. It relieves you of having to somehow drum up or fake affection. It is a commitment since commitment comes from passion. And it’s definitely an action, or God wouldn’t have commanded us to love one another.

Obviously, no one can summon or banish emotions, good or bad, on demand. But we can develop positive feelings and undermine negative ones by practicing in our thought-life. If we so readily understand and accept, “The more I think about it, the madder I get,” why would we assume it doesn’t work the other way around—“The more I think about it, the calmer I get”? Or happier, more patient, generous, and Christ-like?

The secret to better self-control is to better understand God’s design of human emotion. The more we prepare in advance, the more we fill with positive feelings that’ll be there when we need them for intelligent, loving behavior instead of bashing one another. (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…)

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