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…)

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Us vs Them (Photo credit: id-iom)

Progressing through the Sermon on the Mount, you’ve now sampled the first three toxic, universal habits that prevent spiritual well-being and God’s goal for humanity: the ability to love one another as He loves us.

Because each poison fortifies the next, the tainting effect is cumulative. Jesus therefore presented spiritual detox—sanctification, becoming holy—in a specific, necessary order.

Flushing out the most destructive habit (willful anger and contempt) makes the next one (an adulterous spirit) less difficult to flush. If you get rid of both, the next one (the need to swear oaths) is even easier.

Spiritual pollution builds in reverse. Maintain the first habit, and the second is harder to flush. Retain both, and the third is even more difficult. The less we see the masterful wisdom of Jesus’ sequence, the sneakier these poisons get and the blinder, more hard-hearted we become.

Unless you approach it his way, spiritual detox and maximum well-being simply can’t happen. Holiness gets reduced to minimal, random acts of kindness, for which we high-five and pat each other on the back. This is precisely Jesus’ warning to the unrighteous Pharisees who considered themselves spiritual A-listers, but whom he called a brood of vipers and whitewashed tombs full of death.

So today, we’ll sample poison #4: score-keeping and payback. True to Jesus’ strategy, this one loses potency once the first three are less available to fortify it. (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…)