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.

Advertisements
Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD

Large Green Tree near Belmore Park Sydney CBD (Photo credit: Chris Ting – Sydney)

To move beyond today’s nominal Christian culture into the deeper body of Christ, a few things must be in place.

One, God’s vision of wholeness for the greater body of mankind should be viewed in the long sweep of history. Transformation of an individual doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s a safe bet that the human race isn’t transformed into a loving body in a few thousand years.

Two, you should see that becoming whole yourself is your personal contribution to God’s grand adventure within that long sweep. It means you’re drawn into, or caught up in, His goodness and plan of action. It’s what He wants more than anything else.

Three, understand that, biblically, to love someone is to simply wish for that person’s good. You will it, invoke God into it. You promote and contribute to it. The good news is that this doesn’t require affection. You don’t have to try to force yourself to like people or even agree with them, though you certainly like and agree with some. The key to loving even enemies is that willing their good doesn’t mean you support their actions. You support God’s.

So, biblical love is simpler than we think. If more churches promoted it, love wouldn’t be such a dreadful burden that only Jesus can correctly pull off. Nominal Christians could actually be drawn into the deeper body of Christ with the joy and understanding we read about in Scripture. (more…)

House I - Roy Lichtenstein

House I – Roy Lichtenstein (Photo credit: Ukenaut)

We continue this week to explore the body’s part in renewal of the whole person. Unlike novels, facial expressions aren’t specified in Scripture. But they’re implied in dialog passages. For example, I picture the Lord grinning, as if up to something, in this scene:

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” (Jhn. 21:4-6)

I see raised eyebrows when Jesus explained new birth to Nicodemus. “‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and you don’t understand these things?’” (Jhn. 30:10)

Of course, his entire body is central in crucifixion and resurrection passages. Even his ascension occurred in a body. My point is that spiritual concerns alone aren’t the whole story.

Treasure Houses

“Don’t you realize that you’re a temple and that God’s Spirit lives within you?” (1Cor. 3:16) As the outer man, your body houses and expresses your inner essence. Paul uses several body analogies to illustrate spiritual realities. Other passages about houses, temples, or tents are often about people. In the field of dream study, houses represent the self.

Then there are collective bodies/houses. Passages about cities are about groups of individuals and their way of living. Of course, the Body of Christ is the collective body of Christian disciples throughout the ages.

Scripture describes New Jerusalem, the Bride, as a “great city” of people united in Christ who rule and serve in love. The Harlot, Babylon, is also a “great city,” but her people aren’t governed by love. Both are characterized in terms of a female body; both are beautifully and lavishly adorned; and both are about a collective mind-set and resulting life-style.

Just as your mind, emotions, and will are valuable and worth taking care of, so is your body. That doesn’t mean we worship the body, as hedonistic societies do. This god causes relentless obsession over how it looks to others, or dictates behavior aimed solely at satisfying some physical sensation like lust or gluttony. This is “fleshly” living.

But don’t trivialize your body, either, as others do. Because you have a physical form made of flesh doesn’t meant it should be mistreated. To regard it as worthless is a blatant disregard for all that God created and continues to create. Your flesh is fearfully and wonderfully made, something to be treasured. If God thought otherwise, would Jesus have manifested as human flesh?

Powerhouses

In filling up and learning to obey, rightness must move into the body as action for transformation to become complete (perfect). Without love and goodness inhabiting your thoughts and will, your body becomes a means to carry out ill will, manipulation, force, and abuse against self and neighbor.

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Luk. 6:45)

Treating your own body well affects how well you treat others. Our bodies, like emotions, should serve us, not master us, in the safe, trustworthy use of power. So we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1), which doesn’t mean they’re forfeited, but simply devoted to and organized around God and good will.

Practice

1. Students of Jesus are with him in all dimensions of personhood—mentally, emotionally, in choices, and in action. Immanuel is God with man, God’s Word in the flesh. The Spirit dwells increasingly in your household if you’re learning from Jesus how to do everything he says to do.

So, watch how he used his body in daily behavior with neighbors. What did he do with his hands? What was his tone of voice? Where did he position himself when walking with people? Did he avert his eyes or gaze directly at people? In every way, and especially on the cross, his body spoke the character of his whole being.

2. That said, be careful of “lifting up the Lord” so far that it puts distance between you. Obviously, it’s meant well, but it’s hard to get a sense of walking and interacting with the Lord if he isn’t close at hand, or only watches from afar.

There are enough forces working to separate you from God, so don’t inadvertently contribute by widening the gap! Pre-condition and position yourself for intimacy by regularly practicing the presence of God. “And lo, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

3. Contrary to common belief, consider the biblical notion that your body isn’t temporary. Yes, your spirit will one day shed its current form, but people who are prepared (“worthy”) get the same body back in glorified, fully restored form just as Jesus did. (Exactly how that happens, no one can be sure. We don’t have enough detail.)

But even before any resurrection, Scripture seems to imply some sort of body after physical death. Paul hints that if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body (1Cor. 15:44). In The Revelation, when John sees the souls of people who were beheaded for holding to the Word (Rev. 6:9, 20:4), I believe he sees actual people complete with arms, legs, heads, and torsos.

At any rate, Jesus is the first-fruit. Human bodies are an eternal part of our essential being—the soul—in both heaven and hell. If you understand “soul” as “person,” and as something of substance rather than a disembodied, nebulous thing, life as God defines it—whole and integrated—makes more sense. Even in everyday earthly activity, the body is much more than something to hang clothes on.

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...Having explored transformation of the inner person, and, assuming that routine neighbor love is the goal, we can now look at how the body fits in. As the mechanism that delivers whatever is dominant in your head and heart, your body is the “outer man” that Paul talks about.

Speech patterns and tone of voice, for example, reflect the inner person. Eye movement and facial expressions can be compassionate and kind, or stab like daggers. I can use my hands and arms to deliver a comforting touch or a devastating blow.

Whether my shoulders are slumped or squared, or my gait is shuffling or springy, you can “read” me because outer posture generally manifests the inner stance. So you probably know when I’m experiencing destructive fear, anger, jealousy, or bitterness, as well as positive joy, peace, or hope.

Of course, I can expend tons of energy maintaining a poker face. Maybe I don’t want people to get too close or really know me, but whatever the reason, it’s possible to live a guarded, disguised sort of life-style. But it’s exhausting and prone to “leakage” because it’s contrary to God’s design. (more…)

Surrender Dorothy written in the sky by a witch.For several weeks, we’ve been looking at the movements of transformation, the process of re-integrating mind/thoughts/feelings with heart/will/spirit to create a new inner person who surrenders to good will and abundant well-being. The result is love for God and self that overflows to even the most obnoxious neighbors.

Normally, I’m not a fan of the word surrender because, for me, it conjures an image of raised hands in a do-nothing stance. You surrender your wallet when you’re being mugged. It carries a negative vibe: “powerless,” “defeated,” or even “violated,” and implies being stripped of your will. It’s hard to embrace because it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe that’s because this is the usual human experience when people surrender to other people.

Then again, handing your wallet over at gun-point isn’t true surrender.

A Life of Its Own

By contrast, surrender to God is a positive thing because, unlike a mugging, it conveys genuine consent and cooperation. No one surrenders to God against their will. In the Christian context, true surrender brings participation and increased activity instead of waiting on the sidelines for things to just happen. And life takes on a whole new texture and energy.

Now and throughout human history, the ongoing movements and grace of God are active rather than passive. He invites participation and involvement in an adventure bigger than difficult neighbors. A surrendered heart is actively and willingly engaged with God, intent on passage from inner death to life here and now. (more…)