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…)

Hollywood's walk of fame

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I read a great article, “When Jesus Meets TMZ,” about our tendency to create celebrity pastors and become their clones instead of being strong individual followers of Christ. It ties to my recent posts about image. After the following excerpt, I’ll add my two-cent observation and keep today’s post brief.

When Christians look to pastors for wisdom on how to better love God and love one another, they become better disciples of Jesus and better lights of hope in a dark world. 

“When Christians look to pastors to tell them how to dress, what to eat, what hobbies to have, what systematic theologies to prefer, how to vote and what personality to adopt, they become creepy, unthinking clones of broken people—and big red warning flags to a culture that has grown increasingly suspicious of authority figures….

“Pastors that divide the Church by turning non-essential issues into fundamentals contribute enormously to the Christian celebrity culture. But the Church buys right into it when it allows these pastors to divide people into teams, turned against one another. Amidst all the posturing, it’s easy to forget believers are all supposed to be following Jesus.”

My related two cents is that people get all worked up and offended over who is and who isn’t a correct spiritual leader. (I used to be one of those easily worked-up people.) I think it demonstrates how frequently we forget the bottom line: we’re each accountable to God for what we believe and follow. That sobering thought should calm us down a bit. (At least, it did for me.)

If any pastor leads people astray, he/she is accountable for that. But each person who is led astray is accountable for following blindly and not finding out the truth for himself. Religious leaders are one resource, but not our only resource. Depending on them 100% puts a load on them they’re not meant to carry; and it robs us of our individual life-driven purpose with God.

Keeping this in perspective might cut down on the celebrity pastor hype, which is really a booby-trap that can backfire on them as well as on their flocks.

I encourage you to read the full article; it makes some interesting points. The reader comments are even more interesting. As usual, a small debate ensues, which only shows how divided, rather than united, Christians really are.

English: Image of Paula Deen taken as part of ...

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I study publishing, book marketing, and author “branding” to teach myself about the world of writing. Through a marketing newsletter I subscribe to, I came upon this blog post, “Paula Deen Blew It.”  Famous for her rich, Southern-style recipes, Paula is a mega-star cook with a TV show, magazine, cookbooks, and her own line of kitchen products.

Three years ago, she was diagnosed with diabetes. But she kept it private until she recently announced a spokesperson deal with a company that manufactures a diabetes drug. Paula is now, as they say, out of the closet. And the you-know-what has hit the fan.

The vultures are circling over the issue of whether she can survive the PR mess of having kept her diagnosis private for three years while continuing to promote food that many consider unhealthy.

Does a public figure give up all rights to privacy? When you become a “brand,” do you cease to be a person? Must you then be free of errors or mistakes? What if the public feels, rightly or wrongly, that they’ve been duped? These are at the heart of the debate. (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…)

"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…)