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…)

Fist Fight

Fist Fight (Photo credit: iantmcfarland)

First, we need to clarify the biblical term “enemy.” It doesn’t have to be someone who’s out to destroy you, though it can be.

But more often, it’s simply the rude driver who cuts you off, the co-worker who talks trash behind your back, or the incompetent salesperson who screws up your order. In short, it can be any neighbor, whether a spouse, family member, friend, or stranger.

To put it another way, enemies are born out of a conflict of ideas and expectations. Any person you’re at odds with, no matter how major or minor the issue, is at that moment your opponent, your adversary, your enemy. And you are theirs.

Because we deal with adversarial situations in the course of normal relationships, it’s easy to think that loving enemies is about occasional, dire circumstances, when, in fact, it’s about ordinary, day-to-day living.

Consequently, we don’t realize how often we deal with enemies and thus fail to apply Scriptures about loving them because it just seems irrelevant. We can hardly love enemies if we think we don’t have any.

The Alert

Now the sure-fire way to recognize when you’re facing an enemy is (1.) the presence of anger or irritation, and (2.) thoughts of “idiot,” “scumbag,” or similar terms of contempt (Raca, “you fool”). The mere arrival of these thoughts and feelings isn’t sin, but simply the God-given, human spirit’s way of alerting us to an enemy. The sin is to deliberately feed and retain those thoughts and feelings as habits.

That’s why Jesus links them to physical and spiritual murder (Mat. 5:22) and addresses this before anything else in his Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, as Christians, we should immediately take notice when it happens and consider it an opportunity to seek and find new life, renewal of the mind, the mind of the Spirit, and similar biblical terms of abundant well-being.

His Not-So-Secret “Secret” Way

With this in view, we can now thoughtfully consider the strategy and tactics of Jesus. If, indeed, he’s Counselor and Lord, the Master of life, and the smartest Person to ever walk this Earth, surely he knows a thing or two about what makes relationships tick. The secret is to gain self-control (in step with God’s Spirit) as opposed to handing it over to others.  

1. Don’t engage in endless debates or insist on proving your point. This form of pride is the opposite of love and neutralizes it every time. It’s also exhausting. Instead, you can relax and just let your Yes be yes and No be no (Mat. 5:37) and let neighbors do the same. This is a way of love that doesn’t manipulate others and also doesn’t sucker you into The Enemy’s game, regardless what others do.

2. Lend without expecting anything back, whether it’s money, a power tool, time, or a pair of jeans. The trick here is to lend whatever you can afford, according to what you have, not what you don’t have. So if you can’t afford to lose it today, then don’t lend it. You’ll have plenty of lending opportunities tomorrow and the day after that.

Fewer expectations reduce entitlement mentality. This automatically reduces demand for return, which makes room for a generous spirit to grow. If you adopt this strategy, you’ll find relationships much improved because it’s another way to love enemies (or potential ones).

3. Closely related to entitlement is payback mentality, returning evil for evil or insult for insult. The world lives by a one-good-turn-deserves-another strategy, but it often backfires into angry frustration when that doesn’t happen. James observed that we quarrel and fight because we don’t get what we want (Jas. 4:2).

By contrast, a rich, healthy spirit doesn’t need payback because love doesn’t keep track of wrongs (1Cor. 13:5). So, another way to love enemies is to simply stop keeping score. This reduces the need for willpower to treat people graciously, and empowers a more genuine, cheerful character that can shrug off insults and offense.

We have much more biblical instruction, of course—blessing those who curse you or going the extra mile, to name only two. Jesus doesn’t command the impossible, but instead, eases and lifts the burdens imposed on us by those who honestly don’t know anything better.

So the point is to practice, practice, practice; the purpose is to become rich in spirit like Christ.

Man with log in eyeBen Franklin said, “The proud hate pride—in others.” Most of us understand pride as stubbornness, egotism, or boastfulness; and, as a Church, we’re quick to condemn all the pride in the world. At least we’re trying to be humble, so Ben’s statement doesn’t apply to us, right?

I like the following definition because, to me, it’s a real eye opener: Pride is the pre-disposition to insist on having your way. And everyone does that, some more than others, especially in the religious arena.

By contrast, love is the pre-disposition to not insist on having your way. C. S. Lewis noted, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” Paul’s famous line that love doesn’t envy, doesn’t boast, and isn’t proud (1Cor. 13:4) thus makes perfect sense.

Paul didn’t mean romantic love (eros), since romantic love does these very well. Poets and songwriters like to say that eros is noble and all about the other person, but it’s actually rather insistent on having its way. (Just watch what happens when marriage or romantic relationships go bad and egos are so terribly wounded.)

Paul was talking about agape love, the opposite of pride. Agape is precisely the great “beyond” that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, and the life to the full that Jesus offers to those who repent (change). (more…)