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 blue

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…)

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.

Treat people the way you want to be treated. Respect is earned, not given.When this recently popped up on my Facebook news feed, it had almost 1,000 “likes.” It’s an easy-to-like saying that sounds wise, and I’m sure the intent is to discourage people from demanding respect, which almost always backfires.

But my first thought was that, for Christians, the character of a rich life is never about earning, it’s about the ability to give freely without the need for payback and without feeling cheated.

First, the command to love our neighbors as ourselves is really about respect rather than affection. Thank goodness, we don’t have to like people to respect them. Second, respect is a form of love, and love never demands; yet it never earns, either. Respect is also a form of grace; and grace is always given, never earned.

Common Wages

When it comes to giving and receiving, I think we tend to see it as obligation on the one hand, entitlement on the other. We live in a world where everybody owes and everyone pays. I call it wages mentality—in a word, earning.

The problem with my earning your respect is that I become dependent on you paying me what I’ve earned, what I’m entitled to. If you don’t pay, I’ll quickly see you as the “problem” and will become angry or frustrated. Then you’re in control of me rather than me being in control of myself.

When my satisfaction depends on you, I’ll go after you to collect what you owe, be it respect, an apology, whatever. And once I’m in that frame of mind, any love, grace, or respect evaporates like raindrops on hot summer pavement.

This is where the great lessons on grace come in. (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…)