DVD cover of the Region 2 Essential Collection...

DVD cover of the Region 2 Essential Collection release. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Parts 1-4, we sampled four of six habits, common to people of all cultures and time periods, that Jesus warned of in his Sermon on the Mount: Willful anger and contempt, an adulterous mind-set, swearing oaths, and score-keeping.

Each fortifies the next in a chain reaction that creates a toxic spirit incapable of loving anyone, including yourself and enemies, as Jesus does.

The bad news is that these habits are often seen as right and good, so people protect them the way a drug addict protects his supply. But the more the poison builds up, the more conditioned you are to react negatively at the slightest provocation. It owns you.

The good news is that as you flush each one and God blesses your obedience, the clearer your vision and mind become, and the more conditioned you are to not return insults with better ones. You’ll soon be blessing those who curse you and loving enemies the way Jesus does.

Poison #5

So, the fifth sneaky habit Jesus warns of is outer appearance, reputation, and the need to look good for public approval. In a word, image. The old fashioned term is “vanity.” (more…)

WARNINGS

Poison Warnings (Photo credit: hugovk)

Parts 1 and 2 looked at the top two toxic habits common to people of all cultures and time periods. They remain entrenched because we either believe them to be good (willful anger and contempt) or don’t realize we’re harboring them (an adulterous spirit that divorces God’s kind of love). Therefore, we’re in no great hurry to get rid of them.

Unfortunately, they intensify poison #3: swearing oaths. This is another broad, sneaky category that includes promises, commitments, or keeping one’s word, which always seem right and good, but can backfire into hard-hearted stubbornness and pride. So when Jesus addressed this in his Sermon on the Mount, he advised to not swear at all. Instead, just let your Yes be yes and No be no. “Anything further comes from the evil one.”

Warning: May Cause Blindness

Tied to this is insistence—insistence on winning arguments, for example, or forcing others to live up to our expectations, standards, or demands. Swearing and insistence are a common form of spiritual adultery that can kill a loving, gracious spirit. The opposite would be to not force or press a claim, one positive definition of the Greek word for divorce (apoluo).

I’ve said in other posts that the basic definition of pride is a pre-disposition to insist on having your way. It’s the opposite of love and brings with it impatience, unkindness, ego, compulsion, manipulation, and all sorts of inner and outer turmoil. (more…)

Example for Image classification system. From ...

Example for Image classification system. From U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. :ICS Class 02.11.11 Skull and crossbones (poison symbol) Category:Image class 02.11.11 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Six habits, universal to people of all cultures and time periods, are often practiced as right and good when, in reality, they are to the human spirit what acid is to human tissue.

The cumulative effect is to render transformation into a powerful, loving spirit like Christ’s impossible; they’re the definition of spiritual death. And since these habits are so sneaky, a quick refresher might help before getting to the main points.

God’s primary goal for mankind, as Old and New Testament writers and Jesus himself present it, is to regain a sound disposition (spirit) that can love God, self, and all neighbors, including enemies. This is the “new life from above” that spontaneously and cheerfully obeys God’s Law of love, brings maximum glory to Him, and allows us to rule with Christ throughout the ages to come. (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.

Wedding Supper of the LambI wrote last week about the working definitions of pride and love as they relate to getting beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Coincidentally, a debate reignited when North Carolina passed a ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions, which provides a handy scenario in which to apply and practice last week’s subject.

Whenever I struggle with complex issues like this, I can only go back to the basics: Love God with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love my neighbor as myself. No command is more important than these—according to Jesus, anyway.

If God had singled out sexual immorality as the greatest sin, and homosexuality as the worst possible sexual immorality, we’d have a different situation. But God spoke at least as much against violence, for example, or defrauding one’s neighbor as He did about same-sex issues.

Think, Consider, and Ask

Therefore, when deciding where I stand, I consider what’s most important to God. I also contemplate how I’d feel if I couldn’t marry who I’m in love with—say, a violent person or one who embezzles from his company. With my mind and heart willing to consider compassion, I ask myself some questions and invite God to join me in my thoughts.

Does one type of sin disqualify people for marriage while others don’t? What about my own sins; and which ones? If I’m not following the top two commands, does that sin disqualify me from heterosexual marriage? I think most Christians would say No. (more…)

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…)

St. Augustine arguing with donatists.

St. Augustine arguing with donatists. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do Christian leaders and laypeople alike suffer moral collapses that rival the rest of the world? Why do we often remain powerless, confused, belligerent, stressed out, or discouraged? Why are we so quick to shrug and say, “Well, we do live in a fallen world” as if God left us with no means or responsibility to change?

The reasons are numerous and complex, but we can simplify one of them: We’ve overlooked Jesus’ warning about the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.

Academic, political, military, or religious debate and conflict nearly always begin in the higher institutions of learning or upper echelons of society. By the time it filters down to ordinary folk, we’re confused and torn in different directions. Far from anything new, it was this way in Old and New Testament times, and in every time period since.

Tangled

A fairly recent example is from the early part of last century. In a backlash against the emerging Modernist school of thought, a large segment of the Protestant leadership in America declared Five Fundamentals to be essential to Christian faith. Accordingly, to be a Christian and thus saved, a person must check off all five items on a mental checklist, i.e., “believe”:

1.) The inerrancy of Scripture. 2.) The virgin birth of Jesus. 3.) Jesus’ death as atonement. 4.) Jesus’ bodily resurrection. 5.) The historical fact of his miracles. Prestigious seminaries debated this for years, so it was hardly a unified view, and still isn’t; but proponents came to be known as Fundamentalists.

Oddly, nothing of morality, conformation, Christ-likeness, or the at-hand kingdom of heaven made the list of essentials for well-being and eternal new life. Neither did the two fundamentals that Christ himself gave: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. (more…)