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…)

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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…)

  

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…)

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…)