Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus ...

Path & Ditch Curving around the edge of Jesus College with Jesus Green to the left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, we looked at a surprising debate over Jesus’ sense of humor, noting that he said to take heart and to be of good cheer.

Today, I thought it would help to add that “take heart” doesn’t mean “buck up.” We can’t just tell ourselves, “I’m going to be of good cheer because Jesus says I must.”

That’s a little like trying to put a puzzle together without the corner pieces. No one can do what Jesus says to do without first having four foundational pieces he assumes are in place when he gives any command:

  • Vision
  • A plan
  • A way to implement the plan
  • Will (or heart) and desire

Vision

If there were a single most-enabling factor for a transformed, joyful life, it would be vision. We can’t do much of anything without a clear picture of God, His kingdom, and what He’s up to with humanity. We also need to see ourselves the way God sees us—who we are, where we fit with Him, where we’re going, and why:

  1. We’re created in God’s image to rule and serve the Earth with Him.

  2. We’re to learn to do it safely and wisely, without arrogance, ignorance, or ill will. Loving God with all our heart, and loving neighbors as ourselves is Christianity 101.

  3. We learn by stepping into the kingdom of heaven, God’s world without end for Jews and Gentiles alike. 

  4. We increasingly bring our own little kingdoms—i.e., personhood, life, and will—into God’s larger kingdom. Our kingdoms are the current arenas in which we practice God’s Word, where the “bride” prepares herself.

  5. Our future thus comes full circle to (re)inherit the Earth and reign with Jesus.

I love the way Dallas Willard puts it: “Jesus brings us into a world without fear…and invites us to live now in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good.”

You can read more in my articles A Vision of Purpose and A Badly Needed, Clearer Gospel. (more…)

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Scratched wooden plank of house facade.

The 6th and final saboteur of well-being and healthy relationships are judgmentalism and hypocrisy. They’re the unavoidable result of embracing the culprits in steps 1-5. I may sound like a broken record, but sequence is the first key to success. Jesus doesn’t want us to fail. He wants us to win, so he laid it out in optimal order in his Sermon on the Mount.

If you wonder why people can be judgmental or difficult, it’s because they’re still full of willful anger and contempt, obsession over others, swearing or proving, score-keeping, or outer appearance.  Accordingly, people can’t not be judgmental or difficult!

If you don’t want to be this way yourself, you don’t start by trying to fix neighbors. You fix yourself. But you can’t start here; you start further back with the stuff that forms a judgmental, hypocritical spirit.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there’s a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mat. 7:1-5)

Double-Crosser

A fine line separates judgmentalism and discernment. To distinguish differences is discernment—a good thing. To judge only by outer appearance is to pass judgment—not good. When you add the element of contempt, it’s double disaster.

For example, when my mechanic says that my Mustang’s fuel pump is going bad, he doesn’t condemn me as a terrible car owner. His motive isn’t to rake me over the coals, but to get maximum performance out of my car. He simply tells me what’s wrong and lets me decide if I want to make repairs. That’s discernment and good judgment. (more…)

Binoculars, 25x100

In this series from the Sermon on the Mount, my previous post looked at getting rid of willful anger and contempt—the #1 culprits that sabotage well-being. Willful, retained anger always seeks to do harm; and harm always returns harm. Thus, the primary benefit of Jesus’ seek-no-harm strategy isn’t for neighbors; it’s for ourselves.

It’s important to keep anger and contempt in mind as we move to the next step, adultery and divorce. Remember, Jesus is a builder and his Sermon is sequential. When we chop it into random bits in no particular order, it becomes nothing but a collection of divine gripes rather than an intelligent Way to personal wellness.

You have heard it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…“It has also been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress.” (Mat. 5:27-29, 31-32)

Although it’s not what we usually hear, the secret is to realize what “woman” and what “wife” Jesus is ultimately talking about. This is primarily about spiritual adultery and divorce from God. Obviously, there’s a corresponding physical aspect, and that’s what we usually hear about (as did first-century crowds).

But the “woman” we lust after is the spiritual harlot depicted in Scripture as Mystery Babylon. The “wife” we shouldn’t divorce is God’s faithful wisdom and “her” children—love, truth, peace, joy, and so on. (Luk. 7:35, Mat. 11:19)

The “adulterous generation” didn’t die with the Pharisees. It lives on in the world (and the church!) because it’s a mind-set rather than any specific act. The point is that all sin is adultery and all sinners are adulterers. “The whole world” chases after Babylon. Once we digest that concept, we can better understand this step.

What Are You Looking At? (more…)

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Few people, even Christians, realize that the secret to well-being is to gradually kill off six universal culprits that sabotage it. Jesus exposes them in his Sermon on the Mount, Unfortunately, however, it has become more and more the Sermon That Doesn’t Count.

When it comes to real life, Jesus has been framed as pretty much clueless, not exactly the modern go-to guy for life-coaching. He’s only good for his blood, his gig on the cross, and a few profound sayings that even Christians pay no attention to. Consequently, it is we who are clueless.

So I thought a series on these sneaky culprits would be helpful since they often come disguised as “right.” The secret to their demise is the Sermon’s sequence. Though we’ve heard it a million times, few people have heard that the order in which Jesus teaches is key. And his first step is to eliminate retained anger and contempt:

You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I’m telling you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment also. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mat. 5:21-22)

When Jesus says “angry with,” that includes everything from little pet peeves all the way up to raging violence. A “brother” is anyone; it’s synonymous with “neighbor” or “others.” And “subject to judgment” refers to human judgment as well as God’s.

Contempt covers a lot of ground, too. “You fool!” is a dangerous mind-set because it includes all forms of ridicule, shame, malice, indignation, and superiority.

The Mechanics of Anger

(more…)

 
Jesus is considered by scholars such as Weber ...

When Jesus says to let the children come to him, he means let the beginners come to him, and “do not hinder them”. A disciple is simply a beginner, a new student in a new (to them) way of living. This “way”, of course, isn’t new to God. Jesus said all along that if we want to enter life, obey the commands.

What commands? Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. In his own words, Jesus says that these two simple instructions sum up everything. It isn’t complicated, but we do need further guidance on how to obey and why it’s good for us to do so.

Jesus also explained to the beginners that he is the way, the truth, and the life. But where is this “way” laid out? Where do beginners start to follow this new way of living? How do they learn to love themselves as well as neighbors (assuming they already love God)?

In the Sermon on the Mount. These instructions span three full chapters in Matthew: five, six, and seven. It’s one continuous address; and it’s sequential. Step by step. It starts with eliminating anger and contempt. This step alone will revolutionize a life! Imagine not being ticked off or annoyed all the time. Imagine not being dragged all over the map by other people’s incompetence or stupidity? Imagine what that alone would do to lessen inner agitation?

That puts us in a brand new position of freedom. And from that new position, we can progress through Jesus’ next five areas of soul-killing attitudes:

  • Adultery and divorce (obsession with others)
  • Swearing oaths and over-committing
  • Score-keeping and revenge
  • Outer appearance and image
  • Judgment and hypocrisy

In that specific order. If we try to do it randomly, we fail–not because we’re just no good, but because we’re using the wrong “system”. See, Jesus knows what makes us tick. He also knows what fouls us up and what will set us right. Disciples of his new way of living become increasingly free of what poisons their nature and prevents loving self and neighbor.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. The way I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jhn. 13:34-35)

It’s a new, but very old, command. And it isn’t complicated once we know where to find his instructions on how to begin carrying out the command.