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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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…)

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…)

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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…)

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How often have you heard that you’re a no-good sinner and will always be a no-good sinner? Jesus taught, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.” (Mat. 12:33) “Wash the inside of the cup and the outside gets clean in the process.” (Mat. 23:26)

Some will say, “Jesus was good on the inside, but we can never be.” This is only partially true; and it robs us of hope. The idea that we’re nothing but no-good sinners and will always be no-good sinners in this life is a terrible conflict with God’s refinement and redemption process.

In a busy restaurant, I recently overheard part of a conversation between two people, apparently Christian. One was saying, “But even when I’m saved and in heaven, I’m still a sinner. God only lets me in because His love is so great that He forgives me.” The other person nodded emphatically.

I don’t know where the rest of the conversation went, but I thought how sad it is that we’ve been convinced that even in a resurrected state in a perfect heaven, we still can be no different. Even then, we can’t be made new; we can only be forgiven, which, for many Christians, is the “greatest” expression and fullest extent of God’s love.

It’s so bleak, so minimal, so unworthy of our calling; and it’s hardly true redemption. If this is the best hope that the “saved” can look forward to, no wonder the “doomed” have less than zero chance and God is so underwhelming. (more…)