Read Matthew 5.17-20. Last week we talked about self-awareness as a Kingdom tool for growing in Christian maturity. Self-awareness is a difficult task to master. Peter Scazzero in his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality suggests that the first step in the Christian journey is God awareness. The next step is learning the curriculum of the faith, then we get busy serving. If we continue on this journey and not get stagnant, we will begin inward journey of self-discovery. The inward journey when it produces good fruit will lead us to serve from a new place of profound love for others. In the final season of faith fear is driven out and nothing is left but the surrender and obedience of God’s perfect will.
There comes a time in our journey when we discover the dark night of the soul as described in detail by St. John of the Cross. There are seasons of the Christian life that make no sense to us as we travel to a place of desolation. But it is in the season of burnout that God perfects our affections by purification and holy fire. God helps us to stop running from the hard parts of life. We are invited to stop comparing apples and oranges, envying others who seem further along in the journey. We are invited to choose the cross over childish pleasure. We are tempered from the impatience of having to wait upon God. We are tested in our luxuries of seeking spiritual blessings instead of God alone. We seek to grow by learning rather than becoming content on the spiritual life of resting in God’s love. We seek to condemn others whom we find less competent that our selves.
These trials purge, annihilate, empty and consume the soul. Trials like these dark nights have seasonally in our walks with God. There will be times when routine devotion becomes empty of its meaning and the devotion we once knew seems devoid of the Spirit. The question that presses us is, When will it end? On the other side of this wall of despair is the healing from the spirit of offense and judgement of our neighbor.
A short book entitled “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection” by John Wesley describes the outcome of the dark night of the soul: an awesome relentless love of God and for neighbor that moves beyond the judgement and stands of humanity to rest in the unconditional affection of God that no longer is based on Christian performance. To be sure most of us would rather sit in front of the TV and vegetate than take the long journey of solitude and contemplation to become more equipped to love. We would rather control our situations by doing things for God than by resting in his love.
What’s inside your head? Let’s take a look inside the mind of 11-year old Riley in the movie Inside Out. Watch for the key characters in the movie: Joy, Disgust, Anger, Sadness, and Fear. Human beings are like icebergs with deep expansive layers of icy terrain under the surface of the ocean. To be sure only 10% of an iceberg is visible on the surface (“Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” Scazzero, 71-74).
What’s inside your heart? The Law must become a reality – ever stroke of a pen and smallest letter. In the Hebrew text the smallest smudges could very well be a different letter! Jesus is the first supervisor on record to have taken principles of living and fleshing them out into details of psychotherapy. The ten commandments were added to with principles of behavior changes necessary to assist the Israelites in their outward relationships. The sermon on the mount was given to assist Christians in their inward relationships. Jesus us takes us deeper into the heart of the matter. Jesus takes us to the next level – deeper meaning of the Old Testament Covenant. Jesus fulfills the Law. God wants us to love him completely on the inside so we can love others on the outside. Each section of our text today urges us to – not let our emotions get the better of us. That’s love.
Jesus came to fulfill the law – Love the Lord Your God with all your heart and soul and mind and body and will and emotions and your whole self. Then go and love your neighbor. Who of us can say that we have fully mastered the art of loving ourselves? Jesus came to complete the love that is lacking inside of us. More of him and less of us. I can only imagine that Jesus has come to fulfill the law in each of our hearts, to fulfill us in the image of God the Father. Jesus came to satisfy our needs, not destroy us.
God does not keep us hostage in relationships, emotional troubles create the dry-vacuum effect of sucking us dry. Communication and heart transformation take much time to master. It is the higher calling not only to transform the external conversation but the inward truth behind the words. God calls us to purity in our heart and in our words. Jesus’ words are strong. If we dare to cut corners, and relax our guard we miss the requires of God’s righteousness on our lives. God requires our full surrender to the transformation process.
There is no work involved, only surrender. My favorite part about being a Christian is what John Wesley experienced in his own journey – that heartwarming religion that moves you from where you are today to where you need to be tomorrow. If we believe our Christianity is impotent or stagnant in the transformation process, then we fail to experience the personal power of revival in our lives. All the teachings of Jesus center on this one aim – holiness of heart and life. The heart comes first. We just can’t make sense out of our life until our heart lines up with God’s will.
What is God will? Revival. It’s that simple. When our personal intentionality is aligning with God’s ways of thinking, feeling, speaking, and experiencing life, then and only then can we capitalize on the power of the Holy Spirit beginning about radical transformation in our souls. Revival looks like an inside out job of the Holy Spirit. It seems we are all about seeking a move of God. But I wonder if we willing to pay the price of the deep work of change in our interior lives that affords us the high pressure-low pressure movement across our lives.
Read Revival Rising.
Recent studies show that young people are seeking the deep waters of spiritual meaning in our culture. Rachel Evans in her book “Searching for Sunday” invites us to a deeper awareness of the younger generation who are seeking authentic worship experiences. We cannot look at Scripture with a line by line precept and fail to understand the cost of disciple that lie beyond the words: authenticity.
Imagine a day when you were cognitively aware of God’s plan for you. What was it like? When we are most like God, we live differently. We don’t live in unrighteousness. We color between the lines if you will. We stay in the game. We are faithful to our spouse. We own our fleshly issues that cause us behavioral issues. Jesus calls us to clarity of speech and tongue: say what you mean, mean what you say. Let your heart be clear before God and neighbor. That does not mean that you are held to accountability for forgetfulness (infirmity). I love Joshua’s tenacious statement and call to faithfulness in the last chapter of his life – as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. I can’t imagine their being any doubt in his heart when he makes that whole-hearted commitment.
There are going to be times when we struggle at turning the other check, or giving to people who are taking from us. Going the second mile with others can be debilitating if our hearts are in the wrong place – self-preservation. Sometimes we support others grudgingly with angry attitudes and hateful words. We can find ourselves in toxic circumstances. Agape love is perfect love that surrenders our self-preservation for the sake of perfectly loving those who cannot or will not extend love toward us. This is what we understand as purity of heart.
What is Christian Perfection? It is no less than the circumcision of the heart, says John Wesley. It is desiring God’s will above all else. The problem with our own discernment on this topic is our lack of self-awareness. There are times our hearts need to be set free. Paul says we need to be freed from the law of sin and death (Romans 8.2). James says we need the perfect law of liberty (James 1.25). In the Family Life Commentary entitled “Hope of the Nation” the author points out that the Sermon on the Mount is shedding light on the life patterns developed in our childhood that may be good or bad, but current reactions are stemming from those formational years.
This concept of Jesus fulfilling the Law happens inside of our hearts. And, with that experience comes the drawing out of old habits, the loosening of deeply rooted emotions, and stories in the recesses of our memories. We understand this new birth process happens not in an instant, but with the travail as of a child birth experience. This new birth and renewal process happens with intentionality and persistence, and the determination that weeds need pulling.
So what at the weeds growing in your emotional garden? Insecurity, Doubt, Fear of Failure, Rejection… When we examine our inmost being we discover the primary forces of selfishness: self-will (will), self-control (physical), self-guidance (mental), and self-indulgence (emotional).
Our very own Book of Discipline is designed to guide us through to spiritual maturity. To be sure emotional maturity is part of that journey. Our passage today speaks specifically on this issue. First, we are not to teach (hold views) apart from the Law and the Prophets (Scripture). Second, we are not to grow so angry that we hold murderous thoughts (get rid of the problem). In fact smooth things over when you are at odds with someone else.
Third, we are avoid straying in our relations and remain faithful. It may take the courage to walk in self-denial of our flesh. It calls us to command our behavioral decisions for the good of each other. Fourth, our speech needs to reflect complete integrity – truth telling. If we are not going to follow through, then we need to stand in the difficult place of choosing not to say yes. This passage invites us to get off the fence in our conversations, and to stop creating animosity with hedging decisions. We are called to speak in terms of yes or no. Fifth, we are not to retaliate. Each of these instructions guides us to be emotionally healthy in our relationships.
Read Matthew 5.43-48. When I read Scripture, what I notice most often is that Jesus requires us to die to our own agenda for the sake of loving others. Here Jesus instructs his followers to love your enemies (and that means more than one person) and pray for those who harass you (again, more than one person) (Mt. 5.44), and completely show love to everyone (more than one) (Mt. 5.48). Complete love in this passage steps up the responsibility for us to show emotional integrity to one another for the sake of Christ Jesus to the glory of his Father.
Read Matthew 6.1-7.12. How are we to grow our emotional maturity? The first step again in self-awareness. And, self-awareness happens through surrender to God’s will, finding secret places of prayer and offering the quiet works of love to your neighbors. You are called not to judge, lest you be judged. Jesus is quick to point out the hyperbole of the log and the splinter. Doug Britton has a wonderful blog on this scripture passage. There are two questions he urges us to ask ourselves when pointing fingers becomes an issue in our lives: How did I contribute to the problem? How can I help this conversation move forward?
He urges us to take the beam out of our own eyes with these questions: It’s all their fault. It’s because of how I’m treated. It’s about them, not me. They need an attitude adjustment. Behind closed doors, I bet they have big problems. I’ve been hurt, and I need to make this right by getting even. If I own my part, I will be taken advantage of.
To be sure logs and splinters will always be with us, but we can learn from our choices and grow to become spiritually mature in our relationships with others. Peter Scazzero has a wonderful book called “The Emotionally Healthy Church” and in this book he gives the illustration of an iceberg and the sinking of the great Titanic. We find ourselves in relationships with others seeing only the top 10% of reality, the other 90% is underneath the waters. That 90% can become dangerous when the waters become icy and cold in our lives. But there is such hope we cannot even begin to imagine!
C.S. Lewis understood this great and dire situation as he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Eustance became a dragon that needed transformation. Scazzero describes God’s great work inside us as though “God’s claws are going so deeply into us that they are cutting into our very heart” (Scazzero, 74). For us to grow healthy we are called to suffer discomfort and pain in the places where God is pioneering new parts of ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly. Conflict is a part of our lives and we all handle it differently – escalation, withdrawing, assuming things, or triangulating others into the problem. God’s job is to re-parent us. We are children of God, born again into a new creation. Our greatest gift to one another is taking the log out of our own eyes, and become the church God wants us to be.