The greatest of all power is the conscious abdication and relinquishment of it. The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross signify that if we are to be like him (Matthew 4:19; 5:48) we must surrender that almost insatiable human appetite to pull things in to ourselves, to hold on to them and to control. Finding strength and power in helplessness, vulnerability and letting go seems contrary to our nature. But Jesus demonstrated that accepting our loss of control and power is the gaining of it. Jesus modeled this as he submitted to church and Roman authority. Knowing that irony and paradox ignite the human soul like bellows to a flame, Jesus stirred within us a passion for justice by suffering injustice and sparked a spiritual blaze that burns in the hearts of billions to this day.
If we are to be powerful, we too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go. If we are to be transformed, we must learn to let go. If we are to be happy, we must let go. (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; 2 Corinthians 12:10.)
Jesus promised us peace. (John 14:27.) That peace is like a fountain of living water—a river—flowing within and through us. (John 7:38; John 4:14.) We must get out of its way and let it flow through us if we are to ever find peace and happiness.
You are out of control if you need to be in control.
Get out of the way. You are out of control if you need to be in control. You are weak if you feel that you must be strong. Any time you try to cage, capture, contain or control someone or something you are damming and destroying the peace and beauty of the flow. And then you are damned.
You are dammed and damned if you are preoccupied with trying to receive revelation from God rather than revealing God to others through your goodness.
You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.
You are dammed and damned when you spread your arms and reach to grasp rather than reach to give.
You are dammed and damned when you stretch and strive to pull things and pull others in to you as opposed to projecting and unleashing light, love and encouragement. (Luke 11:33.)
You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.
You are dammed and damned when you constantly worry about your health instead of healing others.
You are dammed and damned when you constantly think about your own appetites and yearnings instead of yearning to feed others who are hungry … and not just for food.
You are dammed and damned when you are preoccupied with knowing the right or being right instead of righting what you know to be the wrong within yourself. (Matthew 7:3-5.)
You are dammed and damned when you care more about how others feel about you than how you feel about others.
You are dammed and damned if you constantly worry about the future or the past instead of doing good in the present.
Not revelation. Transformation.
You are dammed and damned if you think you can know God through study, prayer and ritual when God says the way to know him is to know your neighbor. (John 5:37-40; Matthew 25:31-40.)
You are dammed and damned if you are always looking for God in some holy place when he has said, “I’m always there in another’s face.” (Matthew 25:31-40.)
You are dammed and damned if you think some method, magic or incantation will bring you to God when God has said your neighbor is his incarnation.
Pray we must.
But for what?
Not revelation. Transformation.
We don’t need much guidance (a guise for control … a wish to make God the genie in our lamp). This or that? It matters not.
Not revelation. Transformation.
What matters is courage, kindness, integrity, compassion.
To see God in another’s face.
To see that in another … God in his place!
The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.
To have the courage and the power to let go, get out of the way, and thus live it … for this I pray.
Do you really know how to love? For Jesus, loving others is what it’s all about. But do we, as a people, really know how to love? Or are those who profess to be the modern-day followers of Jesus more like the Pharisees, who outwardly drew near to God but had hearts that were far, far away from him? Are we merely whiting our social media sepulchers when we present an image to the world designed to manipulate how others perceive us? In our effort to be perceived as good are we really being bad? In our effort to project and convey righteousness are we really just putting on a bad disguise?
Nothing frustrated Jesus more than people who did the “right” things for the wrong reasons. Jesus abhorred pretense (Matthew 23:14) and hypocrisy (Matthew 6:2, 6, 16; 23:13-15). While piousness and adherence to religious rules was something Jesus did not want to be left “undone,” he placed religious behavior on a hierarchy where there were some matters that were “weightier” than others. (Matthew 23:23.) Of course, the weightiest of all matters was to feel and then show love to others.
The path to true discipleship … requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.
He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you ….” (John 13:34.) Of course, Jesus loves not just in deed. His very essence is filled with compassion and love for us. So, to love as Jesus loved requires the right actions and the right motives. Doing good when you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42) is ultimately unacceptable. To love others as you were loved by Jesus Christ requires more.
Paul explains it this way:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
(1 Corinthians 13:1-3.)
Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in.
The state of your heart is so important to the Lord that you could give all you have to the poor or die as a martyr, but if you “have not the love of God in you” (John 5:42), it “profiteth you nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3.) Nothing. Those are strong words. The bar is set. It’s quite high. Your motives for doing what you do—even if those things are “charitable” and good—matter to the Lord.
Jesus evaluated men from the inside out, not from the outside in. (See Matthew 15:17-20.) To him, this was the order of priorities: “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:26.) He wants your heart first. Then, Jesus taught, “[a] good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.” (Matthew 12:35.) Hence, discipleship works from the inside out, forcing you to examine your motives; to examine the state of your heart.
Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions.
Because this aspect of Christianity is so vital to discipleship I developed a tool that helps me evaluate the state of my heart. This tool can be used in every single human interaction. The more you use it, the more your focus will change. Hopefully, it can help you find the path to true discipleship, which requires that you care only about what you think of others and not what others think of you.
Just as the physical human heart has four chambers, the spiritual heart has four main dimensions, which are depicted in the following graphic:
To give you an example of how the four chambers works, think, for a moment, to the last time you were at a gathering of family or friends. Most likely there were people there that you love. And, most likely, there were people there that you struggle with and that you find hard to love. For those for whom you have deep and genuine feelings of love, expressing that love probably flowed naturally for you. It was easy to give compliments and hugs. It was easy for you to listen to them. Your behavior and your feelings were congruent with the highest in you and would put you in Chamber Four, where you feel love and show love. This is the ideal.
There may have been those that you genuinely love and care for but, for some reason, you found it difficult to express your love. You didn’t know what to say to express your true feelings. You didn’t know what you could do to express your love in a way that would be understood (or not misunderstood). Or, for some reason (perhaps unknown to you), you just held back. You didn’t express your love. Maybe you were too tired. Maybe you just didn’t have it in you. This is Chamber Three, where you genuinely feel love but don’t show it. In Chamber Three, your capacity to feel love exceeds your ability to express it.
We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day.
At this gathering there were undoubtedly those that you found difficult to have feelings of love for. Seeing these people may have triggered anger, frustration, or dislike. Whatever it was that you felt, it was not love. As you felt these things, you had two choices. You could either show love or not show love. If you chose to show love, this was a Chamber Two behavior. You did not genuinely feel love for this person but you acted as if you did. If you chose not to show love, this was a Chamber One behavior where you neither felt nor showed love. In Chamber One you probably avoided this person or perhaps you may have confronted or slighted this person in some way. Whatever you did, you didn’t feel love or show love.
Most of us toggle through each of the Four Chambers throughout various social interactions. However, over time, patterns emerge and through honest self-evaluation and introspection you will notice within yourself the chamber within which most of your behavior patterns occur. There are, for example, people who are almost always in Chamber Two. People who care more about how others feel about them than how they feel towards others are classic Chamber Two people. They act nice and kind but do it for all the wrong reasons, such as wanting to be accepted, wanting to be valued, or wanting to be esteemed. Like actors, they are constantly playing to an audience and have an insatiable longing and yearning for the approval of the crowd. They value themselves when they are valued by others, failing to realize that valuing others is what actually helps us discover our true identity and our true worth.
I’m convinced that practicing Christianity is just that–practice. We have to practice being disciples of Jesus Christ each and every day, which means not just doing the right things but also doing them for the right reason. Chamber Two behavior doesn’t cut it. We must evolve into Third and Fourth Chamber beings, who are filled with love and have the ability to express it. The Four Chambers is a practice tool that will help free you from the prison-like atmosphere of the First and Second Chambers.
Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.
Why do I say these lower chambers are prison-like? Because for those stuck in Chamber Two behavior patterns, where they care more about being seen in the best possible light rather than seeing others in the best possible light, life is a living hell. Those stuck in Chamber Two are constantly trying to control how others feel about them, which, of course, is totally out of their control. And trying to control things that are out of your control is the definition of suffering. Being manipulative and acting with ulterior motives does not bring happiness. It’s a prison from which many people don’t ever escape. Those stuck in Chamber One simply don’t have the love of God in them and, since God is love, they live their lives without God, which is a prison. Both First and Second Chamber people find it hard to look inward because they are always looking “out there” and trying to control or blame what is “out there” instead of fixing themselves and looking at their own hearts. In short, they cannot repent. They are damned. Hell has already arrived for them and they may not even know it.
What chamber are you in? Do you really know how to love? Are you honest with yourself? Do you regularly and routinely work on how you feel about others? Do you regularly and routinely evaluate your motives?
I would invite you to apply the Four Chambers paradigm for a week. In every interaction that you have, label what you do and why you do it with one of the Four Chambers. As you do this, you will start to think from the inside out rather than from the outside in. You will begin to feel lighter as you shed the burden of worrying what others think about you and focus on how you feel about others. You will begin to see every human interaction as an opportunity to express the highest within you, which is the light of Christ that is in us all. And, most of all, as that light of Christ glows within you, you will be filled with his presence and his love, which will bring you happiness, joy and peace.
For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.
The 2016 Election? “It Just Doesn’t Matter,” Said Jesus (and Bill Murray)
If you are stressed out about the 2016 presidential election, take some advice from Jesus (and Bill Murray) … it just doesn’t matter. Rarely, if ever, will I comment on politics. But as I look around and see the growing angst and conflict permeating society on the eve of the election, I wanted to offer a few words of comfort, regardless of your political orientation.
Two millennia ago Jesus was caught in the cross hairs of a geo-political question that the Jews of his time probably thought threatened their very existence. The geo-political power of the day, the Roman Empire, had conquered Jerusalem and imposed its will on the Jewish people, taking control of everything. The imposition of Roman power was everywhere. In the case of the puppet kingdom, Judea, Herod’s rule and Herod’s forces would have been the superficial, nominal political entity. But everyone knew that Rome was the power behind the throne and that Herod was a puppet leader, really. Many Jews resented this and were looking for a politico-military leader, a Messiah, to overthrow the Roman domination system and restore the divine theocracy the Jews longed for. They wanted to make Jerusalem great again (sorry couldn’t resist that).
The Pharisees would be among those religious extremists who were seeking to restore the greatness and glory of an independent Jewish state and who resented the power of Rome. The Herodians, on the other hand, were a party among the Jews who were supporters of the Herodian family as the last hope for retaining for the Jews a fragment of national government, as distinguished from absolute dependence upon Rome. Herod held his dominion by grant of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the Herodians supported Rome and would be in favor of paying tribute to the supreme power. They were part of “the crooked establishment” (sorry, couldn’t resist that one, either).
Even though the Pharisees and the Herodians were politically at odds, they were united in the dislike of the newly-introduced subversive reformer known as Jesus of Nazareth. So they joined forces in an effort to silence him once and for all. The account in Matthew 22 goes as follows:
16 And [the Pharisees] sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
Jesus out-maneuvered this perverted alliance by brilliantly waiving the question and putting it back on them to decide whose “side” God was on. In essence, he rose above the political fray and said “you’re both wrong” and “it just doesn’t matter.” “God is on neither side.” “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jesus realized that the “true” kingdom is not geo-political. It is the kingdom of the human heart. To Jesus, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21.)
To Jesus, elections or revolutions are not the way to seek or find peace. Remember, trying to find worldly solutions to what are, in essence, the spiritual problems of society never works. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we try to control things (or people) outside ourselves. Our hearts get troubled and afraid when we look out “there” and what’s wrong with everything out “there” as the cause of what’s making us feel bad “in here.” That type of outside-in thinking will never make you very comfortable because you cannot control anything (or anyone) out there. And the more you try to control what’s out there, the more frantic and helpless you will feel “in here.”
What if what is going on inside of you matters more than what’s going on out there? What if you looked in the mirror and decided to change the person you see there instead of looking at your big screen and trying to change what’s going on in the reflection of the world you see there? You can’t change the world. But you can change you.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that all of the great spiritual leaders have always known. Politics don’t matter. Personal transformation does. I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote. I’m not saying government is unnecessary. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to elect the very best leaders. But let’s be realistic. At the end of the day, YOU are the problem. YOU are the one that needs to change. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within you. Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see.” Michael Jackson (yes, MJ) sang it beautifully this way:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)
The election is scary, but who we are as human beings and how we treat each other matters so much more and, in the end, will determine what kind of world we have. What we need is a revolution of listening, loving and caring more than a political revolution.
So when your man or woman loses the election this year, whatever the case may be, take a cue from Jesus, Gandhi and Bill Murray. “It just doesn’t matter.” YOU matter. And if you want to stop feeling frustrated and powerless, take control of your life, change who you are. Stop blaming “the system” and become the change. Transformed people transform the world.