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Archive for Graduation

Jun
09

Posts for My Graduate #10

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Ten is a pretty long list when you blog them one at a time, so thanks for enduring the journey. I hope it’s been helpful. Before I deal with #10, let me take a moment to review the other nine guiding principles from the Ten Commandments:
1. Establish God as the ultimate priority of your life.
2. When you get worship right, a lot of other stuff falls into place.
3. Be a person of character whose word reflects who you are without resorting to “swearing.”
4. Make sure you keep plenty of margin in your life for rest and reflection.
5. Remember that you are not self-existent or self-sufficient.
6. Love other as the Lord Jesus has loved you and forgiven you.
7. Keep your passions in check.
8. Show respect to others, including their stuff.
9. Value the reputation of others by telling the truth.

Number 10 comes last in the list, but is not least in importance. Exodus 20:17 tells us, “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

The bottom line is that we are not to covet. Rather, we are to learn to be content with what God has given us. Covetousness, like envy, desires to have something someone else has. It could be someone else’s personal property. It could even be a trait or talent someone possesses like athletic ability, speed, height, or intellect. When a person covets, they enter a thought process that believes if they have what someone else has, they can be like them. This is why advertisers use celebrities to promote their products.

Here’s the underlying issue: What’s wrong with being you? What’s wrong with having what God has given you?

You have to learn to be content with what you have, but even more important, you have to be content with who you are. I don’t think God is opposed to having nice things. I think God may once in a great while scratch his head in amazement at how much we love stuff. And even more, how much we’d prefer to model our lives after some other human than to pattern our lives after Jesus.

To be content means to be “self contained” or “self sustained.” It means to be “freely independent.” Contentment is satisfied with who one is and what one has because he or she has learned to become satisfied with Christ alone. (Philippians 4:10-20)

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Jun
08

Posts for My Graduate #9

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“You must not falsely testify against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

Back in the day of the Bible, evidence in the courts was appreciated but not necessary. If two witnesses came forward with an accusation that was in agreement, it was considered to be enough evidence to merit a conviction and warrant punishment. The system assumed that people would not make false accusations.

Today our legal system demands more evidence. But the principle behind this command is still very real to us today. It’s important for us to remember that as people of love we have a responsibility to value one another. Love is entrenched in truth. Lying is bad. Lying about someone else is worse. The Bible gives a lot of information about how to deal with enemies. Making up false things as an act of revenge is not on the list.

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Jun
05

Posts for My Graduate #8

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Like the prohibition against murder, the eighth commandment should be a no-brainer. “You must not steal” (Exodus 20:15). By this time in your life, you are fully aware of the laws against taking things that don’t belong to you. Perhaps you even know of a person who has been arrested for shoplifting. Maybe you know what it feels like to have something taken from you that is yours.

What’s the attitude behind stealing anyway? One attitude of those who steal insists on demanding their own way whether they’ve earned it or not. There’s a sense of entitlement that claims “I deserve this” or “They have plenty already” or “They won’t miss this one thing.” It’s plain and simple selfishness.

Another attitude behind stealing is self dependency. This attitude leads to stealing because they believe that there is no one who will provide for their needs. Therefore, they take care of their own needs using any means necessary.

Ultimately, obeying the command against stealing is about showing respect for others. One of the worst ways you can disrespect another person is to take something from them that is not rightfully yours to take. I think a person can even steal from another by simply not taking care of things they borrow. But a person can also show disrespect by taking the reputation or dignity of another person by using words that diminish and tear down. By spreading false things or passing the blame, a little bit of their reputation is stolen.

If you think about this command in a broader sense you’ll realize that #8 is not just about taking stuff. It’s about showing respect to others and yourself.

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Jun
04

Posts for My Graduate #7

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Command #7 says, “You must not commit adultery.” Specifically it forbids breaking one’s faithful commitment to their spouse in order to gratify a sexual desire. Generally speaking it offers a strong word of warning against all sexual sin.

When Jesus addressed the issue of adultery in Matthew 5:27-30, he cut to the core issue which is lust. In those verses, Jesus linked the lust of our hearts with the focus of our eyes. In other words, your eyes become windows to the heart. What and who you look at cultivates lust in the heart, which in turn can lead toward the physical act of adultery.

By way of principle, let me simply say that you cannot be easy on your passions. We are created to be persons with desire, but unchecked desire is dangerous. Those who are ruled by their passions and desires eventually end up breaking promises.

I often think about the Old Testament story of Joseph who was confronted by his master’s wife. Joseph lived as a household slave in Potipher’s home. Because he was handsome and well-built (Genesis 39:6), Potipher’s wife pursued him (Genesis 39:7). Joseph gave Potipher’s wife three reasons why he could not give in to the woman’s solicitation: My master trusts me; you are his wife; and God sees me (Genesis 39:8-9).

Oswald Chambers once wrote that “an unguarded strength is a double weakness.” Ruthlessly keep those passions and desires in check!

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Jun
02

Posts for My Graduate #6

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Perhaps the most famous of the Ten Commandments is number 6, “You must not murder” (Exodus 20:13). It prohibits the intentional killing of another human being for personal reasons.

When Jesus dealt with this command in the Sermon on the Mount, he went deeper into the issue and spoke out against the internal emotions that lead to the external act of killing. He said, “If you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).

So what’s the takeaway? Jesus acknowledged that life is filled with difficult people. But anger, unforgiveness, vengence, and murder are not appropriate ways to deal with those challenging people. Difficult people evoke passionate emotions that can lead to words and actions used to intentionally hurt them. The only thing that can overcome the need we have to settle every score is to possess a love that values the difficult person and sees them as Jesus sees them.

Ephesisans 4:31-32 teaches, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

It would seem that the beginning point of learning to love difficult people is to remember God’s love for us. After all, we’re not always the most lovable either. God loves us in spite of ourselves. We are frequently difficult, yet God extends grace to us anyway. We can never escape difficult people. Love them like Jesus loves you.

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Jun
01

Posts for My Graduate #5

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So far I have described some of the principles from the first four commandments which focus on our relationship with God. The next six commandments are directed toward our relationship with other people. The first one is addressed to your relationship to your parents.

Exodus 20:12 states, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Honoring your parents is a lifelong commitment. Ephesians 6:4 reminds us that children in the household have the responsibility to obey their parents. But in a few days you’ll be gone and out into the world. You’re entering that transitional phase of independence from your parents. However, God never releases you from the responsibility to render honor. Why? God places us in families for a purpose. We are not self-sufficient or self-existent. When we honor our parents we are reminded of the important role that others play in our lives. Like the guy once said, if you ever see a turtle on a fencepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself! Honoring your parents reminds you to be humble, because you didn’t get where you are on your own.

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May
29

Posts for My Graduate #4

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The fourth commandment is “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The explanation for this rule is that God worked six days, then rested on the seventh day setting it apart as holy. God didn’t rest because he was tired. God rested to set an example for us. When we pause to rest and reflect, we are reminded that we are not “self made men.” We work in cooperation with God’s plans and purposes for us in life. But in rest we are reminded that “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:17).

In school we learned about setting margins and properly using margins when writing papers. A professor in one of my doctoral seminars had a reputation for using a ruler when grading papers to make sure that submissions had “legal margins.” Margins make the paper readable. They help the eye move easily along the page. But some people live their lives like papers written single space without margins. They fill their lives with so much activity that they have no room for rest and reflection. They forget that we are human BEings, not human DOings.

So take a break. Learn to say no. Prioritize according to your convictions. I believe it’s better to do nothing than to do something you don’t believe in. Rest and reflect. Creativity does not come from margin-less living. Time is the most precious commodity we possess. Plan how you will use it, or someone else will. Above all, make time for God. When you spend time with God you will be reminded of his greatness and his blessings. And you’ll become aware of his help every day.

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May
25

Posts for My Graduate #3

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Exodus 20:7 says, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” Older translations put it like this, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” I think a lot of people look at the third commandment and assume that it means that we shouldn’t cuss or use profanity. The apostle Paul talks about how the nature of our language is to reflect the nature of Christ who lives within us (Ephesians 4:29). Profanity and vulgar speech is not appropriate. It reveals a lack of a grasp of the English language. But the third commandment isn’t about cussin’.

When God told the Israelites not to misuse his name, he was referring devaluing the holy name of God. The command was given in response to the practice that people had of taking oaths or swearing in the name of God to bolster their own character and integrity. Every time they used God’s name in vain, they caused the name of God to be depreciated. God’s holy name was and is to be reverenced. God’s name is not just a label. It’s an expression of his character.

When I was a kid, people would say things like “I swear on a stack of Bibles” or “I swear to God” to try to persuade others of their sincerity and honesty. Sometimes kids would say “I swear on my mother’s grave” or even “cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” The kids that said those things were usually the kids who were the biggest liars in school.

The lesson here is that we are to be persons of such high character that we need not to invoke the name of God in order to be believable. If you are a person of character, you’re believable. If you’re not a person of character, you may try to use God’s name to make you appear to be something you’re not.

When Jesus got to earth, he restated the command this way, “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). What a great goal! Have such good character that people take your words at face value.

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May
23

Posts for My Graduate #2

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The second command is found in Exodus 20:4. This one tells you that you are not to engage in idolatry. The Bible says, “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea.”

The Old Testament reports that the Israelites actually did make statues and images that they carried around, bowed before, and tangibly worshipped through sacrifices and offerings. That sounds weird, but it’s true. Our 21st century idols are a little more sophisticated and much more subtle. We may not bow before images, but think of the power of “image” in the world. Most everyone has an image they want to present. Image is expressed in what we wear, where we eat and the media we consume. What we drive and where we live also conveys our image. Our 21st century idols are celebrities, politicians, athletes, artists, and musicians. People look toward the pretty and the powerful and pattern their lives after them. Think of the power of their endorsements in advertising.

When we enthrone God as the supreme affection of our lives, we need to make sure we get worship right. Worship is our appropriate response to God’s self disclosure. When God is first, worship is the natural response. The problem with idols and images is they bring us to lower level living. The Bible warns that those who make idols become like the idols they make (Psalm 135:18). We become like whatever we worship.

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May
22

Posts for My Graduate

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For the last 25 years I’ve been offering advice to high school graduates. Those words seem a little shallow now that I have my very own high school senior preparing to cross the stage. I hope the words that I have shared over the past 18+ years have some way stuck in your mind. Nonetheless I feel compelled to offer some thoughts on your tomorrow and the tomorrows that will follow after that.

As I was thinking about words that I wanted to offer, my mind was drawn to the Ten Commandments. I know you know God’s Top Ten, but I want to give you a little different perspective on them. Hopefully, these words will encourage you in God-ward directions as long as you live.

Commandment 1: Establish God as Your Ultimate Priority in Life

“You must have no other God but me.” (Exodus 20:3, NLT)

This command is first for a reason. It’s not just first in a list, it’s first in importance. Unless God is first, the rest of the list is nothing more than a moral compass. What does it mean to make God first? It means that God must be the recipient of your ultimate devotion and service. The command clarifies that God is not the highest among competing affections, but the uncontested affection of your life.

Jesus talks about how our love for family, friends, and self should appear as hate when compared to the surpassing love we display to God (Luke 14:26). But the love we have for ourselves and our stuff is pretty strong.

Proverbs 1:7 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When the fear of God is absent from your life, you become a slave to lesser fears. But when God is the environment of your life (Col. 3:1-4), and when you establish him as supreme (Colossians 1:18), you’ll be surprised how much sense the rest of the list makes sense. And life too, for that matter.

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