Blog

Learning the Secret of Contentment

A recent blog post I read was titled, “The Unattainable Urge to Want What We Can’t Have.” It spoke about our desire for both people and stuff, and the more inaccessible an item is, the more we tend to want it. This rather common human desire has a biblical word—covetousness. And in the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives (or what some translations call the Ten Commandments), there is a definite prohibition against coveting. Exodus 20:17 says, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Notice that coveting, or the uncontrolled desire to acquire what belongs to someone else, relates to both property and to people, to stuff and relationships that don’t belong to us.

The entire advertising industry is based on getting people to acquire more stuff. That’s how we get into debt. Someone once said his problem wasn’t that he had too little money but that he had too much want. Another study recently pointed out that when a single woman meets a single guy, 57% were interested in exploring a possible relationship. But if that man was already in a relationship with another woman, the number jumps to 90% of single women being interested in a relationship with him. It just shows the impact of covetousness on relationships.

That’s why the tenth word that will change our lives is contentment, or satisfaction with what we already have. In Philippians 4:13 Paul wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Contentment is an attitude that doesn’t come naturally; we must learn it. So here are five ways to learn the secret of contentment.

First, to learn contentment, we need to refocus our perspective.  1 Timothy 6:7-8 says, “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” This verse reminds us to focus on the eternal not the present. Remember, you’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Also, it prompts us focus on what is essential, what we really need, not everything we want. I once saw a billboard advertising the lottery with one question written on it—“How much money do you need to be happy?” Truth to tell and contrary to that ad, very little.

The second way to learn contentment is to resist comparison to others. That’s why Paul wrote, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9).  This is the danger of seeing what others have and wanting the same or more. It’s possible to admire what others have without insisting on having it for ourselves.

Yet a third step in learning contentment is to rejoice in God’s gifts. The wise man wrote, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (Eccles 5:19). Also, he wrote, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth (Prov 5:18). Remember to explicitly thank God for everything we have and to celebrate every relationship that He has granted us. Being grateful for God’s good gifts will keep us from yearning for what is not ours.

A fourth aspect of learning contentment is always to remember what we deserve. The prophet Jeremiah reminded us, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:22). Mistakenly, we believe we deserve more stuff, more wealth, and better relationships. But, in reality, if we got what we deserved, all we’d be is a small pile of ashes, consumed by the judgment of a righteous God. God is merciful and gracious and that’s why we’re not consumed and instead given so many good gifts.

A fifth and final way to learn contentment is to release our money and possessions to others. Speaking of the affluent, Paul wrote, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Tim 6:18). One of the ways God teaches contentment is by allowing us to give of our wealth and of our stuff. Fred Smith said, “Giving is the drain plug of our greed.” Instead of unwholesome wanting, generous giving enables us to be content with what we have.

The Talmud asks and answers this question: “Who is wealthy? He who is content with what he has.” Therefore, we all have it within us to be rich.

Becoming a Truth Teller

“Tell her the truth!” That’s the advice the genie gives Alladin in the hit movie and play. But it’s hard to tell the truth all the time. What should we do?

Eva and I have a female friend that often jokingly quotes Psalm116:11 to single young women: “All men are liars!” she says.  But really, it’s no joke. The book, The Day America Told the Truth finds that the majority of us can’t get through a week without telling a lie. 1 in 5 of us can’t make it through a single day without lying. And we’ll lie to just about anyone, and we’re more likely to lie to those we are most closely related.  In fact, 91% of us lie regularly. It has become a cultural trait. Child magazine reported that we should no longer read Pinocchio to our kids because lying is healthy for them. Psalm 116:11 was never truer: All people are liars!

But the word for us today is “truthfulness.”   In Exodus 20:16, it says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”  It’s the Ninth of the Ten Words to Change our Lives, God calls us to honesty and integrity in our speech. In short, we should practice truthfulness. Instead, we practice lying in a variety of ways. We are apt to flatter someone to gain their approval or to exaggerate our own accomplishments to win respect. If we don’t like someone, we will insinuate falsehood about him or even deliberately slander her. Sometimes we’ll deceive others by remaining silent in the face of lies. No matter what method we choose, the book of Proverbs reminds us that lying remains destructive. Proverbs 11:9 says, “With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor” showing the damage we do to others with our lies. Amazingly, lying is just as destructive to the person doing the lying.  Proverbs 11:3 says “dishonesty will destroy those who are not trustworthy (NCV),” meaning it will bring ruin to the person who lies.

If lying is so dangerous and destructive, what should we do? We need to develop a truthful tongue and here six biblical ways to do just that.

First, each of us needs a heart transplant. Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (Matt 12:34). If we want to be truthful, we need to get honest with God. We do this by recognizing that we have failed, that Jesus died to take the punishment for all our failures, and then was raised from the dead. If we trust in what Jesus has done for us, the Bible says we’ll be transformed from within, in other words, we’ll get a new heart.

Second, we must confess our lies immediately. The Bible teaches that when we disobey God, we need to talk with Him about it right away. Here’s what the apostle John wrote: “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Confession actually means agreeing with God, and we need to get on the same page as the Lord immediately after failing Him.

Third, we should pray for truthfulness. David wrote, “Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips” (Psa 141:3). The wisdom writer prayed, “Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me” (Prov 30:8). If we want something deeply, we’ll pray for it, and that includes praying for a truthful tongue.

Fourth, it’s wise for us to be surrounded with the truth. There’s several ways we can accomplish that. For example, in John 17:17, Jesus told His Father, “Your word is truth.” Daily input of the Bible is a way to be surrounded by the truth. Another way is to be surrounded by truthful people. Paul reminded us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33). If we hang with people who lie, we’ll become liars. The converse is true is well; If we associate with honest people, we’ll be influenced towards honesty. And yet another way to be surrounded with the truth is to consciously choose truthful thoughts. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” (Phil 4:8).

Fifth, we need to practice disciplined speech. In Psalm 39, David wrote, “I said, ‘I will guard my ways so that I may not sin with my tongue; I will guard my mouth with a muzzle as long as the wicked are in my presence’” (Ps 39:1). If we want to get good at something, we need to practice it, whether it’s playing piano, hitting a baseball, or cooking a meal. If we want to be truthful, we need to learn to practice honesty, by constantly muzzling our mouths.

Finally, we need to always be loving when we speak the truth. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Speaking the truth with love.” Too often, truth tellers are perceived as harsh and unkind. Therefore, we need to balance our honest words with kindness, always wanting what is best for those to whom we speak.

In the old movie called Crazy People, an advertizing executive began to tell the truth about the products he was advertizing. For example one slogan he wrote was, “Volvos: They’re boxy but good.” Although he was very successful, everyone thought he’d lost his mind and was put into a mental institution. It’s a funny story but it’s not true. The reality is, if we become people who are truthful, those around us will learn to trust us. Truthfulness is the path to becoming trusted family members, dependable co-workers, and faithful friends.

Prospering through Integrity

When our son was a teenager, we picked him up from a camp–we met him in NYC. We put all his stuff in the car trunk and went to dinner before heading home. While we were eating, someone broke into our car and stole all his stuff. We felt terribly violated. And that’s what we generally think of as stealing. But I would also say, if you’re reading this, most of you are not engaged in that kind of behavior. Consider the following questions: Do you open a bag of cookies and eat a few while grocery shopping and then toss the bag aside before checkout (I mean who wants to pay for a used, open bag of cookies)? Do you shop at a department store where a friend works the register and does she help you out by not charging you for every item of clothing you bring to the check-out counter? Do you use your computer at work to check facebook, email, or follow items on ebay without your employer’s permission? If you said yes, just remember, these are just a few of the many ways people actually steal.

We’ve been looking at 10 Words that will change our lives. What many translations call the 10 commandments, the Bible literally calls “The Ten Words.” Today we’re taking a look at the eighth word that will change our lives, and it’s “INTEGRITY.” In Exodus 20:15, God commanded Israel, “You shall not steal.” In the New Testament, Paul wrote “The thief must no longer steal” (Eph 4:28).

Of course this doesn’t apply only to breaking and entering. The Bible teaches that we’re stealing if we cheat our customers (Prov 20:23; Amos 8:4-5), if we withhold from our employees (Lev 19:13), if we default on loans we’ve taken (Psa 37:21), if we deceive the government so as not to pay all our taxes (Rom 13:6-7; Matt 22:22), or if we rob God by not giving to Him at all (Mal 3:8). All these are ways that many of us steal. But, the Bible teaches that if we’re to prosper, we must prosper with integrity.

So how should we develop our income with integrity? Obviously, the first way is by working. After Paul wrote that the thief must stop stealing, his next words were that “he must do honest work with his own hands” (Eph 4:28). A friend of mine recently lost his job because of cut backs at work. Rather than say, I’ll just collect unemployment, he immediately got a job at a home improvement store. He didn’t say I have to wait for something in my field to open up or maybe this is my opportunity to have some time off. No, he said, my kids need to eat—I’ll get a job.

A second way to prosper with integrity is by saving and investing. Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” It is remarkable in this age of consumption how little emphasis we place on saving for the future. But if we’re not to burden our children as we become elderly, saving and investing should begin when we’re young.

A third way to prosper with integrity is one that we often neglect—we need to pray. James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). I have a friend who has made great sacrifices by serving God in vocational ministry. Yet, he’s always had a good and dependable vehicle. When I asked him how did he afford this he said that whenever he needed a new car, he would pray. And then, without anyone being told of his need, people would ask if they could buy him or give him a car. He didn’t acquire vehicles with car loans but with prayer.

Finally, the best way to prosper with integrity is to pursue God rather than wealth. This is what Jesus taught. He asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matt 16:26)? That’s also why he reminded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt 6:33). If we pursue wealth, we may or may not achieve financial success. But seeking God above all will produce genuine spiritual success, which is far more valuable.

How to Commit Monogamy

There’s an old joke about Moses coming down Mt Sinai with the tablets in hand. He says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. First, the good news, I got the Lord to agree to make it just 10 commandments. Now the bad news, the adultery commandment stays in.” The point is that the seventh commandment, found in Exodus 20:14, “Do not commit adultery.” was somehow designed to make us unhappy, that God was taking away our fun. But the truth is, God was looking out for what is in our best interest.

A few weeks back we began looking at the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered six words. Let’s remember them: The first word that we talked about was “believe,” as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was “prioritize,” remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was “respect,” treat  God’s name seriously. The fourth word was “rest,” we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. The fifth word was “parents,” we need to honor our parents, even when we become adults. And last week’s word was “life,” we need to promote and preserve life in every way we can. And the word for this week is, “monogamy.” God intends marriage to be for one man and one woman, for life.

Of course we want to know, what’s so bad about open marriage or infidelity? The book of Proverbs gives a simple answer—unfaithfulness in marriage is destructive.  Just read these verses: “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned? Can a man walk on coals without scorching his feet? So it is with the one who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished . . .  The one who commits adultery lacks sense; whoever does so destroys himself” (Prov 6:27-29, 32). So how harmful is adultery? Studies have shown that it demolishes our marriages, it devastates our kids and it destroy our very selves.

Not surprisingly, the Messiah Jesus examined this 7th word in Matthew 5:27-32. His exposition  gave it a different spin. In a sense, He said, “You shall commit monogamy” and He gives three keys to a faithful and flourishing marriage.

According to the Lord Jesus, the first key to committing monogamy is sexual faithfulness. In Matt 5:27, Jesus repeats this commandment from Moses, reaffirming its importance. And it’s a good thing. You see, people believe adultery is common. But it’s not. Critics of marital faithfulness frequently call it the monogamy myth. They assert that 60% of men and 40% of women have been unfaithful. But no scientific study supports it. The myth is really about adultery.  According to the famous study by the University of Chicago, the statistics are 25% of men and 17% of woman. George Barna’s research group found it to be about 23% of married people in general have been unfaithful, not nearly the 50% commonly asserted. So why do people believe this adultery myth. I think it’s because of tv, where virtually every sexual act is extra-marital. But what the actual scientific studies show is that people commonly commit adultery on tv, but not in real life. In fact, according to the study by the University of Chicago, the people who were engaging in the most satisfying and frequent sexual relations were those who were in a married, monogamous relationship.

The second key to committing monogamy, according to the Lord Jesus, is mental purity. He said, “I tell you everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Lust means desiring sexual pleasure apart from one’s marriage partner.  This is even more dangerous today because the internet, cable and on demand tv have brought pornography right into our homes. Who will ever know? The reason Jesus strengthens the command, going even deeper, from physical acts to visual behavior, is  because He knows unfaithfulness begins in the heart, at the seat of our intentions. He goes on to say that we must take radical action to deal with this.

According to the Messiah Jesus, the third essential to marital monogamy is permanent commitment. He said, “Everyone who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery” (Matt 5:32). Jesus taught that marriage was to be an exclusive and permanent relationship between a man and a woman and the only exception for divorce was infidelity. We have so normalized divorce today that we have forgotten that it’s not in our best interests.

Here’s two reasons staying married is for our good. First, it safeguards our kids. Judith Wallerstein studied children of divorce for more than 25 years. She found that children of divorced parents are less likely to finish high school or go to college and more likely to get involved in drugs and crime. Conversely, kids whose parents stay together are strengthened both emotionally and spiritually.

Second, staying married is a safeguard for marriage partners. The reason is that the individual problems that cause divorce, are just brought into the second and then the third marriage. That’s the reason for serial divorce. Destroying a marriage doesn’t really fix the problem. That’s why it’s far better to deal with our problems in marriage than to divorce and take the problems with us into the next marriage. Someone once said, when a horse has a broken leg, killing the horse doesn’t really fix the leg. Commitment is really the strongest basis for dealing with marriage problems.

When it comes down to it, the seventh word, monogamy, is not an antiquated and unrealistic ideal. It’s God’s design for a better and happier life.

Choose Life

Chicago, where I live, has a murder problem. In 2016 there were 751 murders. Thus far, in 2017, there have been 368 murders, and the year is only half over.

How bad is the murder problem in Chicago? Although Chicago is half the size of New York City, it has more than twice as many murders. It’s so bad that a relative of mine told me she was afraid to visit Chicago, and she lives in Israel, a place most Americans mistakenly think is dangerous! Beyond that, I have even worse news: in addition to the homicide statistics, we commit murder in more ways than we ever thought.

A few weeks back we began looking at the Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered five words The first word that we talked about was believe, as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was prioritize, remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was respect, take God’s name seriously. The fourth word was rest, we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. The fifth word was parents, we need to honor our parents, even when we become adults. And today’s word is LIFE, we need to be fully pro-life. We are called to promote and preserve life in every way we can.

Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” The reason murder is such an affront to God is that people are made in the image of God (Gen 9:6). Many people misunderstand this command and try to broaden it to cover all killing. So let’s be clear, it does not prohibit killing animals for food (Gen 9:2-3), or capital punishment (Gen 9:6), or just war (Rom 13:4), or even self-defense (Ex 23:2-3). It refers to the unjustifiable murder of the innocent.

So how do we commit murder? More ways than we often realize. Of course, one way people murder is by committing homicide. James 4:2 says “You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” James was writing to believers and he meant actual murder. There was a guy I knew from seminary, who coveted so much, that first he stole from a couple he knew and then, to cover his theft, he murdered them. Ultimately, when he was about to be caught, he killed himself.

But there are other ways we murder. Some states permit euthanasia even though God says, “It is I who gives life and puts to death”( Deut 32:39). Another way is the permission our federal government has given for abortion even though the Psalmist declared that God made a remarkable and wonderful life in the womb (Psa 139:13-14). The Scriptures also teach that there are metaphorical ways we murder, like abusing the poor (James 5:6) or hating others–1 John 3:15 says, “ Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” We even murder through slandering others. As Proverbs 11:9 says, “With his mouth the ungodly destroys his neighbor.”

That said, what seems more important is to discover how we can promote life. Here are just a few suggestions from Scripture. We can seek reconciliation rather than strife. Rom 12:18 says “if possible , on your part, be at peace with everyone.” To promote life we must also learn the secret of contentment with what God has given us. Paul said “In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being content.” (Phil 4:12). It’s also crucial to learn to practice generosity with the poor, remembering that “He who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord (Prov 19:17). We are also called to love our neighbors as ourselves (Lev 19:18). To avoid harming others with our speech, we must discipline our words, because “the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov 12:18). Ultimately, according to Prov 24:11-12, we must also pursue justice for those who are innocent, preserving their lives rather than hiding our eyes from injustice.

In the great book of Jewish wisdom, the Talmud, there is a reminder about the importance of promoting life. It says, “Whoever destroys a single life, it is as if he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life it is as if he had rescued the entire world” (Sanhedrin, 37a). Friends, let’s go rescue the world.

Honoring Our Parents is a Grown-Up Thing To Do

Obviously kids should honor their parents. But what about adults? How should we, as adults, relate to our older parents?  So often we think honoring parents refers to kids obeying their parents. And that’s true enough. But it’s so much more.

A few weeks back we began looking at Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” So far we’ve covered four words The first word that we talked about was believe as in believe in the One true God! And the second word was prioritize, remember to put the Lord first in everything. The third word was respect, take God’s name seriously. The fourth word was rest, we must take a day to rest our bodies and restore our spirits. And the fifth word is parents.

In Exodus 20:12, God commanded: “Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” The verb “to honor” in Hebrew, comes from the word “heavy.” To honor our parents means to give them weight, to hold them in high esteem, to regard them highly.

Most of us automatically think this only pertains to kids. But, the command to honor parents was not given to children–it was given to adults. Even the Lord Jesus, when He spoke of obeying this command in Matthew 15:3-6, applied it in relation to adult children caring for their aged parents. So, if this command is for adults, how can we, as adults, honor our parents? The Bible indicates  several ways.

First, as adults, we honor our parents by respecting their advice. Proverbs 1:8-9 says, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and don’t reject your mother’s teaching, for they will be a garland of grace on your head and a  gold  chain around your neck.” Too often we think that when reach adulthood, we know so much more than our parents. But they have a wealth of experience and knowledge. We should seek their advice as we face the issues and decisions of life.

Second, adults can honor our parents by appreciating their efforts. The Good News version of Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father; without him you would not exist. When your mother is old, show her your appreciation.” There are many reasons to appreciate our parents but I think of two in particular. First of all,  we can appreciate the tolerance our parents showed us as kids. As an adolescent, I was a difficult student. I frequently skipped classes, particularly French class, spoke disrespectfully to a teacher, got caught with a can of mace at school, and frequently failed to do my homework. My mom did her best to discipline me but she also kept loving me despite those failings. She was one tolerant mom! Besides appreciating the tolerance our parents showed us, we can also be grateful for the sacrifices they made. I have a friend who was raised in a small, one bedroom apartment in Chicago. He had the bedroom and his parents slept on a fold-out couch in the living room. He told me it was only as an adult that he understood this sacrifice and many others that his parents made for him. It reminded him to express his gratitude for his folks even as they aged.

A third way adult children can honor their parents is by affirming their successes. Proverbs 3:27 says, “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it is due.” We can look back at the successes of our parents be they professional or personal, and celebrate them with our folks.

Fourth, as adults we can honor our folks by forgiving their failures. Too often, in our age when we emphasize psychotherapy, we tend to dig deep to find the failures of our folks. No doubt, these need to be addressed. Nevertheless, we must remember Proverbs 20:20: “Whoever curses his father or mother-his lamp will go out in deep darkness.” Instead of cursing our parents for their mistakes, let’s forgive them. Anyone who has lost a parent can still forgive, even after they’re gone.

A fifth way to honor our parents is by giving them joy. There is a distinct joy that parents receive when their kids grow up to be honorable men and women. In Yiddish, we speak of kids giving their parents naches. This refers to the special joy of a parent at the achievement of a child. This is to what Proverbs 23:24-25 is referring when it says, “The father of a righteous son will rejoice greatly, and one who fathers a wise son will delight in him. Let your father and mother have joy,  and let her who gave birth to you rejoice.”  When we live with integrity, it gives our parents naches, distinct parental joy.

Finally, adults honor their parents by helping to provide for them in their old age. In Matthew 15:3-6 Jesus rebuked religious leaders for refusing to help their aged parents. He goes on to say that by failing to honor their parents in this way, they “have revoked God’s word.” In 1 Timothy 5:4, 8 Paul speaks of adult children practicing their faith towards “their own family” and “repay[ing] their parents, for this pleases God.” We can commit now to help our folks in the future—we do this by saving money now so we can help them when they need it in the future.

The Lord Jesus modeled honoring His earthly parents for us. Luke 2:50-51 tells us that as a child, He obeyed them even when they didn’t understand Him. And as an adult, even while dying, He made provision for His mom, by calling on John to be a surrogate son and care for her when she got older (John 19:26-27). If we wonder if it’s right for us, as adults, to honor our parents, just ask, “What would Jesus do?” and then we’ll have our answer.

God’s Guidance for Rest

Are you a workaholic? Think about these questions: Do you get up early, no matter how late you went to bed? Do you work while you eat lunch? Do you work on weekends and holidays? Do you find it hard to take a vacation? If you answered yes to these questions, you may be a workaholic.

Someone once defined workaholism as an addiction to work rather than results. Then again, there are many results oriented people who always can find something else that needs to get done. Sometimes we think, well, what’s so bad about working hard? And the answer is, nothing; it’s commendable. But an addiction to work is dangerous. At our jobs, workaholism makes us less productive. Dr. Charles Garfield of the University of California said, “The workaholic never makes the discovery, writes the position paper, or becomes the CEO.” In our homes, it leads to failed relationships, alienated children, even divorce. Workaholism creates havoc for our own well being, producing physical exhaustion, emotional burnout, alcoholism, and even heart attacks. Workaholism also keeps us from giving God the worship and reasonable service due Him.

Why do some of us work so much? For any number of reasons, including our own self-expectations, or to build our own self-esteem, or because of employer expectations. Whatever the cause, it’s hurting us.

But what about the rest of us—those who aren’t workaholics? There still seems to be a problem. Considering that we in the United States spend more money on leisure and recreation each year than on education, new home construction, and national defense combined, then why is everyone still so tired? The reason for all these problems is that we are neglecting God’s guidance for rest.

A few weeks back we began looking at Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, “The Ten Words” or what most English translations call “The Ten Commandments.” And the 4th word is “Rest.”

Exodus 20:8-10 (GNT) reads: “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work,  but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work.” People are sometimes confused about this word from God. Sometimes people think we are still obligated to keep Sabbath as Israel did. Others think all the Sabbath laws have been transferred to Sunday. And still others think, since this is the only one of the 10 Words not repeated in the New Testament, there is no need to take a day of rest–we are free to work 7 days a week, in essence to become workaholics with God’s approval.

But let’s understand Sabbath law as it is in the Bible. First, at creation, God set an example for humanity by resting on the 7th day (Gen 2:2-3). After creating the world, it’s not as if God was tired. Omnipotence knows no fatigue; Omniscience does not run out of ideas. Rather, God was modeling for us what we need—to rest from our labors.

Second, at Mt. Sinai, God gave Israel a command to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17). For the first time, Israel, living as a theocracy under God was to obey Him by keeping the Sabbath.

Third, with the New Covenant, God established a principle of rest for all of us. By not repeating the command and by warning us not to let anyone judge us with regard to Sabbath observance (Col 2:16), it becomes clear that we are not necessarily to keep Sabbath as Israel did. Rather we need to listen to Paul’s explanation in Romans 14:5: “One person considers one day to be above another day. Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind.” The point is, it doesn’t matter what day we chose to take as our rest day. But we must remember the principle that goes back all the way to the beginning of the Bible—the need to rest one day a week.

There are three reasons this is so crucial. First, we need one day a week to rejuvenate ourselves. Our bodies grow weary and our emotions grow strained during the week. We need a day to renew our strength and relieve our stress. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).

Second, we need one day a week to remember our God. Taking a rest reminds us of our Creator, who rested after finishing the creation (Ex 31:17). It also recalls our Redeemer, who delivered us, “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to keep the [Rest] day” (Deut 5:15).

Third,  we need one day a week to renew our spirits. Just as a compass needs to be recalibrated periodically to keep it pointing in the right direction, so we need recalibration on weekly basis to keep us balanced. We need a day for worship with others, an additional appointment with God for some extended alone time, or a day for a more in-depth study of the Bible. We may need some time to listen to beautiful music, to ride bikes with our spouses, play catch with our kids, or even just to watch a ball game with some friends. All these will help us recover from the strains of the past week and prepare us for the challenges that are still ahead.

In 1793, after the French Revolution, the government of France got rid of the Sabbath and established the ten day week. By 1802, this experiment had failed so dramatically that the traditional seven day week was restored. Also, after the Russian Revolution, the new Soviet Union adopted a five day week, then a six day week but neither worked well—they finally had to restore the traditional seven day week. A seven day week is part of the creation order that God established, and part of that order is no more than six days of work and then one day of rest. We neglect God’s principle of rest at our physical, emotional and spiritual peril.

 

What’s In a Name?

So what’s in a name? How significant is it that God revealed His name and expects His people to live up to it? Names are a serious business. Whether it’s choosing the name of a child, even of a pet, we had better remember how important it is. It’s because names should reflect who we are and what’s in our hearts.  Well God chose to reveal His name to Israel and then told them to respect it. That’s because respect for God’s name reflects our respect, our reverence for God Himself.

A couple of weeks back we began looking at Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, The Ten Words or what most English translations call the Ten Commandments. The first word that we talked about was Believe as in Believe in the One true God! And the second word was prioritize, remember to put the Lord first in everything. And today, we’ll look at the third word to change our lives: Respect!

Exodus 20:7 reads, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” To take God’s name in vain means to take it lightly, as nothing, as insignificant. Well if we’re NOT to take God’s name lightly, then obviously, we need to take God’s name seriously. We should show God the respect and honor due Him, by respecting His name.

So how do we misuse God’s name? How do we take it lightly? One way we misuse God’s name is by swearing. This may include swearing falsely, like taking an oath in God’s name to tell the truth and then telling a lie. Or it might be swearing an oath in God’s name lightly, without thinking about it or truly meaning what we’re swearing. If we swear in God’s name, God expects our words to be faithful and true. By the way, the Lord Jesus said that our words should be faithful and true even without swearing, that our yes should be yes, and our no, no (Matt 5:37). We also misuse God’s name by using it irreverently, as an exclamation. People tend to shout God’s name as casually and thoughtlessly as Homer Simpson exclaiming, Doh! Another misuse of God’s name is cursing in His name or using His name insincerely. What I mean by using God’s name insincerely is when we say “God led me” or “God’s will for me” and what we really mean is, “This what I want to do but I’m making it sound spiritual.”

So how can we show respect for God’s name? To begin, we can show respect for God’s name by reverencing His name, ascribing glory and honor to His name and thereby, to glorify and honor Him. That’s what Psalm 29:1-2 means when it says, “Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty, Ascribe to the LORD, glory and strength, Ascribe to the LORD, the glory due His Name, Worship the LORD in the splendor of His holiness.”

A second way we can show respect for God’s name is by relying on it. We can depend on His name for security. As Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe.” Another way to rely on God’s name is for joy. It says in Psalm 33:21, “In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.” And most importantly, we can rely on His name for redemption. Acts 4:12 tells us, “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” It is only in Jesus’ name that we are forgiven and become part of God’s family.

Besides reverencing God’s name and relying on it, a third way to show respect for God’s name is by representing God’s name well. That’s why Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Wherever we go, whatever we do, remember we represent the Lord Jesus. We are acting in His name.

I heard a professor of mine tell a story of a time, when as a teenager, he stole a car. After being caught by the police and having his dad called to come and get him from the station, this prof of mine said he then had to face the really scary part of this story, he had to face his dad. What his dad told him actually changed his life. He said, “Son, you carry my name. Either change your name or change your behavior.” Remember, as followers of the Lord Jesus, we bear His name. Let’s reflect that in all we do, and then we’ll be showing God’s name the respect it deserves.

Putting God First

Does life seem out of balance? Are you confused about what you should be doing?  Do you freeze when you need to make a decision? A.W. Tozer once said, “When we take to ourselves the place that is God’s, the whole course of our lives will be out of joint.” That’s why we feel out of balance. It’s why we become confused and conflicted when we need to make a decision. The key to resolving all this is to get our priorities in order.

Last week we began looking at Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. We’re examining what the Bible calls, The Ten Words or what most English translations call the Ten Commandments. The first word that we talked about was Believe (Exodus 20:2)! The second word, that we’ll look at today, is prioritize! The passage it’s from is Exodus 20:3-6, which says, Do not have other gods besides Me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth ëgenerationsû of those who hate Me but showing faithful love to a thousand ëgenerationsû of those who love Me and keep My commands.

These verses are about getting our priorities in order, and there are three steps we need to take to do that. The first is, Put God first in our lives. Israel’s great temptation would be to take the false gods of Canaan, and put them before the one true God. Therefore, God commanded them, “Do not have other gods besides (or before) me.” So often we struggle with a list of priorities, God, family, faith community, service, job. I think a better way is not to make a list and put God at the top of it but to put the Lord first in every aspect of our lives.  To see what I mean, think of the word, FIRST. We must put God first in our Families, at the top of our Interests, at the head of our Relationships, of most importance in our Schedule, and the One we turn to first when we are in Trouble. Instead of making a list, think of life as a bicycle wheel with God as the hub. He is in the center, and all the spokes of life emanate from Him, giving the Lord our first priority in life.

Second, if we want to bring order to our lives, we need to reject all substitutes for God. So Israel was commanded “Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.” These are all God substitutes. They used to be Baal, Mammon, and Molech but today they consist of stuff, or work, or technology. Idols are appealing because we think we can tame them and make them do whatever we want. But, as C.S. Lewis remarked about the Christ figure in the Narnia Chronicles, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”

What’s so bad about God substitutes? Scripture says they will damage us in three ways: They will deceive us (Jeremiah 10:14 says “molten images are deceitful”), they will dominate us (1 Cor 12:2 says “you were led astray by dumb idols”), and they will destroy us (Psalm 115:8 says, “those who make [idols] will become like them”). This is the nature of addictions, whether to controlled substances, pornography, our even the internet. Addictions, our form of idolatry deceive, dominate and ultimately destroy us. That’s why, for an ordered life, we must reject all God substitutes.

And finally, to have an ordered life, we must worship God alone. This text says, “You must not bow down to them[God substitutes] or worship them.”  Why, because God is passionate about us (that’s what it means when it says He is “a jealous God.” He is also just in punishing sin (so that the consequences of sin affect generation after generation). Most importantly, God is loving, showing faithful love to a thousand generations.

Haddon Robinson once pointed out that one old recipe for rabbit stew started out with this injunction: “First catch the rabbit.” Says Robinson: “The writer knew how to put first things first. That’s what we do when we establish priorities — we put the things that should be in first place in their proper order.” So what’s the second word that will change our lives? Prioritize! Put the Lord Jesus first in our lives, rejecting all substitutes and worshiping only Him.

Has Science Buried Faith in God?

Has the New Atheism dealt a death blow to God? Has faith in God been buried by science? As I walk in my neighborhood,  signs are popping up that affirm what the various homeowners believe. One of the frequent signs declares “I believe in Science,” implying that faith in science somehow contradicts faith in God. This is the message of scientist Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion. Recently I’ve been reading a terrific book by Oxford University Mathematics and Science Professor John C. Lennox, called God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? One of the helpful points he makes is that the issue should not be framed as believing in Science vs believing in God, but rather as two different world views, that both believe in science. We either believe in materialism or naturalism or we believe in theism or God. Again, both views believe in science. And while I can’t reiterate everything Lennox has to say in critiquing the new atheism or affirming faith in God, one of my favorites is a quote he takes from Dawkins’ book and his response. Dawkins has dedicated his book to Doug Adams who said, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies living at the bottom of it?” Lennox responds by saying, “Dawkins is guilty of committing the error of proposing false alternatives by suggesting it is either fairies or nothing. Fairies at the bottom of the garden may well be a delusion, but what about a gardener, to say nothing about an owner? The possibility of their existence cannot be so summarily dismissed—in fact, most gardens have both.”

All this to say, this is the first of 10 blog posts from what the Bible calls The Ten Words, or what most English translations call The Ten Commandments. I like to think of them as Ten Words that Will Change Our Lives. And the first word from God is found in Exodus 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”

There is no explicit commandment in this verse–but an expectation to believe in the Lord our God. So the first word that will change our lives is “Believe!” Our very first priority is to believe in God and acknowledge who He is. In fact, this verse identifies seven areas of His character that we’re to believe in.

  1. We must believe in the person of God. The verse begins with “I.” God is not an “it” but a person with being and mind and heart and will.
  2. We must believe in the eternality God.  He say “I am the LORD,” using His name Yahweh, indicating His eternal nature (“I am who I am” Ex 3:14). He has no beginning or end; He was never weak or dependent; He did not grow in His ability nor will He ever decline in strength. God does not have good days or bad days. The Lord is as He always was and always will be.
  1. We must believe in the all-powerful God. He is the Lord our “God.” The Hebrew name Elohim was used in Gen 1:1 (In the beginning God [Elohim] created) showing His strength and power.
  1. We must believe in the relational God. It says I am the Lord “your” God. The word “your” is actually singular showing that God relates to us as individuals.
  1. We must believe in the redemptive God. The text says He redeemed Israel from Egypt and from slavery. All people are enslaved even now, we’re slaves to sin. And through the death and resurrection of our Passover lamb Jesus, He has redeemed us from slavery to sin.
  1. We must believe in the compassionate God. Why did God redeem Israel? Because He observed their misery and heard their cries (Ex 3:7-8). God has the same compassion on us so He redeemed us as well.
  1. We must believe in the sovereign God. God has the authority to issue a proclamation such as the Ten Words, including this blog post about who He is.

Believe. That’s the first word and it teaches us our first priority in life–to believe in and acknowledge the God who loved us and redeemed us.