Learning to be Content
Living in the OC sometimes clouds my judgment. So many beautiful houses and buildings. So many beautiful people. So many beautiful cars. So many things that seem so much better than what I’ve got!
For as nicely groomed as my front yard may be, I can always find his front yard to be groomed even nicer! For as fortunate as I am to have a vehicle to drive, I can always find his to be bigger and better. For as beautiful as my wife truly is (with a lovely personality to boot), I can imagine that his wife must only make him happier.
The “OC challenge” is nothing new under the sun. God recognized the problem long before our founding fathers settled here. He knew of our struggle when he said, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
It was a struggle back in the sands of ancient times just as much as it is a struggle today. We’ve only replaced the ox and donkey with the Lexus and the Mercedes.
This tenth and final commandment, almost as a summary statement, deals with what goes on inside of you. If your outward behavior is a manifestation of your inward turmoil, then God has some final instructions to keep you headed in the right direction.
To covet is to desire. It is an inordinate desire for what one has not, it’s basis lying in a discontentment for what one has. It can usually be identified when preceded by the following two words: “If only . . .”
If only . . . I could have what he has.
Comparing will often lead to coveting unless, of course, you compare down. For when you compare up, you see all that the Jones’ have that you have not. However, when you compare down you see yourself as being very, very blessed. If you have found yourself in a funk about your lack of blessing, consider spending your next vacation in the non-tourist suburbs of Tijuana. This experience will typically cure your whiny, misinformed behavior.
If only . . . I could have a life free of stress.
A life free of stress is not only impossible, it is not even biblical. It is a lie that is whispered in your ear by the enemy. If you have found yourself beginning to believe this lie, you are setting yourself up for a major disappointment. Nobody lives free of stress, free of pain. Some, however, have found ways to mask these misfortunes. For you to covet that which does not exist seems to be an incredible deprivation of your potential.
“Hakuna Matata” (the trouble-free philosophy) may work well in the animal world, but it certainly does not apply to humanity. God never promises a world without pain. He does, however, promise to see you through it. You are given the opportunity to exchange your anxieties about the circumstance of life for His peace that goes beyond your comprehension. You do this through prayer.
If only . . . I could be something else.
It has been said, “If you are not happy with who you is, you can bet you won’t be happy with who you ain’t.”
The miserable guy with one buck wins the lottery and becomes the miserable guy with millions of bucks. The miserable unmarried woman gets married and becomes the miserable married woman. The miserable driver of an extremely miserable car trades it in for the wonderful car and becomes the miserable driver of the wonderful car. The miserable employee gets promoted and becomes the miserable boss. Instead of wishing to be something else, learn to be content with who God designed you to be.
Covetousness must be replaced by contentment. God, in His strength, can be your source of power. Rather than living under the cloud of the “if only” statements, choose a life controlled by “if, then” statements.
Rather than, “if only I had a secure, guaranteed job,” choose “if I lose my job, then God will be lead me to another.” Rather than “if only I were rich” choose “if I have plenty or if I have need, then either way I will trust in God.” Rather than “if only I had a wife like his or a husband like hers,” choose “if I am no longer satisfied with my spouse, then I will allow God to rekindle the flame in my marriage.”
“If onlys” lead to covetousness. “If, thens” lead to contentment.
The Psalmist says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Those who figure this out and live accordingly find the freedom of contentment by shedding the shackles of covetousness.
I, for one, would rather live in the sunlight of contentment than in the dungeons of the one who covets––especially if I have to share a cell with my neighbor’s ox and donkey!by Pastor Doug
Masking the Truth
Halloween is not the only time we wear masks . . .
Years ago, I took my mother to the airport for her departure on an early morning flight. She had been with our family for a week and was returning to her home in Missouri.
I watched my mother board the plane through the airport window. It occurred to me that she was not as young as she used to be. I contemplated her significant impact on my life. I knew that it would be some time before I would see her again. In the meantime, lots of important things would happen without her: growing kids, successful accomplishments, everyday joys.
I wanted to chase after her like I did the first day of kindergarten. I wanted to be the five-year-old again. I wanted to lay my head in her lap, let her take care of me––pay the bills, be in charge.
The problem? I’m all grown up, about two hundred pounds too heavy to be acting like a little boy.
As much as I hate airport PDA (public displays of affection), I found myself fighting the tears in my eyes. I was just supposed to drop her off and be done with it. Strange people do not need to see me getting all emotional.
So, I wiped my eyes, cleared my throat and put on my mask. I headed for the parking lot, got in my car, paid my parking fee and began my journey home on the freeway. Then, in the comfort of my own car, I cried all the way home.
I needed to cry. I wasn’t about to do it in front of strangers. I masked my emotions until I was safely alone. Then (and only then) was I outwardly honest with my inner turmoil.
This type of masking is an apt response to the struggles of life. It is emotionally appropriate to display your outward grief privately.
But masks are not always emotionally healthy. In fact, some masks are inwardly destructive. Lies are. They are outer masks worn to cover inner truths. You lie hoping to be shielded from the pain of being honest––from exposing an inward vulnerability.
Honesty is transparency––not fearing what’s on the inside. Honesty is always the best policy. In the court of law, you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
As painful as it might be, telling the truth does simplify your moral wardrobe. Telling lies adds layer upon layer upon layer. You who remain in control of the information cannot even remember which layer was last. Your energy is spent trying to remember the lie, not fulfilling the purposes of your day.
Honest folks are free to do what needs to be done. Liars spend their day trying to remember what they said last. Just stop and think about how ineffective and unproductive you are when caught in a web of lies.
By lying, you trade your peak productivity for your second-best. Or, worse yet, after being caught in the lie, you are faced with the uphill challenge to rebuild your integrity. You spend your days trying to, once again, be trustworthy. You long, once again, to retain your good name.
Whenever you are given the opportunity, God encourages you to tell the truth. The ninth commandment says: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
Giving false testimony goes beyond the courtroom. Besides outright lying, it includes being deceptive, using information to mislead, only telling one side of the story, giving a false impression, withholding the truth through silence, or viciously destroying the character of another. Giving false testimony is a disregard for the truth.
The Ten Commandments are a basis for a moral mode of operation. Without having to pay the cost of “an expert team of legal advisors,” they give you a free-of-charge game-plan for responding to God and to others. Loving God and the people in your life entails a willingness to treat them with honest respect. It means not fearing the truth. It means giving honest testimony.
To truly love God, you must be honest with Him. After all, He already knows the information. Your honesty to Him is just a test of your love for Him. Loving the person God has chosen you to be means being honest with yourself. The comfort that comes with self-honesty allows you to live among others, treating them with truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God!
So, make a commitment to be honest––to take off the masks that cause you to fabricate the truth. You cannot fool God. You can only pretend to fool yourself. Most of the time, you really don’t fool others.
Wearing masks is awfully cute on Halloween. They’re helpful for grown men who still need a Mommy. But, the mask of a liar is pitifully ugly any time of year.by Pastor Doug
Accounts that Matter
I am a saver.
I save all handwritten letters. Write me one and I’ll file it and save it. I save significant newspapers. I save screws, nuts, brackets, wingnuts and all small metal things that can be thrown into the bucket in the garage.
But saving money? I admit I need help. I have to make a conscious, constant and consistent effort to save money.
When you give a kid a dollar bill, what does he want to do? Save it for college? Or spend it?
Saving money does not come naturally. Adults are given the task of teaching children the joy of saving their money. We teach them to use a piggy bank so that they will have the ability to purchase something of lasting value, not worthless gadgets and temporary trinkets. Eventually, we help them open their first bank account.
Bank accounts are easy to understand. They make simple sense. There is the left side and the right side of the decimal. Financially speaking, we try our best to stay right. There is the deposit and the withdrawal. Deposits represent income, inflows and the positive. Withdrawals represent expenses, outflows and the negative.
Black ink is money in the bank. Red ink is money out of the bank.
At the end of the pay period, we hope to have something left on the positive side of zero that will separate us from being broke, bankrupt, in the can, insolvent, undone and poor to being in the have, the affluent, the fortunate, the rich, the wealthy, the prosperous.
Just one bill on that side of zero––albeit the assumed, disregarded photo of the father of our country, George Washington––separates the black from the red.
We understand bank accounts because we spend an awful lot of time thinking about them. You cannot take out that which you have not put in. When you run out of money and you really need some, you must either earn more of it, borrow it, beg for it or steal it.
Your life is like a bank account. Your integrity––your moral fiber––can be compared to a simple savings account.
You have a line at the Integrity National Bank. Each day you make deposits and withdrawals. You are a steward of your integrity. That which you invest not only has earthly guarantees and dividends, it also has eternal ones as well. That which you withdraw has the same consequences.
Every time you do the right and truthful thing, you make a deposit in that account. However, when you choose to make withdrawals, to give away a piece of your integrity; to disregard the balance of your personal moral life, there are eternal and earthly consequences.
Where is your moral bank account? What is the balance? When’s the last time you bothered to look at the monthly statement? Are you flourishing? Or is your account bankrupt?
God gave you the eighth commandment to remind you that He cares about integrity. God says, “You shall not steal.”
Well, that’s an easy commandment, you think, because it does not apply to you. After all, you do not hop fences, wear leather gloves,break the glass window and look around for electronics, tools, guns, jewelry and cash.
In fact, you do not rob banks or convenience stores. You do not hijack helpless motorists. You do not mug old ladies by taking their purses, hide a loaf of bread under your shirt, pick pockets, or use stolen credit cards.
You are not a thief. No problem with Commandment #8. It is an easy commandment because it does not apply to you.
You would not, would you, overestimate your favorite deduction come April 15th? You would not, would you, accidentally fill out your homeowner’s insurance claim sheet fraudulently? You would not, would you, request a reimbursement that did not exist?
You would not, would you, pay for a single salad bar plate and share it with your entire family? You would not “take home” with you some of the product that you made with your own two hands for that thankless, slave-driving boss, would you?
Stealing goes beyond just taking somebody else’s property. Stealing is a dissatisfaction with what you’ve got. It is justifying the right to take it from the owner, the neighbor, the government or the person who has, in your opinion, way too much.
It is justifying the right to dip into someone else’s fiscal account while depleting your very own moral account. Stealing is subtle and it only comes after hours of mental justification: You deserve better. You deserve more. You deserve that.
Every time you pad your earthly bank account at the expense of your moral account, there are consequences for those false justifications.
Stealing leads to trouble. You will lose jobs and tarnish your reputation. You may even serve time.
Stealing places extra burdens on others. Somebody always has to pay for your actions. Good people are required to pick up the cost. How much of my homeowner’s premium covers the cost of thieves and fraud? How much of the price of my dress shirt covers the cost of theft and the security to prevent it?
Stealing ruins relationships with others. It is hard to share life with the one you’ve robbed. You will spend your life never making eye contact.
Stealing leads to deception and lies––to dishonesty. You spend your days denying every second that you stole. You find yourself living a lie.
Stealing shrivels your quality of life. While making a life of taking from others may lead to eating well, it will never allow you to sleep well. No sleep means no peace of mind. No peace of mind means a miserable existence.
Stealing dips deeply into your integrity. Integrity is one thing that cannot be taken from you. It can only be lost when you make decisions to squander it. Thieves can steal everything you own––including the kitchen sink and the paint on the walls––but they cannot touch your integrity.
Integrity is deposited into your account when you make right decisions, when you do the right thing––when you earn what you have, play by the rules, live righteously. When you see through the lies and deceptions and stop rationalizing what you deserve, you realize that your moral account is far more important than your fiscal one.
By the way, whether you care what the balance is or not, your moral account is always being checked by others. Small eyes, small ears and small bodies hear, see and understand what’s going on. Eventually, they will be influenced to do that which was modeled for them.
Your choice to return the accidental overpayment will influence your children’s choice to not cheat on the test. Your choice to pay the just price will influence their choice to earn things honestly. Your choice to value your integrity will influence their choice to be like you.
So how’s your moral savings? Is it in the black?
It can be when you make the decision to spend the rest of your life saving up that which matters most. Then, in the end, you’ll have a collection of small daily decisions that will add up to a lifetime of integrity.by Pastor Doug
Don’t Feed the Beast.
A pastor of a large congregation visited the 2nd grade boy’s Sunday School class. He sat on two small plastic chairs arranged in a circle.
Trying to find common ground he said, “Hello boys, I’d like to talk to you about something you all know about! He’s big, has a loud roar, has lots of hair and really big teeth…Does anybody know who I’m talking about?”
Of course, no boy wanted to give the wrong answer, so they all sat quietly looking at their shoes.
The pastor, not realizing that no boy would dare answer, called on Johnny.
“Johnny, do you know who I am talking about?
“Well…uhm…I know the answer is supposed to be God,” Johnny said sheepishly, “but it sure sounds to me like a lion!”
The ability to identify the true nature of something is a quality that kids possess. It is a quality that the scripture admonishes you to possess. It warns you to be aware of the “roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This beast is your enemy on the prowl.
Make no mistake, the Devil seeks to destroy your life. His gain is your devastation. His lunch is your soul. His appetite is only satisfied with your complete moral breakdown.
You do not have to look for him, for he will find you. You do not have to hope that he will forget you, for he is already here. You cannot pretend that he does not exist because he does. His plan of attack, although subtle, is very obvious. He goes right for the throat.
My throat is my family. The fabric of my life is built around my family. My family is built upon the integrity of my marriage. My marriage is built upon the integrity of my faith in God, my love for my wife and my ability to trust and be faithful to her.
Your marriage should be built upon the same principles.
If Satan can destroy your marriage, then he can destroy your family. If he can destroy your family, then he can destroy you. God’s seventh commandment speaks to the very heart of the matter. He says, “Thou shall not commit adultery.”
Adultery destroys the sanctity of marriage. It defies God. It damages families, defiles marriage, denies love, derides faithfulness and degrades people. If you don’t believe this, ask someone who’s in the middle of experiencing it.
There is nothing as powerful in our human relationships as the negative power of broken trust, forgotten faithfulness, discarded commitment and tampered love.
But come on, let’s be honest, an “affair” sure seems like a reasonable risk . . .
• I’ll be the first to do it. It won’t affect me. I won’t get caught.
• I won’t tell. She won’t tell.
• It’s just going to be a one-time stand that will never be known by anyone.
• If I get caught, I’ll just lie about it.
• Or worse yet . . . My marriage is so terrible, I couldn’t care less if this ended it!
This logic has been used by lots of people––from pressmen to presidents. Nobody is immune from this faulty thinking: physicians, postmen, pharmasists and, even, pastors.
Thousands of days ago, as I looked into the eyes of a young bride, I said two words. Today, it makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not I keep them.
When God says to not walk through the door labeled “adultery,” it almost makes you want to walk right through it! You’ll show Him––who’s He to destroy your fun! What kind of a cruel rule-making God is this?
What you do not know but what you need to make sure you know is that on the other side of that door is a couple truckloads of explosives, a pit that is about twenty miles deep containing the gruesome remains of marriages and families.
There is complete unhappiness on the flip side of the simple office romance, the “really understanding man who loves me for me,” the “really perfect figure of a woman who will satisfy my every desire.” There is utter devastation on the backside of “how can it be wrong when it feels so right?” Even Whitney Houston’s willingness to save “all her love for you” is an empty disguise of happiness.
For on the other side of that door is a cruel animal with jaw stretched open, with saliva dripping down his beard, with shreds of flesh from the last victim still fresh on his teeth. That beast hopes to have the reflection of my wife and children in his eye as they watch me being devoured, never to return the same.
When God forbids adultery, He does so because He’s a good God. Adultery is a curse. It never ends as you think it will. It is always an “inappropriate relationship.” It is the wholesale trade of a life-long promise for moments of devastating pleasure.
Thus, if you are like me and desire to keep your promises and follow God’s ways, it is important to take steps to prevent yourself from walking through that tragic door. Here are ways to “affair proof” your marriage:
• Agree with God on what He says about the subject. Live what He says. He’s seen it happen way too many times.
• Daily, take time to soak God in. The more you have of Him, the better off you’ll be.
• Just like Joseph did, when the temptation comes, flee. Run for your life! Don’t look back. Don’t wonder what could have been.
• Prevent the situation from happening by choosing your surroundings. King David shouldn’t have spent so much time on the palace roof observing Bathsheba while her husband was off serving his king.
• Position your life so that affairs are inconvenient. Be home for dinner every night. Have family routines when you travel out of town.
• Surround yourself with security. At the office, always keep your door open. Socialize after hours with your family at home.
• Never find yourself alone with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse or your child.
• Have accountability. Encourage a dear friend to watch you closely. Heed his warnings.
• Build a healthy sexual relationship with your spouse. Make lots of time for romance and affection. Make each other’s needs your primary focus in life.
• Pray. Pray that the mangy, disgusting beast will never get his teeth on you, on me, on her, on him. God is more than willing to help.
With each day, remember the commitment you made on your wedding day––realizing that today is another opportunity to keep your promise. Recognize that someday you’ll be able to look her (or him) in the eyes and say, “I’ve been faithful to you since the day I said I would.”
With everything within me, I would much rather be in that position than in the jaws of a season of pleasure. I know that’s what God wants. I know that’s what my wife wants. I know that’s what my children want. I know that’s what I want.
I pray that’s what you want.
Then your Johnny will see you and say, “I know the answer is supposed to be a lion, but you sure look a lot to me like God!”by Pastor Doug
A Celebration of Life
A Celebration of Life
Years ago, our local mayor chose “Celebrate Life” as his theme for his year in office.
I like that idea!
Life (the essence of who we are) should be celebrated, not damaged, diminished, or destroyed. A celebration is a commitment to rejoice through preservation––with dignity and sanctity.
A celebration of life was captured while watching a 5-year-old daughter cross the monkey bars for the first time. It is eating food prepared artistically; watching high school football on a crisp autumn night; taking a nap with the window open; sipping early morning coffee; sitting in a really hot Jacuzzi; looking across the room and recognizing, all over again, how beautiful your spouse is.
God gives life. We celebrate it through everyday actions.
God commands His creation to celebrate life. His instruction is quite simple. He says it this way: Thou shall not murder.
Murder is the opposite of a celebration. Murder is extinguishing the essence of humanity––rejecting and slamming down at the feet of God His most precious gift. Murder must break the heart of a Loving Father.
So, how does one get to the point of such in-your-face repulsion? How could you possibly ever want to murder your own?
I propose that it has to do with your premise of humanity. A premise is a conviction that another belief is built on. Every action, both good and bad, is based upon a corresponding premise. It is important to build upon the right premise. A bad theory will lead to bad results. Faulty beliefs lead to faulty conclusions. Your regard for life is based upon your belief about it.
You, whether you realize it or not, believe in something. The following beliefs about life (and their outcomes) are possibilities:
First, if you believe you are part of the evolutionary process of nature, then you will see yourself as merely the highest form of animal, having evolved the furthest of all life forms. Your survival is based upon your fitness. Weakness dies; strength prevails.
Therefore, your body is a result of millions of years of natural experimentation––scientifically evolving to your present state. Thus, your absence from this life only makes room for a new and improved species.
Secondly, if you believe Platonic teaching that life is the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality, then the things that you see are not the reality. They’re only an appearance of reality. The reality is the idea behind them. Life itself is only apparently real. Reality is the spirit that is inside your body.
Therefore, your body is merely a prison that traps the spirit from ultimate reality. Nothing physical matters. Murdering your body does not damage your soul. In fact, it does your soul a favor by setting it free (i.e., Heaven’s Gate cult).
Thirdly, if you believe that there is no God, then all you are is “dust in the wind.” You make decisions based upon taking care of today, for you need not worry about disappointing an eternal Higher Power tomorrow.
Therefore, “eat today for tomorrow you die.” You will do what you need to do to bring your body ultimate pleasure. Life comes and goes. A morality of life is only helpful if it makes you happy.
Finally, if, as recorded in the first book of the Bible, you believe that on the sixth day God created man in His own image, then you will see yourself as having been “created in the image of God.”
You’ve been created in the image of God. I have. He has. She has. They have. The infant has. The senior citizen has. The teenager with the purple hair has. We all have.
The disabled, the elderly, the member of another race, the other gender, the confused, the lost, and even the hardened criminal has been created in the image of God.
Murder is unthinkable if you see all of us as God sees all of us.
Therefore, you are not a product of evolutionary experimentation. You are not “unreal reality” but true flesh and blood in God’s image. You are lovingly crafted by a Creator, with purpose and dignity. You matter. Your body matters. Life is something to be celebrated, not destroyed.
If you have been created in God’s image, then the taking of your life is the ultimate assault to the very nature of God. In fact, it has been said that the person who destroys another person, who bears the image of God, does violence to God himself––as if he had killed God in effigy.
Murdering your fellow man is as close as you can come (in this life) to killing God Himself. The “image of God” implies that our lives are infinitely precious and will lead to a celebration of life.
This should be the highest principle. In fact, it should be higher than free will, free choice, convenience or financial necessity.
People who see themselves (and others) as reflecting the image of God will regard their neighbor as they regard themselves.
Thus, when this belief is installed into your life, you will not only view life as God views life, but you will learn with every breath, every action, every day . . . to celebrate!by Pastor Doug