No Stealing – Identity and the Eighth Commandment

You shall not steal. – Exodus 20:15 All of the commandments relate back to the first. Having no other gods besides the Lord is an expectation for our identity. (for fuller discussion, see Identity and the First Commandment) Idolatry is seeking wholeness in something other than God; building an identity on the foundation of a standard of the world. Wealth is an idol. Possessing and consuming things is an idolatry. It is something we look to in order to define our self. If shame is a fear of having no value, then getting something new can quickly cover that shame up. Temporarily. Until something newer or better comes along. Driven by comparison, we can know how we measure up (or don’t) by what we have or by how much we have. That’s the definition of ‘the good life’. And when we don’t have what we want, or what others have, or we’re longing for that ‘one more’ item to make the pain and emptiness go away, we steal. Taking what is not ours to even out the comparison. “I deserve this more” or “they have enough” can be ways to judge the fairness of stealing. Our false self becomes our value lens. Taking what is not ours because we cannot get what is needed to cover or deaden our shame any other way. Stealing is how an idol enslaves. In Luke 12, just before telling the parable of a foolish man who founded his life and security on gathering MORE, Jesus said “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” We may seek life in wealth, we may attempt to define our value and sense of...

Healthy Things Grow

In a recent conversation with a leader, I used the expression “healthy things grow”to talk about hoped for results in an area of coaching. It is a good principle. Healthy kids grow. Healthy plants grow. If there is health, there is growth. Yet, we encounter some problems with this principle. All things do not grow the same way. All churches do not grow in the same way. All ministries do not grow in the same way. All relationships do not grow the same way. All disciples do not grow the same way. In church leadership, the tendency is to equate growth with numeric growth. More people means there is health. That is a lie, and a trap. A church can grow by telling people what they want to hear. There are plenty of those out there. Pointing to numeric growth as a sign of healthy things, the tendency is to become driven to experience growth. But healthy things are not the only things that grow. Cancer grows. Weeds grow. Beer bellies grow. It is also a way to dismiss other avenues of growth. Are people developing perseverance? Experiencing Christ more fully in their daily lives? Demonstrating compassion to others? Becoming light where they are? Are they transforming workplaces, sports teams, schools, and communities by their presence. The Gospel is not an individual church growth strategy, it is a Kingdom growth strategy. And the Kingdom can easily be growing around a healthy church whose numbers are constant. What possible ways are there to grow in your ministry context? Focusing our efforts on the numeric growth is a way to build our own sense...

Two Ways to Justify Our Self

I love when I get the opportunity to talk with and teach students. They are at the stage of life where they are simultaneously beginning to define their self while trying to understand how their faith relates to the life they want to live. Yesterday we were talking about what sin is and how we overcome it. Broad topic. One common response in our discussion was that we overcome sin by following the rules. And while for the students, they are just beginning to explore if this is a good spiritual strategy, for most of us, it is our default way of functioning in our spiritual life. When push comes to shove, just try harder to stop sinning! This is simply our attempt to justify our self before God. “Here I am God, I’ve made my self good enough.” It is the Lie, another way – although a religious way – to pursue wholeness apart from God. Because we are broken image bearers, our focus is self-centered. As disciples, that concept extends to the functional ways we attempt to be right before God. Self-justification is the idea that being right before God is up to us. Our effort. Our results. It is the attitude that says grace was OK for salvation, but grace is not part of sanctification. And there are two patterns that we follow to do this. They are extensions of the old or false self  that is comfortable and familiar and at war with our new self in Christ. One pattern of self-justification is by following the rules. Then we can look to God and say I...

Right or Wrong

The Bible is replete with stories of those who did what was right in their own eyes. Adam and Eve head this list that would then be followed by almost every other biblical character. Abraham and Sarah. Jacob. The Israelite nation. Peter. To name just a few. When we do what is right in our own eyes, the flip side of the coin is that we do what is evil in the eyes of the Lord. No where is this pattern illustrated more clearly than in the book of Judges. Over and over we read the phrase like this from 3:12a, Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, Doing what is right in our own eyes is a product seeking wholeness apart from God. Attempting to find our worth – our identity – apart from our Creator, we will do whatever it takes to sustain that false sense of self. Identity forms our filter for decision-making. Our identity forms the lens through which we see the world and our place in it. In Christ or out, we make decisions that support our identity. Giving us a sense of worth and providing a covering for our shame. So for instance, if your sense of wholeness is related to being married or even in a committed relationship, then if you are single you are going to make decisions that lead to finding a partner. If you are married, then your decisions will be filtered through what is going to keep my spouse happy with me. Identity forms the lens of our values. What is right and what is...

Help Our Way

The parable that follows is one that I stumbled upon recently. (I could find no attribution.) You may have read it before, but I challenge you to read it through the lens of your present circumstance and prayers. A terrible storm came into a town and local officials sent out an emergency warning that the riverbanks would soon overflow and flood the nearby homes. They ordered everyone in the town to evacuate immediately. A faithful Christian man heard the warning and decided to stay, saying to himself, “I will trust God and if I am in danger, then God will save me.” The neighbors came by his house and said to him, “We’re leaving and there is room for you in our car, please come with us!” But the man declined. “I have faith that God will save me.” As the man stood on his porch watching the water rise up the steps, a man in a canoe paddled by and called to him, “Hurry and come into my canoe, the waters are rising quickly!” But the man again said, “No thanks, God will save me.” The floodwaters rose higher pouring water into his living room and the man had to retreat to the second floor. A police motorboat came by and saw him at the window. “We will come up and rescue you!” they shouted. But the man refused, waving them off saying, “Use your time to save someone else! I have faith that God will save me!” The flood waters rose higher and higher and the man had to climb up to his rooftop. A helicopter spotted him...

Gain Perspective. Live Well.

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