28 May 2015

Wisdom for My Graduate

Congrats son!  Soon you'll be walking across the stage and strolling right on to the next major chapter of your life - college.  As you make this transition, I have the desire to share with you some advice for the immediate days ahead of you.  Life can be messy and certainly unpredictable.  It's full of unexpected turns and unintended consequences.  At times all is good.  At times it can be filled with frustration.  Sometimes you just feel stuck.  Bottom line - life is best approached with some wisdom in your tool box from the start.  Of course, you've heard some or all of this before, but if you're like me, hearing some things again and again is helpful.  It's only through repetition, that stuff really begins to stick.  I want to give you some practical advice that I know is wise.  I'm not naturally wise myself, but I've got a book in hand full of wisdom.  And in that book is a portion particularly focused on wisdom.  Here are some pearls of wisdom from the Proverbs for you to know, cherish and follow for a happy life. 

1. Enjoy sex in the right context

"The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense;
He who would destroy himself does it." (Prov.6:32)

"Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter..."(Prov. 7:22)

I know, this is kind of embarrassing, but it's just the truth about us guys, so let's just tackle this one first!  We all have the drive, especially in our physical prime.  But understand sexuality is a God-given pleasure with purpose in the right context.  It is not a casual, recreational activity.  The Proverbs warn the young man of an unrestrained sexual appetite.  There are many that speak about the dangers of prostitution, the foolishness of adultery, and the godly goal of being sexually faithful to your wife.

Our culture has become extremely casual and cavalier in regards to sex.  Your senses are flooded with images and messages intended to feed your sexual appetite.  About this you have to be wise for a couple of reasons.  First, you're wired just like every other male and you can't underestimate your capacity for sexual lust.  Second, the world's culture is stacked against you.  The Bible gives you a great prescription for these conditions - flee!  In other words, you have to be smart, realistic, and proactive to guard your eyes, mind and heart for inappropriate sexual stuff.  Appetites are funny things.  The more you feed something, the more you tend to want it.  Don't feed this appetite with stuff that is contrary to God's will for you and shameful to yourself.  And on the issue of pornography, please don't let it in.  Treat it like the poison that it is.  It's not funny or harmless.  It distorts, disturbs and destroys lives.  A man will secure for himself, not merely a more faithful life to God, but a more happy life for himself by keeping a close guard on his sexual appetite.  (Also see Proverbs 2:16-19; 5;6:23-35; 7; 9:13-18; 22:14; 23:27-28)  

2. Tell the truth
"Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue
is only for a moment." (Prov. 12:19)
"Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal
faithfully are His delight." (Prov. 12:22)

This one sounds simple enough.  Yet the struggle to be a man of integrity can be quite the battle.  In theory it's easy, but in the moment of decision you may amaze yourself how easy it is to become comfortable with half-truths, embellishments, omissions and exaggerations all employed for the purpose of self-protection and deceit.  No one has a problem with truth telling when there is nothing at stake.  But we are all prone to deceive when either we are trying to avoid a negative consequence or secure some kind of advantage or benefit.  At these moments we are tempted to be less than truthful.

Value and cherish integrity and truth telling now in all things.  Commit yourself to the fact that God delights in your truthfulness and hates deceit.  When you are straight with the truth rather than loose with it, you are demonstrating trust in God and reflecting His character to others. (Also see Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:7; 12:17; 16:8; 19:1; 23:23)

3. Be aware that words are powerful

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh
word stirs up anger." (Prov. 15:1)
"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul
and healing to the bones." (Prov. 16:24)

The Bible tells us a lot about the power of speech either for good or evil.  With your words you can sooth and heal another or cut a person more deeply than the surgeon's scalpel.  Words are powerful.  You can use words to gossip, slander, ridicule and demonize.  You can use words to encourage the discouraged, praise what is praiseworthy, instruct and correct with gentleness, and give glory to God.  How you use your words will become a discipline and habit. 

But never forget the words that come from the lips originate in the heart.  Or as the old timers say, what's in the well comes up in the bucket. (See also Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:4; 17:9,27-28; 18:7,21; 25:11; 26:28; 29:20)

4. Be okay without everyone's acceptance and approval

"He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the
companion of fools will suffer harm." (Prov. 13:20)
"Do not be envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them; for their
minds devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble." (Prov. 24:1-2)

Be content to have some people reject you for the right reasons.  In the end you're always better off for this.  It's so easy to lower your standards or to compromise what is right in order to gain the approval of others.  God's Word warns us of the harmful influence of ungodly people.  You must understand that you are no better than any other person, but you must simultaneously guard your mind and heart from the influence of those who would lead you away from faithfulness to God. 
(See also Proverbs 1:10-19; 4:14-15; 9:6; 14:7; 22:24-25; 23:20-21)

5. Stay away from the booze

"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is
intoxicated by it is not wise." (Prov. 20:1)

Certainly a great temptation for a young man, certainly once reaching the legal age, is to finally have some alcohol and see what all the fuss is about.  Since you grew up in a house where there was never any alcohol, this curiosity may become particularly strong.  And honestly God's Word does not command that you abstain from alcohol.  But the proverbs do give us some good warnings that you should heed.  In our culture, alcohol is not a necessary, staple commodity; it is chiefly a legal recreational drug, particularly among the young.  Of course, I don't have to tell you this.  You've already seen plenty of it in friends in high school.

The Proverbs tell you to stay away from the drinking crowd, that intoxication is harmful, and that it's better to avoid it and keep your mind clear and sharp.  All of these are important warnings from God's Word.  I would encourage you to keep alcohol out of your home and your recreational time.  There are plenty of common sense reasons just to leave the stuff alone.  (See also Proverbs 23:20-21; 23:29-35; 26:9; 31:4-7)

6. Don't tolerate laziness in yourself

"How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? 
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and
your poverty will come in like a vagabond, and your
need like an armed man." (Prov. 6:9-11)
"As the door turns on its hinges, so does
the sluggard on his bed." (Prov. 26:14)

Make yourself get out of the bed and be productive.  There are many proverbs that address the human problem of laziness. Of course in the agrarian culture of the day, much of the impact is on not having the food one would need because of a lack of diligence in the growing season.  However, the principle remains timeless.  You're not going to make your way in life in any vocation on your good looks and talent - okay, not your good looks and talent alone!  Achieving and getting the job done is by far mostly about a consistent, good work ethic.  Discipline your soul to desire God.  Discipline your body in good habits. Discipline your spirit to Christlikeness.  Discipline your effort to a great work ethic.  Not only will this serve you well, it brings honor to God.  (See also Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5,26; 18:9; 19:15; 20:4,13; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16)

7. Don't sing your own praises

"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
assuredly, he will not be unpunished." (Prov. 16:5)
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty
spirit before stumbling." (Prov. 16:18)

The Proverbs tell you much about the pitfall of pride.  It doesn't usually take long in a proud person's presence to pick up on his sense of self-importance.  It typically is not a pretty thing.  However, pride more often resides in the small corners of our heart, expressing itself every time we think we don't get what we deserve or that we are getting what we don't deserve.  Get busy now with the goal of keeping this natural drift toward pride in check.  The way to do this is to nurture your genuine dependence on God.  Flee the prideful trap of self-sufficiency and cultivate a humble walk with the Lord.  It's something your going to have to work hard at your whole life.  But it begins with knowing that it's something you have to work at.  (See also Proverbs 3:7; 6:16-19; 8:13; 15:25; 18:11; 25:27; 26:12; 28:25)

8. Seek to love people by understanding people

"Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart so you will find favor and good
repute in the sight of God and man."(Prov. 3:3-4)
"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions." (Prov. 10:12)

Most people are not going to be like you.  Many people will come from completely different ways of thinking about stuff.  Some people's world views and values are going to simply blow you away.  The struggle we all have is truly loving people really different from us while being true to ourselves.  It's easier to dismiss, ignore, and denigrate those who are really different.  But God's Word points us to the goal of loving people.  It's a whole lot easier to love a person, when you have done the work of getting to know and understand him.  You don't have to even share the same commitments in regards to faith and values to genuinely love.  And when you dig deeper into the Proverbs and the rest of God's word, you will discover that God is very interested in your kindness and understanding toward the poor and even your enemies.  (See also Proverbs 14:21; 14:31; 24:17; 25:21-22)

9. Choose a peaceful woman for a wife

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains
favor from the LORD." (Prov. 18:22)
"It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared
with a contentious woman." (Prov. 21:9)

Not sure that I can, or should, say any more than what is stated above, but the Proverbs certainly give you wise advice on one aspect of choosing a wife.  It won't matter how beautiful, smart, funny, or talented she is, if under the least amount of stress she habitually transforms into an unkind, angry, offensive person.  This is not to say that from time to time you will not give her a reason to get mad at you.  You definitely will do your share of doing and saying dumb stuff.  But the Bible gives you a heads up on the grief you will endure by unwisely tying the knot with the wrong kind of personality.  Make sure you see how she handles stress and see her at her worse before you decide it's till death do you part.  (See also Proverbs 15:17; 17:1; 19:13-14; 21:9,19; 27:15-16; 31:10-12)

10. Be a life-long learner

"A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man
of understanding will acquire wise counsel." (Prov. 1:5)
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction."(Prov. 1:7)

Knowledge produces wisdom, but wisdom does not necessarily follow knowledge.  Wisdom is knowing what to think and how to act on knowledge.  Knowledge and wisdom go hand in hand;  however, there are plenty of really knowledgeable fools who leave God out of the equation.  Never stop learning.  You're going to learn plenty in college because that's what you do.  Learn all you can, but most importantly fall in love with learning.  Then, once you've completed the course, you'll still be motivated to learn.  Keep reading and exploring.  Most importantly, let me urge you to consistent and diligent study of God's Word.  Here is where you will find wisdom.  Here is where you go beyond just mere knowledge.  Here is where you know your Creator and you find your purpose for your existence.  (See also Proverbs 1:5-7; 2:1-5; 8:11-12; 10:14; 12:1; 28:5)

11. Acknowledge that God's in charge

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all
your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."(Prov. 3:5-6)
"Commit your works to the LORD, and your
plans will be established." (Prov. 16:3)

Lastly, remember that your life is not about you.  I know that is a tough one, but it's good to learn that now rather than later.  Yes, you will have your pursuits and enjoyments, as you should.  But your life will be best lived if you put God first, living for His glory first.  And I don't merely mean going to church.  Staying active in worship, discipleship, and service in church is just evidence that you are putting God first.  Putting God first is about all the above and much more than just going to church.  It is about humility, properly placed desire, love, integrity, faithfulness, and more.  It's about having the right perspective on life that informs everything.  It's you saying to God in your heart, "I'm Yours. No matter where you lead me or what I do, I'm Yours.  In great prosperity or great difficulty, I'm Yours.  Whether the world applauds or throws stones, I'm Yours."  (See also Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:9-10; 4:26-27; 14:12; 16:9,25; 28:5; 30:5)

There you go.  I hope you'll read the Proverbs everyday along with all your other reading and learning.  There's one for each day of the month.

You will always be my son and your mother's baby (just accept that), but more importantly you belong to God - the one who made you and loves you more than anyone.  You couldn't have more proud parents on the eve of your graduation.  We love you.  We miss you already.  We will pray for you.  We will always be there for you.  Happy graduation.

By the way, your sister wants your room. 

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