living pure in a pure(less) society

NOTE: This is an article I wrote that appeared in Fusion Magazine, August 2013.

I was driving downtown recently to attend a basketball game at my alma mater, when I hear Brynnan, my 8 year-old, say to her sister, who was seated next to her in the backseat, “Cover your eyes, Bailey! Don’t look at the naked dancing people!” No, she wasn’t referring to one of those clothes-less flash mob moments. Instead, she was warning her sister to avoid looking at the 40-foot-high, 10-ton bronze sculpture of five naked woman and four naked men called Musica, which is located on Music Row, an extremely popular route through one of Nashville, Tennessee’s most traveled tourist areas. Her warning to her sister was one my wife and I often hear from her as we travel the “Roundabout” to watch Belmont University play basketball. And unfortunately, like us, millions and millions of people each year drive by this very public and large display of nudity.

This is just one of countless examples of a society seemingly enamored with becoming more and more pure-less! And, unfortunately, it’s not just about statutes. The onslaught of sexual impurity today is incessant. Many TV commercials are so skin-driven that it can be confusing to get what it is that some companies are really trying to sell. Of course, the internet and social media now make it possible to download just about any type of sexual impurity you desire, all with the click of a button while in the privacy of your own home. And, need I remind you it is virtually impossible to walk through a mall anymore without seeing skin. Stores such as Abercrombie, Hollister and, of course, Victoria’s Secret – - by the way, what’s up with this name…there’s no secret to Victoria! – - can easily cause some to struggle as they look into these store-front windows.

These aren’t merely struggles of the tweens, teens and unmarried today, but for anyone, of any sex and of any age. Sexual impurity knows no boundaries. Whether an actual physical affair, cyber affair or battle of the mind, for many it can simply be a thought or a glimpse at an image or person that leads them to a very dark place of impurity. I have counseled with many God-loving, church attending, happily married men and women who struggle with impurity in one form or another. Many of these people feel trapped, guilty and desperate for help and hope. Yet many, consumed with shame and embarrassment don’t know where to turn.

Before taking a bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve needed not to worry about their clothing. As Genesis 2:25 explains, the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame. It wasn’t that the two of them didn’t know they were naked. Instead, there was no shame in their nakedness. But after the fall, everything changed! Unfortunately, as a culture, it seems we are reverting back to the “no shame in nakedness” mentality. But, for all the wrong reasons! So, how does one strive to remain sexually pure in what seems to be an ever-becoming shamelessly impure culture?

First, it’s important to state the obvious – God has created you as a sexual being. He wants you to enjoy your sex life. I mean really enjoy it! This is what Song of Songs talks about in the bible when he describes in intimate detail his longing to be in the chambers of his bride, the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.  He says, “How beautiful you are, your eyes like doves. Your hair like a flock of goats. Your lips are scarlet, your mouth is lovely. Your breasts like two fawns. Your lips drop sweetness like honey. Your tongue like milk and honey. My fingers dance all over you. Your stature is like a palm tree, your breast like its fruit. I will climb the tree and take hold of the fruit.”

Wow!  That’s some pretty steamy stuff.  Any idea who wrote this stuff? The author is King Solomon. Yes, the King Solomon in the Bible. Can you believe this is in the Bible? When I think of how beautiful my wife is, I’m not sure that “a flock of goats” comes to mind. But weird metaphors aside, this graphic description of two lovers is in the Bible for a reason: It tells us that God thinks sex is an awesome gift. And when we stick with His plan of sexual purity, it’s pretty amazing!

But God doesn’t just reveal the sensual side of sex to us in the Bible. He knows that His great gift can be seriously misused. So, He’s also got some very clear advice for us about sex. In 1 Corinthians 6:13, He gives us four really important words: Flee from sexual immorality. Let’s break down this verse into two parts.

1. “Flee from”…

Obviously you know what “flee from” means—get the heck outta dodge as fast as you can.  In this verse, God doesn’t sugarcoat His intentions for your sex life. He doesn’t say, “Stop and think about it,” or “Rationalize and work to justify it,” or, “Just don’t get to close to it.”  Nope. He gets right to the point and says, “Flee!” In other words, “Take off!  Escape! Put on your running shoes, lace ‘em up, and sprint full speed in the opposite direction!” It’s clear that God doesn’t want you to have anything to do with sexual immorality. But for many, this is where the trouble begins.

In today’s culture, “whatever works for you” has become the new definition of morality. It makes it really hard to know just what you’re supposed to flee from. The lines get blurred, and you can start making mistakes. That’s why it’s crucial for you to understand exactly what God is telling you to flee from. Which leads us to the second part of this verse.

2. “…sexual immorality.”

So, the obvious question is, “What defines sexual immorality?” Sex before marriage seems like the most obvious answer, right? But lots of people I’ve counseled, particularly those who aren’t married, or, those who wonder have far is too far think that as long as you just don’t “go all the way,’ then everything else is okay.

Yes, in 1 Corinthians 6:18, God is saying “don’t go all the way.” But if you think that’s all He’s saying, then you’re missing God’s truest intentions for your sex life. When God says to “flee from sexual immorality,” He’s not just saying, “Don’t have sex before marriage.” He’s saying to run away from any sexual impurity – jokes, thoughts, feelings, and even how you dress! We read a similar theme in Ephesians where Paul, the writer, says that we should not even have a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

This is extremely important when it comes to the battle of the mind. Satan knows how to trip us up in this area. He has a customized plan for each of us, and he works like mad at trying to convince us that there are all kinds of loopholes in God’s rules, particularly as it relates to what is pure and impure. But he’s wrong. Dead wrong. God’s word is clear: Impurity is off limits.

Sexual immorality equals sexual impurity. And, sexual impurity equals sin. Period. No matter the situation. No matter the circumstances. No matter how in love you feel. No matter the emotion involved. No matter how good you are at justifying, rationalizing or convincing yourself that you deserve to indulge.

I know that just because I write it, and just because you read it, doesn’t make it easy to do.  This is tough stuff here.  It takes a commitment and a determination to living pure in a pure (less) society. It takes realizing Satan hates you and he wants you to blow it! So, you have to take action, and do so now. Here are 7 actions steps:

1. CHOICE

Choosing a life of purity is the first step. You’ve got to decide that you don’t want to live under the stronghold or guilt that impurity creates and choose to get serious about defeating it.

2. PROTECT YOUR MIND’S EYE

The struggle with impurity often begins in your mind. So, you’ve got to think practically when it comes to temptation. Make a promise to yourself to look the other way when walking in a mall that has those storefront windows or driving by those landmarks in your community that you know can trip you up. Turn the channel when a commercial, video or show airs this stuff. Work not to look at anything that might send impure thoughts racing through your brain.

3. KNOW WHAT YOU CAN’T DO

Different people have different things that flip that switch in their minds. Maybe using the Internet late at night when you are alone tempts you. Or, it could be something much simpler, like watching a movie or thinking about someone you really like. Only you know what gets you going, and only you know where to draw the line.

4. KNOW YOUR WAY OUT

Have a plan of action that you’ll use when you’re tempted. The key is to get your mind on something else.

5. SCRIPTURE

I know you’re probably thinking, “Sure Jeffrey…I’m going to actually recite a verse when my mind starts going to that place!” Well, it may sound ludicrous. But Psalm 119:9 reminds us that we can live clean lives by obeying God’s word. I encourage you to find scriptures that work for you and write them down. Hang them on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror at home. Memorize them. Make them your screen saver at work and repeat them out loud whenever you feel tempted.

6. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE

Rather than making excuses like a lot of people do, choose to take action!  One way to do this is to find a friend you can talk to openly about your feelings, frustrations, temptations, and setbacks.

7. BE ALERT!

Be wise enough to realize that though there may not be 9-bronzed naked people dancing in your neighborhood, the traps Satan sets are everywhere. Have a plan before you ever get in the moment of temptation. Clearly articulate your intentions to strive for purity to your friends, spouse or dating partner.  And, be determined not to let Satan trap you!

If you are struggling with impurity, know that it is never too late to get it right with God.  Confess and give this problem to God. Ask for forgiveness from God. Ask God to give you courage to apply these seven steps.

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be Jesus to your world

121.  I still remember the number of my junior high locker. As much time as I spent inside it, there’s really no way I could forget. It’s not as bad as you would imagine—being in a locker, I mean—especially if it’s before lunch and you’re stuck in there with a PB & J sandwich and a Dew.

I didn’t go in my locker of my own free will. I was forced in several times by several punks in my school. And the ringleader of the punk-heads was a guy named Eric. Eric used to sit behind me in algebra class and thump me on the back of the head. And to this day, if someone pops me upside the head, it quickly brings back memories of 9 a.m. algebra, Eric, and headaches.

I often wondered why Eric didn’t like me. That is, until the day he told me it was because I was a Christian. All through junior high and high school, it seemed Eric’s goal in life was to totally ruin six years of my existence. Therefore, you can imagine, when I heard God tell me that He wanted me to talk to Eric about what it meant to be a Christian, I assumed God was mistaken. I remember laughing at first. But He wasn’t joking!

I intentionally ignored His request for four months. And I was miserable because of it. I knew what God wanted me to do. And I knew I would stay miserable until I did it. So finally I talked to Eric about Jesus.  And yes, back into the locker I went!

What?  “You have got to be kidding,” I thought. It wasn’t supposed to work this way. I remember thinking, “I did what God asked me to, and He didn’t come through for me!  I put my neck on the line with a guy I can’t even stand to look at, and it didn’t work!”  I was mad. Mad at God.

It took me awhile, but I learned a lot about my witness through this experience.  I learned that there’s much more to sharing my faith than the outcome. I learned that my witness is an integral part of who I am as a man. And every day, regardless of how others respond, I have a responsibility to live out a life of witness.

 The Life You Live > The Words You Say

What if you walked into school this week to find every student and teacher seated in the gymnasium? And then, what if the principal called you to join him at center court? And then, what if one by one, every student and teacher in your school walked across the court, grabbed the microphone, and were each given thirty seconds to proclaim to everyone how you’ve witnessed to them with the way you live your life. What would they say? What would you want them to say?

Actions speak louder than words. And people are watching. And with every encounter, you have the opportunity-the responsibility-to show them there’s something different about you because you are a follower of Jesus. And often, this happens without ever opening your mouth.

Every day, in every relationship, with every encounter, you have the chance to be Jesus to your world. Most of the time you don’t do it with what you say, but with what you do. And for a lot of the people you cross paths with, this could be the only glimpse they ever get of God.

Forget The Fear Factor

It took me four months of ignoring what God asked me to do before I finally chose to share my faith with Eric. Why? Because I was afraid of what Eric might think about me.  I was afraid of what Eric might say to me. I was afraid of what Eric might do to me…like give me another close-up look at the inside of locker number 121.

This is exactly how Satan works.  He wants to scare you and me into believing that when we speak to others about God, we’ll be ridiculed or picked on. Yes, each of these outcomes is a possibility. But when you choose to let God use you, 2 TIMOTHY 1:7 is a reminder that God’s Spirit doesn’t make a coward out of you. As you allow God to work in your life, He’ll replace your cowardice with courage; your fear with faith; your hesitation with hope; your panic with power; and your worry with wonder.

When God Asks, He Provides

As you commit to God’s plan for your life, get ready.  Because along with this commitment comes responsibility—the responsibility to share God with others. There’s no greater privilege in life than sharing the saving message of Jesus with someone else.  However, sometimes talking to a person about Jesus may seem impossible. But make no mistake, when God calls you to do something:

He’ll never require something of you that’s impossible.

He’ll never require something of you that you have to face alone.

So, the next time you are faced with the option of sharing Jesus or saying nothing, speak up! It may get you thrown in your locker too! But, I guarantee you it will be well worth the visit!

 

be trustworthy

What’s your definition of success? If you don’t have one, it’s okay right now. And even when you think you do have one, it will probably be redefined over and again throughout your life. Success is often measured differently from one person to the next.

In my own life, I have learned that true success isn’t about financial gain or worldly accolades. Instead, it is about me becoming a better me, the me God is daily shaping me into as I encounter and experience life’s celebrations and challenges.

During the last half of the seventh century b.c., the prophet Jeremiah was commissioned by God to warn His people of their lack of respect and outright defiance of His holy Word. The people of Jerusalem had turned to their own selfish ways and pleasures and were refusing to return to God. In Jeremiah 5:1 (msg), God says,

“Patrol Jerusalem’s streets. Look around. Take note. Search the market squares. See if you can find one man, one woman,

A single soul who does what is right and tries to live a true life. I want to forgive that person.”

Obviously the phrase “one man, one woman, a single soul” is a hyperbole—an exaggeration to make a point. Jeremiah himself would have been such a person who tried to do right. But the intention of God here is to make the point that He longs to bless those who live upright lives.

Trustworthiness is a critical principle for your success. People want to place their faith, support, and finances in those who prove themselves honorable and trustworthy. I found this out the hard way my senior year of high school. I don’t remember telling a lie to a friend of mine that year, but I do remember my friend adamantly believing that I did. Either way, she never got over it. During our Senior Banquet, while reading the senior predictions, she made this prediction about me: “Jeffrey will one day own his own business. The business: lie detector machines. Unfortunately, he will never become successful because every time he walks into his own factory, all of the machines will go off!”

Pretty cold, huh? These probably weren’t her exact words. Nonetheless, I’ve never forgotten the gist of what she said. She thought I had lied to her. Therefore, in her eyes, I could not be trusted.

I learned a valuable (and embarrassing) lesson that day: no one likes a liar. As a matter of fact, Proverbs 12:22 (niv) says, “The Lord detests lying lips.” Detests. That’s some pretty strong language from God—language you and I can’t ignore. Ever since that incident in high school, I’ve worked hard to be a man of integrity who both sticks to what I say I will do and strives to always do what is right.

Throughout Scripture, especially in Proverbs, we see that God means serious business when it comes to being a person who is trustworthy. Check out these three verses:

A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but the Lord condemns a crafty man.” (Proverbs 12:2, niv)

 

The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death. The Lord detests men of perverse heart,

but he delights in those whose ways are blameless.” (Proverbs 11:19-20, niv)

 

“The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.…The integrity of the upright guides them,

but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” (Proverbs 11:1, 3, niv)

 

George Washington once wrote, “I hope I shall always have firmness and virtue enough to maintain, what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” Learn now the importance of being a man or woman who can be trusted. Work hard to apply these principles to your life:

• If you don’t believe it and don’t mean it, don’t say it.

• Don’t mislead others with crafty statements or lying exaggerations.

• Make sure your yes is yes and your no is no.

• Be on time to meetings, classes, and events. Your consideration of others’ time speaks volumes about your character.

• Just because you can get away with something doesn’t make it okay. Remember, what you do in private will eventually shape how you live in public.

 

 

 

what if you were 3 again?

What if you were three again?

Think about the life of a 3 year old: You wake up. Someone feeds you. You poop. Someone dresses you. So far…a pretty sweet deal.

You play and sing, have imaginary friends who are always nice to you, and people pay attention to you because you’re cute and interesting. When you talk, there’s almost always an adult willing to listen, even though many of your words aren’t really words yet. You play some more, you eat some more, and then, you go to bed only to awake and hit replay the next day without a care in the world.

Now that’s a pretty peaceful life. Why? If you really want to dig deep into that scenario, it’s because the life of a 3 year-old isn’t really their own. Instead, a loving adult is watching out for their safety, making sure they have everything they need.  And, the end result is a life of peace.

If you think about it, through a relationship with Jesus, you have access to this kind of peace. If you’ve given your life to him, then your life is no longer your own. And, the creator of the universe, who knows and understands everything you experience, daily desires, as 1 Peter 5:7 says, for you to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

The idea of peace can be a hard idea to grasp. When I think of peace, I have an image of a still lake early in the morning before any boat causes waves to appear. Or, I imagine a snowfall in the dark of night; fresh, white and strangely quiet.

Try and pause right now and say to Jesus, “Today is yours. Whatever I encounter, whatever feelings plague me, whatever insecurities show their ugly head… take them. I am your child. I trust you to take care of me. Today, I’m going to be 3 again (except for the poop on myself part) and let you take care of all the peace-robbing moments that will come my way.”

Jesus knows what you will face today. He wants you to trust him now, before you face another moment. So, let him know that whatever the day holds, you want him to hold you…just, as if you were 3 again.

The Graduate Handbook: Chapter 1

NOTE: My new book, The Graduate Handbook, was released this past month.  Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

I’ve Graduated.… Now What?

Congratulations! You did it. After twelve years of fall break, Thanksgiving break, teacher in-service breaks, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break, the big break is finally here! School isn’t just out for the summer; it’s out for good. Shake your principal’s hand, move that tassel, do your dance, and pose for the camera. You are a graduate!

Take a moment and take it all in. You deserve it. You’ve just closed a chapter on some of the best moments in the book called My Life. What a ride it’s been, huh? Can you believe graduation is finally here? In the past seventeen-plus years, some if not many of the following have happened to you:

You rode your bike without training wheels for the first time.

You spent the night away from home (and Mom and Dad) for the first time.

You got your first A.

You got your first F.

You popped your first pimple.

You had your first crush.

You had your first date.

You prayed to have your first second date.

You went to your first prom.

You scored your first touchdown.

You scored your first kiss.

You worked your first job.

You got your first paycheck.

You drove your first car.

You got your first speeding ticket.

You sang your first solo in front of a packed house…and you killed it!

You’ve covered a lot of ground since your first day of school. You’ve made a lot of memories. You’ve experienced a lot of firsts. And now, a new first that’s also about a last—high school graduation. Countless others have stood where you now are and thought, Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last! And, just as quickly, countless others have stood where you are, only to realize that “Thank God I’m free” can easily turn into “What in the world just happened to me?!”

The few months following graduation from high school are a mix of emotions at best. I wish someone had taken the time to talk to me about post–high school life when I was your age. These can be some of the best times of your life, but they can be some of the most influential as well.

During the next five years, change will be inevitable in many areas of your life, such as moving away from home, attending and graduating from college, choosing a career, choosing a spouse, developing lifelong relationships, starting a company, joining a new church, traveling abroad, living abroad, purchasing a house, buying a car, applying for a loan, and much more! The next five years of your life are critical years for you. During these years, big decisions that will affect the rest of your life and those closest to you will be yours for the making.

Exciting? It should be. Overwhelming? At times it will be. Thrilling? Hopefully so! You stand at a threshold with two guarantees: One, you never have to go to high school again! Two, everything is going to change and change fast!

Remember, your role moving forward is to plan. God’s is to direct. Your planning releases His direction.

You can’t control the unknown or unexpected. But you can position yourself so that, when change does happen, you aren’t taken off-guard. I want to offer you a heads-up on some of the big changes I experienced along the way to help you be prepared to best respond to the what’s next of post-graduation.

Within a few months of receiving my high school diploma, I had moved out of the house, out of the state, and into a dorm room and was living with a guy I didn’t know on a college campus full of people I had never met before. And it didn’t start out so well.

You see, while in high school, I had wanted to pierce my ear. Keep in mind that this was long before it became the norm, especially for a guy, to have his ear, nose, lip, chin, eyebrow, or any number of other odd places pierced. My dad was adamant that as long as I lived at home I’d better not put a hole in any of my body parts. So, as you have probably surmised by now, once I got to college, I pierced my ear. In fact, I did it the first week of school. To save money, I had the piercing done by someone I met down the hall in my dorm. My life, my ear, and my freedom, right?

One of the biggest misconceptions most any eighteen year old has is that being a legal adult makes him or her a mature adult. Actually, the only big difference between your seventeenth birthday and your eighteenth birthday is that, starting with your eighteenth birthday, you get to go to jail with the big people if you screw up. So in this light, I guess I should have paused to consider that allowing someone I barely knew to stick a needle through my skin in his dorm room probably wasn’t the smartest move. Several nights later, after a $420 visit to the ER because of an infected ear, I found out the important principle that with freedom comes responsibility.

Until now, you’ve had someone helping to set boundaries in your life and making many of the big decisions for you. Now it’s your turn. Now more than ever you have the freedom and responsibility to make your own decisions and set your own boundaries. In short, from here on—every choice matters!

 

Life Will Never Be the Same

 

Of course, there is no way to know for sure what is ahead for you in life. But you can be sure of this—life will never again be as it was while you were in high school. Whether this is good or bad depends on many of the choices you make, especially within the next twelve months of your life.

Many of these changes are obvious, such as a new campus, job, friends, bedroom, and more. And many, if not most, of these changes you probably welcome. One biggie is that, from now on, consequences from a poor choice can be much greater than ever before. Up until now, your parents have probably disciplined you in love to the best of their ability. Going forward, however, mistakes no longer simply mean that you are grounded or lose your driving privileges for a weekend. Mistakes can be extremely costly, such as getting expelled from college, being fired from a job, losing your income, being incarcerated, and more. In short, the world’s system of discipline won’t judge the same as Mom and Dad have in the past.

 

Friends Will Scatter

 

Most if not all of your friends will go their different ways after graduation. Some will go to college, others will begin a career, others will join the armed forces, and others will get married.

In the years since I graduated high school, I have seen only two of my high school friends, and that was just a handful of times. I have very little information as to where those friends are now or what they are doing with their lives. I have no idea where the rest of my high school friends are.

I realize that my situation may not become yours. But the point is, the likelihood that you will no longer associate regularly with your high school friends after graduation is high.

 

Your Beliefs Will Be Tested

 

“I will give you an F if you don’t remove the Scripture references from your term paper!”

I heard those words from my English 101 professor when I was a first-semester freshman attending Belmont University, a Christian school. Yes, a Christian school. I don’t remember everything I wrote in that paper, but I do remember that the grade I received for it would be 100 percent of my grade for that class. I also remember using Scripture references several times throughout the paper to support my thesis. Thus my professor’s startling comment.

My professor was adamant that God’s Word was not relevant and reliable and had no validity in her class whatsoever. I knew my beliefs would be tested at some point during my collegiate experience. I never fathomed it would come this soon, not to mention from my professor at a Christian institution. I absolutely did not want to begin my collegiate career with an F. I also knew that I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t write what I believed in that paper and stand by it.

I chose to keep the Scriptures in the paper.

My professor didn’t flunk me, but she did give me a D. It was the first D I’d ever made. I wish I could tell you that was the only D I received throughout college. Unfortunately I cannot! But it is the one I’m most proud of.

Get ready! You’re in for a similar ride. Your beliefs may not align with mine as it relates to God. But know this: your beliefs will be tested, whatever they are! This happened to me, and not just in English 101. By the time I finished my freshman year of college, my beliefs about God, heaven, and hell came into question from new friends and co-workers that I made and met. And it wasn’t just my spiritual beliefs that were questioned. Likewise, there is a high probability that your beliefs about abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality, drinking, euthanasia, divorce, politics, the death penalty, and more will come into question in one way or another during the first few years after high school. This happened to me and it will happen to you too.

Do you know what you believe and why you believe it? Have you ever stopped to consider how, if asked, you would answer such questions as the following ones?

• What happens in the afterlife?

• Is it okay to marry someone of a different faith?

• Is abortion ever okay? Why or why not?

• What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

• If God loves everyone, why does He condemn people to hell?

This is just an example of what is to come. Now more than at any previous time in your life, it is critical that you know what you believe and why you believe it. Up until this point in your life, you have likely been surrounded and influenced by people with many, if not most, of the same beliefs as you. You, your parents, your family members, and current friends probably view things in a similar manner. This will change. Most of your new friends and acquaintances will have a different set of values than you and your family. If you aren’t solid in what you believe and why you believe it, you will begin shifting in your beliefs, and eventually you will become someone very different from the person you are today.

The point I want you to grab here is that your beliefs will be challenged, and challenged often, in a variety of ways from a mix of people. One goal of this book is to help you fully develop your belief system and lay down a strategy for remaining aligned in God’s Word so that you are prepared for the challenges of the next five years and the rest of your life.

 

Accountability Is Critical

 

Several people in my life today hold me accountable to God’s truths. These are a variety of people—some are family members and some are friends, some are similar in age to me and some are older. Helping me manage my time, pushing me to reach my potential, calling me out when I appear to be straying spiritually, and praying with me and for me are just a few of the ways that some of the closest people in my life help to keep me accountable. Such a process isn’t always comfortable or easy for me or them. However, these people are invaluable to me. And I hope I am the same for them.

I wish I’d had such people in my life when I was your age. I wish someone had told me the importance of having accountability partners and mentors in my life. I can’t stress enough how critical it is that you surround yourself with people who will keep you accountable. Here the quantity of people is not as important as the quality. This role cannot simply be filled by close friends or peers doing what they normally do. I am talking about the kind of accountability that isn’t satisfied with yes or no answers—accountability that goes beyond “I’m doing fine” answers, accountability that will look you eyeball to eyeball and ask you the tough questions about your life.

Such counsel may not be easy to find. But I am confident that if you search for it, you will find it.

Four Truths About Counsel

1. Not all counsel is godly.

Proverbs 30:5-6 (niv) says, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” Sometimes even those with the best of intentions can mislead you by misquoting or mistaking what the Bible says. I learned quickly in college that there will almost always be a peer, professor, or co-worker who claims allegiance to God but offers counsel contrary to that claim. As you receive counsel from others, always use Scripture as the gauge by which you test such counsel to determine whether it is of God or humans. Simply put, if a person’s suggestions, recommendations, or condemnations aren’t in sync with God’s, then such counsel is wrong, no matter how popular, culturally relevant, or accepted the person!

2. Not all counsel needs receiving.

You can’t always control the counsel you hear, but you can control the counsel you choose to take in and act upon. Pray that God will guard your heart from hearing, receiving, and retaining ungodly counsel. Proverbs 1:5 (niv) says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”

3. Some counsel will require humility.

There is a myth that once you graduate from high school you suddenly have more knowledge. The key word here is myth. Yes, hopefully the fact that you are graduating means that you have gained knowledge. But graduating doesn’t mean you have gained all knowledge! The older I get, the more I seem to meet people who have more life experience, more wisdom, and more discernment than I. And though their counsel has often left me humbled, it has also brought to my attention areas of my life that need addressing while equally pushing me to be a better person.

4. Godly counsel is second to God’s counsel. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into your glory.” The writer of Psalm 73:24 (niv) understood that no counsel was more real and relevant for him than God’s. Likewise, God desires a real relationship with you. Later in this handbook, I will talk in greater detail about steps you can take every day to know Him more. But know this now: if you commit daily to spending time with God, His counsel will guide you and grow you in ways far beyond your post–high school aspirations and dreams.

 Lift It Up

 

Throughout this handbook, I will provide prayers to help you stop, think over what you have read, and pray it through. Obviously, you don’t have to pray our written prayers word for word. But whether it’s the words in this book leading you or your own, I hope you’ll take the time to pause, reflect, and lift your heart to Him.

That is certainly something you should be doing as you look ahead to all the changes you can expect in the months and years ahead of you. You’re about to make some big decisions that will help to set your course for life. So pray to God about it now.

Dear God,

Thank You for having Your hand on my life thus far. Thank You for bringing me to this new season of my life called post-grad. It would be foolish of me to believe I know it all and thus have no need to know You more. I want to know You more. I want to become the person You already know I can be. Throughout the next five-plus years of my life, I know there will be a lot to take in and live out. I don’t dare go it alone. Please lead me. As I spend time in this handbook, show me what I need to see about myself. Show me areas of my life that need addressing. And prepare me to go and live the life You have created me to live as a Christ-follower honoring You in it all. Amen.

 

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push

I developed a tolerance for running in high school.  I played basketball and our coach loved to make us run drills…a lot! I realized that if I was going to be a good basketball player, I’d better learn to handle the running part.

One of my friends hates running, but was a college athlete. She told me, “This is why I focused on softball. You run 60 feet, and then you stop. If you hit the ball far enough, you can just trot.” She worked very hard at hitting the ball far.

Running up and down a court with the goal of making a basket is one thing.  Running to complete a race…now that’s something entirely different!  I admire people who run in marathons.  One thing that I admire most about them is their drive and perseverance to not only finish the race, but, to train. They train and they train so that when they are in the middle of a marathon, they can push all the way to the end; push through obstacles that may be in their way and finish strong.

Perseverance is a true character quality. If you do something and it’s easy… it’s easy.  Perseverance comes into play when discouragement or obstacles find their way onto your path.

In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, there was a British athlete, Derek Redmond, expected to break records and bring home a medal in the 400 m dash. He had been plagued with injuries throughout his career, but worked diligently to recover and build his hamstring injury back to a full recovery. The stage was set!  He was fit and ready. The starting gun sounded and his pace was strong. And then, about 100 meters into the race, Derek pulls up grabbing the back of his right leg. His hamstring had torn.  He quickly went to his knees on the track.  After a few moments, and, clearly in excruciating pain, Derek stood up and began to hobble. But, he didn’t hobble off of the track! Instead, he hobbled toward the finish line.

Why? I’m sure those who were watching may have thought for a moment, “Just stop running. It’s over.” Derek didn’t think such things. Here’s a guy, who trained his whole life for this moment.  In this moment, when he felt his hamstring rip, he could have called it good while lying there on that track.   But, that wasn’t good enough for Derek. He came to the Olympics for one purpose:  To cross the finish line in an Olympic race.

There was a drive, a push inside of him. He was on a mission and nothing was going to stop him.  But what’s amazing? The story doesn’t stop here.

As Derek began to hobble, there was a man in the crowd who feverishly began to make his way down to the track. The man?  Derek’s father.  He ran onto the track and whispered into Derek’s ear, “Let’s finish this together.” And together, they pushed to the finish line in one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history.

Derek could have remained on the ground, his muscle torn, and thought, “It’s too hard now, just quit.”  But he didn’t!

I wonder if Derek could have finished by himself that day? I don’t know.  But I know this – - Derek had drive. And, with a little help from dad, he overcame an amazing obstacle and pushed to the very end!

So, when it comes to your life, how are you responding to the obstacles? Has doubt crept in? Does life seem overwhelming? Maybe you need to admit that you too need the help of someone who will come alongside you, encourage you to keep pushing, and say, “Let’s finish this together.”

It’s okay to admit when you need a little help, a little pick-me-up.  If you need help, ask for it.  And, when you do, I am confident you will find that it’s a whole lot better than hobbling off the track of life and simply giving up.