What Your Friends Say

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Whoever started that statement may have had good intentions, but he or she could not have been more wrong. That is such an untrue statement, and it will not help heal the wounds that words make.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits (Proverbs 18:21).

I am currently doing some studying on the book of Job. Job’s friends said a lot of things about him, and they made some pretty serious and damning accusations. And the more the discussions went on, the more they heaped on him and the more they created about him. According to their words, he was the worst kind of sinner, and he deserved every bit of the “punishment” he was receiving from God. Consider that “sticks and stones” quote with how Job felt about the words of his friends:

“How long will you torment me and break me in pieces with words?” 
(Job 19:2)

Job would rather have been beaten with sticks and stones than to have these words thrown his way by his “friends.”

The problem with the friends that is that they were dead wrong about Job, they were wrong about God, and they didn’t know a thing about comforting someone regardless of how sincere they thought their motives were. Listen to what God says about Job.

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
(Job 1:8)

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.”
(Job 2:3)

After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.
(Job 42:7-9)

Even later in the Bible, Job is considered by God as one of the most faithful and righteous men to ever live (Ezekiel 14:14,20; James 5:11).

One thing to remember from all of this is that what other’s say about you is hurtful, but what really matters is what God says about you. Job lived his life in such a way that he had the Lord’s approval, even if others were saying bad things about him.

I’ve heard the following quote from several sources, and I leave it for your consideration:

It’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to that matters.

A final thought, notice that God required Job to pray for his three friends. Even after all the nasty things they said, God wanted Job to pray for them. This coincides with Matthew 5:44, when Jesus asks us to pray for those who mistreat us. While we are praying for our own healing, we must also pray for those who have hurt us.

The Company You Keep

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
(Proverbs 13:20)

Today’s article is one of caution, but also of encouragement: the company you keep will (not can) influence you in one direction or another. This is a discussion that I’m sure many of you as parents are having with your kids, but remember that it applies to big people, too.

The new Galatians Christians were “quickly deserting” the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Some among them were troubling them and perverting the gospel (Galatians 1:6-7; 2:4; 4:17; 5:7-10; 6:12-13). It is a reminder of how quickly someone can be turned away from God and led to believe lies.

The same thing was happening in the Corinthian congregation. Some were preaching that there is no resurrection of the dead, and Paul warned that bad company (and teaching) can corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:12,33).

We see the same warnings by Paul as he wrote to the young evangelist Timothy. Certain conversations along with certain types of people can lead to the “ruin of the hearers,” and will “lead people into more ungodliness.” This teaching and influence will spread like gangrene, resulting in the “upsetting” of the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:14-18). These are powerful warnings from God, and as parents and children we should take heed.

There are verses aplenty about how many will follow the bad influences of others. It’s not just about false teaching, it may be that you are hanging around people with lousy attitudes and worldly passions, and that will take you down the wrong road as well (Hebrews 12:15; 2 Peter 2:2,18).

We are called by God to come out from among these evil influences and to chose holy friends and godly influences (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
(Psalm 119:63)

Think of what David just said. Who are his companions? Those who fear God and keep His commandments. Those are great friends!

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.
(1 John 3:13-14)

What is the sign that we have passed from death into life, according to John? Our relationships! When we love the brothers, we will abide in life. When we love the world, we will by definition hate the brothers, and we will abide in death.

Look at this passage from Malachi. In the midst of a lot of wickedness and religious hypocrisy, there was a righteous remnant that hung out with each other and encouraged each other. See how God took notice of this?

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
(Malachi 3:16-18)

And all who believed were together…
(Acts 2:44)

The believers were together. When we are together, powerful things happen for the kingdom of God. Our fellowship is not with this world, it is with Jesus Christ, His blood, and His body of believers!

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
(1 John 1:3)

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1 John 1:7)

It really is pretty simple, if you want to move closer to God, look at your friends and relationships. Where are they leading you?

James and Fathers, Part 2

Last Wednesday, we began a look into the book of James and some things we learn about God as our Father. Here are a few more thoughts.

As a Father, He wants us to bless Him, but He is also deeply concerned with how we talk about our brothers and sisters. As dads, remember to keep a check on how your kids talk to each other. That’s a big lesson they will learn and hopefully translate into other areas of life.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

We can always trust that God’s intentions and purposes for us are good. Even when we don’t understand why things happen or why God asks certain things from us, we can trust He loves us and know that in the end my soul’s salvation is first on my Father’s mind. This is important for us, dads. My end goal is not being “right” on a matter. My end goal is not having my child be perfect in every way. My goal is to keep my heart as a Father in line with the heart of the Father in heaven. If my heart is line with my Father’s, then that will affect everything I say, do and think when it comes to my kids.

We may think too much about the training and instruction we are giving our kids, and all the investment we have poured into them, but fail to think about some very important things. Sometimes we lose sight of the working of God in our sons and daughters. We also at times lose sight on the transformation that God is working within us as well. Our Father loves us very much, too, and He is transforming us every day as dads so that we will imitate our Father as dear children (Ephesians 5:1)

James and Fathers, Part 1

The book of James has been on my mind a lot lately as we are preparing to be part of a camp next week where the theme will be from the book of James.

Today (and also for next Wednesday), I wanted to look at a few passages from James that give us a picture of the God we serve. He is our Father, but what kind of Father is our Lord?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
(James 1:5)

He gives generously, and doesn’t hold it over our heads after He gives. Of course, God does remind us of what His gifts have cost, but He doesn’t do it like a lot of us dads do. The result of dads reminding kids repeatedly of how much they “cost” is guilt and feeling like a constant inconvenience. Our Father does not do that for us. He gives and gives and gives and gives. One of my favorite verses on this is Romans 8:32 – read it. The result of God’s giving to us is praise, gratitude, and a desire to come to Him for everything! The reason sometimes people feel guilty asking the Father in heaven for things, is because they have been conditioned by their dads on earth to feel bad for coming AGAIN to ask for something.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(James 1:17-18)

He is a gift giver, who gives good things with the best interest of His children in mind. He is also a Father who is not a different dad each day. There is no variation within Him. As we mature in Jesus, we become more stable and there are less “variations” in our thinking and behavior as Fathers. God “gave birth” to us through His word, and that is the same way we as dads will bring life and growth to our children is through the power of the word.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:27)

God has made it plain as a Father what He really wants. Yes, there are other details to “religion,” but there are the main things He wants us to focus on. As dads, we must have to keep focused on what the big things are, and what God really is looking for in them. It can get really easy to get lost in the weeds of all the little things our kids are doing that are either wrong or need to improve, but keep focused on the big things first.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
(James 3:9)

More on this next Wednesday, Lord willing.

Have I Become the Judge?

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
(James 4:11-12)

Here is a thought from James that would be good to remember for ourselves, but also to share with our sons and daughters.

What happens when we speak evil of other people? James says that we have moved from a follower of the law to the judge of it. When we are speaking evil of others we have made ourselves the standard, the judge, jury and executioner.

James reminds us that there is One Judge. That One Judge is able to save. He is able to save the person about whom we are speaking evil.  It’s a reminder of God’s heart for the salvation of others. When we are talking evil of others, we need to be reminded that God wants all to be saved, even those we are gossiping about. Not only is God able to save, but He is also able to destroy. Remember the piercing words of Jesus, that for every idle word we speak, we will give account of those words in Judgment (Matthew 12:36-37).

Considering there is only One Judge, James follows with the question, “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Who are you? Whom am I? Doesn’t that really put us in our place? Remember the words of Joseph when his brothers were so afraid that Joseph would bring vengeance down on them? Joseph asked, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19).

Let’s pray for God to help us hold our tongue, but also to transform our thinking. May we hold this dear in our hearts that God is on the throne and He is the only Judge. When we are speaking evil of others, we have effectively kicked God off the throne of our hearts.

Truth can be found even among a lot of error

Does a person have to be right on everything before we listen to them on anything?

Here is a thought to contemplate, and a thought to share with your sons and daughters. Truth can be found even among a lot of error. Sometimes we might be tempted to disregard somebody’s advice because we see so much wrong in his or her life. But be careful, even someone who is wrong on a whole lot can be right in something he or she tells you. Before you have a knee-jerk reaction thinking, “Who is this guy to tell me this?”, consider the statement itself. It may be true after all.

Here is a Biblical example. Job’s friends were wrong on a WHOLE LOT, even God rebuked them for being so mistaken (Job 42). I want you to notice that Eliphaz is specifically spoken to by God,

After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
(Job 42:7)

Does that mean that everything Eliphaz said in the book of Job was wrong?Apparently not, because the apostle Paul quoted Eliphaz in 1 Corinthians.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,
(1 Corinthians 3:18-21. In the above section, Paul quoted Eliphaz (compare Job 5:13 & 1 Corinthians 3:19).

Does God catch the wise in their craftiness? Yes, He sure does. Eliphaz was generally right on in that matter, even if he was wrong in applying that specifically to Job. The point is for today, God condemned and rebuked Eliphaz for saying a lot of wrong things, and yet the Holy Spirit led Paul to quote Eliphaz. Paul also was inspired by God to quote the Greek poets on more than one occasion (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12-13; 1 Cor. 15:33).

God may be sending you advice from an unlikely source that you are tempted to disregard. Someone doesn’t have to be right on everything before you listen to them on anything. By the way, think of the assumption we are making about ourselves if we set that kind of lofty standard.

How is that scolding working out for you?

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
(Ephesians 6:4)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
(Proverbs 15:1)

I’m reading a book called “The Power of the Other,” written by Dr. Henry Cloud. I appreciate my good friend Andy Harrison recommending this book to me. In the chapter I was reading yesterday, he was talking about the Brain and Feedback. I wanted to share a brief quotation with you for today.

“Have you ever been yelled at, put down, or scolded when someone was ostensibly helping you get better at something? Remember how you felt? Of course you do: horrible-ashamed, afraid, anxious, sad, angry, and/or closed off. What stood out most to you in that moment-the feedback itself, or how you were feeling about it, the other person, or yourself? No doubt you were much more in touch with how you were feeling-awful-than with what was being said. The actual issue, what was truly important, was no longer what you were focused on.

There’s a reason for that. In highly charged emotional moments, the part of your brain that gets tapped for action is called the amygdala. Chemicals get released there that interfere with learning. Threat of any kind can trigger a fight-or-flight reaction, which is not focused at all on learning, only on protecting oneself. Hence the “checked-out” expression on a teenager’s face while being scolded. In those moments, a dose of adrenaline floods over brains, producing anxiety, and we literally go blank. Whenever we’re in fight-or-flight mode, we can’t absorb feedback and improve our self-control and learning.”

Dr. Henry Cloud, “The Power of the Other,” p. 117-118

Take some time to think about this.

Yes there is a time for corrective measures, rebuke and punishments, but we also need to realize the times when what we are doing and how we are doing it as parents may not be working at all. The reactions we are getting from our kids may be a result of how we are addressing the matter at hand. We are getting the exact opposite reactions we desire because of our own approach.

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
(Proverbs 16:21-24)

Is your approach as a father one of wisdom, calmness, mercy and patience? Or are the lectures and scolding shutting down learning and keeping real growth and communication from happening?

As always, if you need help and growth in these areas, I encourage you to sit down with or talk on the phone to a wise godly father who can help you walk through these things. Those wise godly fathers/grandfathers can help walk you through how to improve your communication and approach.

Lessons from a demon

You know, we can learn lessons from just about anywhere. As we continue our study here at home through the book of Mark, we considered what we can learn from the demons.

Demons recognize the Lordship of Jesus.

“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.”
(Mark 1:24)

Demons fearfully tremble in the presence of Jesus.

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!
(James 2:19)

Demons know they have a limited time.

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
(Matthew 8:29)

Demons ran to Jesus, fell down before Him and begged Him for mercy.

And whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.”
(Mark 3:11)

And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”
(Mark 5:6-7)

Demons are smarter than a lot of people! The Bible speaks of those in whom the fear of God does not exist (Psalm 36:1), but I believe all of us at a practical level have lived that way. We may not have been professing atheists but we were practicing as if we were atheists (Romans 3:8; Titus 1:16).

What can we learn from a demon?
  • Do we recognize the Lordship of Jesus?
  • Do we have a deep reverence for who Jesus is?
  • Do we keep in mind that we have a limited time?
  • Do we fall before Jesus’ feet begging for His mercy?

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
(Romans 14:9-12)

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
(Ecclesiastes 5:12)

There is such peace, joy and satisfaction in working hard to get something. Solomon writes here that after a hard day’s work you have a lot of peace with that and you sleep well, whether you have a lot or a little. Something about the way the rich man is living makes him so consumed and absorbed with their things and how to protect them (or acquire more) that they just don’t rest well at night.

Dads, don’t feel bad about making your kids work hard for things. If they want something, say a new game system, then show them the value of working hard and saving for things. If they have to mow yards, babysit, and do odd jobs to save enough money, then don’t get in the way of their growth by just paying for things. They, like we, need to learn the value of waiting, working hard and saving. It is a great lesson that will stay with them for their whole lives.

God make us to work, that’s the first thing he did with Adam in the garden was to give him a job. The Lord designed us, and knows that we operate very well when we are working hard, sweating, and burning energy working for a goal. That’s a very good thing, Solomon said more than once (Eccl. 2:24; 3:22; 5:18-19; 9:10).

As Solomon said, if you wear those kids out, they sleep better at night. Sit them in front of a device or TV all day, and they will not sleep well. Plain and simple. They need to get outside, play hard, work hard, and burn off energy. Our kids get along better when doing that; if they are playing video games and watching TV for a long time, they just get cranky and fuss with each other. When they are outside working and playing hard, they seem to do much better. Don’t know if that’s the case for you, but it is for us.

Sweet is the sleep of a laborer.

You Have Authority Over Them, But…

I was having a conversation recently with an elder/shepherd near Dayton, Ohio. We were talking about our approach to people, and how we may try to command people (our kids, people at church), but are we allowing God to work? Are we praying about it?

He referenced a couple of passages that an older man pointed out to him decades ago. Here are those two passages, take a moment to ponder them.

And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
(Mark 3:14-15)

The apostles were clearly given “authority” over the demons. Authority and power was not the problem. The apostles were able to cast out demons, and they had done so before the events of Mark 9. But in Mark 9, the disciples were not able to cast out a demon from a young boy. They did not understand why they couldn’t do it.

Jesus’ answer to them was simple:

And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
(Mark 9:28-29)

They had the power and authority to command the demons, but what had they not done, according to Jesus? They had not prayed about it. Good grief, this is so simple to understand, but how many times do we as fathers and leaders forget this concept? We have power and authority over others, maybe at church and at home, but are we trying to command people, or are we praying about it? Are we giving these things up to the throne of God and seeking His counsel and wisdom? Are we giving God time and space to work in someone else’s life?

A basic truth, but a powerful one to me. I really appreciated what this shepherd shared with me the other day, and also it was neat to think that an older wise godly man shared these concepts with him decades ago. The wisdom is getting passed on.