The Same Message
I’ve been reading a lot about men these days. I just finished The Screwtape Letters and The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis, Happy Happy Happy by Phil Robertson, and am half-way though Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men by Stephen Mansfield.
Mansfield is a New York Times best selling author who writes about history and biographies. CS Lewis was an academic and intellectual giant who taught at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. Phil Robertson, on the other hand, is a redneck from Louisiana and the patriarch on reality show called Duck Dynasty.
And what I found remarkable was that though CS Lewis was writing around the 1950s, and Robertson and Mansfield were writing in 2013, the issues they discuss were remarkably similar. They were worried about men.
Lewis spent a lot of time talking about the consequence of having an educational system that teaches men to deny the universal values that God has placed inside of them (like their courage, conscience and masculinity) in favour of trying to be more relativistic, neutral and contemporary. He calls these men, “Men Without Chests”, meaning men who have no heart, no drive, no passion, no drive, no bravery, and no realization that things have objective value because God created them.
Robertson’s book is what I would call an opinionated autobiography where he tells his own story of how he grew up and came to faith, but also spends a lot of time criticizing the society he has seen rise up around him, especially the men who he sees as “chickified yuppies”.
Mansfield’s book begins with the premise that “The Western World is in a crisis of discarded honor, dubious integrity, and faux manliness.” He then sets out in his book to identify “the virtues, the habits, the disciplines, the duties, the actions of true manhood.”
I didn’t mean to read these four books altogether, nor did I expect to be talking about them on Father’s Day. But, as I was praying about what I should be talking about this Sunday, I came across a couple of verses which, if you get one of the Father’s Day gifts today, you will see printed on your M&M’s.
The first verse comes from Proverbs 14:26 and says
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
The other verse is Joshua 1:9 which says,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Each of those authors I mentioned have their own definition of manhood, and solutions to the problems they present, but these two verses sort of summarize what I would call Biblical manhood. One speaks of leading their family in the fear of the Lord, and the other is about having the courage to trust God and go wherever He leads. That, in a nutshell, is Biblical Manhood. To Courageously Follow God and Lead others.
The problem is that today, the Christian Church is doing neither very well.
Boys in Crisis
In preparation for this sermon I re-watched a TED Talk, and re-read a book by a psychologist and professor at Stanford University named Philip Zimbardo, in which he relates a lot of statistics about what he calls “The Demise of Guys”.
He says, “Guys are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.” They have a “fear of intimacy”, he says. Not because they are “traditionally shy”, but because they are “socially awkward”. When they wander around life “they are like a stranger in a foreign land. They don’t know what to say and they don’t know what to do. Especially one on one, [to the] opposite sex.” He says they now prefer what he calls an, “asynchronistic internet world to the spontaneous action of social relationships.”
What is the cause of this? His answer is two-fold. The first problem is “isolation” and the other is what he calls “arousal addiction”. Essentially, we have a generation of boys who are spending a huge amount of time with, “excessive internet, gaming and porn.” He says that “boys brains are being digitally rewired… for change, excitement and constant arousal.” This makes them “totally out of sync in traditional classes and totally out of sync with romantic relationships which build gradually and subtly.” I would add that it also puts them out of sync with the traditional North American church service, and not only romantic relationships but all relationships — including with God. It’s not happening quickly, in 3D Dolby Surround Sound, and bringing them into a state of profound, physical excitement – so they don’t want it or understand it.
Whose fault is that? I don’t think we can totally blame the boys who grew up this way. They didn’t have much of a choice, did they? So, where can we lay the blame?
I don’t want browbeat anyone, or get into the all of the ways that we have raised up a generation of useless men who have no concept of biblical manhood, but it’s Father’s Day, so I feel as though this is a good time to present the problem and hopefully seek a solution.
In fact, I was asked this week to identify some of the more pressing issues facing church ministry today. I came up with a few of them including poor theology, absent spiritual disciplines, financial debt, and rampant distraction and business, but I also said that one big problem in the church is that we have too few good, strong, godly men. Here’s what I wrote:
“North America is in a crisis of not having enough godly, Christian men. Absent fathers, spiking divorce rates, and the pornification of our society are only a few of the problems that have come from ‘The Demise of Guys’ (as one author called it). We need to equip and inspire our older and young men to be godly, scriptural, Christian men and fathers. If we save the men, we will solve many of the problems facing our families and churches.”
I believe that with all my heart. If we can figure out a way to recapture the spirit of Biblical Manhood – to courageously follow God and lead others – then we can solve a lot of the world’s problems. And there are a lot of ministries that are figuring this out too.
Promise Keeper’s Canada has started something called the Fatherless Project, which is a ministry that encourages godly, Christian Men to get involved in the lives of boys without fathers. Let me throw a few more stats at you.
They say that Canada has over 1.5 million single parent families, and over 80% of them are led by women. That means that there are a huge amount of men fathering children and then taking off, leaving the mother to raise the child alone. Statistically 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. This is a generation raised by single women – the fathers are either useless or gone.
Fatherlessness and a lack of Biblical Manhood isn’t just in the world, it’s a problem in the church too. David Murrow, author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church”, says on his website that in the US, “…women compromise more than 60% of the adults in a typical worship service… [and] some overseas congregations report ten women for every man in attendance…. Men are [statistically] less likely to lead, volunteer and give in the church. They pray less, share their faith less and read their bible less. The men who do go to church seem passive and bored. It’s often impossible to get churchgoing men to do anything other than attend services.” That’s a brutally honest view of the church, and I guarantee that the statistics are even worse in Canada
One article I found in the Vancouver Sun said, “…men have been quietly, but in huge numbers, streaming away from many of North America’s Christian churches…. The typical United Church congregations [in Canada] is 80% female…. [and] two out of three of those filling Catholic pews are female.” Pentecostal, Baptist and Mennonite, congregations aren’t doing as badly, but are mostly full of older, married men. Certainly not young, single men.
Girls Need Fathers Too
Now, I’ve talked a lot about men and boys, but girls are in crisis too. Girls with absent, or ungodly dads, have huge struggles too (also here). A girl without a good, godly father will struggle with a lack of self-confidence, have self-image and body issues, will feel consistently lonely and vulnerable, and try to seek the love they need from other men who will only want to use her and discard her. They won’t have a role model for what a good man is supposed to look like, so they will hook up with idiots, losers, and abusers – because that’s all they’ve known. Then that boy-in-a-man’s-body will lure her into bed with lies, get her pregnant, and take off on her. That’s how it’s going right now – and the reason is because there is a huge lack of good, godly men.
We have a generation of men – and more and more women and girls too – who grew up (and are growing up) isolated from people and distant from the church. They’ve spent so much time on the internet, playing video games, and watching porn by themselves in their rooms, that they have no idea how to even talk to real people. They have been taught by evolutionists and atheists that their life is meaningless, that they have no future beyond death, and that there are no consequences to their actions.
Only a few weeks ago we watched the culmination of this thinking as Elliot Rodger went on a shooting spree, killing six people and them himself. I watched the video he posted and it reads like the endgame of what Satan is driving all young men towards.
Let me quote a little from his video:
“For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me…. I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous. College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair.”
This young man has no idea what’s wrong. He’s rich, he’s got the car (he recorded the video sitting in a BMW), he’s a decent-looking guy, and he’s attending a university in California. Every movie he’s ever seen, from Hollywood to internet porn, has conditioned him to believe that women should be throwing themselves at him, but he couldn’t figure out why they weren’t.
Let me quote him a little more:
“And girls, all I ever wanted was to love you, and to be loved by you. I’ve wanted a girlfriend, I’ve wanted sex, I’ve wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I’m unworthy of it. That’s a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you. You denied me a happy life, and in turn, I will deny all of you life. It’s only fair.”
Yes, this guy is clearly a psychopath with some serious problems, but his life and words read like the perfect game plan of what Satan and society is trying to mould men into being. I can hear the voice of the demon:
“If you devote yourself to achieving wealth, power, and being physically attractive, then all that you desire will come to you.
You will be sexually and relationally fulfilled.
You’ve been watching porn since you were 10 and I have taught you that men and women are merely objects.
If you press the right buttons they will do whatever you want – instantly and perfectly.
Women will fall for you, men will obey you. And you will be satisfied.
If they don’t do what you want, then there is something wrong with them.
You should shame them, call them cold, heartless, stupid, and frigid until they give you what you want.
And if you can’t get what you want – take it.
You deserve it.
It’s their fault for making you feel that way, for dressing that way, for enticing you, and not fulfilling your desires.
But if they won’t give it, and you can’t take it – then there must be something wrong with you!
You need more money, more power, better looks. What, you can’t get more?
Then it’s hopeless.
You will never feel fulfilled, you will never get what you so deeply desire – you will never feel love.
And what is the point in living if you cannot feel love.
So go, punish them. And then end your pain.
There’s no consequence anyway.
You’re just evolved scum and to scum you will return.”
This is the record that is playing over and over in the minds of girls and boys, men and women, all over the world –in our homes and our neighbourhood.
“You are an object.
You are an animal.
Fulfill your animal desires.
If you are not powerful or beautiful, you are worthless.
This is all there is.
Seek pleasure and if you cannot get it, take it or kill yourself.”
And the only ones who are going to be able to stand in the way, and shout louder than this voice is us – Christians. And who are the ones who have been given the responsibility to lead their church, lead their families, and stand between the women and children and the flaming-arrows of Satan? Who are the examples, guides, protectors and provider? Christian men. (Ephesians 5:22-25; 2 Timothy 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:58, 16:13; 1 Peter 3:7; 1 Timothy 5:8)
Be Strong and Courageous
So, what is the solution? Society will presents ideas like changing the way schools approach educating boys and telling parents to turn off the computer and send the kid outside to get some exercise and use their imagination. Those are good ideas, but they are not the solution. I believe that the answer to the problem is in the Christian Church. These boys don’t need special education training or an exercise program. They don’t need Ritalin or Adderall to calm them down so they can act more like girls. What these boys need (and girls too) are Good, Christian Fathers. We need to recapture the next generation of boys so they can be good dads.
As I said before, I believe the answer to this epidemic of dying churches, uninspired worship, decrepit evangelism, broken families, aborted babies, lost boys and destroyed girls, is to find a way, as a church to teach, equip and inspire men toward Biblical Manhood.
We need to teach young men (and the lost older ones) how to courageously follow God and lead others in faith. We need to teach them how to pray, study and serve like Jesus did. We need to show them how to lead their families, their church, and their own spirits, in courageous obedience of the Spirit of God. This why I read those verses before.
Proverbs 14:26 says:
“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Those are the words of a father to a son. Not just a biological father, but a spiritual father. One who knows his words will reverberate through generations and to generations of father and families. He implores the fathers of his generation and the ones that come after, to realize that children need a place of “refuge”.
When everything turns dark and scary, and the thunder crashes, and the stranger is knocking at the door – who does the family turn to. Father. He is their refuge. And who does the Father turn to? “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence…” The wife and kids are protected because the man is the protector. And where does the man get that strength? From God.
The other verse, Joshua 1:9, are the words of God to Joshua right before he assumes command of Israel after Moses died. He’s probably scared spitless and needs a pep-talk and a reminder of his responsibilities.
Like all fathers who look at their children, and spiritual fathers who look at the next generation of men: He has a good idea of where he needs, and what he has to do, but he hasn’t taken the first step yet. He knows there are battles before him, and that things are going to be rough for a while. And what are the words of God for him?
Look at Joshua 1:2-9:
“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
God knows the trials ahead. Three times God says, “Be strong and courageous.” And He’ll say it even more times. He knows that Joshua and his big-family are going to have to fight huge battles, be challenged in their faith, and face enemies way too large for them to even consider going against without God’s help. And God knows that the people are going to mess it all up, shrink back when they should charge forward, and will need miraculous provision to see it all happen.
And so, over and over again, God tells Joshua – the new leader of Israel – their human father, to “be strong and courageous”. I love how he says it in verse 6, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” One of my commentaries explains this verse this way, “The need for Joshua to be strong and resolute was acute because he was the instrument for the people to inherit the land. The Hebrew grammatical construction here highlights Joshua himself: if he, of all people, was weak and irresolute, then the cause was in deep trouble.” (Howard, D. M., Jr. (1998). Joshua (Vol. 5, p. 85).)
In the same way, men, we who are biological fathers, adoptive fathers, or spiritual fathers – which covers all of us, by the way – if we, of all people, are weak and irresolute, our church, families and nation is in deep trouble. We know that’s true because we are seeing the fruit of it already.
What We Can Do
So what ought we to do? I realize that the cause looks hopeless, but it is not. Here are a few suggestions for what we can do, as a church, to turn things around.
1. Ladies, Pray for The Men. This first one is for the women. Pray for your men. Your husbands, sons, fathers and grandfathers. Pray that God will send the Holy Spirit to convict them, grow them, change them, strengthen them and turn them into courageous Christian Men who will courageously follow God and lead others. Pray that they will be godly, biblical leaders in your home, your church and your neighbourhoods. Pray that God will send boys and men to this church, and that the men here would take up the challenge to mentor them in the faith.
2. Men, be Good Fathers. Live out your biblical manhood! Be strong and courageous to follow God and lead others.If God has given you sons or daughters, you have a great blessing. Psalm 127:3-5 says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Be thankful for the children you have and see them as a heritage, a reward, and weapons of light in this dark world!
Be a Christian man. Get clean, get pure, get help from God and others. Put down your distractions and sins and “Train up your child in the way he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6). You don’t have long, and this whole world is working against you.
I remind you of the command from the Apostle Paul that your job is not to simply be a harsh tone of discipline, or to exercise authority over your child, but to carefully and lovingly train them. He says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
And I remind you of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:5-6 which speak of how serious God takes the training and raising up of young disciples:
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Take your position as father and spiritual trainer seriously. You will be judged for it in the end.
3. Men, find and care for other’s children (and, may I say, especially boys). I’ve already stated the case for how dangerous the life of a child, boy or girl, is without a father. There are still some children within the walls of our church – and they need the influence of men. Sign up to teach Sunday school, adopt them as friends, speak into their lives on purpose.
And there are other young men who desperately need mentoring. Seek them out, build a relationship with them using whatever tenuous thread you can find. They need you so desperately – whether they want to admit it or not.
But don’t just look inside the church, look outside as well – or maybe especially. Whether it’s Promise Keeper’s Fatherless Project or The Boys and Girls Club or whatever, go and find some men and boys to get into the lives of. Let me say this loud and clear: THEY ARE NOT GOING TO COME TO YOU.
They’ve looked at your religion and see only ridiculous rules and soul-crushing boredom, and want no part of it. They’ve been taught to distrust authority figures, so they don’t want pastors, teachers, parents or mentors to guide them. They seek direction and ultimate meaning from their peers and popular culture, which you know is a terrible idea, but they think it’s the greatest! These young people are just making it up as they go along, guided by foolish peers, internet lies, and demonic temptations – and Satan is having a field day. You must go to them. They will not come to you.
I’m breaking pattern this week so I can share something I wrote for Father’s Day, a sermon based on Psalm 1:1-2. It’s challenging and practical, and I hope will help you next time you have the “I’m worried about the path you’re going down” talk with someone.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Happy Father’s Day! This morning I’m going to give you a tool to use as dad’s (and mom’s, and anyone else too, it’s pretty universal), and a challenge for you to look at in your own life. It’s a tool because after I’m done here you should be able to replicate this little drawing I’ll show you on a napkin while having dinner with your kid, or even an employee, or someone you are mentoring. It’s a challenge because I also want you to think about these concepts for yourselves. This morning we are going to talk about Success.
There seems to be an insatiable desire among people to be seen as, and feel, “successful”, no matter what the cost. And I think the reason is because in a lot of people’s minds, “success” equals happiness… or at least it’s supposed to. We sacrifice a lot of things to achieve this thing called “success”. We work hard at school, sacrificing our time, our friends, and sometimes even our health to be top of our class. Then we get into the working world, and we do the same … whatever that looks like in our field of work.
Is that ok? I think that the desire to be successful, and happy, productive and pleased with our work, is a God given desire, and therefore is holy and good. I believe that God made man for happiness – it was His intention to create beings that would be happy, productive and thriving– to have an abundant life. So it’s a good thing. And on the other hand, nobody wants to be unhappy, a failure or miserable. There are some who do things that, in the end, will make them miserable or set themselves up for failure, but no one starts out their life wanting to live that way.
But there’s a problem with our pursuit of happiness and success – or at least the way many people try to achieve it. One famous theologian (Adam Clarke) states the problem this way,
“So perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.”
In other words, we have this burning desire to attain a life of achievement, accomplishment, happiness and contentment, but we are so clouded by sin and selfish ambition that we end up going all sorts of wrong places to find it. And that hurts the individual, and their relationships with those around them, and their relationship with God. So this morning, I want to talk a little bit about what success really looks like, and to show an important step we must take to attain it.
I started out this morning reading Psalm 1 because I believe it gives us a picture of a successful person… what he looks like, and what he doesn’t. Take a look at the beginning of this verse. The first word in the book of Psalms, the song-book of the bible, is the word “Blessed”. It’s the Hebrew word ESCHER and it’s the word for “Happy”. In Latin it’s translated BEATUS which is where we get the word “beatitude”, which is used in the New Testament when Jesus begins longest set of teachings, His Sermon on the Mount, with a list of “Beatitudes”… “Blessed are the peacemakers…”… or “Happy are peacemakers…” He starts His longest sermon with a picture of what a blessed, happy life looks like.
And that’s what we’re shooting for in life isn’t it? Happiness. It’s what we’re searching for. It’s what we want to provide for ourselves, our children, and those we love. But what does it look like, and where can we get it?
I think it’s highly appropriate to talk about this subject on Father’s Day, because Dad’s (and of course mom’s too!) need to get this right. A lot of dad’s mess this part up, and end up having a lot of regrets in the middle or at the end of their life when they realize that what they had worked so hard to achieve, or spent a lot of time pursuing things that weren’t going to make them truly successful. And I don’t want that for any of you.
So, how does one define success? Is it something that we get to choose ourselves and direct our life towards, or is there a definition that is common to everyone, that is a quintessential measurement of human success?
People define success in many ways. Some measure it in wealth. If you have the most money and stuff, or enough money and stuff to live comfortably, or at least more money and stuff than someone else… then you are doing well – you are a success. Some measure it in health. If you can live the longest, or can run the farthest, lift the most, or hit it harder than anyone else, then you are the best – a success.
Some measure it in popularity. It doesn’t matter how much money you made, or even if you are the best. If you are known by more people, then you are successful. There are people today who are famous for being famous, and that is their end goal. They make nothing important, say nothing important, and contribute very little to society, but they are famous and therefore feel successful. TV shows and magazines follow them around like mosquitoes, and lots of people will do anything to become famous like them – because that’s success.
I heard a little girl on the radio last week when they were doing a radiothon for CHEO. This little girl, who had gone through so much in her life, surrounded by amazing doctors, nurses, specialists… The host asked what she wanted to be when she grew up? Her answer, “I want to be famous.” That is a very telling statement about what we are teaching our youth about how to define success in their life.
Some define success by their peer group. Wealth and fame doesn’t matter, as long as they are acknowledged to be part of a certain group. They work their whole live to get that title. CEO, Elite Status Member, VIP, MVP, Gold Medal Holder, World Record Holder. There are people who have actually died trying just to get into the Guinness book of World Records. One woman died trying to break the world’s Free Diving record… she went 561 feet under water and didn’t come back alive. Many have died trying to set speed records on land, sea and in the air. I read that a man from London essentially killed himself because he wanted to set the world record for spinning in circles. He fell down, cracked his head, and died. He wanted to be identified with that group called “World record holders” so bad, it cost him his life.
So, how do you define success? When you look at what you are putting your effort, energy, time, money, strength, attention, life and heart into… what are you trying to achieve? Happiness, right? Why do it if it won’t make you happy? Well, my hope today, dads, moms, and everyone else here too, is that what you are pouring your life into is actually something worth achieving, and will really bring you true, lasting happiness. And hopefully this is something you can share with others, and can be doing in a way that worships God. It’s based on Psalm 1:1-2.
Let’s read verse 1 again, and today I’m using the English Standard Version, but it’s really close to the NIV. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”. “Blessed is the man…” “Happy is the man…” “Successful is the man…”. He’s showing us a picture here and uses a pretty neat poetic structure to do it. So here’s your picture.
Bill Cosby once said, “Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.”
In other words, the people you are in relationship with, and who influence your life the most, will inevitably dictate its direction. That’s what it says here too. When you think of a person, or when people think of you, who do they associate you with? When people think of you, and summarize who you are at the core… they think… what?
Let me show you the poetic structure and how the psalmist paints the picture of this man’s life. There’s a pretty neat set of three progressions here. The first is: Walking, then Standing, then Sitting. And this is all about commitment to certain relationships. It’s a picture of how this guy got to be who he is today.
Picture yourself at a party, and it’s easier to understand this. First you come into the party and you’re walking around. You’ve still got your jacket on, you’re schmoozing and getting drinks and going to the snack table… you’re not committed to staying, but you’re there. At least when you’re walking you have some kind of momentum and could turn around and walk out the door, change who you’re talking to, and do something different.
But at some point you stop… now you’re standing. You’ve found a group to chat with that seems to have something in common, or is someone you want to get to know. Now you’re not moving and have decided to stick around. Conversations are had, jokes told, stories shared, advice given… but you’re still standing. It’s awkward to hold your snack plate, you can’t really have freedom to gesture or you’ll spill something. You are more committed to this relationship than when you were walking, but you’re not fully comfortable, and could still excuse yourself.
But then comes sitting. Now you’re not just attending the party, you plan on sticking around for a while. You’ve gotten to know some people, moved to the couch, taken off your shoes and your jacket, you’re comfortable there, and you are beginning an intimate conversation with someone and it will take a good effort to get up, gather your things and go somewhere else. This is you at their kitchen table, or in the living room on their couch—this is friendship.
This is the progression of how we build relationships. Walking, Standing, Sitting. The Psalmist here is saying, “Be careful who you associate with. Where you walk, who you stand with, and who you get comfortable around. Your happiness and success will be built on your associations with the people you end up sitting with at this party called ‘life’.”
Now look at the next progression – Counsel-Way-Seat. First is “counsel”. When someone is counselling you, they are talking to you. This is a picture of who influences this man. This is the building of influence. First, it’s talk. It’s advice. Take it or leave it, but the voices are there. This is the lowest level of influence… the voices around us. Those who we hear as we walk around this life. Some are louder, but we are not committed to listening to them.
Next comes “the way”. This is a beautiful word, DEREK, that means journey, path, or direction. In other words, you’ve now moved from this person or group’s voice being just advice that is floating around your ears, and have appropriated their words as ones which guide your way of life… you are now on the same path as them, going the same direction. Your journey and destination is the same as theirs. You go their way. You’ve moved from them being an outside group, to them being people who actually have enough influence to sway the direction of your life. These are your friends and partners.
And finally comes “the seat”. This word MOWSHAB means dwellings, or house, or land or a place to sit. In other words, now you’re living with these folks. You sit and eat at their table and they are like family. They have the highest level of influence in your life.
God’s word here in Psalm 1 seems to be saying that everybody will go through this process. This is non-optional in life. We are going to be walking, standing and sitting with someone, or many someones. And we are going to be influenced by these people, and we will give some of them greater influence over us than others. The caution, and the secret to success and happiness shown here, is being careful when choosing who these people are, and knowing where and what they are leading us towards.
So who are these people? This is the third progression – building associations. This is a picture of who this person IS NOT associating with. Blessed is the person who IS NOT associating with these people. The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers.
“The wicked” is a term used for unrighteous people. Now scripture says that we are all sinners, we are all unrighteous, and need God’s grace to be saved. But this word is not talking about our general condition of being sinners, it is speaking of people who are committed stirring up trouble. The word picture is of a person who is like the water of a troubled and turbulent sea, constantly churning up dirt and muck from the bottom, never stopping to let anyone see clearly. They stir themselves up, and they stir up others, and cloud people with sinful chatter.
These are people who are good talkers, and love to counsel people. They are great whisperers, and backstabbers, and trouble makers. They might not be folks who necessarily commit crimes that people see… and are usually so smooth that people can’t really pin down what they’ve done wrong… but they are the ones who use their words to tear people down, set people up for failure, and lead others astray. We all know these kinds of folks, “the wicked”, and have been hurt by them, right?
Next in the progression comes “sinners”. Now again, we are all sinners, and if we were to try to avoid ever being around sinners, we’d not only be lonely, but we couldn’t even be around ourselves. But this word is an emphatic one. These people are right out in the open with their sin, even bold and daring about the bad things they are doing. They don’t even really try to hide it. They post pictures on Facebook and videos on Youtube of them doing these sinful things! They brag about it! The “wicked” are a bunch of talkers… these people called “sinners” are doers. These are the folks who will even announce their sin before they do it. “We’re going out to get drunk, start a fight, and probably end up in jail, so get out of my way.” Or “I’ve figured out a whole bunch of loopholes in my taxes so I can get a bunch of money that I don’t really deserve… and I’ll show you how!” or “I think pornography and fornication is good, I want to do it, and I think you should join me.” “I want you to come over to my house and let’s gossip and slander the people we know.”
These people are ok with their sin, and boldly proclaim it. But then comes the next part of the progression where one moves from listening to bad things, to doing bad things, to actually working against God and those who follow Him. This is the third group – “the scoffers”. Proverbs 21:24 defines what the word “scoffer” means: ““Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” This is the person who actually derides, mocks, and openly ridicules God and what God wants. The “wicked” talk about sinful things… the “sinners” do sinful things… “scoffers” do both of those, and go further to even despise and make fun of the most sacred precepts of religion, piety and morals. They even invent ways to ridicule God and His people. They put themselves purposely above God, saying He doesn’t exist, that He is foolish, and what He says doesn’t matter… but what they say does matter.
You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do.
This is the third place of the progression. Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But it’s true when you think about it. You give them your ear, and then you follow their path, and then you live with them, and you naturally begin doing what they do. You begin by talking about sin… gossiping, backbiting, verbally abusing, sexual talk, joking about cheating, wishing out loud you had someone else’s stuff, even discussing the what-ifs of certain sinful behaviours… and that eventually leads to the action of sinning. And just like when you stand in a place with a foul smell long enough that you get used to it, you will get used to that kind of thinking and behaviour, and begin to see things from the perspective of those people. It becomes normal. Slander, cheating, fighting, swearing, cutting corners, taking things that don’t belong to you, stretching and breaking the laws… that becomes normal. “That’s just the business world!” we say. “That’s how it is at work!” “That’s what has to be done if you’re going to survive in this world!” “Everybody does it!” “All your friends are doing it.” “It’s a natural part of life.” “It’s biological.” “It’s normal.”
But it goes further. When sin becomes normal, it also becomes our god. We take the True God out of our life and replace him with something else – a god that tells us what we want, and lets us do whatever we want. And as that becomes normal, it’s easier to mock God, His priorities, and His people. Purity is seen as prudishness. Pursuing a holy life is considered to be like living in a prison, restricted in movement, and unpleasant to consider. Worshipping and reading God’s word is considered a waste of time, or even wrong.
Have you ever heard this:
“Churches are just breeding grounds for hypocrites and fakers. If God really loved this world it wouldn’t look like it does… He must be a horrible God. Christians have a blind faith is anti-intellectual and is only for stupid people who get fooled into it. We’ve all moved so far past that old way of thinking. We are in a new age, a new time, and they are still stuck in the Dark Ages. All they want to do is control people, condemn people and take their money. Christianity is for the weak and the dim-witted.”
Easy to see, isn’t it? We’ve all heard it. And this picture in Psalm 1:1 is the progression of how we get there. Some of us came from there and have lived it, others of us still visit there from time to time… and still others are there right now. You may hear this kind of thing regularly, and that’s why you hesitate to tell people you are Christian, or that you go to church.
This is the picture I want you to see and that I want you to be able to draw for your friends, your mentoree’s, and your kids when you have that talk about “the path I see you going down right now”. You know that talk… when you see someone listening to dangerous voices, doing wrong things, and heading towards some serious problems in their life. This is what you can draw for them.
You can say, “Listen! Success isn’t defined by what you have, what you do, who you know, or who knows you… it’s defined by who you are. Who you are when no one’s around except you and God. Who you are in your thought life, your will, your priorities and your desires. Your character. Your integrity.” That’s success!
Verse 2 shows us who this man does associate with, and who he really is. He IS NOT with the wicked, the sinful or scoffers, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Some of us hear that and tense up. Oh great… meditating day and night… reading the bible all day and living on some mountaintop somewhere, eating stewed potatoes and contemplating the complexities of the Book of Job all day long. That’s not what this means.
In easier to understand language it says — a happy and successful person delights (or enjoys and finds benefit in) what God says in the Bible, and throughout his day, from morning to evening, He makes God’s voice the greatest influence in His life. When he’s at work, at the gym, out hunting, doing his taxes, playing with his kids, changing the oil in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, talking to a neighbour or dealing with a problem, He’s allowing God to have the first say in how he reacts and what he does. Jesus gets first dibs. He listens to Jesus’ counsel, walks in Jesus’ way, and sits at Jesus’ table.
That’s what a successful life looks like. When those who are closest to you and know you best (spouse, children, friends) respect you, know you love God, delight in His word, that you love them with all your heart, forgive them of their wrongs, help them to become better people – because that’s what Jesus does for you — then you are a success.
So, to close, I ask you this question: When people think of you, who would they say your number one relationship is with, who your greatest influence is, and who you associate with? Ask your spouse, your friend, or even your kids, to do some association with you.
Do you ever play word association games? I say a word, and you say the first thing that pops into your head.
I say “BLACK”, you say…
I say “CAR”, you say…
I say “FOREST”, you say…
I say “REMOTE” you say…
Now… I say [Your Name], you say…
What is your association? Do this with a friend. Say your name… “When you hear my name, what is the first word that springs to mind?”
When your kids hear “I’m home”! “Dad’s home!”, or “Mom’s Home!” or “Grandpa’s Here!” do they associate that with the thought “Yay! I have to get to the door and get a hug!” Or is it “I have to hide until I find out what mood they’re in before I go anywhere.” What about your wife (or your husband, ladies). What word do they pick? “Angry”, “Grumpy”, “Caring”, “Generous”, “Cheap”, “Funny”, “Serious”, “Confusing”, “Unavailable”, “Dark”, “Dirty”, “Hard-Worker”, “Godly”.
Is that word a characteristic of the people from verse 1, or the man in verse 2?