Whose Side Are You On? by Joe Stowell

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” James 4:4Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)

Ever been caught in the middle of a fight? When I was a kid in junior high school, two of my buddies had a disagreement and planned to prove their dominant masculinity in a fight at the park after school. “Red” was a friend from my youth group at church, and Larry was a buddy from my neighborhood. As we walked to the park after school that day, all of Red’s friends were following him, while all of Larry’s friends clustered around him. I didn’t know what to do. Both of them were my friends. So I decided to do the diplomatic thing. First, I walked for a bit with Larry, and then I slipped over to Red’s side of the street. I’ll never forget what Red said to me. “Joe, you’re either my friend or Larry’s friend. You can’t have it both ways. Make up your mind.”

Ouch.

I knew right away that what he said had a ring of truth to it. Not unlike Red’s remark to me, the apostle James jabs us with a stinging warning: “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

I doubt that any of us would want to be on the wrong side of that equation. Yet it’s so easy to sidle up to the ways of the world. How can we know whose side we’re really on? Thankfully, Paul gives us a clue. In Galatians 5:19-21Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), just before he gives the famous list of the fruits of the Spirit, he lists several examples of how friendship with the world shows up in our actions: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

If you find yourself in that list, you’re making a huge statement about whose side you’re on. And here’s a scary thought—not only are you a friend of the world, but an enemy of God when your actions stand in sharp contrast to His will and His ways. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us in enemy territory. He goes on to list some examples of what friendship with God looks like: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)).

Jesus Himself made the grounds for friendship with Him clear when He said to His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Doing His will is what proves our friendship with Him, and it is what empowers us to bear much fruit to His glory!

So, whose side are you on? Friendship with Jesus is proven when we walk with Him in His will and His ways, which means that friendship with Jesus is a choice—a choice between Him and the ways of this fallen world.

Take it from me, James, Paul, and my friend Red, you can’t have it both ways. So be sure that you’re walking in Jesus’ crowd!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Read carefully through the lists in Galatians 5:19-23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available). Which list best describes you? Would the people who know you agree with your answer?
What do you think James meant when he used the phrase “adulterous people”? How does it affect you to think of your relationship with God and the world in terms of a love relationship?
None of us wants to be described as an “enemy of God.” What do we need to do to prevent that from happening?
Remember, God’s most passionate desire for your life is that you will bear fruit. Do you have that passion in common with Him?
Think of a practical way that you can be a friend of God today. (Hint: consult the list in Galatians 5:22-23Open in Logos Bible Software (if available).)

Whose Side Are You On?

Whose Side Are You On?

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” James 4:4

Ever been caught in the middle of a fight? When I was a kid in junior high school, two of my buddies had a disagreement and planned to prove their dominant masculinity in a fight at the park after school. “Red” was a friend from my youth group at church, and Larry was a buddy from my neighborhood. As we walked to the park after school that day, all of Red’s friends were following him, while all of Larry’s friends clustered around him. I didn’t know what to do. Both of them were my friends. So I decided to do the diplomatic thing. First, I walked for a bit with Larry, and then I slipped over to Red’s side of the street. I’ll never forget what Red said to me. “Joe, you’re either my friend or Larry’s friend. You can’t have it both ways. Make up your mind.”

Ouch.

I knew right away that what he said had a ring of truth to it. Not unlike Red’s remark to me, the apostle James jabs us with a stinging warning: “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

I doubt that any of us would want to be on the wrong side of that equation. Yet it’s so easy to sidle up to the ways of the world. How can we know whose side we’re really on? Thankfully, Paul gives us a clue. In Galatians 5:19-21, just before he gives the famous list of the fruits of the Spirit, he lists several examples of how friendship with the world shows up in our actions: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”

If you find yourself in that list, you’re making a huge statement about whose side you’re on. And here’s a scary thought—not only are you a friend of the world, but an enemy of God when your actions stand in sharp contrast to His will and His ways. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us in enemy territory. He goes on to list some examples of what friendship with God looks like: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Jesus Himself made the grounds for friendship with Him clear when He said to His disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). Doing His will is what proves our friendship with Him, and it is what empowers us to bear much fruit to His glory!

So, whose side are you on? Friendship with Jesus is proven when we walk with Him in His will and His ways, which means that friendship with Jesus is a choice—a choice between Him and the ways of this fallen world.

Take it from me, James, Paul, and my friend Red, you can’t have it both ways. So be sure that you’re walking in Jesus’ crowd!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Read carefully through the lists in Galatians 5:19-23. Which list best describes you? Would the people who know you agree with your answer?
What do you think James meant when he used the phrase “adulterous people”? How does it affect you to think of your relationship with God and the world in terms of a love relationship?
None of us wants to be described as an “enemy of God.” What do we need to do to prevent that from happening?
Remember, God’s most passionate desire for your life is that you will bear fruit. Do you have that passion in common with Him?
Think of a practical way that you can be a friend of God today. (Hint: consult the list in Galatians 5:22-23.)

Whose Side Are You On?

Thud!

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

Interesting, isn’t it, how some childhood experiences are permanently seared into our memory banks? One of my unforgettable memories is of watching my boyhood friend Bobby getting hit by a car. After church one Sunday morning, he and I were standing on the front steps talking. Why he decided to bolt into the street between two parked cars I’ll never know. But that is exactly what he did. As Bobby ran between the cars, his mother, who could see a car coming, screamed: “Stop! Bobby, Stop!” Whether he didn’t hear her or didn’t care I’m not sure. He just kept running. What haunts me to this day is the memory of the sound of screeching brakes and the thud of his body against the car’s fender. I need to tell you that I am tired of hearing the thud of fellow followers of Jesus getting hit by Satan. Like friends who thought that the most important thing in life was career advancement, only to hear the thud of the long-term damage to their kids and spouses. Or of those who sold out to the allure of an affair—or to the addictive seduction of porn—and are now left with the regrets of the collateral damage of their choices.

It’s easy to think you can get ahead by putting other people down or that intimidation and manipulation are handy tools for staying in control. But the thud of ruined relationships and reputations is a big price to pay for doing whatever is necessary to keep yourself on top. Lying to weasel out of a problem erodes the trust factor and compromises the strength of your character. The list of thud-able choices is long and the consequences are often irreversible.

Granted, we are sometimes blindsided by our ignorance or instinctively wrong about our responses to life. But thankfully, God is never blindsided. And, He’s never wrong. From His vantage point He has a clear view of Satan’s destructive attempts to thud our lives. So, like Bobby’s mom, He warns us with clear and unmistakable shouts from His Word. God’s Word is full of warnings about things like greed, selfishness, lying, lust, gossip, hatred, bitterness, envy, argumentative attitudes, stealing, murmuring, oppression, and ignoring the needs of the poor and underprivileged. So, it’s not that there is a lack of clarity in His voice. The problem is ours. Too often, like Bobby, we either are not listening, or we just don’t care.

The warning shouts of Bobby’s mother came from a heart of love and concern for Bobby’s welfare and safety. God warns us as well because He loves us deeply and wants to rescue us from the impending disaster of that thud in our own lives. It’s easy to think of God’s warnings and prohibitions as His attempt to take all the fun out of our lives, but that’s so wrong. In fact, nothing would give Satan more joy than getting you to think like that, because the more you think like that, the easier it is for him to “devour” you. And that’s a thud that I never want to hear!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Think of a situation when you ignored God’s warnings and experienced Satan’s damage in your life. Envision what you could have done to heed the warnings. How would your life be different today if you had listened?
Is there an area of your life where Satan has so controlled you that you habitually repeat the damage of his devouring desires for your life? Be specific.
Look through God’s Word and memorize at least three warnings about that area of your life, and pray that every time you are tempted to fail you will remember the warning and avoid the thud of a disastrous consequence. What positive habit of righteousness could you put in its place?

Thud!

A Worthy Offering

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. —Genesis 4:7

I was delighted when a mutual friend gave my neighbor a Bible. But my neighbor told me she stopped reading it because she couldn’t understand why God would be so unfair as to reject Cain’s offering. “After all,” she said, “as a farmer, he simply brought to God what he had. Did God expect him to buy a different kind of sacrifice?” Sadly, she had missed the point.

It wasn’t that God didn’t like vegetables. Rather, He knew that Cain’s offering was masking an unrighteous attitude. Cain wasn’t fully committed to God, as expressed by the fact that he wasn’t living according to God’s ways.

It’s easy to worship God on the outside while stubbornly keeping territory from Him on the inside. Jude writes about outwardly religious people who use religious activities to cover the reality of their sinful lives: “Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11). We can faithfully serve God, sing His praises, and give sacrificially to His work. But God doesn’t want any of that without our hearts.

Does the Lord take priority over our plans and dreams? Is He worth more than the sin that tempts us? When we express to Him that He is more worthy than anything or anyone else in our lives, it’s an offering He won’t refuse.

Lord, may our worship and our praise,
From hearts surrendered to Your ways,
Be worthy offerings of love
For all Your blessings from above. —Sper

God won’t refuse a heart that is surrendered to Him.

A Worthy Offering

Trash Talk

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil . . . . It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6

One morning when I was pulling out of our driveway on my way to work, I noticed that someone had thrown a beer can on our lawn. I picked it up, tossed it into our garbage can and drove away without giving it much thought.

A little further down the road, the thought hit me: What will the garbage man think when he sees a beer can tumble out of the minister’s trash can? I suppose, if my trash can could have talked, it would have set the garbage man straight. But unfortunately, trash cans don’t say much these days. So, my reputation was left to whatever the sanitation engineer would conclude. And while beer cans in your trash may not be the worst thing that could happen, I wondered what would have been the conclusion if a neighbor boy had dumped his porn magazines into our garbage?

We have all jumped to a conclusion about somebody without knowing all the facts, only to hear the rest of the story and then feel terrible about what we have said about that person to others. To make matters worse, there is no way that we can retrace all our false information to rescue the victim’s reputation. No wonder James warns, “The tongue is a fire, a world of evil.”

When we draw conclusions quickly—without careful consideration of the consequences and risks, we stoop to the level of tabloid reporting. We carelessly trash valued reputations and do irreparable damage. This lethal habit of our tongues is called the sin of beguilement—the sin of drawing wrong conclusions and then passing them on.

Avoiding this kind of “trash talk” means that we refuse to make any firm conclusions until the facts are in. When in doubt, go to the person for clarification. If your conclusions are true, you can help them repent and lead them lovingly to recovery. If they are not true, you can stick up for them if others are spreading beguilement about them. And, when someone comes to you with some “trash talk” about another person, be quick to ask, “Do you know that for sure?” Tell them that you really don’t want to know about the situation until you both can be certain about the facts. Encourage them to go directly to the person before they say anything else to others.

Reputations are too important to throw in the trash. I’m a raving fan of protecting people in love rather than getting some sort of sick joy out of speaking poorly about others. After all, Scripture tells us that “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8)!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Do you have areas in your life where it would be easy for people to misinterpret your actions and draw false conclusions? Make a list of those areas and commit to live a life that is “above reproach” according to the principles of 1 Timothy 3:2-4.
Are you currently dealing with a situation where it would be easy to draw false conclusions? If so, pray about what to do. Consider speaking directly to those involved to clarify the facts.
Beguilement is a sin that doesn’t get much press these days. If this is something you struggle with, bring it into the light. Ask the people you regularly talk with for their help to abstain from this practice.

Trash Talk

Abandoned

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Genesis 3:6

If you were ever a freshman in college, you may remember how cool you felt if an upperclassman showed some interest in you.

T. J. Evans lived across the hall from me my freshman year. He was a self-assured upperclassman with that I’ve-got-it-all-together swagger in his walk. It didn’t take long to realize that he was a big man on campus. So you can imagine how flattering it felt when he took an interest in the freshmen on our floor.

Well, take an interest in us he did. But we were soon to find out that he had a sinister agenda up his sleeve. After curfew, he would hang out with us and suggest brilliant pranks that we could pull off under the cover of darkness. He’d help us design the strategy and off we’d go, only to get caught and find ourselves in a lot of trouble. When we got caught, we always noticed that T. J. was nowhere to be seen. He had sent us off and stayed in his room taking great delight in seeing us freshmen end up in a heap of trouble. In retrospect, I can’t believe we let him do that to us—not just once but we were dumb enough to have it happen a lot! It’s the old, “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me!” routine.

When I think about it, T. J.’s delight in getting us in trouble is not much different than Satan’s interest in you and your life. He comes along with nifty schemes that look like fun—things he assures will make you happy, fulfilled, and satisfied. When someone hurts you, he has an I don’t get mad, I just get even strategy that makes you feel really good about not being taken advantage of. Instant trips into pleasure-land and debt-increasing spending sprees offer quick kicks of adrenalin. If you have a need, if you have a desire—believe me, he has a plan! But when you execute his strategy, he’ll be nowhere to be found. He won’t be there to deliver on his promise that you will be happy and fulfilled. He won’t even have the decency to help you pick up the pieces and to apologize for messing up your life. In fact, all the time he had a sinister agenda up his sleeve! He loves to see our lives complicated with shame, guilt, and regret. He is the master of ruined lives. As Peter warns us, he’s on the prowl looking for someone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8)!

We should have known. When he lured Adam and Eve with an offer they found hard to refuse, he didn’t stay around to make good on his promise but slithered off leaving them fearful, ashamed, and full of regret. And that strategy was so good that he continues to find it useful in your life and mine thousands of years later.

Peter Berger said it well when he wrote:

He who sups with the devil had better have a long spoon, because he who sups with the devil will find that his spoon gets shorter and shorter until that last supper in which he is left alone at the table with no spoon at all and an empty plate. But the devil, one may guess, will have then gone on to more interesting company.

Fool us once, shame on Satan! Fool us twice, shame on us!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Think about a specific time when you fell to a suggestion of Satan in your life. Which of the following did you experience in the aftermath of your decision: Shame? Regret? Guilt? All of the above?
Is there a plan of Satan that you consistently fall for? Why?
Select an area of your life where you repeatedly fail and find Scriptures that address the issue. What plan can you put in place so that you’re not fooled by Satan in that area again?

Abandoned

Under New Management

“Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:24

It’s always an unsettling moment when you pull up to one of your favorite haunts only to see a sign posted in the window that reads “Under New Management.” A change in management probably means that what you loved about the place before, is not going to be the way it used to be. Different servers, different menus, and a different décor all threaten our sense of familiarity and comfort. And while it may ultimately be a change for the better, the idea of change is not always welcome.

When we came to Jesus knowing that we desperately needed a Savior for the forgiveness of our sins, something dramatic happened: He moved in. We were not just given a redemptive passport that guaranteed us freedom from hassle at the border of heaven. We received the gift of the indwelling Spirit, who intends to put our entire life under “new management” so that He can activate significant changes. He is looking for cooperative partners who fully believe that life under His control is far better than life under the old management.

The new management seeks to transition us from the destructive patterns of old desires to the new program of the power and peace that comes from doing the right things and living to reflect the qualities and character of God. This transition explains why people under new management are faithful to their spouse, remain committed to integrity even when it puts something of value at risk, why they actively care for needs of the poor and oppressed, live in the face of hostile environments with courage and confidence, see their income and careers as not an end in itself but as a means to advance the kingdom of Christ.

But beware. Living under the management of Jesus can often require radical choices. A man in one of the churches I pastored worked as a regional manager of a large cable network. He was good at his job, and a promotion to headquarters was on the horizon for him. Which is why I was surprised when he came up to me one Sunday and said, “Pastor, I have a tremendous conflict in my heart. Every day I get up and go to work realizing that, as a follower of Jesus, I am selling pornography on our channels. What do you think I should I do?”

You’d think as a pastor that I would have immediately suggested that he quit his job. But that would be a really scary step to take. How would he make payments on his house? Support his family? What about healthcare and retirement? So I said, “Let’s pray this week that God will give you wisdom and a clear sense of direction.”

The next Sunday he said, “I decided what to do. I quit my job.” Wow! I couldn’t believe it! My first thought was that maybe God had done a phenomenal miracle and provided another job for him. But he said, “I have no idea what I’m going to do, I just know that God will provide!”

When we embrace life under new management, the change may be dramatic—but count on it, it will be a change for the better. Just ask my friend and he’ll tell you, it’s not worth living under the old management if it means you have to cast your lot with Satan. When you turn your life over to the new manager—Jesus—be assured that regardless of what it takes, He will reprogram your life for His glory and your good!

“Management by Jesus” should be the sign that hangs on all of our lives!

YOUR JOURNEY…

Who is in charge of your life? Ask the Lord to help you identify ways in which you still reflect the “old” management of sin, and then yield to His management.
What fears might surface as you think about surrendering your life completely to the control of Jesus Christ?
Think of a practical way that you can “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” today.

Under New Management