A Friend Indeed.

Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all. – 2 Samuel 23:24-39 ESV

Chapter 23 closes with a list of 37 men. Several things should jump out at us. First of all is the inclusion of the name of Uriah the Hittite, the man David had exposed to enemy fire on the front lines in order that he might be killed and so that David could take his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. And all of this had been done to cover up David’s affair with her and the pregnancy that had resulted from it. While Uriah had been killed early on in David’s reign, he is recognized here at the end of David’s life as one of “the Thirty.” We don’t know exactly what that title entails and what the responsibilities were for each of these men, but we do know that they were considered men of distinction. Even David had to admit that Uriah, though long dead, was a man of integrity, having refused to give in to David’s attempts to get him to sleep with his wife while his fellow soldiers were battling the enemy. Uriah had turned down David’s counsel to enjoy the comforts of home, instead choosing to sleep at the doorstep of the king’s palace. And he willingly returned to the front lines, unknowingly carrying his own death certificate, in the form of a letter from David to Joab, commanding that Uriah be exposed to deadly enemy fire on the front lines and left to die.

Another thing that should jump out at you is the variety of the men in this list. Some were Israelites. Others were not. You have groups listed like the Paltites, Hushathites, Ahohites, Arbathites, Shaalbonites, Hararites, Gilonites, Arbites, Gadites, Ammonites, Ithrites, and Hittites. We don’t much about many of these people groups, but it reveals the ethnic diversity of David’s mighty men. David’s kingdom and his army were multicultural. These men loved and supported David. They were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, if necessary. We are not given any specifics regarding the actions of these men or how they had come to be included in “the Thirty”, but they were special to David. They had proved faithful to him over the years. No doubt there were some, like Uriah, who gave their lives for David. Others fought for him or gave him counsel and advice. They had diverse backgrounds and different duties, but they all shared a common bond with David.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Joab, the long-time commander of David’s armies and the man who had stood beside him all the years of his life. Joab had disobeyed David and killed Absalom, David’s son. He had also killed Abner and Amasa, against the wishes of David. So he is not included in David’s inner circle. But his armor bearer is.

An important character quality of a true friend is that of loyalty. These men had proven themselves loyal and dedicated to David. Joab had as well, but he had also shown himself to be blunt and brutally honest with David. He loved him enough to call him out. When David was stuck in a state of perpetual mourning over the death of Absalom, it had been Joab who called him out and demanded that he act like a king or face the loss of his kingdom. David needed to hear what Joab had to say. It seems that there were times when Joab did what David was either afraid or reluctant to do. That too, is an important character quality of a true friend. Someone who always agrees with you or overlooks your faults and sins, is not someone who loves you. Solomon, the son of David, would record the following sayings in his book of Proverbs:

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy. – Proverbs 27:6 NLT

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

The truth is, we all need someone like Joab in our life. It’s always great to be surrounded by those who look up to you and who are willing to do whatever it takes to make you successful. But sometimes we just need one individual who is willing to say the hard things and to hold us to a higher standard. Joab and David didn’t always get along. They didn’t always agree. But Joab had proven himself faithful to David, time and time again. And he loved David too much to watch him do nothing, risking his kingdom by losing the respect of his people.

David had no shortage of faithful followers, brave companions and dedicated servants. But there were times when he could have used a few more men like Joab in his life. What kind of friend are you? Are you steadfast and faithful, always there when your friends need you? Are you willing to risk losing a friend by speaking up and calling them out over their sins? Joab was far from perfect. He had his own struggles with anger, impulsiveness and seeking revenge. But he loved David greatly. So much so that he was willing to risk David’s wrath by standing up to David when he knew that David was wrong. A godly leader who has followers is fortunate, but a godly leader who has faithful and honest friends is blessed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Proverbs 19d

Father Versus Friend.

“Discipline your children while there is hope. Otherwise you will ruin their lives.” – Proverbs 19:18 NLT

As the father of six children, I know a fair amount about raising kids. Notice I didn’t say I knew a lot about raising kids WELL. In thirty-plus years of parenting, I have made my fair share of mistakes, and I continue to make them. But one of the most significant battles I have faced as a father is the temptation to try and be my children’s best friend, rather than their father. Here’s how it looks. Any time I have let slide some less-than-acceptable behavior because I didn’t want to run the risk of making them mad at me, I have traded in being a father for being a friend. When I have refused to punish their actions because I wanted to avoid the confrontation, I have made friendship more important than fatherhood. And every time I have made being a friend to my kids the driving factor in our relationship, I have done them a disservice. My kids don’t need me to be their best buddy, they need me to be their dad. And sometimes that role requires me to discipline and train them. Turning a blind eye to their behavior is not love, it’s a form of child abuse. When I do it, I am allowing them to act in such a way that is unacceptable and potentially harmful to their future. The Proverbs call us to discipline our children while there is still hope. In other words, there is a window of opportunity in which we can instill into our kids the kind of discipline that will ultimately manifest itself in self-discipline. We are called to teach and train them. We are commanded to encourage them and, at times, admonish them. The desire to have them like me is a dangerous one. It seems so worthwhile and right. But how many times have we sacrificed their future well-being because we refused to teach them the consequences of their actions? That kind of parenting can ruin their lives. It makes them selfish and self-centered. It teaches them that the world revolves around them. It encourages them to become self-focused children who grow up to become self-absorbed, narcissistic adults.

Coddling and caving into our kids now will only ruin them later. We are called to be their parents, not their best friends. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about whether our children like us or not. But it does mean that we may have to run the risk of making them angry at times in order to help make them godly. Giving in to their every whim is not good for them, but simply bad parenting. Over the years, I have often found myself refusing to discipline my children just because I didn’t want to be unpopular. I have stayed quiet when I should have spoken up. I have looked the other way when I have should have pointed out what I saw. I have avoided when I should have confronted. Parenting is a long-term commitment. If we focus on short-term gains, not only will we lose, so will our children. We need to view what we do as an investment that pays future dividends, not a quick-fix remedy that makes our kids happy for the moment. When we parent that way we aren’t doing our kids any favors. While our children may not appreciate our discipline now, a day is coming when they will look back and recognize our efforts with gratitude not regret.

Father, help me be faithful to remain firm in my role as the disciplinarian of my kids. Don’t let me sacrifice the long-term goals for short-term gains. But also make sure I always discipline in love, not anger. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 17d

A Friend In Need Is A Friend Indeed.

“A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” – Proverbs 17:17 NLT

My first reaction when reading the verse above is to say, “Really?” I can’t help but be a bit doubtful about the veracity of this statement based on my own experience with my own friends. I haven’t always found my friends to be loyal or my brothers to be there when I needed them. So what’s the problem? What am I missing here? I think Solomon is talking about “true” friendship and brotherhood. In other words, he is describing these relationships as God designed them to be. Both were His idea, not ours. He came up with the concept of a friend and He established the parameters under which that relationships should function – in an ideal world – a world free from sin. In that kind of world a friend WOULD always be loyal and a brother WOULD always be there in time of need. Of course, in a world free from sin, there wouldn’t be any need. But the point is that God has a high view of both friendship and brotherhood. He has not lowered His expectations due to the fall. He still expects us to be the kind of friends who remain loyal, through thick and thin. He still expects us to be the kind of brother who shows up when needed, regardless of the time or the inconvenience.

Paul describes the kind of love this requires. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:7 NLT). Solomon tells us, “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9 NLT). Love seems to be the key. The kind of love that Paul describes all throughout chapter 13 of the book of 1st Corinthians. It is agape love, that sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love that Jesus modeled for us. It is the kind of love that expects nothing in return, that doesn’t demand reciprocal demonstrations of love. A true friend is loyal even in the face of disloyalty. A true brother continues to help even when he finds himself alone in his own time of need. The motivation is love, not payback. The model is Christ. He loved us when we refused to love Him back. He continues to be the consummate example of a friend, remaining loyal to us even when we are painfully disloyal to Him. He is the ideal example of a brother, remaining faithful to us in our times of need, regardless of our faithfulness to Him.

We live in difficult times, surrounded by adversity and constantly finding ourselves in need. God has designed friendship and brotherhood as means to provide help, hope, comfort and encouragement. He has placed us in the family of God and made us brothers and sisters in order that we might exhibit His love to one another through tangible acts of kindness, care, and encouragement. Our ability to be loyal and our capacity to meet needs is from God. He has equipped us and expects us to be true friends and brothers. Our greatest witness of the presence and power of God is to do just that.

Father, show me how to be a true friend and the kind of brother who is there in time of need. Continue to remove my tendency toward selfishness and self-centeredness. Forgive me of the what’s-in-it-for-me mentality that pervades my thinking. Let me see Your Son as the model and follow His lead. May I listen to Your Spirit more and less to my flesh. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 19b

The Fake Vs. The Faithful Friend.

“Loyalty makes a person attractive. It is better to be poor than dishonest.” – Proverbs 19:22 NLT

Nobody likes fakes friends. You know the kind. They smile and act as if they’re your best friend, but when your back is turned, they turn on you. They desert you. They prove to be disingenuous to you. But the very next time you see them, they act as if nothing has happened and all is well. They’re fake and can be highly frustrating. Sometimes people can pretend to like us for what we own, less than for who we are. They like our “toys” and so they will tolerate us in order to have access to them. Solomon warns us about this kind of “friend.” He says, “wealth makes many ‘friends’; poverty drives them all away” (Proverbs 19:4 NLT). In other words, these are fair-weather friends who like us as long as we have something they want. Once that something goes away, so do they. Their friendship was just a facade to facilitate their own selfish desires. Sometimes what others want from us is our influence. They see us as a person of importance and so they come alongside us, offering to be our friend just so that they might have access to our circle of influence. Solomon warns us about these kinds of friends as well: “Many seek favors from a ruler; everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts” (Proverbs 19:6 NLT). A powerful person can mistakenly believe that everyone beating a path to his door is truly interested in being his friend, when what they really want is not a relationship, but a favor. Everyone loves a generous person. Everyone is willing to put up with even the most obnoxious person as long as he gives them gifts. But these people are not true friends.
All of this reveals the sin that lurks in the heart of everyone of us. We can easily turn friendship into a self-centered pursuit that is all about us with little regard for the other person in the relationship. Think about how many friendships dissolve because the other person failed to meet our expectations, let us down, or were easily replaced by someone more popular, attractive, or beneficial to us in some way. Yet that is not the kind of friendship we are called to by God. Loyalty is important to Him. He doesn’t want us to use one another and selfishly manipulate our relationships just to get the most out of them. Loyalty and love go hand in hand. Loyalty is an expression of love. Loyalty is what makes a person truly attractive as a friend (Proverbs 19:22). The faithful, unfailing friend is the one we will look for in the end. When all the fake friends have long deserted us, a faithful friend will still be there, waiting to reestablish the relationship we once had with them. Fake friends are fickle friends. Faithful friends are steadfast and true. What kind of a friend are you? Do you choose your friends based on what you are going to get out of the relationship? Is your motivation self-serving or selfless? Can you count the number of poor friends you have on one hand?
Solomon reminds us, “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24 NLT). Again, what kind of a friend are you?

Father, make me a faithful, not a fake, friend. I want to be honest, not disingenuous. I want to be real in my relationships. Forgive me for using people for my own selfish interests. Give me a heart like You have. Help me to give my life away, expecting nothing in return. Don’t let me measure my friendships based on what I can get out of them, but instead, by what I can give. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 17c

Conflict Resolution.

“Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” – Proverbs 17:9 NLT

We’ve all seen it happen. Perhaps we’ve even had it happen to us. A close friendship dissolved over an unresolved issue. A disagreement that never was dealt with properly and which resulted in alienation, accusation, and acrimony. It happens to friendships and even the relationships between parents and children, brothers and sisters, and even Christ-followers. Many times these conflicts start with something fairly insignificant and small, but when left unresolved, they fester and grow, like an untreated wound. What began as a small things becomes a big thing because proper steps weren’t taken to begin with. A hurtful word or a painful action causes a crack to develop in a relationship. And when it is not addressed in a godly and timely manner, the enemy takes advantage of the situation and begins to pry and press on that crack in an effort to widen and worsen it. Jesus told us that the enemy comes “to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He wants to destroy our relationships, kill our friendships, and steal the benefits available to us through community. Satan hates love. It’s that simple. Yet Solomon reminds us that “love prospers when a fault is forgiven” (Proverbs 17:9 NLT). God is love and He desires that we live lives of love for Him and others. But it is impossible to love when we refuse to forgive. We are incapable of love if we demand our rights and hold on to all the bad things done to us. Our harboring of anger, resentment and bitterness to the other person does little to change or convict them, but it can end up destroying us – from the inside out. It produces a toxic blend of bitterness, anger, and resentment that becomes like a cancer in our system, eating us away internally and destroying us spiritually. Paul tells us, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT). We are to forgive in the same way we have been forgiven by God. No qualifications. No conditions. No grading on the curve. Just forgive. Is forgiving hard to do? You bet. Especially when someone refuses to admit that they were wrong or that they even hurt us. And even harder than forgiving is forgetting. We may feel like we’ve forgiven that person, but then the next time we see them we are reminded once again of all that they did to us. The memories resurface and the resentment bubbles to the surface once again. It’s normal and natural. But that’s when we need to turn it over to the Lord and ask for His help. Letting go of a wrong done to us is difficult, but no impossible. God would not have commanded us to forgive one another if was impossible. He has provided us with all the power we need to obey through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. But we have to acknowledge our need for help and request His assistance. We have to confess our own anger, bitterness and unforgiving spirit and ask the Holy Spirit for the strength we need to give up and let go – whether the other party ever confesses their wrong or asks for our forgiveness. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven” (Proverbs 17:9 NLT). It grows within us. It produces life instead of death. It thwarts the enemy’s attempts to drive a wedge between us and others. It reminds us of how much we have been forgiven by God. Life is too short to spend it bitter, angry, and resentful. Listen to these words from The Message paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Father, it is so easy to hold a grudge. It is so easy to get hurt and grow bitter by what others say or do to us. But You have called us to love. You have commanded us to forgive. And You have modeled it perfectly through the life of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me learn to let go of my grudges more quickly, forgive more readily, and love more willingly. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 13b

Choose Your Friends Wisely.

“Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.” – Proverbs 13:20 NLT

What if you were to read the Proverbs as if our heavenly Father was writing these words specifically to us as His children? Consider the possibility that these are not really the words of Solomon to his son, but the counsel of God to His people. And they are far more than just simple maxims for life, but the divine advice of a wise and all-knowing God who is trying to equip His children to live life in this world. God knows there are two types of people in this world: Those who seek after Him and benefit from that relationship by gaining wisdom, knowledge, understanding, insight and common sense; and those who reject Him, living their lives as if He doesn’t exist and attempting to navigate life on their own wits and wherewithal.

God seems to be telling us to choose our friends carefully because they will have a tremendous influence on our lives. Those with whom we choose to spend our lives will end up impacting our lives in a dramatic manner – either positively or negatively. So choose wisely. In fact, God tells us that if we walk with the wise we will become more wise. The Hebrew word for walk is halak, and it can mean “to live your life.” It is as if God is saying, “If you want to increase in wisdom, as you go about your daily life, associate with wise people who love God.” Who we choose to surround ourselves with will play a major part in whether we end up more godly or less. This is not a command to completely disassociate ourselves from ungodly people, but to recognize that there is a potential danger in making them the primary relationships in our lives. But I really think that God is warning us to stay away from those who claim to be Christ-followers but who live like fools, ignoring the wisdom of God and choosing to live as if He doesn’t really exist. These people are a real danger to our faith walk. They appear to be like-minded, going to church and going through the motions of religious activity. But for all intents and purposes, they live as if God doesn’t exist. They ignore His Word, they refuse to listen to His commands, they love the world more than they do Him, and they rely on the wisdom of this world more than they do the wisdom available through an intimate relationship with God the Father. The danger of surrounding ourselves with these kinds of “fools” is that we feel safe. They make us feel comfortable. They say all the right things. They go to church. They pray. They may even go to Bible study with us. But in the end, they are pretenders. They talk a good game, but don’t walk the talk. They will slowly and subtly lull us into a sense of spiritual complacency. God warns us, “Associate with fools and get in trouble.” These people are a bad influence. They want all the blessings that God has to offer, but are to lazy to seek them (Proverbs 13:4, 11). They leave behind a wake of shame and disgrace from their actions (Proverbs 13:5). They are too proud to take advice (Proverbs 13:10, 13, 18). They are dangerously impulsive and lack discernment (Proverbs 13:16). They never see their hopes and dreams come about because they refuse to turn from evil (Proverbs 13:12, 19). They seemed plagued by trouble (Proverbs 13:21).

Why would you associate with people like this? Because they seem pleasant enough. They are good-natured, fun-loving, easy-going, and lower the bar of expectation so that you feel good about yourself. They don’t challenge you, correct you, push you, inspire you, or encourage you to greater things. They are content to live in spiritual mediocrity. But if you choose to surround yourself with the wise, you will inherently grow wiser. The wise are those who love God and who humbly live their lives in dependence upon Him. They are not perfect, but simply driven to know God better and better. They realize they can’t live the Christian life without Him. These kind of people inspire us, encourage us, uphold us, and sometimes even admonish us. They refuse to accept second-best from us. They are the ones who are growing in their knowledge of the Word. They pray for us. They confess sin to us. They are humble, selfless, kind, encouraging, inspiring, and sometimes even intimidating. But when we’re around them, we can’t help but want more out of life. So who have you surrounded yourself with? What kind of people are having the greatest impact and influence on your life? Choose your friends wisely.

Father, thank You for placing wise, godly friends in my life. Continue to help me select my friends carefully. They will play a significant role in helping me stay steady and on course as I live my life in this fallen world. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

Proverbs 27

Cultivating True Community.

“Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:6 NLT

Let’s face it. Relationships are messy. Living with others can be difficult at times. But there is a huge advantage to living in true biblical community. And the Proverbs have a lot to say about the impact of wisdom and foolishness on our relationships. A fool is self-centered and myopic, only thinking about himself and tends to live with a certain level of insensitivity. He doesn’t think about how his words and actions will impact those around him. He doesn’t even care. But a man or woman of wisdom understands their responsibility to care about and care for those around them and the live accordingly. Those who live in true community understand that words are powerful. They know that there will be times when words of encouragement are needed, but also times when a word of warning or rebuke is necessary. In a healthy relationship to withhold a much-deserved rebuke is as wrong as refusing to express our love verbally.  “An open rebuke is better than hidden love” (Proverbs 27:5 NLT). While correction and criticism is never easy to receive, a true friend will care enough about us to tell us the hard truth. “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6 NLT). Fools will tell us what we want to hear. They will tell us how wonderful we think we are, but overlook the faults in our lives that are preventing us from being who God wants us to be. False flattery is deadly. It puffs us up and gives us a false sense of confidence and feeds our self-righteousness. But a true friend will tell us the truth, even if it hurts. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). Friendships should involve friction. But it should productive friction. As we rub up against one another in our relationships there should be a certain give-and-take that allows us to push, prod, and pull each other towards increasing righteousness.

Many of our relationships are shallow and dishonest. We refuse to speak truth into one another’s lives. We openly tolerate godlessness and flatter one another with words of kindness when what we really need is a swift kick in the pants and a dose of reality. But many of us are afraid to play hardball in our relationships because we fear what others may say about how we live our lives. We’re afraid that if we critique someone else’s life, it will leave the door open for them to return the favor. And we’re exactly right – it will. And we should welcome it. The truth is, most of us have no idea what we’re really like. We can’t see our faults and weaknesses. Our foolish friends will leave us thinking we don’t have any. But a true friend will point them out in a loving, caring way, and help us take steps to correct them. They are able to look into our lives and see our heart, something we can’t do on our own. “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person” (Proverbs 27:19 NLT). We need one another. We need real relationships that produce real life change. True biblical community is messy. It involves transparency, accountability, honesty, humility, patience and love. It takes work, but it is worth it. Cultivating true community has long-term, real-life benefits. “Never abandon a friend – either yours or your father’s. When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away” (Proverbs 27:10 NLT).

Father, You designed us for community, but what most of us experience in our relationships isn’t even close to what You had in mind. We are fake, shallow, dishonest and far too tolerant of ungodly behavior in one another. Give us a boldness to live in true community. Give us a desire to live in righteous relationships where we truly sharpen one another like iron sharpens iron. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men