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Sticks and Stones

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).

I was born in 1984. During my elementary school years in the late 80s and early 90s, I remember being bullied on the schoolyard playground during recess. Sometimes it was one kid doing the bullying. Sometimes it was a group of kids. They were always older and bigger.

I remember the name-calling, the pranks being played, the fingers being pointed, and the cruel laughter at my expense.

It was during those first years of schooling that my father sat me down one day and taught me a rhyme — one that I’m certain your parents also taught you when you were young. You know it by heart, so say it with me:

“STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES, BUT WORDS WILL NEVER HURT ME.”

This familiar children’s rhyme first appeared in a British publication in 1857. Since then it has gone through many subtle variations; perhaps the version you were taught as a child was worded slightly differently. But no matter how it’s been worded over the past several generations, the ethical teaching of this rhyme has always remained the same: While physical objects like “sticks and stones” can certainly be used to “break [our] bones,” words in and of themselves will never actually bring physical harm.

This rhyme has been used by innumerable parents to encourage their children to not be hurt by hurtful words, to avoid physical retaliation, and to remain calm and indifferent when faced with verbal bullying.

But here’s the question we should all be asking ourselves: Is it true? Does this rhyme actually teach our children a moral truth?

Certainly not if you were to ask Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sirach (Ben Sira), a Jewish scribe of the Second Temple Period and author of the Book of Sirach (also known as “Ecclesiasticus”), an apocryphal book of wisdom written approximately between 196 and 175 BC. He held a very different view. In Sirach 28:17, Ben Sira writes what seems to be a diametrically opposite sentiment:

“The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.”

While it could obviously be argued that Ben Sira was only using poetic language to describe the pain that hurtful words can cause — pain that can emotionally feel like something that “crushes the bones” — it’s by reading the very next verse that we see he had something more literal in mind:

“Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but many more have fallen because of the tongue” (Sirach 28:18).

By reading both verses together, it’s now impossible to misinterpret Ben Sira’s intent. He first uses the illustration of literal death by the sword, then expresses that “many more” have fallen (have been killed) by the power of the tongue. Ben Sira understood the very real and very physical danger that the wrong words can bring. He understood that dire consequences can arise when we speak foolish words, when we gossip, when we slander, and when we lie.

James, the brother of Jesus Christ, understood this as well. It’s even plausible that James had been thinking of Ben Sira’s words when he wrote the following:

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. …the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. … It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 1:26; 3:5-8).

Perhaps it’s time we rethink that seemingly innocent childhood rhyme. Perhaps the phrase “words will never hurt me” is a lie.

The reality is, words do hurt and in very literal and potentially even violent ways. Not that the words in and of themselves are an act of violence, but the words can be used to promote and inspire violence. When we engage in adversarial rhetoric that increases the temperature of the political, cultural, and societal climate; when politicians and celebrities point the finger of scorn at their rivals and engage in verbal bashing and reputation savaging; when media talking-heads speak absolute lies about a person’s character, desires, agenda, and goals — deadly consequences can and do happen.

Lying words spoken continuously to the wrong person can motivate them to grab a rifle, take careful aim, and fire!

And lives can be lost.
Families destroyed.
Nations ended.

Our Lord Jesus taught, “everyone who is angry with his brother without cause will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). He taught the truth that hatred and murder begin in the heart. It begins with hate-filled thoughts, which are then vocalized into incendiary words, and those burning words can ultimately lead to complete disaster.

Words can lead to anger…
then to hatred…
then to violence…
then to murder…
then to war…
and war can lead to the end of us all.

One tiny spark, and the entire forest can burn down.
One false word, and the world may never be the same.

As the New Living Translation (NLT) of the Holy Bible puts it, “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18).

We can say metaphorically at first, but LITERALLY can all too quickly come next.

As followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to understand that “sticks and stones” aren’t the only things that can “break our bones.” Words can also break bones and can do far worse. Our words have consequences, either for good or for evil. Depending on our choice of words, we as individuals, as families, as cities, states, and nations are led to one of two destinations: Life or death.

As King Solomon said: “The tongue has the power of life and death…” (Proverbs 18:21).

This is because the tongue can be used to build up or tear down, to create or destroy, to inspire or discourage, to motivate or crush, to praise or curse, to speak truth or tell lies, to exalt goodness or celebrate evil, to promote peace or invite conflict. The tongue can be used to serve the Eternal God of truth, or it can be used to serve Satan, he who is “the father of lies” (John 8:44).

It can accurately be said that not just mortal life and death are in the power of the tongue, but ETERNAL LIFE and ETERNAL DEATH are in the power of the tongue, for both us and for those we influence. It all comes down to how we choose to use that powerful tool God has given us. Will we be found speaking the truthful words of YeHoVaH that lead to everlasting life and joy? Or will we be found speaking the lying words of Satan that lead to never-ending death and misery?

Jesus said, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

We were all taught as children that “STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES, BUT WORDS WILL NEVER HURT ME.”

But that is a lie.
Words do hurt — very, very much so.

Words, like fire, need to be used responsibly and with extreme caution. Our choice of words can either ignite the beautiful fire that brings warmth and light and comfort to a downtrodden spirit, or our words can strike the deadly match that burns marriages, families, cultures, and nations to the ground.

Indeed, Ben Sira’s wise words ring true: “…a blow of the tongue crushes the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but MANY MORE have fallen because of the tongue” (Sirach 28:17-18).

We must all take care with the words we choose to let fly out of our mouths, the tremendous power we wield either for good or for evil. In a very real sense, the future of our world depends on how we choose to use our tongues today. May we all “Keep [our] tongue from speaking evil and [our] lips from telling lies” (Psalm 34:13).

“Deliver my soul, O YeHoVaH, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (Psalm 120:2).

By the grace of God Almighty, may our tongues always be rightly used as tools of TRUTH and LIFE, and may our good and loving words endure forever. As wise King Solomon put it: “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment” (Proverbs 12:18-19).

The Eternal Father of truth and love be with you all. Amen.

Art7-11-24 blog

It’s Perfectly OK to Say ‘Jesus’

“Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. …many false prophets will appear and deceive many people’” (Matthew 24:4, 11).

I was born and raised as a Mormon. My father and mother are Mormons, as were my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and so on—all the way back to the beginning of that man-made religion established in 1830 by the false prophet Joseph Smith. Of course, I never realized growing up in Mormonism that it was a false religion. I simply accepted what my parents and church leaders had taught me, trusting wholeheartedly that what they were teaching me was the truth of God.

That particular aspect of my story is certainly not unique. Such is the case with all human beings. No one gets to choose the circumstances we’re born into. We’re all raised in conditions that are beyond our control, and we’re all taught to believe whatever doctrines and traditions those who have gone before us inherited. For most people, those doctrines and traditions are then accepted and passed on to the next generation without question.

Ideally, children born into this world would be raised in the pure and perfect truth of the Word of God.

No false doctrines.
No false traditions.
No false prophets.

But of course, that’s just not our current reality. Life in this fallen, wicked world is indeed very far from the ideal. We look forward with hope and great anticipation for the return of the Messiah and the ushering in of the 1000-year-long reign of God’s righteousness and truth on earth—a glorious future time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YeHoVaH as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Yes, with the Messiah reigning as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16), life on earth will then truly be ideal. May it come soon. Amen.

In the meantime, however, we must always be on our guard, remembering that “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This fallen world is full of those dangerous and “ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15) our Lord warned us about: false prophets, false apostles, and false teachers who “masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:15) but have come hungrily prowling among the flock to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

In order to ensure that “no one deceives [us]” (Matthew 24:4), we must commit ourselves to studying, knowing, and understanding the Word of God for ourselves. We must meditate on YeHoVaH’s Torah day and night, know it by heart, impress it upon our children, talk continuously of it, and walk each and every day by its purifying light—just as we’ve been commanded:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

“Keep this Book of the Torah always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).

As we work to gain a knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, we must carefully examine those things we’ve been taught to believe and meticulously test them to determine whether they’re in harmony with or contrary to the truth of God’s Word. We must act as the faithful Bereans of old, those who “received the message with great eagerness and EXAMINED THE SCRIPTURES every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

I did this for myself, and with the help of wonderful ministries like A Rood Awakening International and others, God’s liberating truths eventually had the victory over all the “lies, worthlessness, and unprofitable things” (Jeremiah 16:19) I had inherited from Mormonism. The truth did, in fact, set me free (see John 8:32). HalleluYAH!

In my first few years after coming out from that man-made religion, I had naively thought that Satan’s lies were now all behind me. The enemy’s deceptions and false doctrines certainly would not be found among the believers walking the same path of Torah-obedience I was. After all, I was now surrounded by brothers and sisters that, like myself, were well aware of the deceptions of the adversary and would be immune to his attacks.

It did not take long for me to realize just how wrong and foolish I was to have thought this.

The reality is anyone at any time is vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. The father of all lies is exceptionally cunning. He’s had 6000 years of practice to perfect his art of deception. He works relentlessly to sow his tares among all peoples, all religions, all groups—possibly even working harder at injecting his poison among those striving to walk in obedience to God’s Torah, among those who could pose the greatest threat to his kingdom.

Over the years, I’ve personally witnessed many false doctrines being widely circulated among Torah-keeping believers, but the one I’d like to focus on in this article is one I first saw several years ago—one that I’ve recently been seeing a strong resurgence of:

“It’s wrong to say the name Jesus. Jesus comes from the Greek language meaning ‘Hail, Zeus!’ You’re calling upon a pagan god if you say the name Jesus.”

To this false and ridiculous idea, I boldly and unequivocally say NO.

The name of our Lord in the Greek language is “Iésous” (Ἰησοῦς), and his Greek name has absolutely nothing to do with the name of the pagan god Zeus. These two names may sound similar, but they are entirely different. It’s like the English words “to, two, and too,” or “there, their, and they’re”—sets of three words that all sound the same, but they are spelled differently and mean entirely different things.

It’s the exact same with the Greek name for our Lord. It may sound similar to “Zeus,” but it’s spelled differently, and it means something entirely different.

Part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy was to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths” (1 Timothy 1:3-4). These “certain people” Paul refers to are among those who “want to be teachers of the Torah, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7).

For those that have taught this false doctrine—this entirely baseless “myth”—I repeat the words of the Apostle Paul: “They do not know what they are talking about.” Such people have no business being teachers. They do not have the wisdom to rightly handle the Word of Truth (see 2 Timothy 2:15) and need to be sternly warned about so foolishly and carelessly teaching what they claim to be “the truth.”

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1), and Jesus himself warned, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

A sister in Christ recently told me of the pain this false doctrine had caused her. She said, “I did get uncomfortable when I was trying to connect and fellowship with other people in the Torah community because I felt shunned if I said Jesus. I even read in one group on Facebook that they would kick anyone out who said Jesus. … Sometimes I feel I don’t belong anywhere…”

Those words break my heart. Such things should never be had among the body of believers, among those who declare to be disciples and followers of the Master. This faithful sister (and those like her) belong to our Lord. The fact that there are those among the body of believers who made her feel like she doesn’t “belong anywhere” is shameful.

If anyone reading this has at any time condemned a fellow believer simply because they choose to speak the English name of the Messiah, I implore you to immediately repent of this and to never teach such false doctrines again. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying the name Jesus. Millions upon millions of people have been saved, blessed, and healed by the name Jesus. It’s his English name, which we have received by the direction of the Almighty God through the translations of multiple languages over a period of 1700 years — from Hebrew, to Greek, to Latin, to Old English, and finally to Modern English.

Now, if it is your personal preference to say the Hebrew name “Yeshua” over “Jesus,” that’s perfectly fine. Both names are beautiful; I regularly use both myself. But our personal preferences should never become doctrines. The moment you engage in the teaching of lies and the condemning of your fellow believers simply for using the name Jesus, you’ve crossed over into dangerous territory. You’ve crossed the line into a man-made religion of your own making — no different than the Pharisees and Sadducees of long ago, those who taught “as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9; Isaiah 29:13).

In the first few years after leaving the false religion of Mormonism, I had foolishly assumed that the days of worrying about false doctrines worming their way among the believers was now behind me. How very wrong I was. We must remember that Satan hasn’t let up with his attacks. His attacks and deceptions will only increase and strengthen, even to the point that he’s able to “deceive, if possible, the elect” (Matthew 24:24). Until that glorious day of our Lord’s triumphal return, Satan will not stop his attacks. Because of that, we must not become slack in our defenses. We must all continually be on our guard, always remembering the first words our Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples on the Mount of Olives:

“Watch out that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4).

Amen.

Art7-4-24 blog

A Wise and Discerning Heart

“Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore, get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. She will give you a garland to grace your head and present you with a glorious crown” (Proverbs 4:5-9).

King Solomon was visited by YeHoVaH the Almighty God in a dream. God presented Solomon with a most wondrous offer: “Ask for whatever you want Me to give you” (1 Kings 3:5).

Whatever you want? Anything?

Men of lesser quality would almost certainly ask for wealth, or for power, or for good health and a long, happy life. Solomon requested none of these things. His mind and heart were focused on his duty to properly lead the people of Israel as their new king. With very big shoes to fill—those of his beloved father David—Solomon undoubtedly was feeling the extreme weight of responsibility that was now resting squarely on his shoulders.

Solomon did not ask for money, or power, or health. Instead, he asked for a “discerning heart to govern [God’s] people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:9).

YeHoVaH was pleased with Solomon’s request. “God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be’” (1 Kings 3:11-12). And because Solomon’s request was so pleasing to God, YeHoVaH then promised him that “I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:13).

Solomon’s request was granted. He was blessed by God with “a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12), so much so that the people of Israel “held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28).

Does this mean that Solomon led a perfect life? Certainly not. He, like all human beings, had his fair share of failings and sins, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In the very same chapter we are told that Solomon “offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places” (1 Kings 3:3). This and his decision to disobey YeHoVaH’s Torah by marrying “many wives” (Deuteronomy 17:17) among all the “strange women” (1 Kings 11:1) of the world ultimately led him down a destructive path.

Nevertheless, Solomon still understood this paramount truth: “Wisdom is supreme” (Proverbs 4:7). A wise and discerning heart—a heart that can properly distinguish between right and wrong—is a most desirable thing to be had and should be diligently sought after. Wisdom is to never be forsaken. It is to be loved and cherished. And if we obtain favor in the eyes of YeHoVaH and acquire this splendid gift, we are promised protection, exaltation, honor, and a “glorious crown” (see Proverbs 4:5-9 above).

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Proverbs 3:13).

We may be 3,000 years removed from the days of wise King Solomon, but his exhortation to seek after wisdom and understanding are of more importance today than ever before.

We live in a fast-paced world with fast-paced information. The Internet and social media have opened up to us a universe of instant access to information the likes of which King Solomon could never have dreamed possible. “Facts” (so-called) are thrown at us from every individual, every group, every denomination, and every political party literally every single day. We’re constantly surrounded by politicians, celebrities, media talking heads, doctors, religious leaders, scientists, scholars, professors, podcasters, fitness influencers, nutritionists, and also our own friends and family — all of them vying for our attention and shouting that they’ve got the answers, they’ve got the facts, they’ve got the truth.

Swimming amid this strange new ocean of information-bombardment and sensory-overload it’s easy to feel the sensation of drowning beneath the waves of competing voices and oftentimes conflicting “facts.”

What are we to do in such a time as this? Where are we to turn? How are we to keep our heads above the waves and even, God willing, walk atop them?

If we are to ever walk atop these chaotic waves we must be found continuously walking with HIM who has power to calm the storms. YeHoVaH God and His Word — His Written Word found in the Holy Bible and His Living Word, Yeshua Messiah — are the only solution to the storms of life we face today. They have always been and will always be the only solution. They are the truth and the rock upon which we find refuge from all storms.

“Sovereign YeHoVaH, You are God, and Your words are truth” (2 Samuel 7:28).

“Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress” (Psalm 71:3).

Be sure to take sufficient time away from the face-paced online world and spend that much needed time with God by reading and studying His Word, for “The unfolding of [His] words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

And while studying the Word of God is an absolutely essential first step in the right direction, it is not enough. The Pharisees, for example, had a knowledge of God’s Word, but nevertheless their eyes were blind to God’s perfect light. Many of them had the Torah memorized and could recite whole sections verbatim, but their ears were deaf to God’s gentle voice of truth.

What they all lacked is that precious gift King Solomon gained: WISDOM. And wisdom can only be gained from the same Eternal Source he personally received it from and in the same way.

James, the brother to our Lord Yeshua, begins his letter by addressing it to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1), and a few verses later encourages them to seek after the gift of wisdom:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:5-8).

The gift of wisdom comes directly from God. If you are to acquire it, you must ask God. Seek it faithfully from God, never doubting. Fervently pray to have that “wise and discerning heart” granted to you, just as it was granted to King Solomon long ago, and “it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

The purpose for gaining this gift of wisdom is so that you might “distinguish between right and wrong,” between good and evil, between truth and lies. You seek after this gift from God so that you might properly live according to the truth of His Word, as James later emphasizes by saying, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves — do what it says!” (James 1:22).

Paul understood the importance for God’s people to seek after and obtain the gift of wisdom from God. He wrote, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in your knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17).

It is by obtaining wisdom that you’ll be granted the ears to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd amid all the noise of our chaotic world. It is by obtaining wisdom that you’ll be empowered to follow him wherever he goes and live as he lived.

Yeshua Messiah said, “When [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:4-5, 14).

I pray that YeHoVaH God may bless His people with that “wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12).

Amen.