Legalistic Dad

How do you help a legalistic dad?  You know the kind.  He demands his family do as he wants, the way he wants, on the basis that he has GOD on his side.

I have had to deal with several dads over the years that have dug themselves into a hole but refuse to change because they are the DAD and the Bible tells the kids to obey them.  The children become hurt and rebellious and that only affirms to the dad that he is on the high ground and they are wrong.

Call For Help

I was asked recently by a Christian counsellor for some suggestions to help a legalistic dad face the mess he has created and the pain he and his family are living in.  The dad appeals to the Biblical command that children obey their mother and father as his trump card to justify his stern stand.

As I considered the question, my thoughts about sad situations I have seen over the years led me to a new suggestion to help a legalistic dad.

The problem is getting the dad to listen and to be prepared to review his own actions, when he has a strong sense of being “right” and others being wrong.

Test the Fruit

Jesus told us we can know the truth about people by the “fruit” of their life.  A father’s life is not measured by the legal ground he claims as his authority, but by the fruit of his actions.  “By their fruits you will know them” is a basic litmus test we can apply quite widely.

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” Matthew 7:16

“So by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:20

I suggest we can apply this to test those legalistic dads who think they are right and others are wrong.

Fruit in the Family

A child starts out as a blank page.  And children are very resilient and forgiving.  They have the ability to cope with disappointments and the distractions of their parents.  And children learn much of their concept of life by watching their parents at close quarters.

So, at least in general terms, the way the kids turn out can be regarded as the “fruit” of the family.  If a family produces selfish, proud, loud, disobedient kids, you know that the home has some serious problems.  If a home produces quiet, obedient, loving, thoughtful children, the quality of the home is attested to by those kids.

So let’s use that fruit factor as a searchlight on the legalistic dad.

Stubborn Kid from a Stubborn Dad

When a legalistic dad digs in his toes and will not budge from his conflict with a child, and the child digs in his or her toes and will not budge either, we can see that the child is the “fruit” of the father.  The stubborn father has produced that stubborn child.

So, if the dad thinks he has the ‘moral high ground’, standing in the place of being right while the kids are wrong, he had better re-think things.  The “fruit” of what he has produced is a public testimony to his failure.  Instead of standing on moral high ground, he is standing in the place he accuses his kids of standing on.

Humility in the Home

If the dad is looking for a spirit of humility in his children, then we need to see that same fruit in him.  If he doggedly defends his opinions and the rightness of who and what he is he can only expect his children to be as stubborn in their stand for their own rightness too.

First let’s see the dad humble himself before God and admit that he needs God’s wisdom.  Let’s hear the dad admit that he has failed in his role as dad.  When we see that kind of humility we know there is hope for the family.
If dad defies the evidence then he has invalidated his stand before God.  God gives grace to the humble, not to the defiant and arrogantly proud.

Heart Issues

Another important truth for a legalistic dad is that the issue is not rebellious kids, but the condition of the dad’s heart.  Yes, rebellion in the family is wrong and the rebellious children need to have that resolved.  But the dad is the head of the home and it is vital to get him sorted out as a key to healing the whole family.  And getting dad sorted out means dealing with dad’s heart.

The Bible points out that the real “issues” of our life are not the things that come against us but the things that come “out of us”.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

When we seek to heal a home, the real “issues” are not the rebellion of a son or daughter, but those things that come out of the heart of the dad and mum.  In the case of a legalistic dad in conflict with his children, it is what is coming out of the heart of that dad.

Out of the Heart

Listen to what Jesus said about the significance of what comes out of us.

“And he said, That which comes out of the man defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:20-23

The issue that is defiling the father and likely bringing real problems into the home is whatever is coming OUT of the father’s heart.

And we know what is coming out of the heart by what people say.

“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil: for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Legalistic Speak

A legalistic dad will speak judgment of his children, rejection, condemnation, fault finding, pride in his own standards, negativity, contention, and so on.  And those words of his mouth reveal that he is not standing on moral high ground, but is polluted.

A heart that produces evil speaking reveals an “evil heart”.  The legalistic dad has deep troubles in his heart that lead him to produce toxic speech and bad fruit.

The more a legalistic dad is challenged about his stand the more virulent he may become in attacking others, asserting that he is right, feeling rejected and intimidated and so on.

All of this reveals that the dad is not walking and living in God’s grace.

Fruit and Heart

The dual matters of the “fruit” of the dad’s fathering in the home and the “issues” in the dad’s heart expressed in his legalistic stance and speech, show that the dad needs help.  The home is what it is because the dad has internal issues that need to be resolved.  He will never be able to lead his family into joy and wholeness while he is beset with personal problems that have produced bad fruit in the home and which reveal bad issues pouring out of his heart.

Legalism as a Cover

If a dad has produced bad fruit in his home and his heart pumps out evil things he has issues.  And legalism may just be a way to cope with life and excuse his situation.  Legalism may be a cover.  By being legalistic he can point at others, rather than get free on the inside himself.

Just about anything could cause a person to become legalistic, but since legalism prompts a person to reject others it is reasonable to assume that rejection has a part to play in the legalistic dad’s heart.

Certainly there is a lack of the grace of God.  And the writer of Hebrews warns that failing to receive and give out God’s grace leads us to having a root of bitterness which causes us to defile others.

“Be diligently attentive lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” Hebrews 12:15

Legalism and the attendant accusation and rejection certainly defile and offend people so an important need in the life of a legalistic dad is to experience the grace of God and to give God’s grace to others.

Give Grace to Dad

If you suffer under a legalistic dad you will find it easy to become hurt, offended, resentful, judgmental, angry and so on.  And by so doing you will be tempted to let a root of bitterness spring up in your life.  If that happens then the problem has been passed down to a new generation, instead of being dealt with and rooted out of the family.

So if you have a legalistic dad press in to God for sufficient grace so you can give grace to your dad, even though he does not deserve it.  If you can give grace to those who have no grace, you will not come under the power of their failures and weakness but have triumphed into liberty for yourself and your children.

If your dad is legalistic and refuses to see that there is anything wrong in his life, you are in a very vulnerable place.  Determine with God’s help to give abundant grace to that graceless dad.

Woman Beware

As a dad and as a pastor giving guidance to young people I have written very little for young women.  Following the pattern of King Solomon in his instructions to his son, I am starting out with some cautions.  And much of what I share here comes from the wisdom of Solomon.

The Heart of the Matter

For all of us the heart is the “heart of the matter”.  Our actions are less significant in God’s eyes than our motives.  So any guidance to youth is really guidance for their heart.  This is particularly so for young women who can be distracted by externals, such as their own appearance or competing with the beauty of others.

King Solomon instructs us to be very diligent in protecting our heart, because the reactions of our heart become the “issues” we have to live with and deal with in our lives.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

“Solomon my son, know the God of your father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands all the imaginations of the thoughts: if you seek him, he will be found of you; but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever.”  1Chronicles 28:9

Womanly Issues

From my counselling experience and from my reading of the Bible I am aware of several issues which women are likely to struggle with.  I want to draw them to your attention with the caution that these areas deserve careful consideration to keep the heart free.

I note, for example, that women are more concerned about security and preparation for the future than their husbands often are.  I note, too, that women want to feel “loved” and yet their husbands can often neglect them without realising it.  I also note that women can fall into contention, argument and having the last word, when they are upset with their husbands.

Then there is the reflection about womanhood that I once heard from Iverna Thompkins.  She observed to a large group of women that men tend to have a pigeonhole for everything – from work, to the kids, to the car, wife, dog, etc.  A man can therefore shut off to his unhappy thoughts or feelings about work (or some other issue) when he faces something that is not in that pigeonhole, such as playing with his children.

Iverna observed that women operate differently.  “For us girls,” she observed, “it’s just ONE BIG HOLE!” What she meant is that if a woman is upset about one thing her feelings spill over to everything else as well.

This leads to the observation that women must pay attention to Solomon’s advice to gain “rule over your own spirit”.

“He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” Proverbs 25:28

Proverbs 31 Woman

It is often observed that the last chapter in the book of Proverbs provides a description of an ideal woman.  Many women, therefore, take note of that description and try to match the various qualities, such as rising early, running a home business, and so on.

Let me remind you that it is not our actions but our heart that is the heart of the matter.  Despite the many activities described there, the key verse for women is not about wool, flax, food, enterprise or rising early.  The key verse is about the heart.

“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”  Proverbs 31:30

The true “Proverbs 31 Woman” is defined by a heart to fear the Lord.

So let me point out how having such a heart makes you a very rare woman indeed.

Humility and Faith

I believe the two most powerful qualities a young woman can develop, and which will save her from the many traps that womankind falls into, are humility and faith.

Pride is a terrible thing in a woman because it leads her to fight and argue with her husband, which is the very opposite of being submissive and fitting in with his plans.  Let me show you how that works.

A contentious woman is proverbial, both in modern society and in the Bible.  King Solomon made repeated references to how terrible it is to be around a woman who is contentious.

“It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.”  Proverbs 21:19

“… the contentions of a wife are a continual dropping.” Proverbs 19:13b

Putting up with a contentious woman is like Chinese water torture!

So where do contentions come from?  Contention is evidence of Pride!

Only by pride comes contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.”  Proverbs 13:10

And a fruit of pride is that people look down on others, scorning them, and holding them in contempt.  That’s why getting rid of a “scorner” removes contention.  Scorn is an evidence of pride of heart.

Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”  Proverbs 22:10

Scorning the Husband

One of my lovely daughters-in-law related a few years ago how she attended a ladies group in her church and all the women did was complain about their husbands.  These young wives held their husbands in contempt.  They “scorned” them.  This means they had pride in their own heart about how much better they, as women, were, compared with their husbands.

When a wife lectures her husband, scolds him, belittles him, treats him like a naughty schoolboy, takes control over him and the like, she is in pride and is scorning her husband.

Yet it seems very easy for a woman to do that.  So beware of your heart.

Wives are commanded to submit to and honour their husband.  If you do not rule your heart properly you will probably find contentions coming from you because you scorn your husband.

The Place of Faith

I mentioned the need for both humility and faith.  I have shown that humility is important, to neutralise pride that leads to scorning and contention.  So, what about faith?

Wives are instructed to submit to their husband.  Yet many wives struggle with the lack of care, wisdom and planning they see in their husbands.

Because women are geared toward a need for security, the impulsive, undisciplined actions of her husband can make a woman fearful.  From that place of fear, combined with scorn for her husband’s lack of care for her, a woman can take control of the home and family, so she will feel secure.

This is where “faith” comes in.  Since it is God who commands the woman to submit, she must seek to do so with all her heart.  If she is insecure in the abilities and thoughtfulness of her husband, then she must focus her faith on God, not her husband.

A wife may pray something like this: “Lord, I know You want me to submit to my husband.  But he is so irresponsible and I am afraid for myself and our children.  He wastes money and makes decisions on impulse, despite all the times I try to get him to grow up!  But Lord, I want to worship You by obeying Your instructions.  So I choose to submit to my husband and honour him.  I do this as an act of faith in You.  I give You my fears and my needs.  I ask You to protect me from my husband’s foolishness.”

Such a prayer places the woman’s faith where it is supposed to be; on God, not the husband.

Out of Order

The ideal woman is one who fears the Lord (Proverbs 31:30), and rules her own spirit, having both humility and faith.  So what is a woman like if she does not follow this wisdom?

A woman who does not fear God allows her pride and fear control her, so she then seeks to control the man and children in her life.  This is where we get the idea of the matriarch who rules the family, or the woman who makes her husband a “hormone hostage”.

Manipulation and control are a ready pitfall for a woman who is out of order.  King Solomon has a description of such a woman.

“And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: the one who pleases God will escape from her; but the sinner will be taken by her.”  Ecclesiastes 7:26

Note that a man will feel like it is better to be dead than to live with such a woman.  That has echoes of the comment about living in the desert rather than putting up with a contentious woman.

I have had to counsel both men and women who struggled with the manipulation and control of a mother or wife.  Such control is more than just emotional, it is devilish, because it is rebellion against the will of God.

Witchcraft in the Home

While a godly woman is a most wonderful thing, a rebellious and contentious woman is a bitter thing.  However the deeper danger is the spiritual curse such a woman can bring in a marriage and home.  So let me add this observation to caution your heart.

A woman driven by fear, pride, scorn, self-will and an out of control heart will be in rebellion against God and he husband.  And “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”.

“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”  1Samuel 15:23a

If a wife was to practice witchcraft in the home then spiritual oppression would come upon her, her husband and the family.  So, when a wife practices rebellion against God’s instruction to submit to her husband, she also brings spiritual oppression upon herself, her husband and the family.

This is part of the “snares and nets” problem a woman can be in a home.

What is Ruling You?

If a wife gives in to her impulses, fears, pride or reactions, she will be out of control.  She will not be under God’s headship, nor will she be under her husband’s headship.  Instead she will be ruled by her fears and other things that are ungodly.

If she then tries to contend, manipulate, control, argue and the like she is exalting that wrong spirit over the home.  Her husband should not give in to her, otherwise he is saying to Jesus, “You can’t be the head of this home right now, because my wife wants that spirit of anger to rule her and me.”

A wise husband will resist his wife’s manipulation and control, tantrums, outbursts, verbal attacks, contentions or the like, because he wants Jesus to remain as the head of the home, not some out of order attitude or spirit that wants to rule through the wife.

A Good Thing

Don’t think that these cautions mean women are terrible or evil.  All men and women have fallen short of God’s glory.  The challenge for each of us is to be holy as our God is holy.  For women that involves some challenges different to men, and vice versa.

It is God’s favour to give you as a godly wife to a man the Lord blesses.

Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favour of the LORD.”  Proverbs 18:22

Godly women want to be a blessing.  And you are.  You are a gift to your husband.

Note, as a final word of caution, that you are a blessing when you are a “wife”.  A woman who is married to a man but acts as his superior, boss, mother, manipulator, jailer or the like is not his “wife”.  Being married to a man makes you a wife in human terms, but not according to God’s plan.

I call upon each of you to be a godly wife, by living in humility and faith and the fear of God, ruling your own spirit, so you do not give in to fear, pride, scorn, manipulation, control or any other thing that leads to rebellion against God.

And may the Lord bless you as you do.

Stand Aside

People can often get in the way of what is best for them. This post explores that idea and will open your heart to your need to “stand aside” and let God be God in your situation and circumstances.

This topic was brought to focus for me recently when, due to a misunderstanding, I went to a meeting to lead the program and ended up on the sidelines. That incident was simply a misunderstanding, but the Lord used it to challenge my heart about the process of letting Him sideline me.

To help bring the issue to life I have written a literary excursion, creating a fictional case of someone being asked to ‘stand aside’. I trust this helps to give dimension to the issue for you.

A Literary Excursion

He said, “Stand Aside!” But I was in full swing. Seven thousand people sat in the palm of my hand. I had their rapt attention and I knew I could escort them into the spiritual glories they expected to see.

But He said, “Stand Aside!” I lost my place and stumbled to a halt, mid-sentence. Some people chuckled, thinking this to be one of my many cleverisms. I hung in indecision. The throng waited, attentive and expectant.

I had been building to a point for many minutes and had not resolved it. It felt wrong to leave the audience unresolved. And there was so much I could share that would illuminate their understanding, as it had done for other audiences around the world. This crowd had come to hear ME, not to have me stand aside.

Yet the voice persisted. “Stand Aside!”

I had heard the voice before, but never yet obeyed. Glad-handed accolades and large offerings followed my popular meetings, but I felt the salty sting, that I had let each audience down. The Master had something in mind and I did not know its dimensions. Letting go was not my natural style. My carefully crafted, finely honed display was worthy of the highest honours. Consistency and cogency underpinned my fame.

“I believe there is something unique which God wants to do tonight. And I believe I should have you stand in His presence and wait upon Him.”

With that I stepped aside and bowed my head. The crowd shuffled to their feet and a deathly silence engulfed the auditorium. My thoughts raced to see what I could do to enhance this moment. I had now taken the heroic step God had been pressing on me for almost a year. I had “done it!” and now I waited, expectant to see what God would do.

“Stand Aside!” He said again, making me conscious that I was still the only person on stage and thus I commanded their focus. My mind conjured an image of the towering presence of Jesus standing behind me, but unseen because my own presence distracted their view.

I stepped from the platform and stood at the front row, speaking soft words of devotion to the Lord, as encouragement to the crowd. Gradually others joined in. I earnestly wanted them to see the Risen Christ and to hear His voice, even as I did. “Lord I commit this crowd to You. They are Yours. Do with them as pleases You.” My silent prayer lifted them all before the Lord.

“Stand Aside!” He commanded. But What? Had I not already stood aside? Had I not already even left the platform?

But, Ah Yes! I was still leading them through my microphone. I was still asserting my leadership and influence through the very devotion I prayed to encourage their own.

I clicked off the microphone. Then I quietly moved backwards, away from any place where people might look at me or to me to lead them.

To my delight the audience gradually entered in. I heard people praying, some pouring out their heart in adoration. Others had tears for reasons I could not tell. Some knelt. The Lord began to do quite a reasonable job, without me.

I handed the microphone to the chap at the rear sound desk and simply watched the huge crowd. I was half inclined to pray earnestly that God would move powerfully on them all, but there seemed to be an echo of the command to stand aside, still reverberating in my heart. So I did nothing. I simply watched proceedings.

It felt weird to be in such a meeting and not to be controlling the pulse. I felt out of place with the Lord in control. That was the position I had always sought and held. I felt redundant.

While I couldn’t say it was clearly from the Lord, there was a sense to me, standing at the back, that I could stand down. I was relieved of duty. I was discharged for the day. I was not needed and my presence was not required. Hoping no-one would see me. I slipped out to the coffee shop and sat alone.

With these unexpected few moments of privacy I rang my son-in-law and congratulated him on his recent promotion. I rang my wife and she caught me up on a frustration that I needed to resolve for her. It would have to wait until my trip was over, but it was noted. After a quick “hello” to Bradley and a sweet catch up with Lee-anne, I wondered how God was getting on with His meeting.

Part of me wanted to go and peep back into the auditorium, but I felt restrained. It was not my meeting any more. It made no real difference to me what God did with His business and His people. The meeting, the church and the people were all His business. He wanted me out of the way, and so the rest is up to Him.

The silly thought even danced through my mind that Jesus might get stuck at some point and have to call me back in, because I could get through to these people in ways He could not. Then I was stung with the blasphemy of such a thought. “Lord, if You need my help tonight, then You are not King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I thank You for disposing of me and taking charge of Your people in Your church for Your glory.”

The overflowing gratitude with which people greeted me as they spilled out of the meeting encouraged me that God may have handled the whole thing rather well. But some chipped me for not finishing my story and resolving the piquant interest I had aroused. I made a mental note not to play my audience next time. I distracted them with my stories and took their eyes off the Lord.

“Next time”. Those words were pregnant with uncertainty. Would there ever be a ‘next time’? Just how serious was God about His command to “Step Aside”? I realised I had a lot of praying to do before I stood before a crowd again.

Are You Getting It?

How many pastors, parents, Christian friends or concerned citizens take matters into their own hands? Isn’t it the case that we send people to Bible Schools to get degrees so they will know how to preach, run the church, serve God and so on? We applaud people who are clever enough not to need God any more. We envy them and aspire to be like them.

Yet when we take matters in our own hands we risk displacing God in the experience of those we are trying to reach or help. We can completely block people’s view of Jesus and we can persist in doing things in human energy, while God is waiting for us to get out of the way, so He can do divine things with His people.

Coming Up

Juan Carlos Ortiz told me about his own experience in Argentina of learning how to step aside. I’d like to share that with you in a future post.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” – and that deserves a review in light of the “Stand Aside” message.

Then there’s the old discussion of “God in a Box” and that relates to this topic too. When we insist on doing God’s work for Him, we have effectively put Him in a box that is smaller than our own talents and abilities.

Then we could discuss the issue of New Wine in New Wineskins. When we perpetuate what we know and can control from our own skill set and experience, we are sticking with our old wineskin. How do we then allow God to bring us a new wineskin? What would happen if God tried to put new wine into those meetings we run so well the way we’ve always done it?

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept It…

Your Mission may be Mission Impossible to you. Your Mission, should you choose to accept it, is to Stand Aside. Get out of God’s way. Stop distracting people with you, and with your programmed and set service for the Lord. Get out of the way, so people can see Jesus. If He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself.