A godly father is a blessing. Our culture needs more men willing to step up and be godly husbands and fathers in their households. We need more men ready to be a Christian influence in a child’s life. So if that’s you, thank you. Thank you for seeking God out in your life for your marriage, children, and grandchildren.
A person’s influence can have a tremendous effect. It can shape our thoughts, the way we see the world. Unfortunately, many of these influences are negative. Negativity can rub off on you. If you hang around it long enough, negativity shapes how you see things.
As much as it is up to us, we need to be careful with the influences around us. But inevitably, those negative influences will come around us. There will be that person in your workplace or your school who swears they are just being realistic, but somehow in every situation, there is always doom and gloom. Everything will be terrible, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. They believe that, and they want you to think that as well.
How does this play out? You go to church on a Sunday and leave encouraged and strengthened, ready to follow the Lord. But you get around your friends on Monday, and they want to drag you back into a lifestyle you’re trying to avoid.
Sometimes influences are good, but one tiny seed can throw things off. I was blessed to have a wonderful father. My father is a godly man and a tremendous influence in my life.
My father knows how to joke around. Sometimes, your kids take those Dad jokes seriously. My mom cut up a watermelon one day, and I was eating the watermelon. It was one with those little black seeds. I was careful not to swallow the seeds but consumed a few.
A Lesson in Influence from a Watermelon
So I went to my Dad and said, “Dad, what happens when you swallow a watermelon seed?” My Dad said, “Well, a watermelon tree starts to grow in your stomach, of course.” I walked away and was a little frantic. I imagined this tree growing inside my stomach and eventually growing out of my mouth.
The next day I woke up, and no tree was growing from me. I said, “Phew! I dodged that one.” And ever since then, I was careful not to eat any seeds from watermelon, an orange, or anything else, because I didn’t want a fruit tree growing in my stomach.
Even when we don’t mean to influence a person’s life, we do. Even a tiny thing from an influence can seep into our thinking and be a corrupting influence.
How do we guard our hearts against corrupting influences? We are going to take a look at this from Mark 8:1-21.
At the end of chapter 7, Jesus goes to the Decapolis area. This area was east of the Sea of Galilee, consisting of ten Greek-speaking cities. It was an area that had a Gentile cultural influence.
In this area, Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had difficulty speaking. As has been the case in his ministry, we get to chapter 8, and another crowd is gathering around Jesus. This crowd has been with him for three days. In Mark 8:1-21:
In those days there was again a large crowd, and they had nothing to eat. He called the disciples and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they’ve already stayed with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, and some of them have come a long distance.” His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread here in this desolate place to feed these people?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked them. “Seven,” they said. He commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground. Taking the seven loaves, he gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people. So they served them to the crowd. They also had a few small fish, and after he had blessed them, he said these were to be served as well. They ate and were satisfied. Then they collected seven large baskets of leftover pieces. About four thousand were there. He dismissed them. And he immediately got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, demanding of him a sign from heaven to test him. Sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation demand a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side. The disciples had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat. Then he gave them strict orders: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread. Aware of this, he said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact you have no bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Do you have hardened hearts? Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of leftovers did you collect?” “Twelve,” they told him. “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you collect?” “Seven,” they said. And he said to them, “Don’t you understand yet?”Mark 8:1–21
Comparing the Feeding Miracles
Many people know about the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000, but many do not know that Jesus did this miracle at least twice in two separate miraculous feedings. There is the miracle of feeding the 5,000, and then there is the miracle of feeding the 4,000, which we see here.
They have a lot of similarities. When you read this, you might think the author is repeating himself. Both of these feedings involve a large gathering of thousands of people. Both are in a remote place. In both cases, Jesus has compassion for the crowd. Both of them involve bread and fish. In both, Jesus commands the multitude to sit. Jesus breaks the bread in both and distributes the bread to his disciples, who then give the food to the crowd. In both cases, the disciples collect baskets of leftovers. In both cases, Jesus and his disciples leave the thousands by getting into a boat.
There are similarities, but there are also differences. In the first feeding, they are there for one day, but it has been three days in the feeding of the 4,000. The amount of food is different. In feeding the 5,000, there are five loaves of bread and two fish. In the feeding of the 4,000, there are seven loaves of bread and a few fish. The word for fish is different. In Mark 6:38, Mark uses the general term for fish, but in Mark 8:7, he uses a word that describes little fish. RC Sproul describes these fish as being like sardines. There are different amounts of baskets used to collect the leftovers. There were twelve baskets in the 5,000 and seven baskets in the 4,000. The words for baskets in these two stories are different. One commentator said the seven baskets may have been larger than the twelve baskets used in the earlier feeding.
If there is still any confusion on whether these are the same or different, the Lord describes them as two distinct events. In Mark 8:19–20, Jesus points out these miracles as two separate events to his disciples. Remember the 5,000? Remember the 4,000?
The crowd is with Jesus, and he wants to feed them. The disciples question Jesus, and what I love about them is that they are slow to learn. That makes me feel normal. We can be like that, can’t we? We are people who are in process, just like the disciples were. But Jesus does this miraculous sign, and the people leave fed and satisfied.
Show Us a Sign
But what I want us to see here is this tremendous contrast. The Gospel writer is putting these accounts together. You can’t escape the difference you see here. On one end is this immense, miraculous sign of the feeding of the 4,000. The Lord has been doing miracles everywhere, casting demons out of people, making the deaf to hear, and creating food to feed people. These miracles are signs telling the people of Israel that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 10:25).
But then we get this incredible contrast between the miracles of Jesus and the Pharisees demanding a sign. Here come the Pharisees. We’ve had some interesting interactions with them so far. They begin to argue with him, trying to test him. It says in Mark 8:11-13,
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, demanding of him a sign from heaven to test him. Sighing deeply in his spirit, he said, “Why does this generation demand a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.Mark 8:11–13
The words used here, “argue” and “demand,” are strong. The Pharisees are inserting their power and authority to try and force Jesus to do something. What’s going on here? Jesus has been doing incredible miracles all over the place. How many more signs do they want?
It’s common for people to say, “God, show me a sign.” But sometimes, we don’t ask for a sign because we want to believe but because we don’t want to. The Pharisees didn’t have a genuine willingness to accept Jesus. Instead, they built a barrier to create an excuse for unbelief.
We may have seen God come through in our life repeatedly. But we get to a place where God challenges us to faith. And we don’t want to believe, so we create a barrier. We say, “God, this is a big thing. Show me a sign.” We say this when really, God has been showing up in our life over and over for a long time. We ask for a sign not because we want to believe but because we don’t want to take that step of faith. We don’t want to accept this step, so we put up a barrier as an excuse for unbelief.
The Patience of God
Mark describes Jesus as sighing deeply in his Spirit. The word used here is interesting. It means to groan. It’s this exasperation from Jesus. The Lord is patient, but his patience is not to be abused.
Scripture describes the Lord as slow to anger. In Psalm 103:8:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love.Psalm 103:8
Also, in 2 Peter 3:9,
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is slow to anger and patient, but his patience is not infinity. The Lord was patient with the world until the time came for Noah to build a boat. Then, judgment came to the world through a flood. We are living in a time of the Lord’s patience, but it is patience that will one day come to an end when the Lord returns, bringing judgment to the world.
We see with the Lord in Mark 8 a person who is slow to anger but someone whose patience is nearing its end. He says, “Why does this generation keep demanding a sign? It won’t receive a sign.” In this same story, in Matthew 12:39, Jesus says, “Except for the sign of Jonah,” referring to his death and resurrection.
We take so many signs of God in our life for granted. In case you have yet to notice, we exist. We live in a tremendous miracle every single day. It is a miracle that demands an answer. We have bodies perfectly designed for us to function. We have hearts that beat all of the time without us being aware. It pumps blood throughout our perfectly designed bodies. Our muscles connect in a way for us to move around. Our brains can process and think through complex information.
We are in this reality and didn’t ask to be here, but here we are. The signs of the Creator are all around us. Life is an incredible daily miracle, but we say, “Well, it’s just another ordinary day.” After a while, we lose the wonder of it all.
Sometimes, when we see the work of God over and over, we might start to lose the wonder of it all. We begin to take for granted what God is doing right before us.
When we start to lose the wonder of what God is doing in our life, there are influences around us ready to take advantage of that. That’s when we need to guard our hearts.
Guard your heart against corrupting influences.
The disciples can’t be too far when the Pharisees dispute and argue against Jesus. They must’ve been within earshot of what the Pharisees were saying. And don’t think that the influence of the Pharisees didn’t impact the disciples.
Before their rabbi Jesus, they had every reason to have respect for these religious leaders. After all, the Pharisees were the men who carefully followed the Law. They knew the Law of Moses. They knew the Hebrew Scriptures. They followed the teaching of the elders. These were respectable religious men in Jewish society. If someone tried to be a devoutly religious Jewish man in the first century, they would learn from the Pharisees.
You can imagine the disciples trying to process the conflict they found themselves in. On the one hand, they grew up knowing the Pharisees as good, religious Jews. On the other hand, their rabbi Jesus has the words of life. They are now in the middle of this conflict. We know the Pharisees influenced at least one disciple in particular, Judas. For the others, a small part of them wonders about what the Pharisees are saying.
The Lord senses the conflict within them. He gives them a warning in Mark 8:15,
Then he gave them strict orders: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”Mark 8:15
He warns his disciples to beware of the influence of the Pharisees and Herod. Both the Pharisees and Herod influenced the Jewish people. Both were Jews. The Pharisees spread their false teaching and hatred against Jesus, while Herod spread his influence of worldliness amongst the Jews. Jesus warns against both of their influences.
A Small Amount of Influence Makes a Big Difference
You only need a small amount of influence to create a significant difference. Jesus describes influence as leaven, an ingredient used in baking bread to cause the dough to rise.
When you bake bread using dough, if you do not add an ingredient to make it rise, the bread will be flat and not have the airy type of texture that you like in bread. So, when you are cooking bread, you add something called yeast.
Yeast are tiny, microscopic single-celled living organisms that enter into the dough. It enters the dough and eats up sugars inside the dough. As it eats the sugar, it releases a waste of carbon dioxide within the dough, causing air pockets and making the bread rise. It rises and doubles in size. The high baking heat kills the living yeast organisms, producing the soft, chewy bread we like.
The Lord uses this picture of leaven in bread to describe the little influences that can seep into our minds and souls. All it takes is a little thing. All it takes is gossip to change how we think about a person. All it takes is doubt sown into us about our time to cause us not to have quiet time with the Lord. All it takes is an influence to say, “You have too much to do. You don’t need to go to church. You should take a Sunday off.” Little influences can make a big difference.
We need to guard our hearts against corrupting influences, against the little organisms that want to creep into our souls and damage our walk with Christ.
Many Voices of Influence
They say the real skill today is knowing how to handle information. There used to be a time that if you wanted information, you had to get up and go somewhere to find it. We used to have these places called libraries. Do you know what those are? I believe they’re still around. But if you wanted information about Native Americans, the Civil War, or whatever you wanted to research, you had to go to a library, find a book, check it out, and then try to remember to bring it back.
If you were fancy, maybe you had one of these encyclopedias in your house. They used to sell encyclopedias for your home. If you wanted to learn about Einstein, you went to the letter E in your encyclopedia, looked up Albert Einstein, and got some information about him.
Now, information is flowing everywhere. You carry a library, encyclopedia, map, and everything else in your pocket! You have an entire world of information on your phone. But with all of the information and noise thrown at us, the real skill today is knowing what voice you will listen to.
Many voices are available, but most want to drag you down with them on the road to destruction. All the information we see in the world points us to the reality of what Jesus said in Matt. 7:13-14,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”Matthew 7:13–14
Many people are going down a path to destruction, and their influence wants to try and drag you along with them and their thinking. Worldly voices are destructive because they come from souls heading toward destruction.
If there is any voice that I want to hear, I want to listen to the voice of the Lord leading me through the narrow gate. I want influences in my life that lead me on his path.
There is a verse that I’ve repeated to my children many times because it describes the power of influence. It is in Prov. 13:20,
The one who walks with the wise will become wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.Proverbs 13:20
I’ve repeated this verse to many people, including my children. We need to guard our hearts against corrupting influences. Spending time around people with wisdom will rub off on you, but if you spend time as a companion of fools, that will also rub off on you and cause you harm.
Eventually, you are going to be in a situation where there are corrupting influences around you. We can’t separate ourselves from the world. We live in it. So what do we do? How can we guard our hearts? The Lord gives us instructions on how to protect our hearts. That is our last point.
Guard your heart by remembering what God has done.
The Lord gives us some guidelines in Mark 8 to teach us how to guard our hearts. He does this through a series of questions that he asks the disciples. The Lord described leaven, and they thought he was talking about bread. So he corrects their thoughts through several questions in Mark 8:17-21,
Aware of this, he said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact you have no bread? Don’t you understand or comprehend? Do you have hardened hearts? Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of leftovers did you collect?” “Twelve,” they told him. “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you collect?” “Seven,” they said. And he said to them, “Don’t you understand yet?”Mark 8:17–21
Three Ways to Guard Your Heart
First, He asks them in verse 17, “Do you have hardened hearts?” The first thing he asks us to do is to take a heart inventory. As influences creep into your life, where is your heart with the Lord? What are those influences doing to your heart? Are you willing to listen to the voice of the Lord, or is your heart creating a barrier to listening to God? Do you have a hardened heart? Guard your heart by taking a heart inventory.
Second, he asks them in verse 18, “Do you have eyes and not see; do you have ears and not hear?” Are you willing to see what God is doing in your life? Are you able to be sensitive to what God is doing right now? There are things that God is doing in your life at this moment. What is God doing in your life? In your family’s life? Are you able to see and hear what God is doing? Guard your heart by being sensitive to God’s work in your life.
Third, he tells them to remember what God has done. “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of leftovers did you collect?” “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full?” “Seven.” To guard your heart against corrupting influences, remember what God has done.
It might sound like this: “When you were running around with the wrong crowd, walking around in the world, when you were angry at people and depressed, who was there to pick you up?” “Jesus.” “Remember when you thought it was hopeless? Remember when you thought your mistakes or upbringing had ruined your life? Who brought you out of that?” “Jesus.” Guard your heart by remembering what God has done.
Guidance for Fathers in Guarding Your Heart
Some of us didn’t grow up with fathers. Father’s Day is a painful reminder. I’ve heard some guys tell me that they were worried because they didn’t have a Dad growing up or their Dad made terrible decisions. They worried they couldn’t be a Dad because they never learned how.
Listen, you may not have had a Dad growing up, and none of us had a perfect Dad. But we all have a heavenly Father who is there to teach us how to be a loving father. He teaches how to be a husband when he says in Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” He teaches us how to be a father when he says in Eph. 6:4, “Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Godly men have influenced my life and served as Christian father figures. I learned from my pastor in New York by watching his humility and patience with me as I asked him many challenging Bible questions in his office. I learned from my Bible teacher at the New York School of the Bible, who taught me apologetics and brought me with him to a park to share our testimonies with others. He would set up a booth with a sign that read, “Ask me about the meaning of life.” Eventually, someone would bite and walk up. They would say, “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s the meaning of life?” My Bible teacher would then tell them about what Jesus had done in his life. Eventually, someone came up and asked me about the meaning of life. I learned from my Bible teacher and shared with a young man what Jesus had done in my life, how he had died for my sins, and that I was a new person in him.
You can guard your heart against corrupting influences by remembering what God has done for you and sharing that with others. Guard your heart by taking a heart inventory, being sensitive to seeing and hearing God’s work in your life, and remembering what God has done for you.