Quitter’s Day

Today is the day it all comes crashing down, if it hasn’t already.

No, I’m not predicting a stock market crash, or civil unrest after the inauguration. I’m talking about the crashing of your goals. More specifically, your New Year’s Resolutions.

Do you remember those?

Remember the day after Christmas, when you were lazing on your couch scrolling Netflix and reaching for the Cheetos or another cigarette and you thought, “I really should do something about this.” Right then and there, in the haze of the Christmas holiday, you decided: “I will be better!” You Googled gym memberships. You watched a video about how to quit smoking. You took out your checkbook and a piece of paper and said, “Let’s make a budget!” Whatever it was, you said, “January 1st is a new day!”

And it was.

You killed it your first day. You did some pushups. You said “no” to second helpings at supper. You threw your cigarettes in the trash. You logged off of Amazon before you could buy anything. As you pillowed your head without scrolling your phone for a half hour beforehand, you thought, “Piece of cake!”

But now, here we are, at January 19th. Strava, a fitness company, recently revealed that January 19th was the day that most people stopped working out. “Quitter’s Day,” they call it. After your awesome January 1st, you probably had a so-so January 4th, a “Cheater’s Day” January 7th, and by last week, you had to physically remind yourself that you were going to make some changes, and that you should keep going.

Why did you quit? More specifically, why do we as humans quit?

One of the reasons we quit is that we make resolutions hastily. We make resolutions because everyone else is, and because we are temporarily dissatisfied with our condition. But the truth is that we really are okay with our condition, which is why we got to where we got in the first place. If you were okay with overeating on October 1, what makes you think you are going to stop it on January 1? You threw together a resolution for a better self quickly, and so quickly it went away. However, if you have been making small and steady changes, saying “no” to things little by little, this indicates you really are serious about change, and this means that that change will last.

Another reason we quit is that habits are hard to break. We are creatures that love rhythms and patterns, and we like when we find a rut that feels good. This is the reason we say that old people are “stuck in their ways.” Old people like you. About the only person who is inconsistent is a three year old, but only because she hasn’t had time to establish any patterns. Okay, except for maybe a bedtime routine that includes stories, several songs, a glass of water, and a kiss on each cheek. See? We love patterns, and unfortunately, build up harmful patterns. These took time to build up, and sadly they take time to break down, and then to replace with new, good habits. Most of us don’t want the long road up the mountain: we want a helicopter ride to the top. But if you will commit to the slog, you’ll see results.

Another reason we quit is that we don’t have real goals. We say, “I want to lose weight!” But we don’t say, “How much?” We say, “I want to be a better person!” But what does that mean? Nebulous goals are not goals at all. They are a weak acknowledgement that we hope progress will be inevitable. However, if we say “by January 15th, I will be in the habit of doing ten pushups a day,” or “By February, I will have had at least 20 days without a drink,” then we are defining goals. This focuses on success, not failures, and gives us the sense of accomplishment we need. It looks backward, but with the hope that it will help us look forward. When you have met your goal, you can say, “All right, let’s do that again for the next two weeks!” or “Okay, let’s see if we can do even better next month!” Small, manageable goals that show improvement are much easier to manage and keep than large, looming, undefinable goals.

One of the areas that I hope you will consider make some changes in for 2021 is in the area of developing your spirit. God created you for a relationship with Him, and seeking to cultivate that relationship is the most important thing you can do. How do you this? One way is by plugging into a Bible-preaching church. Another is by starting to read the Bible. Another is by finding and growing your God-given giftings and abilities. Honing your prayer life is an incredible way to develop your spirit. Paul talked about the pursuit of a relationship with Christ in Philippians 3:13-14, where he says “I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul acknowledges that he was not where he needed to be, but determined to continue to press on toward the mark: Christlikeness and a life that walks with God.

What does that look like, practically? Maybe you could commit to ten minutes of prayer per day. Or five minutes more than what you were doing. Get a prayer list and pray through the needs of those around you. Maybe you would commit to reading one chapter of the Bible a day. Start with Proverbs or the Gospel of John. Be ambitious and determine to read through the whole Bible in a year. Decide what church to attend, and determine that you are going to make it a priority to be there and participate. Satan will come up with reasons why you shouldn’t, but make a resolution that you will continue to press on. Get an accountability partner to address major sin areas in your life, and to encourage you to keep on cultivating that relationship.

January 19th doesn’t have to be “Quitter’s” Day. It can be “Relapse-For-A-Minute-But-I’m-Getting-Back-To-It” Day. That’s a little wordy. Maybe, “Press On” Day.

Press on.

The End of Summer

Growing up in Indiana, autumn was my favorite season. Autumn meant beautiful colors of changing leaves, raking those leaves into a pile and jumping in them, return to school and football season, and jacket weather. It meant the smells of wet leaves, of burning leaves, of new books, and of apple cider. Now that I live in northern Minnesota, I still love autumn, but I have to admit that it has a different context. Autumn now portends the arrival of a long winter. Autumn in Minnesota seems so short, and everyone knows that winter is just around the corner.

Every year when the fall solstice comes around, I think of a verse in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a book about a prophet begging and pleading with his nation to see what they are doing and repent of their ways. He recounts in Jeremiah 8 all of the things that God was doing to get their attention: sending armies, wild beasts, and famine. He then laments in verse 20: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”

artwork from iclipart.com

Most agricultural areas understand the idea of sowing and reaping, of times of planting and harvest. Spring is a time for clearing the fields, breaking up the ground, and putting in seed. All summer the farmer tends to his crops, keeping out beasts, weeds, and disease. He watches his store get lower and lower all summer, but he knows that he will be able to replenish in the autumn. Then comes the time for harvest. It was always a time of celebration and joy.

Most of the time. For some, there were years that the rain was not abundant. A swarm of locusts decimated their crops. Marauding bands came through with their cattle and ate their produce. Disease shriveled their stalks into nothing. A farmer might look at his field at that point and say, “The harvest is past. The summer is ended. All my hopes were pinned on this moment, and now I know that we will not be saved.”

There is a time for planting, for watering, and for harvesting. The good times are for rejoicing, and using our energies to advance and get ahead. The worst thing to do when things are good is to relax and bask. There will be time for basking later, in harvest. There will be lean times when you will have nothing to do, and those are the times you can rest. Now, we must work. What a sad statement to come to the end of summer and realize that the best and most productive days are behind you, and now all that is left is the fruit of your labors. For Judah, the fruit of their labors was death for their wickedness.

America is in danger of reaping death for our wickedness. Our churches are in danger of reaping persecution for our apathy toward sin, of reaping rejection by culture for rejecting Spirit-led worship and preaching, of reaping hostility for our lack of love for one another. Physically, yes, summer is past. We are entering a time we are limited in what we can do. But while we still have our freedoms, still have the Word of God, and still can reach people, let us do so. Jesus said in John 9:4 “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Let work while it is day, while is summer, before the harvest is past.

The Cure

The world waits for a cure to the Coronavirus. Every week, we wait to hear if they have found a vaccine that, once given, will save lives. I hope that day comes but let’s pretend for a moment that it is already here. Let’s say that tomorrow a trillionaire scientist finds a proven cure and prevention to Coronavirus, and makes it freely available to everyone in the United States.

I suspect that some people would respond this way: “It can’t be true! No one can know that they are cured of Coronavirus! I’m not taking it.” Some might claim that there is no scientist offering this for free, or worse that there is no such thing as a virus at all! Others, less cynical, might say, “I don’t believe it. It’s too easy! Just take it? It can’t be that easy!”

Imagine, however, some who really do believe that there is a scientist, and that he is offering it for free. But hear some of these people speak about it. “I believe there is a scientist! That’s enough for me!” Would they be cured? No. Imagine someone saying, “Well, yes, there’s a cure, but the hospital told me to come into the ER and let them put some water on me, and that will be good enough!” Imagine someone else saying, “Yes, there is a cure, but you have to be really healthy first, otherwise you can’t be cured!”

Of course, all of these reactions are silly, and we all admit that not one of them would result in a cure. But if we changed the coronavirus to sin, the scientist to God, and the cure to the blood of Jesus Christ, it gets less silly. Two thousand years ago, God sent Jesus to the Cross to die for sinners, paying the penalty in full. Isaiah 53:6 says “we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” It was fully paid for by Jesus and offered to all, yet many balk at the offer and connive other ways to be saved. Friend, you are dying of sin, and there is only one cure: Jesus died for you. Receive His gift of salvation by faith. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

Stop depending on your good works or religion, and trust Christ alone.

This is going to hurt

One of my many roles as “Dad” in our home is to remove the occasional splinter. As a former cabinetmaker, I have experience in removing them from my own hands, so the job falls to me to remove splinters from my children. For those of you who have never had to help a child remove a splinter, let me say that there is no way to do it painlessly. I remember getting a splinter in my chest from a seesaw when I was in kindergarten, and I absolutely refused my needle-wielding mother from removing it. I have a few rules of splinter-removing, one of which is: “Don’t watch!” Another is: “This is going to hurt.” Yes, I fully admit that I am willing to intentionally hurt my child. Why? Because hurt has already come, and so it takes hurt to make things better. To leave the splinter in could lead to more hurt in the future, in the form of infections.

Right now, we are facing a world-wide crisis in the form of COVID-19. Hurt has already come, and many are dying. If drastic measures are not taken, it will not be thousands of Americans that die, but millions. We have no choice but to take some action, if we are going to save lives. The government has encouraged hand-washing and social distancing in order to slow the rate of infection. Part of that “social distancing” is the order to close businesses, churches, and places of socialization. This has made life difficult for some. For extroverts, it has been hard to stay away from other people, when normally they thrive on personal interaction. For those who are slightly claustrophobic, it has been hard to confine themselves to home or their property. While trips to the store have been limited, some are no doubt taking the same number of trips, just for something to do.

Others, when they go to the store, have been stocking up on items they feel they will need. Most famously, toilet paper has been bought up in large amounts, as well as food stores. It’s understandable why people feel like they need to be prepared, as we don’t know what the future will hold when it comes to staying at home. But the hoarding up of goods has created another problem: some have not had the goods they need. Some who need toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer or rice for normal use have not been able to buy what they need because others have stockpiled at home. Some, like emergency workers, who need masks and gloves have not been able to get them because others have amassed a collection at home. One person’s solution to the COVID-19 has created problems for others.

I understand the desire to be ready and to try to mitigate the hurt that the quarantine has brought. But I want to say: This is going to hurt. There is no way around the fact that we are going to have to go without, and that life will look different when/if this is all over. It’s natural to want to try to minimize the hurt we experience, but it is impossible to completely neutralize it. And some, in their intense desire to experience no pain or change from this crisis, have cause hurt in the lives of others. I want to encourage you, despite your inclination otherwise, to embrace the pain and hurt that this situation brings. Risk being without so that someone else can have. Don’t think only of yourself, but think of others at this time. Romans 12:3 encourages everyone “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly.” He encourages in Philippians 2:4 “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

I know you want to be out where other people are. This is going to hurt, but stay home and opt instead to interact electronically. I know you want to be prepared so that you won’t have to go hungry or without essentials. This is going to hurt, but buy only what you need, and use the extra you might get to be a blessing and help to someone else. I know you want life to be normal again, and you feel like you are going crazy at home, especially those who are having to spend more time with kids. This is going to hurt, but do what you can to stay indoors and invest in your family.

During World War II, the government instituted rations and changed factory production. Everyone endured pain so that the enemy could be defeated. To say, “I won’t go through pain! Let everyone bear the brunt of it!” was considered not only selfish, but immoral. Don’t fall into the trap of avoiding pain, inconvenience, and annoyance, simply because you want to avoid hurt. This is going to hurt. Bear it up, be thankful you aren’t on the front lines of this (and thank you to those who are confronting the virus head-on), and endure some pain.

I think of what Jesus did for us. It would have been easy to see us in our sin, destined for punishment and apart from God, and for Him to say, “But I don’t want to suffer so that they can be saved!” It would have been easy for Him to remain in heaven. Yet Christ came to this earth, suffered in life, and suffered in death so that we could have eternal life. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” He died on the cross, bearing our sin, so that we could benefit. He knew full well the pain. You can almost hear the Father and Spirit say, “This is going to hurt,” but so that He could save us, endured crucifixion, so that we, by faith, can receive Him as Saviour.

This is going to hurt, but it will be better in the end.

Ms. Strifelover

Feuds and fights have always been a part of human existence. When people in colonial America had a quarrel, they settled it with dueling pistols. In other places, a fistfight settled a matter. Now, more commonly, people settle their difference in the courtroom or on social media. Almost weekly we hear about Twitter feuds between celebrities, and it always makes the news rounds? Why? Because people love to hear about others fighting. Many love to hear about how others aren’t getting along, and the way they dig into each other. I cannot say why so many love when others fight. Maybe it makes us feel better when we see what others feel about an enemy. I understand watching competitive sports, but when others really fight should not ever be something that we delight in.

But there is a person that not even loves to watch others fight, but loves it enough to actually start fights, either between themselves and someone else, or between two or three other parties. This is who the book of Proverbs might call “Ms. Strifelover.” She loves to cause strife and friction. Person A says something negative about Person B, so Ms. Strifelover goes to tell Person B, awaiting the response. Sure enough, Person B gets upset and shoots back, so Ms. Strifelover gleefully goes back to Person A to relay the toxic message. Ms. Strifelover is sister to Ms. Drama. Ms. Strifelover is not an obedient Christian, because Proverbs 17:19 says “He loveth transgression [sin] that loveth strife: and he that exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.”

Ms. Strifelover infects others with their negativity. “Misery loves company,” the saying goes, and Ms. Strifelover is filled with misery that she would love to share with others. Proverbs 26:21 says: “As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.” Coals that are on fire in proximity to others coals will start those other coals on fire as well. Ms. Strifelover will share toxic information with others, who will feel they need to share that information with others, especially with those will act on that information. When you remove Ms. Strifelover, you remove the contention. Proverbs 26:20 says “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.”

Ms. Strifelover is often involved with things that don’t involve her. It’s true that sometimes problems need to be addressed, even if it brings strife. Jesus said that following Him would cause division (Luke 12:52-53). But Ms. Strifelover isn’t creating strife that comes with the Gospel. She creates strife where there otherwise shouldn’t be. She is an expert in taking phrases and blowing them out of proportion, or twisting them to say what they don’t really say. She invades the territories of others to make trouble where there shouldn’t be. Proverbs 26:17 describes this “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears.” Ms. Strifelover will herself be caught in her own strife (Proverbs 26:27).

When Ms. Strifelover starts brewing trouble, it is usually small, but gets bigger very quickly. She shares information, hoping to foment a problem, and it ends up spreading beyond two people as other strife-lovers take sides. Soon she has friends on both sides that won’t speak to each other: friendships that will never be healed and possibly marriages that will never be mended. Ms. Strifelover may even realize she’s gone too far, but it will be too late. Proverbs 17:14 instructs her: “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.”

The Bible instructs Ms. Strifelover to act in ways that call for peace and unity instead of division and contention. Proverbs 20:3 says “It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.” Ms. Strifelover could be known as a great person, a Peacemaker and Friend-creator, instead of an Instigator and Rabblerouser, if she would simply cease from strife. It would be an honor to her name and a credit to the Christ she could serve.

Mr. Angry

I grew up in Indiana in the 90s, and one of the big things that Indiana was known for then was a famous (infamous?) figure: Bobby Knight. Bobby Knight was the coach of the Hoosiers basketball team at Indiana University. Though he was a great coach, what he became famous for wasn’t a winning record, but for his temper problem. In 1974, he hit Kentucky coach Joe Hall during a game. He frequently used expletives and yelled at players and other coaches. What he is most famous for, however, is for throwing a chair across the floor during a Purdue game, which ultimately led to his ejection from the game.

You can call such a person “hot-headed,” “ill-tempered,” or “short-fused,” but the Bible simply calls him “an angry man.” (Proverbs 22:24). This is not the person who is righteously angry, as Jesus was in the Temple. He is selfishly angry, because he feels he has been wronged. He wants to make things right, but only for himself. Anger itself is not a sin, because God tells us in Ephesians 4:26 “Be ye angry, and sin not.” But most of the time when we are angry, we are sinning, and there is a person who is always angry.

Mr. Angry is not seen as a wise person. Proverbs 12:16 says “A fool’s wrath is presently known.” Mr. Angry is not known for his calm, thought-out decisions, but he often makes the wrong decision in his hasty anger (Proverbs 14:29). Rash decision are often the wrong ones, and Mr. Angry has many bad decisions in his wrath-filled wake. People will avoid him because he is “proud and haughty.”  Proverbs 21:24 says: “Proud and haughty scorner is his name, who dealeth in proud wrath.”

As a fool, Mr. Angry is prone to hurting other people with his wrath. Proverbs 27:4 says “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous.” Mr. Angry is always ready to cut others down with his words, and has venom aplenty to spread in his anger. He says things that belittle others, and then attributes them only to his angry outbursts, as though those outbursts are an anomaly of his character, and not an amalgam. He not only hurts those he talks to, but he causes hurt in others as well. Proverbs 29:22 says “An angry man stirreth up strife, and a furious man aboundeth in transgression.” Mr. Angry will complain about others who have earned his ire (deservedly or not), and will spread vicious rumors about those he is angry. It is because of this that the words of Proverbs 22:24 ring true: “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go.”

Mr. Angry has a quick fuse. While the Bible extols those who are “longsuffering” and “slow to wrath,” (Proverbs 14:29), it doesn’t take much to get to Mr. Angry. He will fight at the drop of a hat, and often he will be the one to drop the hat. Proverbs 14:17 says “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.” Mr. Angry seldom gives a moment’s chance to find out if he accurately understands the situation, if the offense is real or imagined, and if it warrants the kind of vitriol he would like to apply to his victim. He simply bursts out like a volcano, and people scatter. Often, Mr. Angry finds others like him: Mr. Wrath, Mr. Furious, Mr. Outburst. His words will fuel their words, which will fuel his words, which will end in a hurricane of fury, so that Proverbs 15:1 says “grievous words stir up anger.”

Until Jesus comes into his heart and makes him a new person, there is little hope for Mr. Angry. His emotions will always get him into trouble, always keep him in trouble, and will never give him the right kinds of friends that will help point him to Christ. Proverbs 19:19 “A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.” Mr. Angry will probably end up hurting others, who will learn from his ways and hurt others as well. Only Jesus can break the cycle and give joy, peace, and love where once anger grew. Only Jesus can bring control over one’s spirit (Proverbs 25:28), and victory over Bobby Knight-like anger.

Mr. Friendly

Of all the great things that Facebook has done in connecting people, there is one major disservice it has done. It uses the word “friend” as its word to link people together. Right now, I have 319 “friends” on Facebook. I never accept requests from people I don’t know, but I am at least acquainted with all of them. However, if you asked me who my friends are, I would not be able to name 319 people that would fall into that category. It would probably be more like 100, including, of course, my church family. The others are pastor friends, people from college and high school that I’ve kept up with, various family members, and people who are a part of my life. My good friends are even fewer, and they are the ones who know me and, against all odds, still like me.

The reason I don’t like that the word “friend” has been hijacked is that it has such a rich meaning, especially when you look in the Bible. Good friends are important to have, which is one of the major themes in Proverbs and other places. Bad friends can be detrimental, and even fatal. How many people have we heard of were good people, but with “the wrong people at the wrong place and the wrong time.”? It happens too often. But the Bible not only talks about the importance of having good friends, but in being a good friend.

Mr. Friendly is someone who loves a person no matter the external in life. Proverbs 14:20 tells us “the rich hath many friends” and Proverbs 19:4 says: “Wealth maketh many friends.” But Mr. Friendly loves his friends whether they have money or not. He doesn’t care if they are sick, healthy, in a good mood or a bad mood, near or far. He doesn’t allow minor conflicts to destroy his friendship. He believes the words of Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Mr. Friendly looks for ways to show his appreciation and love for his friends. Many people mope about not having good friends, but they are unwilling to be a good friend first. Showing friendliness and love is how Mr. Friendly has so many friends. Proverbs 18:24 “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” He is ready at a moment’s notice to help or to give aid. He makes his friends a priority. Proverbs 27:10 says “Thine own friend… forsake not.” He does not remember past offenses, but seeks to try to cover them, so that others don’t think less of him. Mr. Friendly will not repeat damaging information, but will try to defend his friends. Proverbs 17:9 says “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” He will be the one to say, “I know her, and what you say isn’t true!” He will not believe the idle gossip and pass it on, but looks for ways to show his love for his friends. He is always hoping he can bless his friends (Proverbs 27:9)

This doesn’t mean that Mr. Friendly never acts negatively toward his friends. On the contrary, since Mr. Friendly loves his friends so much, sometimes he has to say hard things to his friends. Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” and Mr. Friendly sometimes has to wound his friend by being honest about blindspots in his life, but he is always seeking to help, and will only hurt when there is good that can come from it. He wants to sharpen his friend, as a whetstone will make a knife more useable. Proverbs 27:17 says: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

Mr. Friendly is a great asset to his friends. He is not a liability. They can trust him, not only with private information and secrets about themselves, but with their well-being in mind. Mr. Friendly is perfectly personified in the person of Jesus Christ, who said in John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” A good friend is willing to give his all for his friends. Mr. Friendly is the kind of friend you’d want, isn’t he? You need to be Mr. Friendly to someone else, whether they are on Facebook or not.

Ms. Revenge

The Count of Monte Cristo is about a man wrongfully imprisoned, that upon escaping a finding a fortune, seeks revenge against the one who had him imprisoned in the first place. The intrigue of the story is the lengths that Dantes goes to exact his revenge, including manipulating markets and inducing Heloise to poison people. It is perhaps one of the most famous stories on the topic of revenge. Revenge gives the illusion that everything turns out well in the end, and that he wicked finally get what is coming to them. However, the truth is that revenge often destroys the offender and the offended, and is a source of mutual destruction.

Revenge, though sometimes celebrated as a virtue in the world, is not a Christian virtue. Christians are not to be known for their vengeance-seeking. Jesus’ famous “Golden Rule” found in Luke 6:31 says “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” It does not say (as is often understood), “do unto others as they have done to you.” This is the sentiment and instruction found in Proverbs 24:29, which says: “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.” In Proverbs we find many different characters, both bad and good, and I want to introduce you to Ms. Revenge.

Ms. Revenge sometimes has been legitimately wronged. Sometimes people really hurt us, and they really mean to. Jesus said in Luke 17:1: “It is impossible but that offences will come.” Living in a sinful world means that others will sin against us, just as we sin against them. Ms. Revenge deserves to have her wrongs righted, but insists that she either see it happen herself or take part in it. She is hyper-sensitive to when others wrong her, but as a side effect is often blind when it comes to her own wrongs against other people. Ms. Revenge knows who has spoken against her, but couldn’t tell you anyone that she has spoken against.

Ms. Revenge is unwilling to forgive people for what they have done to her. Sometimes they don’t want her forgiveness, but that still doesn’t give her the right to retain her anger. She should have the heart of forgiveness, and be willing to extend to anyone if they ever ask. Jesus said in Luke 17:3-4 “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” Sometimes people seek Ms. Revenge’s forgiveness, but does not give it to them. She realizes that forgiveness means releasing the person from some of the consequences of their actions, and she wants them to feel the full brunt of their sins against her. She is unwilling to overlook the offense, saying instead, “I want you to hurt as I have hurt.” She thinks that she will feel better once the other person feels as bad as she does, but if that ever happens, she will be just as hurt, and she will have lost a potential friend.

Ms. Revenge is unwilling to wait on God to make things right. She does not believe that God can make it as right as she can, so she takes action. She spreads rumors as she has been talked about. She withholds good from those who have withheld good from her. She gets on the phone and yells at people for what they have done. She completely ignores the words of Proverbs 20:22, which say: “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.” She ignores the instructions of Romans 12:19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Luke 18:7 says that God will avenge His elect, even though He does it in His time.

Ms. Revenge will never has a good relationship with God as long as she seeks revenge instead of forgiveness. Mark 11:26 says “But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” Ms. Revenge may call herself a Christian, but she does not know Christ in the way that she should. She needs to realize that the heart of Christ was to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is better example than Edmond Dantes could ever be.

Mr. Seemsright

If you were going to climb Mt. Everest, not only would you need to do some good training to be in good physical shape and buy good gear to help you brave the elements, but you would need a guide to take you to the summit. Called Sherpas, you can hire a guide who not only knows how to help you survive, but knows the best way to get to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. I can imagine someone saying, “I don’t need a guide! The summit is right there! You can’t miss it!” and trying to get to the top. If they do, they will join Green Boots and dozens of others whose bodies are still on the way to the top. There may be a way that seems right, but it will not end well for you.

Many people who would never thing about climbing a mountain without a guide try to navigate life without a guide. They go through life as if they have all the answers, then wonder why they have so much trouble in life. The Bible is a guide for us (Proverbs 6:23; Psalm 119:105), and those who know it are guides along life’s treacherous way. But there are some who insist on their way, and they are found in Proverbs 14:12, which says “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” There are ways that people take that seem right to them, but they end up being wrong about those ways. This is the Mr. Seemsright in the book of Proverbs.

Mr. Seemsright is a big fan of experience, both his and others. He has seen things work for others, and thinks it will probably work for him as well. There is nothing wrong with experiences, as we all have them, but when Mr. Seemsright looks at experience, he assumes that things turn out the same way all of the time. He doesn’t consider, not only that there are many different outcomes and possibilities, but that God is the one who is in charge of every situation, whether it has already occurred or not. Proverbs 16:9 says: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” He may plan, but God has the right and ability to disrupt his plans.

Mr. Seemsright assumes that the future belongs to him. He thinks that life is a chess game, and that he has several moves planned out ahead of him. He will invest money in something, with the plan that it will succeed. He is like the person found in James 4:13-16: “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.” Mr. Seemsright never considers what God might want for him, but only what his own future might be.

Mr. Seemsright assumes that his way is right because he thinks of himself as a moral person. He sees other moral people who flourish, and assumes the same thing will happen to him. He goes to church on Sunday morning because it seems like a good thing to do, and thinks that he will do as well as others at church, even though he doesn’t think of God the other six days of the week. Mr. Seemsright never sees his own pride and folly, because Proverbs 16:2 says: “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.”

Mr. Seemsright can give you many reasons why his way makes the most sense and will be the best decision. He can articulate the logic behind his choices, and even seems very intelligent in his reasoning. But his reasoning is not after God’s perfect wisdom, but after his own flawed wisdom. 1 Corinthians 3:19 says that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” Mr. Seemsright doesn’t know this. He thinks that his way is the best. God knows it’s not, but those around him do, too. Proverbs 18:17 says “He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” Mr. Seemsright may think he is on his way up in the world, but he is in as need of a guide as anyone who’s ever gone mountain climbing.

Mr. Mercy

1 Samuel 25 tells us the story of David and a man named Nabal. David, after protecting Nabal’s herds, asked for a gift of hospitality in the form of some food for his men and him. Nabal refused, which was an insult in a culture that valued hospitality. David, angry over the ingratitude, gathered his men together and set off for Nabal’s house with the intention to kill him for the insult. Nabal had a godly wife, however, that fled to David with an abundance of food, and pled for her evil husband’s life. She knew that there was no excusing what Nabal had done, but instead begged David to show mercy to Nabal and his household.

A simple definition of mercy is “tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves.” Mercy is not acting kindly toward a person because they have earned the right to be treated so; it is treating someone kindly when they have wronged us. Mercy is giving up one’s right to have vengeance or even the satisfaction of an apology. Mercy is showing the heart of God, who is called in 2 Corinthians 1:3 “the Father of mercies.” Ephesians 2 says that God is rich in mercy, and so showing mercy to others is a reflecting of Him. We see the character who shows mercy in the book of Proverbs.

Mr. Mercy is not blissfully ignorant that the world is a hard place to live, full of people who don’t always do right. He is aware that sometimes he is taken advantage of, but he overlooks that and shows mercy to others. He binds mercy and truth to him like a necklace, (Proverbs 3:3) so that though he knows the way that others treat offenders, he rises above this. When a neighbor blows leaves onto his yard, he doesn’t demand that they be picked up. He rakes them up himself with a smile. Mr. Mercy doesn’t need to tell everyone about a bad experience with a friend or with a company. He doesn’t want others to think badly of them, and so shows mercy with his speech.

Mr. Mercy is not looking for reasons to be angry or at odds with others. He would much rather cover an offense than expose or exploit it. He is not cruel to others, but wants to do good for others. Proverbs 11:17 says: “The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.” Mr. Mercy especially wants to show mercy toward other Christians, knowing the mercy that God has shown to him. He loves to forgive others, no matter the debt owed.

Mr. Mercy does not only show mercy when he is wronged. Mr. Mercy looks for opportunities to show mercy to others. He sees people who he’s never before met, and feels compelled to meet their needs. He doesn’t think, “Well, they had this coming!” or “They should help themselves!” but he shows mercy on those who are having trouble. Proverbs 14:21 says: “He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.” While to others, showing mercy is a trial, Mr. Mercy delights in showing kindness to those who do not deserve it. Because of this, God honors Mr. Mercy for his reflection of God’s perfections. Proverbs 14:31 says: “he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.”

David, when confronted with the humility of Abigail, repented of the evil he thought to do and accepted Abigail’s gift. He did not insist on satisfaction, but instead blessed her and thanked her for her wisdom. Just a little while later, Nabal died and Abigail became David’s wife. It was a match made in mercy.