Unity, Not Division

It seems that everywhere we look, we are seeing division. People feel divided politically, economically, racially, culturally, and religiously. When this happens, we end up looking at our fellow citizens in terms of our differences instead of our similarities. The opposite of division is unity, and between the two, God prefers unity. He says in Psalm 133:1 “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Jesus said in John 17 that His desire was that His people would be one in Him.

I believe it is a reflection of the character of God within us that desires and craves unity. I feel like we would much rather have friends than enemies, have doors than walls, and have “us” than “them.” So if we want unity, why don’t we have it? I can think of at least three reasons.

The first reason we don’t have unity is that we are naturally selfish. Division occurs when I want my way, and another person is an obstacle to that. Of course, a spirit of deference and sacrifice could overcome that, but that is much more work than saying, “My way!” James 4:1-2 says that the source of our wars are our desires. We want something, but when we can’t get it, we fight. The second reason we don’t have unity is that we are naturally self-righteous. When we encounter someone different from us, the natural first reaction is to ask, “How can I determine where they are wrong, and I am right?” However, when I am humble, I will realize that I am not better than someone else, just different.

The third reason we don’t have unity is misunderstanding. I have come to realize that there are many different peoples, cultures, ideas and philosophies I do not understand. What is the tendency when we don’t understand someone else? We paint a picture of them, and that picture is sometimes a caricature. We don’t seek to understand where other people are coming from, but make huge assumptions, which are usually wrong. Proverbs 11:12 says “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.” I am convinced that most of the division we see in our country is from lies from those who are seeking to divide.

Unity lies at the heart of what God wants, and it starts with deference, humility, and understanding.

Divining Phil

Despite the fact that this winter has not been very bad, I would not shed one tear if all the snow melted by March 2nd and we had seventy degree weather by March 20th. I like warm weather, but it’s impossible to predict when it will come. Or is it? Maybe I could consult the Farmer’s Almanac, which looks at nature to make estimates about what weather will be like. They claim to be 80% accurate. Maybe I could look at history and try to see if there are any predictable patterns of weather that might hold true this year. Or I could wait to see if a Pennsylvania groundhog that pops out of the ground sees his shadow.

“What!?! What kind of nonsense is that?”

Today is “Groundhog Day,” a day when thousands gather in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania around “Phil’s” hole to watch. If the groundhog sees his shadow, this portends six more weeks of winter. If he does not, maybe I’ll get my early spring. Or at least Pennsylvania will.

How did this tradition come to pass? Most scholars trace this tradition in America back to Dutch immigrants celebrating Candlemas, a Catholic holiday celebrating baby Jesus’ presentation in the Temple forty days after birth. What does this have to do with groundhogs? Not much. It probably goes back much further to pagan days when farmers had various ways of predicting the weather. Pennsylvania Dutch originally called it “Badger Day,” but other animals, including fox, hedgehog and bear have been used as well. Presumably, “Badger Day” was switched to “Groundhog Day” because groundhogs are nicer and easier to handle. Groundhogs Day was mixed with Candlemas, as many holidays have been merged with pagan celebrations.

It’s harmless as far as it goes, for sure, but it is a reminder of times when uncertainty was so high that people tried to use whatever means necessary to try to make sense of the world. The Bible talks about this desperation in prognostication. Ezekiel 21:21 says “the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination: he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, he looked in the liver.” The word “divination” was a word that talked about making a decision, but doing so by looking upward for guidance: the Divine. How did he do this? He would make his arrows bright, which was a practice of writings options on arrows and shaking them until one fell out. Whatever message was on the arrow was what the gods wanted. He would also “look in the liver.” Ancient peoples would extract a liver from a goose and examine veins, spots, and the shape of a liver and determine what the gods would have him to do.

This seems strange, doesn’t it? But there were many such ways ancient peoples tried to find out what they should do, or what might happen in the future. God even made a way for the ancient Israelites to be able to determine His will, with two stones called the Urim and the Thummin. They would apparently flip them to see what God wanted them to do, and there are several stories of people inquiring of the Lord in this way.

How are we to discern God’s Will? How can we tell what He wants? The first way, generally, is to look in Scripture. Scripture does not get specific, but lays out general principles of how to live our lives. You don’t need to ask yourself: “Is it God’s Will that I should cheat on my taxes?” or “Does God want me to think impure thoughts?” God has revealed in His Word that these are against His Will, because they are stealing and adultery. But the second way, for the Christian, is to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Everyone has a conscience that helps determine what is right and wrong, but the Christian has the Holy Spirit, which magnifies the voice of the conscience, approving or dismissing actions and thoughts. Third, godly counsel might be sought. Proverbs 11:14 says “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Fourth, you may be led to, after much prayer, ask God for direction by giving a small confirmation of what you think the Lord might want. Gideon in Judges 6 asked for a sign, but for you or I it might be even something as slight as asking God to move in someone’s heart to reach out to you, or to close or open opportunities.

It can be a good thing to want to know about the future, and it is a great thing to ask direction from heaven. But it is wrong to look to nature, as if we were “listening to the universe” or “asking Mother Nature.” Cast goose livers, divining sticks, Tarot cards, and crystal balls aside. Forget Punxsutawney Phil: he’s only accurate around 39% of the time anyway. Seek a relationship with God, who will guide and direct your steps in His way. Pray to seek His face, and in it, His Will.

Me? I’m praying for an early spring. But also that I might be content in Him for the next six weeks of winter. It is Minnesota, after all.

Talking to Strangers

I was at a local store last night with a few things I needed to pick up for the church. I always notice the name tag of the cashier, and try to greet them using their name. Steph was my cashier, and I had seen her on many occasions. As she scanned my things, she said to me, “What did you think of that election?”

The election. Politics.

Talk about lighting a stick of dynamite and handing it to me.

I’ve learned the art of tact and innocuous answer (thanks to parenting!) and said, “Yeah, it got a lot of people talking, didn’t it?”

That could have been enough to end a conversation, especially as she bagged my last item. But no, I had engaged, and she started to tell me things I didn’t know. Did you know that there was a planned coup against the president on Inauguration Day? Did you know that they were going to arrest top Democrats and install Donald Trump as president again? Did you know that the reason they didn’t is that we found out that China had a nuclear warhead pointed at us, and so had to go deal with that? Did you know a second coup is coming soon? I didn’t know this before, but I do now.

This post isn’t about ridiculous conspiracy theories and those like Steph who believe them. I don’t delve into all of those, and honestly have no idea what “Q” says. I’m not even sure where Steph got her information. Why did she feel she could talk to me about this? I wasn’t wearing my tin foil hat at the time. Why was she not worried at all about the people behind me in line? Why was she not worried about what her supervisor might think if he heard what she was saying that had nothing to do with my purchases? I’m sure the store has a policy about spouting personal opinions about politics to customers. What struck me is how easy it was for her to talk to a perfect stranger about things that were obviously very significant to her.

It’s not as if I was offended by what she said. People can think whatever wrong thing they want to think. I don’t mind people talking about politics, on either side of the aisle. What surprised me is how easy it is for her to talk about things that were dear to her heart, but how hard it is for Christians to talk about the Lord to strangers. There are so many whose needs could be met by Jesus Christ if we would only speak out. There are those who would be saved if we would tell them that Jesus died for them, paying the penalty of sin on the cross. All around us are people who need to hear that the Bible has the answers for them, and yet Christians stay silent.

What emboldened Steph to talk to me? These ideas about the government are important to her. Why isn’t the Gospel important to Christians? Isn’t it important to us? Aren’t we glad someone took the time to talk to us about how we could be right with God? It’s true that there is always a certain amount of fear that creeps in. What if they don’t like what I am going to say? What if they reject it? What if they think I’m some kind of fanatic? The point is that if it is important enough to you, you will say something. Many Christians say, “I would die for Jesus!” But they won’t speak for Him.

The Bible doesn’t deny that the message we preach is unpopular. It says in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” Later in chapter 4 it says, “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” The Gospel carries a stigma, especially more so in a world darkened by sin. Rather than flee from it, we ought to embrace it, and count ourselves grateful to be heralds of God’s message. Christians in closed countries all over the world not only speak to their neighbors in fear of being rejected, but in fear of being arrested or killed! We will meet some of these people in heaven, and they will ask, “What kind of persecution did you face?” And we will answer: “Well, I once got a weird look and a rolled eye when I brought up Jesus to a neighbor.”

I know that Satan whispers reasons we should not.

“You don’t want to turn them off, do you?” The Gospel turns people off. Learn to speak it tactfully and lovingly.

“You don’t want to come off as judgmental, do you?” Every person will stand before God to be judged one day. Better to think they are being judged by you today and have a chance to escape the judgment that is to come.

“You don’t want to make things awkward, do you?” You don’t have to make things awkward. You can speak in love and let Christ speak through you.

Christian, if you would talk to a complete stranger about football, a new kitchen gadget, a health diagnosis, a theory about a government takeover (please don’t), a weight-loss plan, a new car or a grandchild, why can’t you talk to a complete stranger about Jesus Christ?

He is worth talking about!

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.