A Friend and a Brother

“A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17)

This verse used to confuse me. A friend will always love us, but our brothers will be our adversaries, so I thought. Solomon did not say that. What he did say was (a) a friend always loves, and (b) a brother will be support you when you face adversity.

We need to understand what the word loves means. In modern Western culture, love and the heart have been connected: they both are about emotions. That presumption is not rooted in the biblical concept of love and the heart. Neither the heart nor love are emotion-based in Scripture. Love should be understood as unfailing loyalty, commitment, and faithfulness. The heart is one’s deepest, innermost being.

A friend is defined, then, as the kind of person who is always faithful and loyal. Friendship of that sort is difficult in the extreme. A real friend is committed to another to the extent he himself might suffer loss because of his oath of friendship (Psa. 15:4; Phil. 2:8). Friendship based on emotion is not costly at all. Feeling good about someone requires no effort all. The problem arises when someone we call friend does something we don’t like, and we stop feeling good about them.

Friendship on those terms is based on the actions of others and not our loyalty to them. Feeling good about another person is self-centered. Jesus, though, showed friendship to be rooted in one’s self, and not in the behavior of others. The psalmist declared true friendship was characterized by one person’s commitment to another regardless of the cost. Personal loss does not bring friendship to an end. Jesus gave up his divine rights and privileges, and his life, for the benefit of unbelievers. True friendship is costly.

What about a brother? Solomon assumed a brother is committed to his family. As a result, when he is needed, he gives what is required and does what is necessary to come to the aid of a family member in distress. A brother loves at all times too.

Real love doesn’t feel good all the time. Paul said love never fails. בְּכָל־֭עֵת אֹהֵ֣ב הָרֵ֑עַ וְאָ֥ח לְ֝צָרָ֗ה יִוָּלֵֽד׃


Love and the Social Media World

The title of the article is, “Loving Your Neighbor on Facebook.” So, my question is, can you love your neighbor on Facebook?

Really, can you? Here’s what we know we can do. Show self-restraint. Few people want to hear you rant about how someone punched your button. I’ll give you one or two rants, but then, I unfriend you. Am I showing a lack of love by unfriending you?

Your personal bitterness about life in general, or someone specifically, ought not to be played out on your FB or Twitter page. Guess how many of your friends get insulted everyday. Most of them keep on moving, they don’t allow themselves to be deterred in reaching for their goals.

Neither do they poison their friends’ lives with emotional bile when they are insulted. You see, the problem with loving someone on FB or Twitter is, you can’t. What you can do is be respectful on social media; be tolerant; be forgiving; be generous; don’t be petty.

Remember too, whatever you say on your social media page stays in digital space. Words have always been hard to control once they’ve been spoken. Now, with the advent of social media on the Internet, you have even less control of your words once you’ve written them They never go away.

In Scripture, love is a curious concept. As an idea only, love is meaningless. Love becomes real only in action. In the Bible, love typically is directed to a specific person, not large generalities. A large number of times in the OT, people speak of loving the Lord, his Temple, and his Law. God over and over, declares his love for his people, and for all humankind (John 3:16). Never, though, is love spoken of in some generic manner with only a vague generality as its object.

“For love to be authentic, a living, breathing, made-out-of-flesh human being must be the object.”

Authentic love for us believers is expressed only when we act on behalf of another person. We might say we love the “lost,” but until we have taken a specific action on behalf of an unbeliever, we have not loved. Loving someone on FB, as an idea, sounds good. In reality, from a biblical perspective, you just can’t do it. One cannot love a digital representation of a human being. One cannot act on behalf of an electronic presence. For love to be authentic, a living, breathing, made-out-of-flesh human being must be the object.

Otherwise, we are only spouting platitudes.

A Parody: Red Suspenders, Pt. 1

Suspenders once were more than a fashion statement. They actually were functional. They held a guy’s pants up. When pants had no belt loops, suspenders were essential. Suspenders or belts are a personal decision.

Let’s say, though, I have a requirement for friendship: you must wear red suspenders. No belts, though. I make red suspenders, thousands and thousands of them. I give them away to anyone who wants to be my friend. To get a pair, all you have to do is to give up your belt or other colored suspenders.

I know, sounds kind of exclusive and intolerant. Aren’t other kinds of suspenders just as good? Belts are okay too, aren’t they? Well, others make suspenders, but they’re not red. I want you to wear only red suspenders. You have to pay for anybody else’s suspenders; mine are free. I would be intolerant if I restricted who could have my suspenders, but I don’t. They are free to anyone who asks.

I also host red suspenders clubs. You can find them almost anywhere. Anyone can go to the clubs, but only red suspenders-wearing folk can be real members. At the red suspenders club, members are supposed to learn how to wear my suspenders for their full effect. I have people in the clubs whose job is teaching about wearing my suspenders well.

The problem is, lots of my red suspenders leaders have gotten side-tracked. Some think adding little, decorative pins to their suspenders makes them (the suspenders and the wearers) impresses me. As a result, those who don’t have the pins don’t feel as important or as much a member as the suspenders-with-pins crowd. If you get a good education, have money, or have been a club member a long time, you get pins.

Others have added belts and suspenders of other colors. The more suspenders you have, and the bigger your belt and shinier its buckle, the better the chance you won’t get kicked out of the club. The more belts and suspenders, the more secure your membership is, so they believe.

Of course, some have on dirty suspenders and frayed, worn-out belts with rusty buckles. The pinned suspenders-extra suspenders-more belts with shiny buckles crowd looks down on the dirty suspenders-frayed belt with rusty buckles group.

The sad thing is, all I’ve asked is for people to wear only my red suspenders. You don’t have to wear other-colored or worn-out suspenders, big belts or frayed ones. Just red suspenders. Oddly, all that other stuff just keeps pulling your pants down. The other-colored suspenders aren’t clipped on, and the belts aren’t buckled. Sad, when you think about it. If you add stuff to what I’ve given you, things just fall apart.

Why don’t you take off your suspenders of other colors, your worn-out ones, and all those belts. Just wear mine. They’re red and they’re all you need.

Reflect or Express?

Have you ever heard someone say, “I just want to reflect Jesus”? How about, “I just want to be a reflection of God’s love”? Personally, I don’t want to be a reflection.

A mirror reflects. Images bounce off mirrors. The word reflect means “to throw back (heat, light, or sound) without absorbing it. That’s what a mirror does. When you look into a mirror, you see an image reflected off a highly polished surface. The mirror, though, doesn’t absorb any of your image. The mirror retains no memory of what it reflected.

Think about it. If I am a reflection of God or his love, I am simply a reflecting surface; I’m not absorbing anything of God or his love. Therein lies the oxymoron: how can someone who has not absorbed God and his love reflect him? Unworkable. Contradictory.

Mirrors are odd in other ways. We know they give you a sort of negative image. Right become left. Yet, up stays up, and down stays down. All the colors are accurate, too. Yet, the truth is distorted in such a way as to make it a false image.

Imperfections in mirrors distort the image they are reflecting. If you look into a convex mirror, all of a sudden you appear to be taller. The same for a concave mirror: you appear to be shorter. Images cast by concave and convex mirrors are artificially distorted; they bear little resemblance to the truth.

If we only reflect God, our personal imperfections will distort what people see. In fact, they might see the opposite of who God really is. If reflected off us, God may not be seen accurately.

I’d rather let my light shine. You know, the One Who Is the Light of the World, who dwells by His Spirit within me. I want him to shine through me, so what is seen is more accurate. “”Let your light shine (express the truth) before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Mat 5:16)

Be an expression of Jesus, not a reflection.

It’s All in How You Look at it

Have you ever thought God could be more helpful in some ways? How about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh?” What was it? Why doesn’t Scripture tell us? Instead, all we have is a host of opinions and ideas about what troubled Paul.

God could have inspired Paul to state simply what was bothering him, but he didn’t. Maybe Paul nor the Lord wanted anyone to know about an embarrassing, personal issue.

Most of the time, we think of the thorn in the flesh as a physical limitation (he had a vision problem, was cripple, etc.). We rarely consider other options.

For Paul, the flesh was a whole messy mass of problems. Fleshly things could be physical, but they also could be emotional, sensual, or psychological. Imagine if Paul had admitted to some deep dark secret addiction or attraction.

The problem, though, would be with how we see our own difficulties if Paul had been specific. “Well,” we might say, “God helped Paul with his _____, but I don’t know if he can do anything for me. I don’t have Paul’s problem.” As it is, we are not limited in seeking God’s help in our times of need and with our own fleshly thorns.

We just need to look a little deeper, and gain a new perspective. The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Whatever our thorn is, or Paul’s was, God’s grace is enough. When we admit to being weak, in any area, God’s power is then perfected (completed or fulfilled) in our weakness. In other words, God’s power is enough for any need in our lives.

The Lord has never been unhelpful; he always has and always will do exactly what is needed, and many times, much more than is needed. Whatever that thorn is, even though God might not take it away, but he will provide you with everything you need to deal with it successfully.

We Forge Our Own Chains

Do you ever lose the sense of God’s presence in your life? Why? Do you at times think you are missing out on the blessings and promises God’s Word says are yours? Most of the time, our sense of alienation and separation result from our poor performance, right?

Growing out of this misguided idea of a transaction- based relationship with God (we give something to God, he gives us something in return) is guilt. When we fail, we become guilty because we haven’t performed up to God’s standards. So, he gets angry with us and shuns us. What we have to do is a better job. If we work hard enough, God will love us more.

But wait, aren’t we guilty because we failed? Will trying harder make any difference? Won’t we just fail again, and again, and again, ad infinitum? Guilt, then, will become a lifestyle. Alienation and loneliness will mark our every step in life.

How about doing something different? Why not rely on the Truth of Scripture for a change? Jesus, in his promise to send the Comforter, said, “the Spirit of truth, . . . abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:17-18) Also, the Father’s promise is, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

The promises of the Father and the Son are not performance-based, but grace-based. God is with us by his Spirit, regardless of what we do or do not do.

That guilt you carry around with you, all it does it stand as a self-imposed barrier between you and God. Guilt stops you from taking advantage of all God is dong for you. The barrier of guilt, by the way, does not hinder God; it only confuses you.

Oh yeah, guilt is a selfish, self-centered thing. Guilt is about what you can or can’t do, not about what God does. Accept the freedom grace provides and be done with the chains of guilt.

Daniel and Darius: Convictions and Courage

The story of Daniel and the Lions’ Den is a story of conviction and courage. Daniel was committed to praying; he was willing to die for his convictions.

Yet, we often miss half the story. Darius was also a man of conviction and courage. You mean the bad guy had some good qualities? When Daniel’s enemies accused him of breaking the law Darius had signed, the king found himself in a quandary. Did he throw Daniel into the lions’ den, or not?

Darius tried to find a way to exempt Daniel, but he couldn’t. In the end, he had to honor the law of the land. He had to be faithful to his own word. So, he cast his friend and adviser into what seemed his doom and death.

Loyalty to a friend, or faithfulness to the law? Daniel and Darius both faced that question.

Darius could have compromised his convictions for his friend. He didn’t. In the end, he knew if he was seen as a man who would compromise for one person, he would compromise for others. Or, for his own selfish reasons. Daniel could have compromised his commitment for the sake of his friendship with Darius. He didn’t.

Both Daniel and Darius showed great courage. Daniel answered to God for his choices. Darius was accountable to the state. They both chose to do the right thing. They both had the courage of their convictions.

Would you compromise your convictions for a friend?