Caution: Swallowing Hazard

The words of a person’s mouth are like deep waters.

The fountain of wisdom is an overflowing stream.

The words of a gossip are swallowed greedily,

and they go down into a person’s innermost being. (Proverbs 18:4, 8 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 18:1-8 GW)


Wise people tend to be more careful with their words than many of us. They use less words but say more when they do speak.

Wisdom and intelligence aren’t the same. A person can be quite intelligent but lack wisdom. Their understanding is limited by their lack of discretion, which is often tied to their character.

Wise people are also careful about the words they take in and accept. They don’t swallow everything they hear because they have discernment.

Even a foolish person—someone who lacks discretion and discernment—can seem wise when they keep their mouth shut (Prov 17:28). But alas, they still aren’t wise because of their character.

These verses have great picture words. The wise person is associated with grand images—deep waters, a fountain and an overflowing stream. These are noble images.

When you see a beautiful mountain stream or a fountain—whether manmade or natural—it commands respect and a sense of fulfillment, even awe. These are the images given of a wise person with their wise words.

What a stark contrast the wise person is to those who spread gossip! Not only the one who speaks gossip but those who listen to it.

Think about how prevalent gossip is in some form or another in our American culture. It permeates social media like a global epidemic and feeds off half-truths, lies, misinterpretations, and opinions spawned by various media sources including the internet.

 Photo by  Ben White  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What amazes me is how easily these tidbits of supposed news are accepted without reservation—especially when it fits our personal perceptions and opinions.

The saddest predicament is how rampant gossip is within churches. This should not be so and there’s no excuse for its existence or for tolerance of it within a church.

As a pastor of a local church in a fairly small town, I can attest to the prevalent and destructive nature of gossip.

It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland who drinks a bottle labeled “Drink Me” and eats a cake marked “Eat Me.” The consequences of her drinking and eating these were beyond her control.

This illustrates the tragic ripple effect of spreading and listening to gossip. Even when the truth is made known that dispels the focus and topic of who and what’s gossiped about—the gossip lingers on.

Gossip is swallowed greedily and goes deep into a person’s innermost being.

What can you or I do to prevent being a gossip or a receiver of gossip? Here’s some simple advice I saw recently—

If you’re talking negatively about someone, or if you’re listening to negative talk about someone, and the words aren’t helping solve the problem… you’re gossiping. (https://goo.gl/epx1fb)

When we are with people who value wisdom, we’re more likely to become like them. When we hang around with those who cultivate and trade gossip—well, we’ll become more like them.

The choice is ours—everyday and throughout each day—be careful what you listen to and swallow!

Reflection—

What do you want to be known for—wisdom or gossip? They have opposite origins and outcomes. This requires daily discernment and discretion, if we don’t want to swallow everything we hear!

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment when hearing or considering something passed on to you. Ask the Lord to develop a sense of godly discretion and a love of wisdom in your heart and mind, and the discipline and willingness to pursue these daily.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Extreme Opposites

Whoever approves of wicked people

and whoever condemns righteous people is disgusting to the Lord.

To punish an innocent person is not good.

To strike down noble people is not right. (Proverbs 17:15, 26 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:15-28 GW)


Polarization is the current buzzword used to describe the toxic political and social environment of America. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground based on the loud rhetoric that shouts down any differing opinions.

Even a sense of what is right and wrong is in question. Truth and justice have become relative terms dependent on personal persuasions and feelings.

This is how it appears on the surface but I don’t believe it’s accurate. The north and south poles are at opposite ends of the earth but small in comparison to the world in between.

When the focus on a certain issue or concern emphasizes an extreme perspective, it comes at the cost of the truth. Focus on two opposite extremes obscures the truth which exists somewhere in between the extreme positions.

If this becomes the norm rather than the exception to the rule, truth and justice are set aside and replaced with a distortion of what’s true and just.

Then, those who are guilty and corrupt are tolerated while those who are innocent and righteous are ignored or crushed and oppressed.

This disgusts the Lord and it ought to do the same for those of us who trust in Him.

Cultural shifts take place frequently. A wind of new wisdom and insight blows in and people get swept up and away with whatever the popular current may be. This is not new. History reminds us of this if we pay attention to it.

But, when the cultural current flips our moral standards upside down and ethics are mocked—the people of God must take action.

“What can we do about it,” you might ask?

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. This is a continuing message in Proverbs (Prov 1:1-7). This is what the Lord expects of those who trust in Him.

 Photo by  Adi Goldstein  on  Unsplash

Does it sound too simplistic, even weak? It isn’t.

Try standing in a swift-moving stream while standing on a rocky and sandy riverbed. You’ll find it’s not so easy.

How about standing in the ocean in knee-deep water where the waves break near the shore with the back and forth movement of the tide? If you’re not careful, it will knock you down and pull you out into deeper water and stronger waves.

Stand firm!

Stand firm in what is right and true and just. Stand up for the innocent and oppressed. Move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

As it says in the book of Romans—

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Rom 12:21 GW)

This is difficult to do in many real-life circumstances but God will honor it. The more you and I stand firm, the stronger we become.

Reflection—

We need to stand firm in what we know to be right and true and good. The Lord expects all people who trust in Him to do this. Let’s move beyond ideology and rhetoric when confronted with a distortion of truth and justice.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for God to make the truth of His written word more clear to you, especially when He speaks of how we are to live and act as His living representatives in this world. Ask for discernment, discretion, and wisdom for how to stand firm for what is good, true, right, and just.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Keep the Floodgate Closed

Whoever forgives an offense seeks love,

but whoever keeps bringing up the issue separates the closest of friends.

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate,

so stop before the argument gets out of control.

Whoever loves sin loves a quarrel. (Proverbs 17:9, 14, 19a GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:7-20 GW)


Ever notice how much easier it is to start an argument than to end one? Most arguments are based on a difference of opinion with both parties insisting on their own rightness. The assumption is made that one side is right while the other is wrong, which isn’t necessarily true.

This can be seen in the typical news or sports talk shows where one or more people state their case against the view of another. The back and forth goes on and on till a moderator steps in as a referee.

Most of these arguments amount to straw man arguments based on opinion rather than facts. Oftentimes, knowledge about the topic is limited or unknown but this doesn’t stop people from arguing their point. They state conjectures and opinions as if they were facts.

A classic example—one that hits home, literally—is what I call the domestic discussion. Arguments between husbands and wives are typically the opinions and feelings of one spouse versus the other. The “facts” are various reasons for claiming rightness about an issue, often at the expense of the other.

I’ll joke with people that, “If my wife would just realize I’m right, we wouldn’t argue!” Of course, that’s the point. I assume I’m right and she’s wrong.

Some of our arguments have gone on and on to the point we forget what started it. We’ve even found ourselves laughing at how silly it is to be arguing, if we’re not too emotionally invested in our own rightness.

This is exactly the point of these verses—

 Photo by  Felix Koutchinski  on  Unsplash

Starting a quarrel is ⌊like⌋ opening a floodgate, so stop before the argument gets out of control.

The purpose of a floodgate is to hold back a flood of water. When torrential rains threaten to break a dam, a floodgate or spillway may be temporarily opened to relieve some pressure. But this is a drastic and temporary measure that could lead to a greater flood.

When someone—a spouse, a sibling, a friend, or whoever—continues to bring up an issue already discussed, a full-fledged argument is inevitable.

This doesn’t resolve issues or offenses, it produces a separation between people. Forgiveness—an act of mercy rather than judgment—is the way to resolve and repair relational separation.

Forgiveness is an act of love.

On the other hand, a person—such as you or me—who continues to quarrel and bring up old offenses indicates selfishness rather than willingness to forgive and love to restore a relationship.

Better to stop than start an argument. But how?

When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right, we’ll stop arguments that lead to broken relationships.

When our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit of being right, even those domestic discussions won’t get out of control so easy and there’ll be a lot less crying and yelling.

So, it’s up to us what we pursue. If we choose to quarrel, we’ll open a floodgate we can’t easily close. But when we pursue forgiveness and love, we’ll keep the floodgate closed.

Reflection—

It’s better to stop arguments than start them. When we pursue forgiveness and let go of our need to be right and our motivation is love rather than a selfish pursuit at being right, we’ll stop a lot of arguments that lead to broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself stirred up enough to argue a point or insist on your own rightness, take a step back in your mind and heart and pray for God to help you pursue forgiveness and love rather than your own rightness.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Purified By Fire

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but the one who purifies hearts ⌊by fire⌋ is the Lord. (Proverbs 17:3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 17:1-6 GW)


No one can purify their own heart. No one. We can try but we’ll fail. We fail because we don’t have the right material to work from to develop a pure heart. We’re flawed.

Each of us is born with a selfish nature—a self-will.

This selfish nature isn’t obvious at first. When I first see and hold a newborn grandchild, well, it’s hard to imagine anything but purity in them. Each baby is wholly dependent on their parents, especially the nurturing care of their mother.

But over time—actually, not much time at all—this selfish nature becomes evident. It’s not just a child’s fascination with the word “no!” or their constant pushing of boundaries, it’s deeper than that. It’s embedded in each of us at birth—our individual self-will.

Our self-will is powerful, especially when it’s challenged and even when it appears to be subdued. No matter what the circumstances, it will eventually make its presence known. This can be a good thing many times but not when a pure heart is desired.

Many spiritually-minded people either claim or desire to have a pure heart. But this can only take place when the Creator of our hearts is allowed to work in us. Rather, when we allow the Lord to work our innate rebellion—aka, our selfish nature—out of us.

How does God purify a person’s heart? He uses external pressure. In this Bible version, the idea of fire or intense heat is expressed giving us a graphic illustration of God’s purifying process. But in most other Bible versions of this verse the word test is used to describe the process God uses to purify a heart.

 Photo by  Ihor Malytskyi  on  Unsplash

God’s testing

It’s the tests of life that bring our selfish nature to the surface. Just as in purifying a precious metal like silver or gold in a furnace with intense heat that reduces the metal to a liquid, so God uses various tests in our life to reduce and refine us.

The intense heat of the refining process brings the impurities of the metal to the surface. These initial impurities are scraped off the surface. Then the process continues until the metal is pure enough to reflect an image on the surface like a mirror or still water.

Ever wonder why you undergo certain tests in life over and over? Tests related to hard-to-break habits, unhealthy relationships, or other internal struggles are intended to reduce us to a place of dependence upon God to overcome whatever the target is of this testing in our life.

God refines us so His image is reflected in us

As we experience these tests and allow them to melt us into a trusting submission to God, God will purify our hearts. Each test brings impurities to the surface. When the Lord scrapes these impurities out of us, He also heals the wounds they leave in us.

It’s not an easy process for most of us but it’s worth the work. The goal is to have a pure heart that we might see God (Matt 5:8). For now, we walk by faith—trusting in Him and His work in our hearts as He prepares us for the day we shall see Him face to face (1 Cor 13:12).

Reflection—

When you experience God’s testing in your life, allow it to melt your heart and submit to God with a full trust that He’s purifying your heart. As each test brings impurities to the surface, allow the Lord to scrape them out of you so He can heal and restore your heart.

Prayer Focus—

Be willing to surrender your heart to the Lord as you come before Him in prayer, this will lead to a greater confidence in Him to answer your prayers, as you draw closer to Him through the purifying of your heart.

Here’s a link to a beautiful worship song about the purpose of God’s refining work in us— Refiner’s Fire

©Word-Strong_2018


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True Heroes

Better to get angry slowly than to be a hero.

Better to be even-tempered than to capture a city.

 (Proverbs 16:32 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:25-33 GW)


We like heroes and stories about heroes. Perhaps the favorite hero-type is the one who rises up out of obscurity to overcome great odds. Think of all those Rocky movies and a multitude of war films with unsung heroes.

Many heroes are unexpected or unlikely. There were hundreds who stepped into action during the 911 terrorist attacks. Many of their individual stories and the people they helped may never be known.

One hero that stands out in the Bible for many of us is the young shepherd David. He defeats the giant Goliath and later becomes the favored king of Israel.

The stereotype of those whom we consider heroes are men and women who face and overcome great odds in a way that benefits others. These are people we look up to because of their extraordinary actions or character or a combination of both these qualities.

But what if we could all be like heroes or mighty warriors? Is this even possible?

This verse in Proverbs speaks of an inner strength greater than any external strength typically associated with heroes. In fact, some of the heroes people look up to wouldn’t qualify as such because they lack this internal strength of character.

The first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor was an unlikely hero because of his religious convictions and size. His valor is memorialized in the gory but well done movie, Hacksaw Ridge, and the documentary film, The Conscientious Objector.

Thankfully, these films show Desmond Doss as a man of strong character and values that exceed his wartime exploits. His life and how he handled mistreatment by others is an illustration of what is expressed in this verse.

Being slow to anger is obviously in contrast to being quick-tempered. A person who is quick-tempered is reactive and shows a lack of control over their emotions.

Again, to be even-tempered, or as another version says it— one who “rules his spirit”—shows an internal strength and sense of control over their emotions. This is in stark contrast to those alluded to in preceding verses (Proverbs 16:25-30).

For most of us, this isn’t so natural. Some of us may have a temper that flares up easily and often, while others may only allow their temper to get out of control occasionally. In other words, some of us have more self-control than others.

But our self isn’t so easy to control day in and day out. Certain circumstances and situations, and people, tend to get under our skin and bring the worst out of us. Yes, there are times when anger is an appropriate response to a situation but most of the time it’s not.

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry.

This internal strength of character and spirit is developed when God’s Spirit and His word of truth are at work within us and shaping our character. In another place in the Bible, we see that self-control is the fruit or effect of the Spirit of God living and at work within us (Galatians 5:23).

So, a true hero—someone who is respected and a blessing to others in daily life—is someone who is slow to get angry and even-tempered. Someone of strong character and spirit who draws their strength from the Spirit of God and the truth of God.

They will be a hero in God’s eyes day in and day out, and draw respect from most people, even those who may appear as enemies.

The question is—Will you and I choose to be heroic in this way?

Reflection—

Self-control governed by an internal strength—a strength of character and spirit—is the key to being a person who is even-tempered and slow to get angry. A person who submits their life and emotions to the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

Since self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living and working in a person, simply ask God to grant you this each day. Perhaps throughout each day! As you come before the Lord in prayer, ask Him for this and be willing to let Him do His work in you to do so.

©Word-Strong_2018


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