Culture

A Sign of Real Strength

If you faint in a crisis, you are weak.

Rescue captives condemned to death,

and spare those staggering toward their slaughter.

When you say, “We didn’t know this,”

won’t the one who weighs hearts take note of it?

Won’t the one who guards your soul know it?

Won’t he pay back people for what they do? (Proverbs 24:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:1-22 GW)


A myriad of cliches are tossed about when difficult times comes.

There’s the famous British saying—Keep Calm and Carry (or Chive) On. How about the classic American expression—When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

But when a crisis hits, especially a life-threatening one, cliches are like chaff in the wind. They have no substance nor weight. Action not words is needed.

People of character rise to the occasion in a crisis. They’re able to meet challenges beyond their control because they don’t trust in circumstances. Their trust is anchored much deeper.

Those who are strong in character and within times of crisis are not centered on themselves. They don’t trust in themselves. Their world is larger than themselves.

Looking beyond ourselves

When our life and world revolve around our self, it leaves us unprepared to handle the change and interruption of a crisis—whether small or great.

Also, a self-absorbed and self-focused life insulates a person from others. This breeds an unhealthy isolation. It also pushes a person towards indifference—an apathetic attitude toward others.

Left unchecked, indifference leads to a hardness of heart. Everyone of us needs to guard against indifference and hardness in our hearts—it can keep us from fainting in times of crisis.

Those who don’t faint in a crisis are those who have more concern for others than themselves. Looking at verses 11-12 reminds us the world is much larger than us. As is often said, “It’s not about you!”

More than that, each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Coming to the rescue

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. When I think of rescuing captives (verse 11), it brings many people into view with vastly greater needs than my own.

Many women and children are trapped in the inescapable maze of human trafficking. Unless we or others intervene, they are condemned to a living hell—even death at the hands of merciless captors. It’s not just a global problem but a much more local one.

They need mercy. They need rescue.

Millions of people suffer under oppressive and repressive governments or now live as refugees who fled savage warfare into an indefinite life stranded between danger and uncertainty. Their plight is through no fault of their own and is beyond their control or power.

They need a hand of grace extended to them. They’re crying out for mercy.

Thousands of people are trapped in addiction or in bondage to something too powerful for them to overcome on their own. They need merciful and gracious intervention—just as the Lord showed us.

Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 GW)

If we say, “We didn’t know this,” or “It’s not my problem…I’ve got my own problems”—we aren’t excused. We can’t just look the other way.

This is the heart of what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5:3-9) and Sermon on the Plain (in Luke 6:27-37).

Those of us who are Christian believers—who trust in the Lord Jesus as our Savior—we are called to be like Him in relationship to people we encounter in life and as we become aware of the needs of others.

We are to be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13-16), an extension of His heart of compassion, grace, and love to those around us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

Reflection—

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. Each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself wrapped up in your own concerns or worries, ask God to help you look beyond yourself. Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion and love—His mercy and grace—towards people in your circle of life and beyond.

If you’d like to help extend mercy and grace—

To help those trapped as victims of human trafficking— here are 4 organizations to consider—

To help people under oppressive and repressive regimes, as well as refugees—you can contact my friend Mike Parks with Global Hope Network Intl. or click on these links—Refugee Families in Lebanon / in Iraq

©Word-Strong_2019


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Crossing the Invisible Line

Who has trouble? Who has misery? Who has quarrels?

Who has a complaint? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who drink glass after glass of wine

and mix it with everything. (Proverbs 23:29-30 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 23:26-35 GW)


Our American culture is framed around self-determination. This runs the gamut from becoming successful entrepreneurs to tackling poverty and global warming.

Early on we’re told, “You can do anything you put your mind to… If you can think or imagine it, you can do it.” If only this were true. But it’s not reality.

We are a nation plagued with opiate addiction across many ages and backgrounds, and alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse are as rampant as ever.

What’s crazy to me is the continuing push to legalize pot—marijuana, Mary Jane, weed, cannabis—beginning with medical marijuana—as one way to reduce societal problems and incarcerations. Say what?!

Back to school

While raising a young family and pastoring a church, I went back to school in the 80’s to get certified as a substance abuse counselor. It wasn’t to add to my educational attainment nor because I was bored or wanted a second career. It developed in response to a need.

One of the families in our church was impacted by an inequitable school district policy but the the superintendent and school board wouldn’t listen to my concerns without credentials. In order to challenge their policy, I needed credibility they respected—education.

I took night courses and went to reputable training workshops. I learned of the scientific elements and dynamics of basic chemistry and substance abuse, and gained important insight and practical training.

A few things stand out to me even now and still hold true, which brings me to these verses in Proverbs about wine and alcoholic drinks in general—

  1. Alcohol is a drug—just as opiates and cannabis are drugs. It’s a depressant not a stimulant.

  2. All drugs—yes, even the prescribed and legal ones—cause physical and psychological damage at some level in every person. Verifiable scientific data backs this up contrary to popular opinion.

  3. A person doesn’t need to become addicted to have a drinking or drug problem. If a person’s use—whatever the amount—causes problems for them at work, home, in relationships, or their life in any way—they have a problem and it will only get worse with time if left unchecked.

  4. Once a person becomes addicted—regardless if you accept addiction as a disease or not—they cannot free themselves from its power over them on their own. They’ve crossed the invisible line—a line only evident once it is crossed. It’s different for every person.

I’m not advocating total abstinence. Even the Bible says, “…use a little wine for the sake of your stomach….” (1 Timothy 5:23) and Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11).

Perhaps an old proverb gives the sense of these verses in Proverbs and what I’m saying—

A man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man.

Seduction and self-deception

Photo by  Marcel Gross  on  Unsplash

These verses in Proverbs 23 (vss 29-35) speak to the seductive and self-deceptive power of wine. But it’s relevant for any form of drug whether legal or prescribed. Of course, in certain medical cases prescribed drugs are needed for the health of an individual but even those can be abused.

The problem comes when we think we can control this power. This is a lie. Self-deception. Foolishness. It’s power is seductive and subtle as the proverb says—the drink takes a drink…[then] …takes the man (person).

So, what’s the take away from all of this? Go down the list of questions and statements in Proverbs 23:29-35. If any of this is somewhat true for you, then you’ve got a problem.

If so, it’s only a matter of time till you cross the invisible line unless you address your problem in an honest way.

I accept and believe the truth of these verses because of real life experience—personal experience with drugs and alcohol, family history, as a pastor and counselor, and my education and training.

If you’ve got a problem—whether small or large—get help. The first place to turn is to God. It’s also what the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous declare, whose origin is based in Scripture.

Reflection—

God calls us to Himself to set us free not imprison us with legalism. But when we find ourselves seduced and self-deceived, we need to call out to Him to set us free. Only He knows where the invisible line is for each person and He is the one who can set us free.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself heading toward the invisible line of addiction or have crossed it, humble yourself and cry out to the Lord for help. Then ask His guidance to help you find others who will support you in getting free from addiction or problems related to alcohol or drugs.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Consider What You Eat

When you sit down to eat with a ruler, pay close attention to what is in front of you,

and put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.

Do not eat the food of one who is stingy,

and do not crave his delicacies. (Proverbs 23:1-2, 6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 23:1-11 GW)


Current American culture is obsessed with food—among other things. We’re absorbed with what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, and the way we eat.

Our preoccupation with food fills a broad spectrum of concerns—health, cost, quantity, quality, variety, and availability are some of those concerns. But many people in the world are just concerned with having something to eat for themselves and their family.

I understand these concerns. Having lived in a nation where nearly half the population struggles at a subsistence level of poverty—a day to day concern for survival. That kind of obsession makes sense.

When I faced a health crisis, I developed a much stricter diet than in previous years. I still prefer to eat healthier foods, especially avoiding processed foods and excessive sugar. So, I relate to the focus many have on healthy eating.

Different concerns and situations

But these verses speak to another concern. They point out other reasons to consider what you eat—who we’re eating with and who’s paying for it.

These become practical concerns when eating out for business, or in my case, related to ministry work. This could apply when eating at someone’s home or a community-style meal like a block party, potluck, or progressive dinner.

I’ve eaten in many homes and a lot of restaurants over the years, and we’ve hosted many people in our home for meals. Here’s an observation—people notice what you order and what you do or don’t eat. It’s human nature to do so and it reveals something about us.

put a knife to your throat…

In the first situation—eating at a ruler’s table—it says, put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.

Most of us don’t have rulers so think of this as someone picking up the bill. This could apply to a meal with a boss, a friend, or your in-laws.

The simple principle here is—don’t be greedy nor be a glutton. On one hand, it’s a matter of consideration for others. But it also reveals something about us to others.

When someone else is paying, I don’t go for the most expensive item on the menu. That’s just being greedy. So, show some self-restraint and don’t take advantage of people’s generosity. They’re more likely to invite you again.

…do not crave his delicacies

The second situation requires us to consider who’s paying but in a different way. I’ve eaten with stingy people and know how uncomfortable it is. This requires sizing up people before just digging in to the food.

Consider who you’re eating with and what they value. Here’s why we are not to crave his delicacies

“Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you. (Prov 23:7 NKJV)

Again, with potlucks or other community-style meals, be considerate of those who eat last. As a pastor, my family and I would wait to eat last at church potlucks and often wished Jesus was there to multiply the food.

Interestingly, each meal setting includes the admonition not to crave their delicacies.

This speaks to the need to be content. Don’t be envious nor greedy nor gluttonous. And don’t worry about what you’re going to eat—as Jesus reminds us—stop worrying about what you will eat (Matt 6:25 GW).

Perhaps, if we all learned to be more content with what we do have—what God blesses us with—we’d be a lot less obsessive about food. We’d also be the kind of people others like to have at their tables when they share a meal.

Reflection—

When we are content with what we have—with what God provides—it frees us from envy, worry, and even gluttony or any other obsession with food. Regardless of what’s on the table, we’ll be free to engage with and enjoy the company around the table.

Prayer Focus—

If you are concerned about what you eat—whether it’s worry or an obsession—ask the Lord to help you be thankful and content. Ask the Lord to help you be considerate and thoughtful towards those whom you join at the table for any meal.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Infection of Overreaction

Drive out a mocker, and conflict will leave.

Quarreling and abuse will stop.

Do not be a friend of one who has a bad temper, and never keep company with a hothead,

or you will learn his ways and set a trap for yourself. (Proverbs 22:10, 24-25 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 22:1-29 GW)


We live in a world of overreaction. Overreacting is not a new phenomenon. It’s ancient. But social media and the internet provide an environment that superheats overreaction.

The volatility and vitriol spewed out in public view is shocking. Well, it used to be but now it seems to be the norm. I find myself wanting to say, “Ok, everybody…take a deep breath and let’s calm down.” But there would be reactions and overreactions to that too.

Unfortunately, social media provides a platform for expressing opinions and overreaction. It encourages it. It is an outlet for people who might be too timid to say things in other settings. This isn’t an indictment of social media, just an observation.

At first glance, these two verses seem to be admonitions to take action to exclude those who mock and have anger issues. The immediate solution is to eliminate the problem and that is one way to resolve things. But I see something deeper to consider.

What drives the mocker to mock and causes the anger to boil in a person? Why is the influence of the mocker and the person with anger issues so infectious?

These are two different concerns.

First, the influence of those who mock and those with anger issues is infectious. It either pulls us along with its force of emotion or stirs us to react.

The longer we’re exposed to such influences, the more likely we are to be infected by them. This is the warning given—…you will learn his ways and set a trap for yourself.

Sometimes, the only solution is to exclude the one who stirs up strife, arguments, and abuse. When one person influences a group in a destructive way and refuses to change their ways—the good of the whole becomes more important.

This is true for a sports team, a work environment, and within a church community or small group. It can be a drastic step to take but a necessity.

When it’s us

But what if you and I are the mocker or the one who has habitual anger issues? What can we do about it? Especially when we see our influence corrupting others and we are excluded because of it.

This goes back to the question of what drives the mocker or what stirs up the boiling cauldron of rage? The possible reasons are myriad but the means to resolve it are pretty basic.

It requires some honest soul searching. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions like—Why am I so angry about this? Why do I feel compelled to blurt things out?

Honest questions such as these should lead us to search our heart with the Lord’s help. This requires honest prayer, reflection, and a willingness to change.

As we begin to understand the core issue—we need to commit to pursuing change.

When I realize what needs to change, I know I need help to do so. My go-to’s are honest prayer, positive and corrective truth to build on, and God’s help.

At the heart of it all—at least my heart—is the need for self-control. I’m intrigued and thankful that self-control is a fruit of God’s Spirit living in me (Gal 5:23). I’m also glad both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding (praying) on my behalf (Rom 8:27, 34).

This is how I can avoid the infection of overreaction—self-control with the help of God.

Reflection—

Honest questions can lead us to search our heart with the Lord’s help. Honest prayer and reflection can lead to a willingness to change. When we begin to understand what needs to change and consciously move towards making it, we need to rely on the Lords help.

Prayer Focus—

When you pursue significant change in your life, be honest with God in prayer and be open to God’s Spirit working in your life—He’s already praying for you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Respect and a Good Name

A good name is more desirable than great wealth.

Respect is better than silver or gold.

The rich and the poor have this in common:

the Lord is the maker of them all. (Proverbs 22:1-2 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 22:1-? GW)


Every person wants a measure of respect. A sense of being appreciated and valued. It’s a pretty basic desire. Perhaps more of a need for gaining a healthy psyche.

This was the impetus for the song Respect. Otis Redding—the great R & B singer who died tragically and way too young—wrote it from a man’s point of view. A few years later, Aretha Franklin rewrote it (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) from a woman’s perspective and this pop version became more popular than the original.

Why were these two songs so well liked? Because they spoke to this basic human desire and psychological need for significance.

But the basic idea of respect gets morphed into an unhealthy desire when distorted by popular culture and when it takes on a much harder edge.

When respect is recast as intimidation—as a tough action hero image, or is idolized—such as with any current celebrity—it becomes a cartoonish caricature of respect.

Anchored in character

Respect and a good name speak of integrity of character—something far deeper than a projected image. An imposter projects a facade—an external representation—but is a fraud underneath. A popular example would be Frank Abagnale of Catch Me If You Can fame.

Solomon—a man of exceptional wisdom and wealth—says a good name and respect are more valuable than great wealth. They have an incorruptible and lasting value.

True respect is anchored in character. It’s not something we can demand as in the two songs, nor something to be commanded through projecting an enviable persona.

People who have integrity of character gain respect because of who they are. They don’t project an image of respect, they reflect who they are by how they live and treat others.

Integrity can be described in these ways—decency, goodness, honesty, virtuous, trustworthy, sound, completeness, honorable, truthful. These qualities have nothing to do with appearance or possessions. They’re not external but internal qualities.

In the context of these verses in Proverbs, respect and a good name are tied to respect and awe of God. They aren’t based on wealth or status. What God entrusts to us—whether wealth or status or neither—isn’t tied to our integrity—for the poor and rich have the same Creator.

Reflection—

True respect is anchored in character. People who have integrity of character gain respect because of who they are. They don’t project an image of respect, they reflect who they are by how they live and treat others.

Prayer Focus—

If you want genuine respect that a good name carries with it, pray for integrity of character. Ask the Lord to help you develop the qualities of integrity for every day life and for help with treating people with respect and grace.

©Word-Strong_2019


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