Relationships

A Double–Whammy

A person who will not bend after many warnings

will suddenly be broken beyond repair.

A person who flatters his neighbor

is spreading a net for him to step into. (Proverbs 29:1, 5 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 29:1-17 GW)


The old cartoon series, Lil’ Abner, featured a character who could deliver a double-whammy hex by looking at someone with both his evil eyes. But the term was popularized many years before by others with less evil intentions. The phrase is used by most people to describe a detrimental and powerful impact of some kind.

In weather, a combination of two dangerous events like a cluster of tornadoes and excessive flooding could be considered a double-whammy. The combination of increased inflation and higher unemployment would be an economic double-whammy.

A double-whammy in sports could be a one-two punch combination in boxing or when a baseball pitcher intentionally walks a good hitter only to give up a grand-slam homer to the next batter.

These two selected verses in Proverbs 29 shows us a double-whammy of sorts. The double dilemma of stubbornness and flattery. The whammy-effect of being stubborn is a little easier to see than the deceptive trap of flattery.

Some double-whammies happen to us. But others we bring on ourselves. These verses speak of the latter—what we bring upon ourselves.

The danger of stubbornness

Stubbornness isn’t just being strong-willed. A strong-willed person can learn to turn what others see as stubbornness into perseverance.

One example is the life of POW Louis Zamperini, as told in the book, Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. There’s also a movie adapted from the book but the book is much better.

Louis’ life story—as detailed in the book—portrays a man who moves from delinquency to an Olympian runner, then through a grueling internment in a WW II Japanese POW camp, and the ups and downs of post-war life to a fulfilling and redemptive life.

It’s a great insight to how stubbornness can become perseverance but can also be destructive.

A person who will not bend after many warnings will eventually be broken beyond repair. Another Bible version describes this person as “stiff-necked.” This is a person who resists correction and warning, including rebukes, for their attitude and behavior that harm or impact others.

The idea of a repeat-offender in and out of jail may come to mind but this also applies to a person who offends others but refuses to make amends or apologize to anyone. It could even apply to someone who refuses to heed medical advice and warnings to their own detriment.

Natural consequences will take their toll at some point leading to a loss of freedom, broken relationships, poor health, a psychological breakdown, or death.

God will mercifully try to intervene in the life of a stubborn or stiff-necked person but will not stop those bent on self-destruction when they refuse His merciful corrections and interventions.

The flattery trap

And how about flattery? How could this be the other side of a double-whammy?

The destructive impact of flattery can go two ways. It can be a snare for those who are deceived by someone’s smooth talk and it can equally bring a reversal of an intended deception.

Flattery can be used in an insincere, deceptive way to intentionally trap someone at their own expense and for the flatter’s profit. But the trap laid to ensnare a person can also become a pit to fall into by the one who flatters.

We also need to guard our own heart from the self-deception of believing someone’s flattery, whether it’s insincere or excessive praise.

On one hand, when we take to heart flattering words we create a snare of pride for ourselves. When we only want to hear and accept the praise of others while shunning any criticism, we set ourselves up for a fall.

When we flatter others for our own benefit, people will begin to realize this about us and not take what we say seriously—whether it’s flattery or not. People will see us as dishonest, prideful, and unreliable.

Avoiding this double-whammy

How can we avoid the pitfalls of self-destructive stubbornness and the deceptiveness of flattery? Two simple things come to mind—honesty and humility.

We need to be honest with ourselves and willing to hear the honesty of others—especially from people who are trustworthy.

Humility is the only real antidote for pride and conceit. Genuine humility can help us guard our hearts from self-destructive attitudes and behaviors, as well as the deceptiveness of flattery.

Reflection—

We can avoid the pitfalls of self-destructive stubbornness and the deceptiveness of flattery when we’re willing to be honest with ourselves and accept honesty and pursue genuine humility, the only real antidote for pride and conceit.

Prayer Focus—

Do you identify with either the stubborn person or someone prone to flatter or listen to flattery? Pray for discernment and wisdom. Ask God to show you how to humble yourself and be open to the truth.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Fickle Factor

Showing partiality is not good,

because some people will turn on you even for a piece of bread.

Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool.

Whoever walks in wisdom will survive.

Whoever gives to the poor lacks nothing.

Whoever ignores the poor receives many curses. (Proverbs 28:21, 26-27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:17-28 GW)


People are fickle. This includes you and me. Driven by emotion or in reaction to changing situations, we change our minds. We make commitments and decisions but don’t follow through with them. We change because life changes around us.

We set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. When we’re let down—even when we fail to keep our own expectations—we tend to blame others. We’re fickle but there’s often good reason for it. Of course, we can also be capricious and unreliable—just like everyone else.

How can we avoid or overcome this fickle factor in life? Great question but there’s no easy answer—only a difficult one.

A prevailing thought is to focus on what you can control not what is beyond your control. This can be a good starting point but it leaves us with another question—what is really in our control? Our self? Self-control alone is a big challenge.

Every day is full of variables way beyond any person’s control—the weather, world events, the progression of time, people—those involved in our life and billions of others in the world, the universe, and so many other things.

So, the only possible domain of control is our own life. But we are impacted by the people and events surrounding our life every day. If we try to escape all of it, we isolate ourselves and whatever flaws and challenges within us are heightened by our isolation.

Isolation is not a viable option. We need others. None of us are self-sufficient enough to live on our own, independent of others. Self-sufficiency is a fantasy. We are far more dependent on others than we like to admit.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all 7.7 billion people on earth tried to live independent of each other? It would be chaos. No, it would be worse than chaos.

Self-sufficiency is a fantasy

What is in our control?

So, what’s the point of all this? We’re back to the question—what is in our control? The answer is difficult only because we are more prone to being self-absorbed than self-controlled. Delving into our selected verses from Proverbs 28 will give us some insights.

Looking at verse 21 first—Why is showing partiality not so good? It speaks to the inconsistent and unreliable impact of moral relativism—fickleness when determining what’s right or wrong.

Moral relativism is fickleness about what is right or wrong

What happens to other people and how they respond to their life situations is beyond our control. Whatever we hope to gain or avoid when showing favoritism or partiality sets us up for unrealistic expectations of others.

As made clear throughout Proverbs, trusting in anyone other than the Lord is unwise, or as it says here in verse 26—Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool. Wisdom is gained by trusting in the Lord.

When we trust in the Lord and live according to the wisdom He gives us, we can be confident of a more consistent and reliable outcome with others. Why? Because we choose to trust the Lord and His direction rather than the fickle whims of people and the world around us.

When life is more stable than when we trust in our own limited judgments and perceptions, we can be confident of God’s provision for our everyday life. This leads to contentment and frees us to be generous with others.

Generosity and contentment enable us to give freely without expectations. When I give to others without expecting anything of them, I’m less likely to be judgmental of them.

I have no expectations of them—why they’re in need, what they will do with what I give them, or how they will make it further without my help. All of that is beyond my control.

Contentment frees us to be generous with others

My trust in the Lord frees me from the fickle factor of my expectations of others and their expectations of me.

Reflection—

Trusting in the Lord frees us from the fickle factor of our expectations of others and their expectations of us. It also frees us from the fickleness of moral relativism and frees us to be generous with others.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with what seems to be fickleness in life with people, the world around you, or within yourself—seek to grow in trusting the Lord in all things and all ways in your life. He alone is not fickle!

©Word-Strong_2019


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Transparent Wisdom

A rich person is wise in his own eyes,

but a poor person with understanding sees right through him. (Proverbs 28:11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:1-14 GW)


American’s have a hate-love relationship with wealth. Most people would like to be rich and famous. We fawn over people who have made it big. And yet, we resent them and their wealth when we don’t have it ourselves.

One reason for resentment to rise is the arrogance of those who are rich. Not only do they act and talk as if they’re better than others—they think they’re more right than the rest of us.

Their status and wealth go to their head. But it’s a deception. It’s their own sense of rightness. But other people—especially those poorer than them—often see right through them.

Not all those who are poor understand this. I’ve lived in and visited other nations where despots rule with an iron fist clutching the wealth they’ve stolen from their own people. Still, people continue to elect and support such rulers with a futile hope they’ll benefit in some way.

Those of us who aren’t rich and powerful but who’ve rubbed shoulders with wealthy people in daily life—we know they are people just like us. Their wealth isn’t the problem. It’s how they allow it to affect them.

too often, the rich who aren’t arrogant are the exception

All rich people aren’t arrogant. Some know their wealth and status can disappear or diminish faster than it accumulated. Others see their wealth as a responsibility—they’re compelled to handle it and use it wisely.

Too often, the rich who aren’t arrogant are the exception not the rule.

What about the poor who have enough understanding to see right through the wealthy who are arrogant? Unless we keep our own mind and heart in check, we’ll become resentful rather than discerning.

For many years, I racked up lots of air miles by flying overseas often. This gained me certain benefits and privileges. On one flight, after taking my seat in the economy section of the plane, I was upgraded to business class.

As I made my way upfront towards the privileged section, another passenger made snide comments to me in an effort to make me feel bad. His misplaced resentment was because of jealousy and his own desire for the same privilege.

We only see through a rich person’s arrogance and false sense of rightness when we have sensible values and the perspective that comes with understanding.

A few verses prior to verse 11 above, we’re reminded of something important—

Better to be a poor person who has integrity than to be rich and double-dealing. (Prov 28:6 GW)

If we don’t want to be filled with resentment towards those who are rich nor caught up with the desire for their riches, we need integrity—a soundness of character.

When our values and sense of worth aren’t attached to what’s fleeting and tied to this life only, we’re more apt to be content with what we have, appreciate the people in our life, and be confident in who we are as a person.

we need integrity—a soundness of character

When we have integrity and true understanding, we’ll see people for who they are and things for what they are. And this carries over into the next life.

Reflection—

When our values and sense of worth aren’t attached to what’s fleeting and tied to this life only and when we have integrity and true understanding, we’ll see people for who they are and things for what they are.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with resentment towards the rich and powerful, ask for God’s wisdom so you can have a better perspective on everything. Ask for discernment and understanding. God promises to give us the wisdom we lack (James 1:5).

©Word-Strong_2019


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Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

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

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Separating Truth from Emotion

Anger is cruel, and fury is overwhelming,

but who can survive jealousy?

Open criticism is better than unexpressed love.

Wounds made by a friend are intended to help,

but an enemy’s kisses are too much to bear. (Proverbs 27:4-6 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:1-16 GW)


It can be hard to separate truth from emotion—whether it’s the emotion of the speaker of truth or the emotion of the hearer. Our human tendency is to react rather than listen and consider what we hear before responding.

Too often, we allow our emotions to drive us but emotions cloud and even corrupt how we hear or say things. And so, the meaning or intention of what’s said is obscured or filtered through the emotions of the speaker or the hearer or both.

The ability to separate emotion from words of truth is a valuable quality. Discernment and discretion are needed to gain this ability. The intention of the book of Proverbs, as made clear in the beginning (Prov 1:1-7), is to help a person gain this ability.

Strong emotions

The first verse of these selected verses in Chapter 27 gives us a sense for why emotions cloud our understanding of what is said by others. Words spoken in anger have an intent to hurt, put down, or belittle a person. The phrase—lashed out in anger—describes the cruel intent of words spoken in anger—like the snap of a whip burning or slicing the skin.

Fury is out of control anger—unrestrained like a flood of water or a raging fire. But jealousy is an irrational and untamed emotion. A combination of hate and love. It’s destructive. This brings the question—who can survive jealousy?

It destroys any relationship with its impact on both the jealous person and the one who’s the focus of the jealousy. As one person put it—jealousy [is] jaundice of the soul. Jealousy is like a disease with trust and truth its only cure.

Understanding the impact and power emotion has on words spoken and heard helps give insight for the other two verses—5-6.

You might wonder—How can open criticism be better than expressed love? One simple observation is the former is known while the latter is hidden. But it’s deeper than that. Love is left unexpressed because of fear or indifference. There may be other reasons for love to remain unexpressed but it’s still an unknown truth.

Criticism—even when it comes across in a harsh manner—is more or less an observation. As a pastor, I’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years. It goes with the work and position. When said, it was often not intended to be beneficial nor expressed in a constructive way. But it was expressed.

Learning to separate truth from emotion

I had to learn to hear it in an objective way. As the expression goes—chew the meat and spit out the bones. It’s hard to extract the truth from criticism or a rebuke or a reprimand unless it’s detached from emotions.

In other words, although hard to do, don’t take it all to heart. If we can learn from criticism and correction, we’ll gain insight and wisdom. If we can’t, we lose an opportunity to grow beyond our self—beyond self-focus, selfishness, self-pity and so on.

This is especially true when it comes from someone close to us—Wounds made by a friend are intended to help.

The last two phrases of the third verse brings Jesus to mind for me. Reading through the gospels it’s hard not to notice Jesus used some strong words with His followers. They get rebuked and reprimanded for spiritual dullness (Matt 15:16) and for missing the point—the greater concern (Matt 16:8-12; Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus can also relate to the second half of the last verse. He was betrayed with a kiss by one of His followers (Judas). Betrayal is similar to jealousy because it’s insidious. It’s indefensible. Not only is betrayal cowardly, a person can’t defend them self or prevent it because it’s secretive and underhanded.

Except Jesus. Jesus knew He would be betrayed and knew His betrayer. He even washed His betrayer’s feet the night He was betrayed. Once again, Jesus shows us He can relate to everything we experience in this life—even flattery and betrayal.

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion just as Jesus did.

Reflection—

It’s a valuable ability to separate truth from emotion. We need wisdom, self-control, discernment, and discretion not to be ruled by our emotions or someone else’s. The wisdom of Proverbs can be helpful and valuable to gain these qualities and gain this valuable ability.

Prayer Focus—

When you find it difficult to hear criticism or correction, ask God to help you sift through what is said without your emotions or the other person’s emotions clouding what may be helpful insights. Remember, the Lord knows what it’s like to be criticized and betrayed. Trust in Him.

©Word-Strong_2019


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