God's Spirit

A Bird, a Curse and a Contradiction

Like a fluttering sparrow, like a darting swallow,

so a hastily spoken curse does not come to rest.

Do not answer a fool with his own stupidity,

or you will be like him.

Answer a fool with his own stupidity,

or he will think he is wise. (Proverbs 26:2, 4-5 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 26:1-12 GW)


Opposites are not absolute and they’re not mutually exclusive, that is, they don’t offset or cancel each other out.

Black and white are opposites but aren’t of equal strength, nor are they a perfect balance in the color spectrum. Black is an absence of visible light, while white is the presence of all visible wavelengths of light.

Darkness as a quality of black—the absence of light—does not absorb or destroy light. Light disburses and shines in the midst of darkness, as displayed in a nighttime sky full of stars. The light penetrates the darkness.

It’s a common thought that opposites either cancel one another or are held in some perfect balance in nature. But this is not true. Spring declares this in the cycle of seasons, as do vegetation and life from seeds buried in the ground.

Good does not exist in a perfect balance with evil. At times, it may seem as if evil is stronger than good. But goodness will overcome evil. This is the theme of redemption—the existence of evil will come to an end. It is overcome by God’s goodness.

Those who trust in God—true believers—have this hope in their hearts (Heb 6:19) and we are exhorted to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21). the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a testimony of this. Death is overcome by life.

Evil is overcome and subdued by God’s goodness. Light is greater than darkness. Faith in God is trust—a confidence in God who is the source of light and goodness and life itself.

Fear God not curses

This is why we don’t need to fear curses nor be bound by superstition. When someone expresses a curse on us, it only has power if we allow it to be stronger than God in our mind and heart.

A hastily spoken curse has no power. Or, as it says in another version—it’s without cause.

An illustration of this is found with Balaam the prophet who could not pronounce a curse on the Jewish people. Although paid to do so, he couldn’t unless the Lord originated it (Num 23:8).

We are not to fear the curses or threats or insults of others. The Lord whom we trust is greater than those people and their words. We need to fear God who has power over our lives for eternity rather than the evil of people (Matt 10:28).

Just as swallows and sparrows never seem to rest but dart and flutter and fly around—so are words spoken against us. Don’t take them to heart. Don’t allow them to nest in your mind. Trust in the truth of God—the One whom you trust above all.

The value of discernment

This brings us to what seems to be contradictory statements. Do we answer a fool with their own stupidity and foolishness or not? Which is it? It depends.

The point of this paradoxical proverb is the need for discernment. An awareness and wisdom for the situation. At times, it’s best not to answer someone’s foolish talk, even when it’s directed at us. But sometimes foolishness needs to be confronted with the truth.

How can we know which to do when? There is no trustworthy formula or grid to figure this out. No set answers. We need discernment and wisdom. We need to be aware of the situation and alert to what the Spirit of God stirs in our heart and mind (Matt 10:16-20).

The one thing we don’t want to do is react. We are not to be driven by dogma nor controlled by our emotions. I see this too often in social media and it accomplishes nothing good. Here is where discernment needs to lead to discretion.

Think before you speak or answer a person who spouts what you see as foolishness. Listen to the Spirit of God rather than the voices of people. As James said so well—

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…. (James 1:19 NIV)

The noise of the world around us can get loud. And so are the voices competing for our attention. Everyone seems to have an opinion and feels entitled to express it. But at what cost? And what value does it really hold?

The short of it is this—people of faith are not at the mercy of the world’s whimsical wisdom because we can draw from the source of true wisdom, God’s wisdom. So let us live accordingly—guided by the Lord’s wisdom with discernment and discretion.

Reflection—

Evil and foolishness are overcome by God’s goodness and truth. When we rest in the wisdom of God and rely on His Spirit, we can learn when and when not to answer the voices of those around us. We can live as a living testimony of His goodness.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself plagued with harsh words, ask the Lord to direct you in His Word—the Bible—to counter them with the truth. When confronted with foolishness, pray for discernment and wisdom and discretion.

©Word-Strong_2019


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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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An Exposed Heart

If Sheol and Abaddon lie open in front of the Lord

how much more the human heart! (Proverbs 15:11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 15:8-19 GW)


I’ve often wondered why people subject themselves to the public scrutiny of reality shows. Is it just for the money? Much of the time, some not-so glamorous moments in people’s lives are laid out for all to see. That is, all who watch.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of reality shows. The few times I’ve endured watching them for a while, I find myself cringing and shaking my head at what I see.

I don’t like having my life exposed for everyone to see. People are too quick to draw their own conclusions—often jumping to unfounded judgments of reasons and motives.

Having a somewhat public life as a pastor and overseas missionary, I’ve experienced some unwanted exposure of my life and endured some unfair and unwarranted criticism and condemnation.

It’s part of the territory for those roles in ministry but it can still be difficult to endure. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion but it doesn’t mean those opinions are right or true or valid.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years—there’s always more to the story. More importantly, whenever anyone of us sits in judgment of others, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

There’s not one person on earth who hasn’t sat in judgment on another. All of us do it in some way and to some degree.

We look askance at people for what they wear or don’t wear. How they talk or look or act. People judge each other for what they eat or don’t eat, the music they like or don’t like, their politics, favorite sports team, and what they watch or won’t watch on TV.

What catches my attention about all this is how exposed my heart is before God. Nothing is hidden from Him. Nothing.

It’s not just my heart that’s exposed to God, it’s every human heart. Yours and mine.

Several places in the New Testament scriptures, including the words of Jesus in the Gospels, tell us there will be a judgment to come of all people at the end of the age. None of us now when that will be exactly but it is certain.

Even Sheol and Abaddon—death and destruction—are not hidden from God. After all, He is eternal.

You won’t be seeing me in any reality shows any time soon—not if I have anything to say about it! But even if my life isn’t displayed for all to see, I know the Lord sees everything in my heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This humbles me when I consider it. The psalmist David says this eloquently in Psalm 139—here’s an excerpt—

You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away. You watch me when I travel and when I rest. You are familiar with all my ways.

Even before there is a ⌊single⌋ word on my tongue, you know all about it, Lord. You are all around me—in front of me and in back of me. (Psa 139:2-5 GW)

I try to keep this awareness fresh in my mind. When I remember my heart is exposed before God, it helps me avoid sliding into any judgment seat. And when I find myself sitting in His seat, I sense God’s Spirit whispering to my heart that I’m not where I ought to be.

Reflection—

All of us have judged someone in some way and to some degree. Whenever we do, we’re sitting in a seat that doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the only True and Righteous Judge—God.

Prayer Focus—

Join me as I daily, even moment by moment, ask God to keep me from judging others and asking Him to forgive me when I do.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Way That Seems Right

Photo by  Alfonso Ninguno  on  Unsplash

There is a way that seems right to a person,

but eventually it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 14:1-13 GW)


How often have you heard this quote, "To thine own self be true?" It's a famous quote from William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. In those times it had a certain meaning but it's been reinterpreted in a different way in our present culture.

What comes to mind when you hear this saying? What does this expression mean to you?

Looking back on my own spiritual journey, it seemed I was always looking for a way to live that fit me—that seemed right to me. I was looking for something that was true for me.

But that kept changing as I went through various life experiences and sampled different approaches to life and spirituality. I found that being true to myself was an unreliable guide.

Using one's own self as a plumb line isn't such a great idea. It's unreliable because we tend to internalize values and beliefs based on our acceptance or resistance to what we encounter in life. Sometimes it's a combination of acceptance and resistance that results in a hodgepodge of beliefs and values.

I came to a turning point in my life where I challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some obvious way. After a morning of fasting, hiking through the woods, and waiting, I returned home disappointed. I saw no vision or sign, nor heard any voice of direction.

Later, after grumbling about this failure, I opened up a Bible someone gave me and began to read. I came to where Jesus said the wide gate and easy road leads to destruction and the narrow gate and hard road leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).

I realized I'd been looking for a wide gate with an easy road. I was heading in the wrong direction and I knew it.

Jesus also said, only a few found this narrow gate and hard road that leads to life. The day started with me challenging God but ended with God challenging me. I accepted that challenge and my way in life became clearer day by day from that point on.

I've never turned back since that day but life since then has not always been easy. But, my life from that point has been fulfilling and God has blessed me in countless ways.

This verse in Proverbs may be hard to hear but the larger context helps clarify its truth (especially verses 2, 10, 13).

We all need a reliable guide for our lives. God's written Word and God's Spirit are always reliable. They've been a trustworthy plumb line for many centuries for millions of people.

Reflection—

Are you wondering if you've chosen the right way for your life? Read through these verses, even listen to them read to you (Proverbs 14 audio). Allow the truth of God and His Spirit to give you insight on all of this.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment and confirmation of the way of life—a true and fulfilling life—that He intends for you. Ask God to guide you with the peace of His Holy Spirit and the clarity of His truth.

©Word-Strong_2018


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You Know Me

My wife recalls a time in her childhood when she imagined herself as a character in a storybook being read by someone—someone greater than herself. This was her first sense of God's existence and presence.

The concept of God being all-knowing—omniscient—can be assuring and scary. My wife's childlike sense of God's omnipresence opened up her realization of His omniscience and omnipotence.