honesty

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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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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Truth, Dishonesty, and Consequences

Giving a straight answer is ⌊like⌋ a kiss on the lips.

Do not testify against your neighbor without a reason,

and do not deceive with your lips.

Do not say, “I’ll treat him as he treated me.

I’ll pay him back for what he has done to me.” (Proverbs 24:26, 28-29 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:23-34 GW)


Consequences have gotten a bad rap over the years. Generally, we think of a consequence as something negative. But it’s not. A consequence is a result or effect, a conclusion or product of some cause or action.

The popular sense of a consequence is negative. This was the premise of the popular TV show, Truth or Consequences, which a city in New Mexico was renamed for. But, a consequence can be good or bad or neutral in its impact.

A straight answer

Giving a straight answer, or an honest answer, has a good consequence—it’s, like a kiss on the lips. This figure of expression indicates respect and affection. It’s the opposite of deception.

Directness and honesty are not so common these days. Not a day goes by without an indication or revelation of untruthfulness by someone we encounter in daily life, a celebrity, or government leader. At least, it seems that way.

Sadly, disinformation—a common euphemism for indirect, often untrue statements—has become the norm. It’s not just people in the spotlight—the news media, government spokespersons, celebrities, etc.—but also in advertising or companies who justify not honoring a guarantee.

Before we get indignant and outraged at all this indirect and dishonest communication—think about yourself.

How many times have you been less than truthful or avoided the full truth in conversations between you and your spouse, parents, children, friends, co-workers, or neighbors? We use the euphemistic label white lies to describe this behavior.

How many times have you or I said or thought something like—Why didn’t you just tell me the truth? What we mean is this—Why didn’t you care enough and respect me enough by giving me a straight answer?

Dishonesty and a deeper problem

As far as negative consequences, these other verses speak for themselves. Well, it ought to be obvious these lead to negative consequences. But is it obvious to us?

The problem with lying—even half-truths and white lies—is the continual need to reaffirm the first lie with other lies. Lying becomes habitual. It’s a behavioral mode called avoidance—of consequences, confrontations, or just continued conversations.

But there’s a deeper problem here. One we tend to mutter under our breath or just think without saying—payback. Payback is just another word for revenge. Revenge is a distorted sense of justice—of making things right as we see them.

What we are called to

As believers—followers of Jesus—we are called to be beacons of light in a dark world (Matt 5:14-16; Phil 2:14-16) and to love our enemies rather than get retribution (Matt 6:43-48; Rom 12:19).

So, we are called to give direct, honest answers to one another. To love the truth and speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). To love our neighbors and to be merciful even as our Father in heaven is merciful (Luke 6:36).

Reflection—

God calls us to be beacons of light in a dark world, to love our enemies, to give direct, honest answers and to love the truth and speak the truth in love to one another, our neighbors, and others—and to be merciful.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself being less than honest with someone or even yourself, ask the Lord to give you a love for the truth and for others. Seek to be light in the midst of darkness and to be merciful when others are not.

©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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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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