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These 4 Things Are Inside-Out and Upside-Down

Three things cause the earth to tremble,

even four it cannot bear up under:

a slave when he becomes king,

a godless fool when he is filled with food,

a woman who is unloved when she gets married,

a maid when she replaces her mistress. (Proverbs 30:21-23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:20-33 GW)


Benjamin Franklin is credited for several proverbial sayings typifying early America. Many of his sayings ascribed a sense of order important for a new nation birthed through a revolution. Here’s one of them—

A place for everything, everything in its place.

This isn’t just an American sentiment. It’s universal. It’s innate in our humanness. We like and want order. Something inside us wants to bring the chaos or disorganization around us into some form of order.

Out of order

When things are out of order, it’s unsettling. When a different or new form or order comes, it’s more than unsettling. It’s as if things are turned inside-out and upside-down.

This happens in many ways in daily life and across generations and centuries. A basic knowledge of history makes this clear.

Revolutions and wars have a way of resetting the previous order of things—new governments and far-reaching societal upheavals. Modern examples are the American and French revolutions. But political and social change reaches around the globe and back through many centuries.

Most of us aren’t students of world history and sociology. We’re more concerned with disruptive changes impacting our lives in a personal way.

These three verses give us four life situations where things are not how we’d expect or want them to be. Each of them can be found throughout history and also in the Scriptures.

When a slave becomes king

In one of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, it speaks of a vile or contemptible person who would become a king but not recognized with royal honor. Later, he does terrible things to the people of God—slaughtering many.

He was an infamous king who desecrated the temple of God in Jerusalem when he sacrificed a pig on the altar (Dan 11:21, 29-36).

This illustrates what happens with a person who does not know or understand how to handle authority. They abuse their power at the expense of others and themselves.

The full fool

Here’s another story of a king from the book of Daniel. Daniel was known as trustworthy and faithful. He became a great statesman and advisor to the great emperor, Nebuchadnezzar—even in the emperor’s worst times (Dan 2:27-34).

Much later in Daniel’s life, when Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar reigned, Daniel was forgotten and Belshazzar was foolish and impudent. During a great feast, when he was full of food and wine and himself, he had the sacred articles of Jewish worship brought in to worship his gods (Dan 5:1-7).

His foolishness cost him the empire and his life. That same night after being warned by a miraculous sign of a finger writing on the wall, Darius the Mede invaded, conquered the empire, and put him to death.

When a fool is full, he becomes full of himself and a danger to himself and others.

An unloved woman

The story of the patriarch Jacob’s first wife, Leah, is an example of the impact of neglect, jealousy, and favoritism. Each of these has a harmful ripple effect for obvious reasons.

Sadly, the repercussions of Jacob and Leah’s troubled marriage and the children born by her and her handmaidens rippled on for generations. It didn’t just impact their family but the nation of Israel for generations (Gen 29:30-32).

One way we see God’s favor upon Leah, almost as compensation for being unloved by Jacob (Gen ), is how she was blessed to give birth to six sons—three times those of Rachel, the loved wife. Even when we disrupt God’s order, He moves to bring restoration.

The replaced mistress

Sometimes ideas and plans don’t bring their expected results. When it comes to our own efforts to circumvent God’s direction and provision for our lives, it never brings the results we expect.

God promised a son to Abraham but it took much longer than expected. In fact, he and his wife had grown old past the age of bearing children. Sarah, his wife decided to make God’s promise come to pass by having Abraham lay with her servant, Hagar (Gen 16:1-5).

After Hagar gets pregnant she despises her mistress, Sarah, thinking she was better and preferred over her. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with Sarah and Abraham is caught in the middle. The story gets worse as it goes on except for one thing—God’s faithfulness.

So many lessons could be drawn from this saga but the connection to this proverb is simple. When we try to reorder things our way from what God intends, we turned things inside-out and upside-down and wonder why.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the exceptions don’t become the rule. When a person is not equipped or prepared for a certain role, they aren’t able to handle it well. When their expectations aren’t met or are unrealistic—there will be unintended consequences.

Reflection—

We always have the choice to trust God when faced with various life situations. Trusting Him means having the long view of things—willing to wait upon the Lord’s direction and provision. When we try to reorder things our way, we’re likely to turn things inside-out and upside-down.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself struggling to trust God in any life situation, reflect on these life lessons and others like them in the Bible. Consciously choose to trust the Lord rather than figure it out your own way. Express this choice to the Lord in prayer and ask Him for the wisdom and grace to leave it in His hands.

©Word-Strong_2019


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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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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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Slippery Places

Jealousy is called "the green-eyed monster." The expression was coined by Shakespeare but the emotion has existed since the first humans on earth.

Jealousy or envy includes a range of emotions, all of which bring a sickness of the soul. Left unchecked it breeds greed and lust that are akin to idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5).

It is a destructive feeling and has no upside. Adam and Eve believed the serpent's lie because they thought God was holding back something good (Gen 3:4-6). Today we characterize it as FOMO—the fear of missing out.

A God Who Saves

When things are not good it's easy to get discouraged. Discouragement can lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness and despair. The antidote, of course, is hope. We need to believe things will get better.

Although real life is not black and white, we can view it that way, as either good or bad. Maybe you've seen graphics that have part of a photo in black and white with one portion or half in color. It's a dramatic change and contrast. Faith enables a person to see in color.