relationships

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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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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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 Evil of Double Standards

A double standard of weights and measures— both are disgusting to the Lord. 

A double standard of weights is disgusting to the Lord,

and dishonest scales are no good. (Proverbs 20:10, 23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 20:9-25 GW)


“The numbers don’t lie!” Well, maybe not the numbers but those who manipulate numbers for their own gain at the expense of others—they do lie. This is the nature of a double standard. What should be trustworthy isn’t.

Remember the Enron scandal? The numbers lied. Well, those who reported the numbers lied about the numbers. How about Bernie Madoff? Remember him and his Ponzi scheme?

Both of these scandals involved billions of dollars and affected thousands of lives. Not just the principal investors but the ripple effect it had on others. But none of this is new. The scale may be greater but the schemes are ancient.

The double standard in these verses refer to the use of differing weights used to measure goods paid according to weight. The principle is the same—deception of others to profit the deceiver. Somewhat of a bait and switch approach or shell game ruse.

It’s nothing new and God hates this type of deception. It “disgusts” Him. Or, as said in another version, it’s “an abomination.”

Seem to harsh? Well, it’s evil but for more than obvious reasons.

Photo by  Pau Casals  on  Unsplash

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash

My wife and I delight in our grandchildren, as most grandparents do. We play and interact with them as we did with their parents (our children) but without the immediate responsibility as parents. That’s part of the fun of being grandparents!

I’m a jokester, always have been. My kids and now my grandkids are on to me though. They expect me to joke with them, tease them, and play tricks on them. And believe me, as they grow older they learn to turn the tables on me and it gets harder for me to trick them.

One silly thing I would do, as they became conscious of weight as a measure of their growth, is to step on the scale behind them as they weigh themselves.

When the numbers are much higher than expected, their eyes widen with astonishment. Then either Nana or I tell them how I tipped the scales to fool them. I can’t do this but once or twice before they wise up to my trick.

Now, as innocuous as my tipping the scale is, it reveals an underlying principle of humanity. We are trusting by nature. It’s innate. We trust until we learn not to trust.

To trust is innate until we learn not to trust

This is the real issue with double standards and differing weights and why God hates this. I’ve seen this truth over and over. Trust only exists until it’s violated.

God hates it when trust is broken. When trust is violated it breaks the bond of relationship.

This goes back to the garden with Adam and Eve. When they stopped trusting God implicitly because they believed the lie of the serpent, their innocent and pure relationship with God was broken (Gen 3:1-10).

They believed God was holding something back from them and it all went downhill from there (Gen 3:11-19). Since then, deception of others and of self continues to prevail because lies—even small ones—violate trust and break relationships.

Trust is easy to break but hard to mend

I’ve learned that even with my jokes and teasing, I need to be careful not to cross a line. I don’t want to break or undermine the trust of those closest to me nor anyone else who looks to me as a trustworthy person.

We all need to be careful in our interactions with others in whatever environment or situation in life we find ourselves—home, work, business, community, church, or wherever. Trust is a fragile element—easy to break but hard to mend.

Reflection—

The real issue with double standards and differing weights and why God hates them is an issue of trust. Trust only exists until it’s violated. It’s easy to break but hard to mend. Lies and deception only lead to broken trust and broken relationships.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself trapped in some form of deception—of others or yourself—ask God to help you see how to put an end to it. Ask the Lord to help you be honest and open, and if relationships and trust have been broken, ask Him how to restore them.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Good Sense

A person who gains sense loves himself.

One who guards understanding finds something good.

A person with good sense is patient,

and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense.

Home and wealth are inherited from fathers,

but a sensible wife comes from the Lord. (Proverbs 19:8, 11, 14 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 19:1-14 GW)


Do we even know what good sense is? It used to be typical for parents to tell children to use good sense. Perhaps the expression is out of touch with our relativistic culture.

Even the expression common sense seems outdated and irrelevant today. But the need for good sense or common sense is greater than ever.

First of all, let’s consider what the phrase good sense means in these verses. In general, it speaks of sound judgment, discernment, or wisdom.

Within the context of Proverbs, the basis of good sense and wisdom is God—the One true and living God of Israel.

His revealed wisdom is found within the Scriptures. During Solomon’s life it included the first five books of the Old Testament, the history of Israel and many of the Psalms up to the time of his father King David.

These three verses give us insight into the benefits of good sense—why it’s valuable—personally, in all our relationships, and at home.

Personally

When we gain good sense and wisdom, we love ourself in the best way. Not in the popular self-indulgent or selfish way. The sense of verse 8 from the original language is to love one’s own soul. Another way of saying it is—the person who gains wisdom is his own best friend.

Relationships with others

An important benefit of wisdom and good sense is to help a person cope with difficult people and situations. The idea of patience here is to be slow to anger and to overlook an offense means to be not easily offended.

An old expression goes, “to take offense is to give it.” Wisdom and good sense enable us not to be hypersensitive and reactive when others say or do things that are offensive or irritate us. This is a valuable benefit in our times!

Home

Lasting wealth and security depends more on who rather than what. This verse is the positive contrast to the verse that precedes it (verse 13). A sensible wife is a gift from God. I know this firsthand! Don’t have a spouse? No problem! This could be a applied to wise parents and children, as well (see download below).

Here’s how I see these verses applied in my life—

The Lord gave me the gift of a sensible and wise wife. She helps me see others in a better light than I tend to do at first. I’ve personally gained from her wisdom and good sense.

Being thankful for her and loving her is like loving my own soul. After all, as it says in the Bible, we are “one flesh” (Gen 2:24), and when I love her as myself (Eph 5:28), I’m not so easily offended when she points out my lesser qualities, if you get what I mean.

Reflection—

How would you apply the insight from these verses in your life? When you gain good sense and wisdom, it’s much easier to live with ourselves, others, and those in our family.

Prayer Focus—

Start each day being thankful and ask the Lord for good sense and wisdom. God promises to give us wisdom when we ask Him for it (James 1:5). Ask the Lord for wisdom and guidance on how to benefit from it in all your relationships.

©Word-Strong_2018


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