self

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


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

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


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

Too Much and Too Little

Eating too much honey is not good,

and searching for honor is not honorable.Hebrew meaning of this line uncertain.

⌊Like⌋ a city broken into ⌊and⌋ left without a wall,

⌊so⌋ is a person who lacks self-control. (Proverbs 25:27-28 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 25:16-28 GW)


We live in a binary world. Consider how pervasive computers are—huge main frames, desktops, laptops, and handhelds. They all work off a sequence of zeros and ones.

Ok, it’s not quite that simple. A programmer may use different ways to configure things—different programing language or code—but it boils down to manipulating a sequence of zeros and ones to execute some action.

Think of the countless decisions you make in a day. Most decisions are yes–no, either–or. Others weigh the pros and cons of a decision. Still binary. And there’s the classic—Are you a glass half-full or half-empty person?

Why is life in this world so binary? I track it back to the decision in the garden to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Even that decision was a choice between—Do we continue to trust God or believe this clever talking serpent?

They chose the second option. They chose the lie.

Our Struggle

What does all this have to do with these two verses? Each of us struggle to find the somewhat neutral ground of contentment between too much or too little.

Why is this so difficult? Because our self—our ego—our basic nature—never seems to be satisfied. This leaves us open to making poor decisions, pursuing empty promises, or drifting along through life.

Both proverbs are explained with simple illustrations of comparison.

Too much

We know what it’s like to have too much of a good thing. It’s not good. In an earlier verse (Prov 25:16), we’re told eating too much honey makes a person nauseous.

You know the feeling of eating more than you should because it tastes so good—a 2nd or 3rd helping or a rich dessert after a big meal. This applies to more than eating. It’s great to get some sun but too much will make you sick or sunburned or both.

We all want and need honor and respect. The opposite would be shame or contempt. No one enjoys shame or contempt.

When others honor and respect us, it’s a good thing. But when we pursue our own honor or glory, it’s despised by others and tends to bring embarrassment, shame, and disrespect on us.

Too little

It’s not hard to imagine an ancient walled city with broken walls. You’ve either seen it in photos, movies, or digital games. If not, recall the story of ancient Jericho’s walls tumbling down after Israel’s army marched around it for seven days (Josh 6:20).

It would also be similar to the destruction a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake brings. Imagine being in a house where the walls and roof are blown away or broken down leaving you vulnerable to the elements, wild animals, or scavengers and looters.

This is the picture of someone who lacks self-control. We’ve seen what this brings in the life of others and perhaps in our own life.

A lack of discipline leads to many problems—over-eating, over-spending, little to no exercise, too little sleep, and so on. A lack of self-control can lead to things like addictions, broken relationships, excessive worries, poor health, and on and on.

How can we escape the back and forth struggle between too much or too little? Contentment comes with trusting the Lord. Trusting Him instead of our self. We need help with who we are and how we’re wired internally.

Later, in the New Testament book of Galatians, the apostle Paul speaks of this struggle (Gal 5:16-18). He goes on to say the evidence of relying on our self is obvious (Gal 5:19-20) but when we rely on the Lord—His Spirit in us—we gain self-control and a lot more (Gal 5:22-23).

The book of Proverbs is intended to help someone gain wisdom and develop self-discipline. This isn’t about self-improvement or self-reliance but entrusting our self, our decisions, and our deepest needs to the Lord.

Reflection—

Contentment comes with trusting the Lord rather than our self. We don’t need to improve nor rely on ourselves but entrust our decisions, deepest needs, and life to the Lord daily.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself caught in the tension between too much and too little, call out to God in prayer. Ask His help with decisions before you make them. He knows your deepest needs, so look to Him as your source of honor and respect—He knows you better than any person on earth.

©Word-Strong_2019


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

A Sign of Real Strength

If you faint in a crisis, you are weak.

Rescue captives condemned to death,

and spare those staggering toward their slaughter.

When you say, “We didn’t know this,”

won’t the one who weighs hearts take note of it?

Won’t the one who guards your soul know it?

Won’t he pay back people for what they do? (Proverbs 24:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 24:1-22 GW)


A myriad of cliches are tossed about when difficult times comes.

There’s the famous British saying—Keep Calm and Carry (or Chive) On. How about the classic American expression—When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

But when a crisis hits, especially a life-threatening one, cliches are like chaff in the wind. They have no substance nor weight. Action not words is needed.

People of character rise to the occasion in a crisis. They’re able to meet challenges beyond their control because they don’t trust in circumstances. Their trust is anchored much deeper.

Those who are strong in character and within times of crisis are not centered on themselves. They don’t trust in themselves. Their world is larger than themselves.

Looking beyond ourselves

When our life and world revolve around our self, it leaves us unprepared to handle the change and interruption of a crisis—whether small or great.

Also, a self-absorbed and self-focused life insulates a person from others. This breeds an unhealthy isolation. It also pushes a person towards indifference—an apathetic attitude toward others.

Left unchecked, indifference leads to a hardness of heart. Everyone of us needs to guard against indifference and hardness in our hearts—it can keep us from fainting in times of crisis.

Those who don’t faint in a crisis are those who have more concern for others than themselves. Looking at verses 11-12 reminds us the world is much larger than us. As is often said, “It’s not about you!”

More than that, each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Coming to the rescue

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. When I think of rescuing captives (verse 11), it brings many people into view with vastly greater needs than my own.

Many women and children are trapped in the inescapable maze of human trafficking. Unless we or others intervene, they are condemned to a living hell—even death at the hands of merciless captors. It’s not just a global problem but a much more local one.

They need mercy. They need rescue.

Millions of people suffer under oppressive and repressive governments or now live as refugees who fled savage warfare into an indefinite life stranded between danger and uncertainty. Their plight is through no fault of their own and is beyond their control or power.

They need a hand of grace extended to them. They’re crying out for mercy.

Thousands of people are trapped in addiction or in bondage to something too powerful for them to overcome on their own. They need merciful and gracious intervention—just as the Lord showed us.

Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36 GW)

If we say, “We didn’t know this,” or “It’s not my problem…I’ve got my own problems”—we aren’t excused. We can’t just look the other way.

This is the heart of what Jesus spoke of in His Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5:3-9) and Sermon on the Plain (in Luke 6:27-37).

Those of us who are Christian believers—who trust in the Lord Jesus as our Savior—we are called to be like Him in relationship to people we encounter in life and as we become aware of the needs of others.

We are to be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13-16), an extension of His heart of compassion, grace, and love to those around us.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103:8)

Reflection—

When we get our eyes off ourselves and become aware of the needs and challenges other people face, it helps put our own concerns into perspective. Each of us are responsible to be considerate and caring for others—to show mercy and grace towards people we encounter in daily life.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself wrapped up in your own concerns or worries, ask God to help you look beyond yourself. Ask the Lord to fill you with His compassion and love—His mercy and grace—towards people in your circle of life and beyond.

If you’d like to help extend mercy and grace—

To help those trapped as victims of human trafficking— here are 4 organizations to consider—

To help people under oppressive and repressive regimes, as well as refugees—you can contact my friend Mike Parks with Global Hope Network Intl. or click on these links—Refugee Families in Lebanon / in Iraq

©Word-Strong_2019


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs

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


Would you like a free study guide for Proverbs?

Click Here to get a Free Study Guide for Proverbs