self-deception

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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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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People—Simple but Complicated

A motive in the human heart is like deep water,

and a person who has understanding draws it out.

Who can say, “I’ve made my heart pure. I’m cleansed from my sin”?

Even a child makes himself known by his actions,

whether his deeds are pure or right. (Proverbs 20:5, 9, 11 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 20:1-13 GW)


People are people

Across cultures and geography, the basic needs and wants of people are the same. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for the most part, are true any place among the peoples of the world.

And so, at a basic level, people are simple to understand. If we lack basic physiological needs, we’ll be motivated to fill those needs. Of course, this is in a general sense and there are always exceptions to the rule. But, as a general rule—people are people.

Beyond basic needs people get a bit complicated. The motives of a person’s heart aren’t always easy to discern, especially when the mind and heart of a person is in conflict.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are examples of people whose values and judgment are in conflict or turned upside down. Somewhere along the line, the development of their moral conscience was short-circuited..

What’s all of this got to do with these verses in Proverbs? Plenty!

Discernment and wisdom needed

Discernment and wisdom are required to know and understand a person’s motives. Psychology can help us with clinical observations but to discern at a deeper level we need help.

This is where the wisdom of God and God’s Spirit are valuable.

God—our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer—knows everyone inside and out—our deepest thoughts, motives, and feelings. We need His help and guidance to understand others, as well as ourselves.

As a leader and in counseling others, I learned how valuable it was to listen well.

I learned how valuable it is to listen well

Listening well includes hearing what is spoken, what is not said, and what is held back. Not just reading between the lines but listening at a deeper, spiritual level.

Self-deception

On the subject of motives, we often don’t discern our own motives. We fool ourselves into thinking our heart is pure and without sin.

For some of us, self-deception becomes our shield from reality. Self-deception can even become somewhat of an art form but not in a good way.

While counseling people and even while teaching or preaching, I often sensed the Lord asking me, “Are you hearing what you’re saying to them?” More often than I’d liked to admit, I needed to hear and heed my own counsel for others.

Sooner or later, who we are and what our motives are is revealed through our actions and attitudes. Others tend to know things about us before we’re aware of them—especially our parents, spouses, close friends, and children.

Even sociopaths and psychopaths are seen for who they are at some point though they don’t realize it themselves.

People are people. We’re all the same for the most part. Only God knows us and others at the deepest level of our being.

It takes patience and help to draw water from a deep well, as it does to discern motives and values in the heart of a person including ourselves.

Want to know your own or someone else’s motives?

Be patient. Be a good listener. Be humble.

And ask God for discernment and wisdom.

Reflection—

God alone knows us in the deepest sense. If we want to understand our own motives or the motives of others, we need His help. We also need to be patient, humble, and learn to listen well—to God and others.

Prayer Focus—

As you go through your day, ask God to give you discernment and wisdom in your dealings with others and for how you live and interact with others.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Completely Truthful

Honesty in prayer is essential. God values it. He honors it. But we have a hard time doing it.

By default, we put up a deceptive front. We justify ourselves before we get honest, genuinely honest. It's just the way we are.

This prayerful psalm of King David came after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet. The story is found in 2 Samuel 12:1-15.