Monday, November 26, 2012

Friend or Foe? Proverbs 27:5-6

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
But an enemy multiplies kisses."

Proverbs 27:5-6

I think this is a concept that we all get and agree with on the surface especially with the obvious stuff. Just think about the last time you had something stuck in your teeth or had a problem with a piece of your wardrobe and went for hours before either someone rudely pointed it out or you finally stole a glance in a mirror and discovered it yourself. Aren't we all just a little perturbed that our "friends" hadn't bothered to let us know that there was something wrong? After all, we could have fixed the problem in a matter of seconds and spared the humiliating thoughts about how many people saw it and were secretly laughing at us. Those situations are easy. In those cases we wholeheartedly agree with this proverb and want our friends to apply it to us. But what about those things that are a little less obvious?

What about when our parents give us an attitude check or tell us to "watch your tone of voice"? What about when our spouses let us know in no uncertain terms that we are behaving or acting childishly? Are we willing to take the criticism of a friend when they confront us with having a smug attitude, secret prejudice, or hidden agenda? I would imagine if any of us thought long enough, we could each think back to past "hurts" that we have received at the hands or mouths of friends. Some of us may even think of a relationship that no longer exists because of a word that was interpreted as an insult. Those times, unfortunately, are not quite so easy to recognize as good "open rebuke" and "wounds from a friend" instead of as lashes from an enemy.

So how do we remind ourselves that someone is looking out for our good and not our bad when it feels like we are taking a beating?

Let me say, first of all, that I am no counselor or therapist and my thoughts on this are nowhere near expert advice; they are simply my thoughts and you are free to use them or dismiss them as you see best. But maybe there are at least a few things we can do to take the sting out of a perceived insult and help us to see the good intended instead of just the pain inflicted.
  1. Memorize this verse. I am convinced that one of the ways the Spirit works in our lives is through the word of God hidden in our hearts. If this nugget of God's wisdom is such a part of your being that you can quote it at the drop of a hat, then there is a good chance that the Spirit will help you remember it at the moment when you need it the when someone says, "we need to talk" and it doesn't appear the topic is sports. 
  2. While talking to the friend, quote the verse silently. If your blood pressure is rising, there is a pretty good chance you're not going to be able to hear their words anyway. Why not just take a breath and spend a fraction of a second even while they are talking to remind yourself of this truth if for not other reason than to help you stay calm so that you can evaluate whether what they are saying is truth or simply meanness.
  3. After the conversation, but before evaluating the criticism , evaluate the friendship. I'm not talking about picking apart the friend and all of their faults. That's pointless. I am talking about evaluating the history of the relationship. Have they tried to hurt you in the past? Have they ever sacrificed for you? Have they been a loyal friend? Do they add to your life or do they usually take from you? Do they typically act selfishly or selflessly? If the relationship is not a new one, you should be able to decide rather quickly if they are in fact a friend or an enemy. 
  • If they are an enemy, then who cares what they said? It's as likely to be untrue as it is to be true even if they were flattering you! However, if the enemy was really trying to get to you, they would probably use something they knew hit close to home. If that's the case, find a real friend and ask them for an honest evaluation of the subject at hand.
  • If you're not entirely sure of the relationship, then maybe whatever the criticism, it is worth your time to do some self-evaluation and also to ask a trusted friend.
  • If you know they are a friend...then the absolute worst thing any of us could do would be to throw up defenses and start insulting them so we don't have to face an ugly truth in ourselves. Not only will we lose a friend, we will also miss a chance for self-improvement, and even go backward because we have allowed our pride to take another foothold in our lives.
Like I said, I'm no counselor, but Solomon was a pretty smart guy from what I've heard. Now I just wish I could apply it in my own life as easily as I can type it!

And by the way, before we end, I think the comparison of an open rebuke to hidden love is worth noting. At that point, he hadn't said where the "open rebuke" is coming from. It might be from a friend or an enemy. Either way, it doesn't's better than hidden love- i.e. love that never results in action. If that's the case...we need to take note of any love that we feel that we conceal by tamping it down or by ignoring it's plea to help someone. How sad to think that a deceitful enemy "multiplying kisses" could win someone else because of their abundance of false love only because the object of their "kisses" hasn't experienced the sometimes "hidden love" of God that we have for them.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Warning for those With Authority- Proverbs 22:8

"Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken."

Proverbs 22:8

The principle of the harvest is scattered all throughout the Bible. It is an incredibly simple truth that is applied both negatively, as in the case above, and positively, as in "he who sows generously (as in the case of giving) will also reap generously" (2 Cor. 9:6). In the passage above, it is applied to those with authority. I wasn't sure of that until I cross-referenced the word for "injustice" to find the other ways it is used in the Bible because in some translations it is translated as "iniquity" or "perverseness." I think the use of the word "injustice" works much better because in every instance that the word is used in which you can determine the context outright from the text, it is dealing with leaders abusing their powers for their own gain in some form or another. The truth of the proverb is very simple for us today. If we are unjust to those we have authority over or those we try to exert authority over, we will eventually be served what we deserve- calamity.

Just take a minute to look at the picture above. It makes me cringe, doesn't it you? There are very few people in this world who honestly enjoy seeing someone who is helpless being taken advantage of or abused. I think that is because each of us has a moral compass placed in us by God that makes blatant shows of injustice absolutely infuriating. The problem, though, is that each one of us has an easier time seeing the injustices of others than we do of ourselves. I have a theory that people don't think they are actually being unjust. They are simply doing what they think is necessary for the greater good.  
  • If my child refuses to obey, then I need to do what I must to teach them to respect authority so they are not in prison down the road.  
  • If my students don't respect my authority, no one will learn anything. Therefore, I am justified in making an example of one or two students. 
  • I know the most efficient way of doing something and if my employees or coworkers disagree, they might lead us down the wrong track. Therefore, manipulation, threats, deception, and forcefulness is simply what is necessary for all of us to achieve our goals.

In other words, what if we are blind to our own injustices because after all, 

the end justifies the means?

While those in authority (parents, teachers, bosses, managers, etc.) have a Godly duty to discipline, correct, train, and lead and punishment or rebuke is sometimes necessary, may each of us VOW to scrutunize not those over us (bosses, government, parents, leaders), but those under us (children, employees, coworkers, students, servers) and honestly determine whether injustice is or is not occurring at our own hands. After all, God is not one to lie. If we are the source of injustice, eventually the rod (i.e.- authority) with which we are wielding our injustices WILL BE BROKEN and the end that has supposedly justified all of our means, will actually turn out to be calamity. I don't know about you, but I would much rather lay that rod down in obedience to God than to have it taken from me and broken because of my disobedience. And for anyone who is reeling from the rod of someone else's injustice, let me offer one more passage that I stumbled upon today while cross-referencing the word for "injustice."

The scepter of the wicked ["unjust"] will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.

Psalm 125:3

Take comfort in the fact, that whatever it seems like today, God is actually the one in control. We feel injustice so acutely in the moment because it seems like the wrongs will never get righted in our lifetime. But God's reign is much longer than all of our lives put together. He is in control. He always will be. And that remains true even while I, or anyone else, is claiming control by swinging an unjust rod with all of our fury.

Monday, November 5, 2012

That Pesky Conscience- Proverbs 20:27

Do you remember Jimminy Cricket's advice for Pinnochio? "Let your conscience be your guide." On the surface, that seems pretty good, right? After all, our consciences let us know when we are violating our morals. However, what if someone has a different set of morals than I do? Can I follow one set of rules while they follow another and both of us be in the right because we are both being led by our conscience? Obviously, the answer is "no." Either there is an absolute standard of right and wrong or there is not. If the latter is true, then Jimminy shouldn't be giving advice at all because it doesn't matter what we do anyway...there is no standard of right and wrong. However, you and I both know that there is a standard and it is defined by God, Himself. So is Jimminy giving good advice? Well...I'd say the answer is no...and yes.

The answer is no for the reason I've already stated. Each one of our consciences tell us slightly different things depending on our personality, our upbringing, and I'm sure a host of different influences that sociologists might point out that I don't have a clue about. However, the answer is also "yes" because it was God who designed the conscience as a warning system for us.

I've always understood the conscience to be from God simply because He made us and we have it, therefore it's from God. But I have never noticed this Proverb before. The Interpreter's Bible notes that "the word 'spirit' here is from the literal Hebrew word 'breath'; and it refers to that 'breath of life' which God breathed into mankind in the person of Adam (Gen. 2:7). It is the equivalent of conscience, God's lamp, that searches out the innermost recesses of a man's heart." I've talked and written before about my desire to hear God's voice. But according to this verse, what if I already am in the language and accent of my conscience? If the commentator is correct about the "spirit" referring to our conscience, then this is exactly what Solomon was teaching through this Proverb. What an incredible thought about the intimacy that God shares even with those who are not yet Christians and those who, in our minds, are worlds apart from the God of the Bible. I'm not referring to the kind of relationship that God shares with Christians after their sins have been washed away and they can then have access into the Most Holy Place. But we do know that God has "breathed life" into every human that has ever existed- both good and bad. I believe that refers to more than just getting our hearts and lungs pumping. It refers to that part of us that is eternal. We also know that God calls all men to Christ (John 6:44) and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin (John 16:5-11). Unless I'm completely missing the point of the Proverb, God has placed our "spirit" (whatever that involves) inside of us in order to shine light on the hidden parts of who we are. But obviously, God doesn't need any help revealing to Himself who I am! Therefore, I have to conclude that the light that is being shed is for my benefit.

Why then do all of our consciences alarm in different ways and how are we to use it since there is only one standard of right and wrong?

Well, we know that we can sear our consciences by repeated violating them and thereby deaden them to a particular sin (1 Tim 4:2). I also believe consciences are different based on what children are raised believing, though, so how are we to use them?

Is it possible that we are to use our consciences not  as an absolute authority in itself, but as an alarm system for when we are violating a higher authority? In other words, our conscience is a tool that God uses to shape us and call to us but it is not a standard.

Let me suggest one other thought before I wrap up. We often consider our consciences only in the matter of a "guilty conscience." But what if we were to include the whole of our self in that. What about our emotions, the things our mind wanders to, our dreams and nightmares, our worries, and our passions? What if we also consider those to be part of our "spirit" that the Proverb refers to? Could God be trying to direct my life by giving me a passion for something? Could God be reminding me to come to Him when I begin to feel the emotion of despair and loneliness? Could God be nudging me to change my perspective when I notice a feeling of contempt for anyone? Could God be fueling a path for ministry by giving me unexplained joy and excitement about something I've participated in? I'm not talking about psychotherapy, but is it possible that God could still use dreams to get us to think about something or reveal an area of worry in our life that we need to turn over to Him?

I guess the challenge today is for us to pay attention to what's going on inside of us...not so we have an unhealthy preoccupation with self, but so that we can evaluate it with the words of God in the Bible and determine if God is trying to reveal something to us that He would like us to quit doing, start doing, or continue doing. Notice I said "doing" in all of those statements because inevitably, faith - trust in God- leads to action. May we continue to have faith that the God who began a good work in us is going to carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6) and may we realize that one of His tools to finish that work is the "lamp" that He put in each one of us if we will only take the time to pay attention to where it is shining...and then determine with the help of God to never "sear our consciences" in that area again. So yes...within reason I say, "let your conscience be your guide."