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Posts Tagged ‘Proverbs’


There aren’t too many book about laziness. There aren’t too many books by Korean pastors in English either.

Busy for Self, Lazy for GodWhen I saw that Westminster Seminary Press translated and released Busy for Self, Lazy for God: Meditations on Proverbs for Diligent Living by Nam Joon Kim, I had some interest based on the subject.

I also had interest based on the author. One should not get stuck in an echo chamber, reading only people from your culture and sub-culture. Nam Joon Kim is a conservative Presbyterian pastor, but he lives in Korea and is part of a very different culture than mine. I wanted to gain a wider perspective on the issue; to see how his culture (or at least he) handles the Scriptures and does theology.

I have served in two denominations that have non-geographic Korean Presbyteries. They are largely Korean-speaking churches so there is not much in the way of interaction with the pastors at General Assembly or Synod. This is clearly unfortunate, depriving both them and us of benefits to be gained by cross-cultural conversations.

Back to the book.

Rev. Kim breaks the book into two main sections: describing laziness and its consequences, and then mortifying laziness. The forward by Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Seminary in PA, notes that Rev. Kim is part of the same theological tradition. As an avid  reader, he has delved deeply into the Puritans. The book is a bestseller in Korea and Chinese-speaking countries. Now we get to benefit from his work.

In his introduction, Rev. Kim notes:

“Also, I began to realize that laziness is not a simple issue to deal with, but is a very complex issue because the root rotting one’s soul is self-love, and self-love is complex matter reaching into every corner of our lives.”

Conversion does not immediately drive out laziness. He does mention that the Christian life is a cruciform life, “built upon our Spirit-empowered, grace-infused efforts to become more like Christ”. Yet there lie the remnants of sin. It manifests itself in laziness among other things.

He reminds us that work is a blessing, and part of our being made in the image of God. It is intended to give us joy, both earthly and eternal.

Image result for the dudeLaziness is a cancer-like sin. Laziness inhibits our spiritual growth & sanctification since it often keeps us from engaging in the dependent discipline necessary for growth to take place. Laziness keeps us from reading the Scripture so our minds are renewed and our lives therefore transformed. Laziness keeps us from prayer in which we engage with God and receive grace. There is a reason laziness, or sloth, is known as one of the seven deadly sins.

Rev. Kim thinks of his own country and church. He laments the lack of integrity of Korean people. He frames this in the context of national income per capita. He sees integrity and holiness as connected. Integrity is being who you say you are. Holiness is being who God says you are. As a Christian, you should say you are what God says you are, and live it. Both find their foundation in trust in God. Kim mentions that doing the right thing includes doing them at the right time.

As a result, Rev. Kim explores how laziness affects the witness of the Church. It also reduces our labors to the money we need to survive instead of the glory of God.

Christians, like other people, often have dreams. They dream of doing great things. As a kid I dreamed of athletic prowess. Dreams, however, are different than goals. Goals are used to accomplish dreams. Without them dreams are just that: dreams. The reason we don’t develop goals to make dreams a reality is laziness.

“A dream is a desire for something. But that is where dreams stop: with desire. A goal, on the other hand, is something that someone burns with passion for and thus strives devotedly to accomplish.”

He notes that laziness can be very busy, and look like diligence. But it is busy with the wrong things. We can tread water in life, but treading water is not to be confused with swimming.

Laziness is not contained to you. You don’t simply ruin your life. Often you ruin the life of those who depend upon you. Think about that for a minute, parents and employees. This is part of the danger of laziness. Perhaps you’ve had to rely on a lazy person as the project falls farther and farther behind schedule. Perhaps you’ve been the one who was fired because people relied on you and you sank the project.

“The influence of one person’s laziness is never neatly contained. It spills over into the lives of others.”

The second chapter, Robbed by a Thief, begins his meditations on the Proverbs. He begins with 22:13. He spends time setting up the context, interpreting and applying this and other proverbs.

IImage result for the break upn this he explores the balance between work and rest. He returns to the theme of self-love as the root of laziness. Like Gary in The Break-up, we say we just want to rest for 20 minutes watching our highlights before helping prepare or clean up dinner. There is always a reason not to help. Your desires are the only ones that matter. Laziness begins to destroy relationships.

“A promiscuous and decadent lifestyle is not merely the result of poor decisions: it is the natural outworking of the rejection of true love- biblical love- along with the direction and sacrifice such love requires.”

As you start to feel the weight of your laziness, and like all you are getting is law, Rev. Kim brings us back to the gospel. As a member of an honor culture, he does focus far more on the effects of laziness on others, particularly your family that most Americans would. He does emphasize discipline and more than many American Christians do. But he does bring us back to the gospel before we suffocate. He reminds us of God’s diligence in fulfilling His goals, including taking responsibility for His children. Grace shapes our discipline rather than substituting for our discipline.

In The Desire for and Development of Laziness Rev. Kim spends time on Proverbs 21:25. He introduces this with some background on the Chinese emperors decadence and excess, contrasted with the plight of the ordinary person. Our quest for “peace” is often like theirs, “a prelude for perversity, and perversity can be linked to laziness.” He rightly addresses the beastliness of laziness as a function of our depravity. Sinners are sensual and driven by desire like animals. For the Christian, laziness often means we don’t seek God diligently and remain spiritually weak and focused on our desires.

“Apart from communion with God, which is fostered by God’s grace but also demands our continual effort, our spiritual epiphanies dwindle and disappear.”

In the midst of this he discusses get rich quick schemes, which are born in laziness. He shifts into the progression of laziness: Not putting fort our best effort ==> abandoning duties and responsibilities ==> carnal passions. Laziness progresses in our lives unless fought diligently. It is the unrelenting downward pull of our flesh. Grace, and grace alone, can overcome this pull. Left to ourselves we drown in envy, discontentment and despair.

He then addresses the Carelessness of Laziness with a focus on Proverbs 24:30-31. He tells of a man who was careless in a public document that cost the company a large sum of money. They lost their job, and their supervisor was also disciplined. Laziness leads to neglecting details that can be costly.

In the midst of this, the translators use some Christianese. Instead of saying “zeal” they use the phrase “on fire”. It is one of my pet peeves. While concepts may be unfamiliar to non-Christians we should speak in understandable words and phrases. We want to stand out for our faith, not our odd use of language. We can be lazy in thinking about how we communicate.

The tendency of laziness to invent excuses is examined in The Way of a Hedge of Thorns (Proverbs 15:19). I thought of some of the people in my life that this applies to greatly. I am not immune, nor are any of us. Excuse-making can eventually cripple us spiritually. We often don’t make excuses in our worldly responsibilities, but do with our God-ward ones. We are busy for self, but lazy and excuse-making when it comes to seeking God and seeking to glorify and enjoy Him.

Having explored laziness and its harmful consequences, Rev. Kim moves to the second part of the book: Saying Goodbye to Your Close Friend. The mortification of sin can feel like that. You’ve gotten comfortable with certain sins, in this case laziness. Putting it to death is painful. You will miss it to some degree.

He begins with two chapters on Laziness and Sleep. Rest is a promise of God with the intended purpose of preparing us to work. Laziness separates work and rest, seeking rest and sleep as a good in itself, to be enjoyed well beyond our need for sleep. The Korean work ethic seems like over-kill to many of us in America or Europe. There needs to be some adjustment. Adam didn’t punch a time clock. In the Garden he would likely take time to enjoy a job well done, a beautiful scene or sunset, and perhaps an intimate moment with Eve. God is not like the Egyptian task-masters and Pharaohs.

In this section the translators note that “Korea follows more of an ‘eight to nine’ lifestyle- no one may leave until the boss leaves.” A hard working person in another culture may be considered lazy by their standards. And by our standards there are likely hard working people what are considered to be lazy. We all tend to make ourselves the measure of all.

He notes that medical conditions can produce the need for extra sleep. What is in his focus is the sleep of laziness that leads to poverty of spirit and wallet.

“There can be no coexistence of the gospel with laziness; we always choose to focus our attention on one or the other.”

He then explores the fact that Laziness Hates Passion from Proverbs 19:24. Our love of sleep and rest must be cast out by the power of a greater love. Laziness hates passion and embraces weak responses to important things. Laziness gives a half-hearted response and doesn’t see things through.

Image result for smoke in the eyesHe then confronts our Boredom. Diligence is not necessarily exciting. Completing projects tests our attention span. So, what happens when you grow bored of a task? He explores the difference between conviction and sheer stubbornness (which is born of laziness and pride).

He returns to the reality that The Sluggard Gives God Grief. Laziness is like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. It is a constant source of irritation to others, including God. One of the sins Jesus died for is our laziness. The penalty of sloth, which seems so innocuous, is death. It grieved the Father to send the Son to die for laziness.

He then moves into ministry whether pastor, elder, deaconess (his inclusion). Our call is intended to shape our lives. We don’t fit it into a little corner of open space and hope we can fulfill our duties. We are called to make room to fulfill the duties of our call.

“We should consider the gravity of our call from God, whatever it is, and restructure and reorganize our priorities and lives in order to be faithful to that call. … The point is a very simple one: change so that you can serve; adapt and adjust so that you can live out God’s call on your life.”

He concludes with An Image Forever Burned into the Heart as he meditates on Proverbs 24:32-34. The author of this proverb had this image of a neglected field burned in his mind. He knew the circumstances of the owner. It was not illness of disability that kept that field in disrepair. There was no tragedy that produced this effect. This leads to some hard questions about the places in our lives suffering disrepair. Is that a result of laziness or tragedy that has befallen us. Often it is the result of choices we make.

FImage result for abandoned houseor instance, the last two years have seen an abundance of leaks in my irrigation at home. I could choose to let the water puddle in unproductive places each morning. I could choose to turn off the water and allow our plants and trees to die in the desert heat. I could choose to turn it off and water by hand and have less time to spend with God and my family when I’m home. I could choose to repair them when I have time on the weekend and enjoy a beautiful yard with my family and time with God. The more things we push back the more disrepair fills our lives until we are like a broken-down, abandoned house except there we are.

Rev. Kim is calling us to faith and repentance. The echo in the background is the creation mandate. The power to turn from our sluggishness and toward diligence is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is a needful book, though a hard book. It will expose the laziness in your life. It isn’t condemnatory, but is calling people to repentance due to the kindness of God. That is a book worth reading.

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I don’t every year, but last year I read a devotional in addition to my daily reading of Scripture. I can struggle with legalism or formality regarding a devotional. But that’s my problem.

There was a sale on God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Timothy and Kathy Keller. The book focuses primarily on the Proverbs, but there are some days with readings from Job or Ecclesiastes.

Writing a book on Proverbs, like preaching on it, is perilous and likely frustrating. After the introduction, the proverbs are not structured. You can’t simply roll thru them sequentially and expect it to make a whole lot of sense. You are essentially forced to handling them thematically. They laid them out this way:

Knowing Wisdom (January 1- February 7)

Knowing God (February 8- March 23)

Knowing the Heart (March 24- June 12): this included topics like reordering our desires, understanding temptation and emotions.

Knowing Others (June 13- August 10): this included topics like friendship, gossip, listening and conflicts.

Knowing the Times and Seasons (August 11- September 3): this covered guidance, planning and decision making.

Knowing the Spheres (September 4- December 14): covering marriage, sex, parenting, work, power and justice.

Knowing Jesus, the True Wisdom of God (December 15- December 31)

Unlike his devotional on the Psalms, which I’m reading now, this one pretty much uses up the whole page for the day. It isn’t a big page, so it doesn’t cover the material in an exhaustive fashion. But there is just enough to get you thinking while having a few nuggets to hang onto.

I found that often, in the providence of God, I needed to hear what he had to say that day. It coincided well with my needs in a way neither of us could anticipate. This was a helpful devotional, applying doctrine in pertinent ways.

I should have included it in my best reads of 2018. If you can find a copy (I can no longer find it on the WTS Bookstore site, but did on Amazon), I’d recommend buying it and planning on reading it next year. It is not burdensome, nor trite. It is thoughtful and gospel-oriented.

 

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Over the last year or so I’ve read a number of commentaries on The Song of Songs. Some of them have been good, and helpful (Gledhill & Longman), and some were not so helpful.

Like Revelation (no “s” at the end) it is very difficult to interpret with the underlying principle making a huge difference. Various commentaries view the Song as a drama (literal interpretation), an allegory, and a collection of love poems seemingly w/out structure.

Tyndale is updating their OT commentary series. This includes presentation or format (context, comment & meaning). I’m not sure I want to see some of those volumes replaced. In the case of the Song of Songs, they just released a new version by Iain Duguid. Based on his previous work, I knew I should get this and read it before teaching the Song in SS this year.

I have one complaint: it is way too short. Of course it is a Tyndale commentary so it will leave you wanting more. Thankfully an expositional commentary by Dr. Duguid will be forthcoming.

I don’t usually enjoy introductions for commentaries. I enjoyed this one, and found it quite helpful. Duguid approaches the song as wisdom literature. This is slightly more complex than it sounds. Throughout the book he notes words and concepts the Song has in common with Proverbs. Part of its message is a contrast with Solomon’s view of love and marriage (hundreds of wives and concubines). He often notes particular poems, but seems to also see them telling a story instead of disconnected poems. In the meaning section he ties it in to our relationship with Christ. He doesn’t do this in allegorical fashion, but by remembering that earthly marriage is intended to point us to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5). Allegory skips over the earthly marriage part.

There were some very helpful comparisons and contrasts. He reveals some of the parallels within the book: thematic and structural.

In the introduction he notes that at times one’s interpretation says more about you than the text. This is in reference to the sexual imagery. Some commentators see nearly everything as a sexual euphemism. Duguid is a bit more reserved. While not denying sexual imagery, he doesn’t find it everywhere like, say, Longman.

This was a very helpful little volume. It is able to be read quickly due to its size. It is hard to find that balance between detailed enough to be very helpful and so detailed it becomes laborious to use. While at times I wished for more, I was not so inundated with data and ideas that I felt lost. I shall now have to go back over my curriculum and update it, possibly changing some of my conclusions. No study of The Song of Songs can be complete without this great little volume. In this case updating the TOTC was a wise choice.

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There has been lots of sex talk by pastors lately, and a lot of push back from other pastors and lay people. This whole thing has produced lots of heat, and not nearly as much light. Some of it simply reeks of sensationalism, like Ed Young’s bed on a roof stunt. Some of it has been pastors trying to pastor their people.

The push back is that pastors shouldn’t talk about sex, or write about sex. And I’ve seen quite a few people say Mark Driscoll is obsessed with sex. I don’t remember any push back to Lauren Winners’ book about sex, Real Sex. Any any number of Christian therapists’ books about sex. Perhaps it is that people just expect pastors to say “don’t do it”. They are uncomfortable with pastors, who speak to mixed audiences, talking about it positively beyond “it’s okay if you are married”. But there is no reason that pastors need to surrender this topic to counselors. But, let’s slow down.

In my advanced years, I’m less reactionary. So I’ve been pondering this. I want to explore a few things. First, why pastors need to talk about sex. Second, how should pastors talk about sex. And lastly, how pastors should help their people think thru sex. I’m anticipating three posts on this. I’m sure to offend someone. That is not my intention. I’m going to try to bring my experience as a pastor who does some counseling (yes, I have an MA in Counseling) to bear on this.

Why Pastors Need to Talk About Sex

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When I first saw Flight Plan: Your Mission to Become a Man by Lee Burns and Braxton Brady, I wondered if I should read and review it.  Since we don’t technically have a youth group, I thought it might be a helpful resource for our teenage boys.  So I requested a copy.

The book was developed as a curriculum at a private boys school to assist them in those difficult years.  It covers most of the topics I could think need to be covered to prepare them for manhood.  As is the case in all books of this type, the purpose is not to be exhaustive as it covers each topic.  There remains plenty to be said, but it is intended to get the conversation and process started.  Each chapter has discussion questions to further this process.

There are plenty of pictures of planes, which my friend who is a pilot found fascinating.  There are also a number of very interesting stories about pilots and flights used to illustrate the message of the book.  I am sure CavSon will also find these stories and pictures very interesting as well (when the time arrives).

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In the fourth section of A Proverbs-Driven Life author Anthony Selvaggio addresses friends.  Proverbs has much to say about friends and their influence upon our lives (and us upon them as well).

Most of us have had a sketchy track record with friends.  I know I did before I became a Christian.  I lived in a normal middle-class suburban neighborhood, but found that many of my friends were a less than positive influence me.  We found opportunities to sin, sometimes just for the hell of it (to paraphrase Augustine).

Yet I remember disconnecting myself from one important relationship over the issue of drugs.  I tried pot, but decided that was not how I wanted to live (praise God for common grace).  It cost me a friendship.  But now I can see the toll drugs took on his life.  I made a wise choice.  But I made so many poor ones too- choices that would plague me for years.

Yes, we need God to give us wisdom about friends.  Selvaggio summarizes it as “a Proverbs-driven life knows that friendship is intended to be redemptive.”  He and I share a love for The Lord of the Rings, and one of the main themes in that book is friendship.  He focuses on Sam and Frodo, but you also see the ties between Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli as well as Merry and Pippen.

Friends, as Selvaggio notes, are hard to gain and even harder to keep.

“We so readily sin against one another, take offense where none was intended, or permit neglect to creep in.  Left to ourselves, it can be difficult to know what words and deeds will strengthen and maintain our most vital relationships.”

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The second main section of Anthony Selvaggio’s book A Proverbs Driven Life addresses work- work as divine calling & working with integrity.  Both of these are important subjects in our day and culture.

Let’s not think simply about “job” because we work when we clean up the house, do laundry, mow the law or take on volunteer ministry tasks.  For instance, I am called (voca) to work as pastor, husband, father, homeowner, son, brother, pet owner … I think you get the point.  Each takes time and requires integrity.

Selvaggio does this by defining work as “any set of tasks to be performed in the pursuit of a particular goal.”  That is a good, broad definition.  We tend toward extremes in regard to work:  Why?! and Why stop?!  Some of us are lazy and need to get off our duffs in front of the TV and get to work.  Others of us make an idol of work, resist rest and need to slow down for the sake of our spiritual lives and family life.

When I look at how others may have ‘prospered’, I am tempted to think I’m lazy.  But CavWife reminds me that I put more time into parenting than they do.  I’m working, just at different things- things that don’t necessarily generate income.  But work is never to be measured by income alone, but by what God has called us to do.  Yet, most of us need to hear the warnings about sluggards.

“What an ironic testimony to the extent of our fallen nature!  Here the book of Proverbs calls for humanity, the very pinnacle of God’s creation, to be instructed by a mindless, soulless, tiny insect.  Man, who was placed on earth to have dominion over all creation, must sit at the feet of the ant to learn a rudimentary lesson on work.”

Oh that more of us would listen.  Notice the homes, families, businesses and churches that are in a state of serious neglect and disrepair.  But this is a gospel issue, as Selvaggio notes:

“Refusal to embrace a diligent work ethic is sinful because it violates a primary call God has given to us as Christians- to echo our Creator who works.  The sin of the sluggard (like all sin) has consequences – poverty and want.”

The gospel, when preached for sanctification, points to Christ’s work in us to apply His work for us such that we become like Him.  He works (and rests).  As we are conformed to His likeness, we will work and rest properly.

Selvaggio does not fool around.  He goes for the throat- calling out our excuses, lack of initiative, pride and idolatry.  He preaches the law to drive us to Christ in this area.

“Both (the sluggard and workaholic) are interested in avoiding responsibilities that don’t interest them.  The workaholic simply avoids things by a different technique- crowding them out of his calendar.  And where the sluggard is sure to suffer economic loss, the workaholic suffers losses that are often more relational than monetary, but nevertheless real, lasting, and painful.”

He points to Jacob to illustrate the change that can happen in a person.  Jacob was a man who lacked integrity.  After God descended and wrestled him into submission, Jacob becomes a man of integrity (though not perfectly).  We can work, by God’s grace, with integrity.  This is about working hard and working honestly.

“Greed can tempt us to seek an unfair advantage whenver we buy and sell.  Laziness or malice toward employers can tempt us to cut corners in the quality and quantity of our work. … Much of our sin is simply an effort to gain by sinful means the satisfaction or security that God has promised to give us freely.  (Make no mistake- all our grasping, selfish, Jacob-like sins are among those for which Christ died, and his forgiveness is freely available.)”

Anthony Selvaggio once again does us a service by not just summarizing the teaching regarding work from Proverbs, but by putting them within the context of the gospel.  I recommend this to all who work- which is nearly 100% of us.

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