From the outside in?

The pattern we typically set for people who wish to be more like Christ is this:

Start from the inside out.

It’s not unreasonable. Jesus says roughly that to the Pharisees:

Matthew 23:25-26 ESV “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

And I think the advice in generally sound. But, sometimes people’s desire to be like Jesus is evidence that the Holy Spirit is already working on the inside and they need something to do to actualize the potential God is putting there.

First, a passage from Proverbs:

Proverbs 24:30-31 ESV I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, (31) and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.

What the passage is getting at is that the sluggard won’t even care for his own property. And the problem with the sluggard is a spiritual problem. But it would seem that taking care of the outside, the literal outside of his house (his field), might help his inside. And Proverbs does mention something like that:

Proverbs 24:27 ESV Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

The meaning is very practical, but it may have a spiritual application as well.

If so, for some Christians, especially young men and women, maybe the first steps in discipleship might really be things like:

  1. Clean your apartment.
  2. Clean out your car.
  3. Change your oil.
  4. Get out of debt.
  5. Get to work/class on time.
  6. Groom yourself.

One somebody turns their life into something resembling order, it might be easier to help them overcome something like despair, arrogance, porn, or anxiety.

Wisdom Wedneday: Wisdom for Leadership from the Wisdom of Solomon

A lot of people want to be in leadership roles just like a lot of people want to be a body builder.

But the problem is that very few people want to put in the work necessary to be a good leader, nor the work necessary to be a big bodybuilder.

To be a good leader one needs to:

  1. Have a picture for how things can be better.

  2. Be good at following (treat others as you wish to be treated)

  3. Have wisdom for accomplishing the necessary tasks.

The author of the Wisdom of Solomon caught on to the fact that many people want to be leaders but do not want to put any of the work in that would make them fit for the task. And indeed, leaders, because they’re supposed to know these things are more accoutnable for these failures. And not only so, but Christian leaders are supposed to have plans that lead to the good as prescribed by God and discovered by reason.

Wis 6:1-6 (Brenton) Hear therefore, O ye kings, and understand; learn, ye that be judges of the ends of the earth. (2) Give ear, ye that rule the people, and glory in the multitude of nations. (3) For power is given you of the Lord, and sovereignty from the Highest, who shall try your works, and search out your counsels. (4) Because, being ministers of his kingdom, ye have not judged aright, nor kept the law, nor walked after the counsel of God; (5) Horribly and speedily shall he come upon you: for a sharp judgment shall be to them that be in high places. (6) For mercy will soon pardon the meanest: but mighty men shall be mightily tormented.

Later in the chapter, the author observes that those who want to be wise must set themselves to the task to honoring (treating as valuable) wisdom so that they might actually prolong their leadership.

Wis 6:21 (Brenton) If your delight be then in thrones and sceptres, O ye kings of the people, honour wisdom, that ye may reign for evermore.

But how are leaders to find wisdom? What does it mean for a leader to honor wisdom?

Wis 6:12-14 (Brenton) Wisdom is glorious, and never fadeth away: yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of such as seek her. (13) She preventeth them that desire her, in making herself first known unto them. (14) Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travail: for he shall find her sitting at his doors.

The idea here is this, for those who love wisdom, it’s easy to find. But it’s hard to find wisdom at first. But, if you do the difficult task of waking up early to study, meditate, pray, and plan then wisdom comes easily and as a matter of course.

I would say that any leader (teacher, parent, pastor, manager) should wake up early enough to grow in wisdom each day before setting about to work.

Is Job by an “unreliable narrator”?

In church today we sang the song that repeats, “You give and take away.” And I suddently recalled that in the book of Job, right after Job says that the LORD gives and takes, the narrator says “Job did not…charge God with wrong.” Here is the passage:

Job 1:20-22 ESV Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (22) In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

And yet, when the LORD confronts Job toward the end of the book, the LORD says that Job did not sin, but he does accuse Job of charging him with wrong:

Job 40:1-2 ESV And the LORD said to Job: (2) “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Later in the story the LORD says that Job spoke rightly concerning him (Job 42:7).

The question, of course, is where? Where did Job do so? If the book of Job is in the genre of wisdom literature and it’s point is to, through story, make for philosophical discussion and to obliquely make a particular philosophical argument then it makes sense for the book to be like a riddle. Indeed, part of gaining wisdom is learning to understand the riddles of the wise (Proverbs 1:1-7). And the book of Job, it seems, fits into that category.

Anyway, I think that the book is trying to get the reader to decide between voices.

Proverbs 24:27

Pro 24:27 Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

I suppose you could shorten this Proverb to “put first things first.”

Of course, to do that we’ve got to think things through.

In the case of buying property in the ancient world, you’d want to make sure it could produce wealth before building a house on it.

Similarly, one might want to find a good source or several sources of income before buying a house.

In the case of spiritual application, it’s important to make certain things duties such as private prayer before public prayer, reconciliation with brothers and sisters before worship (see Matthew 5:21-26), honoring mother and father with finances before giving to church building projects, and so-on.

Wisdom Wednesday: Proverbs 22:13

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.
(Proverbs 22:13)

Passages of scripture like this pose one of the greatest challenges for risk averse people. Many of us think we are wise for avoiding risk. And indeed, Proverbs itself says that the wise hides himself when there is obvious danger (22:3)*. This piece of good advice, as with all wise practices, can become a shield from personal responsibility (see Matthew 6 for Jesus’ discussion of this fact with regards to prayer, fasting, and even alms).

Often in life, we who are risk averse take the slothful route and claim that the time isn’t right for action because things aren’t perfect. My karate instructor said that the most common excuse he received from people skipping karate after a vacation was “I need to get back into shape first.” Some people won’t go to church because “I need to get right with the Lord first.” If you’re super risk averse then you’re probably waiting for circumstances to be exactly right, but you’ll actually be in the process of waiting when good circumstance pass you by. Check this actual sloth out:

I suppose he could have died crossing the road, but there is simply no such thing as a “perfect time” for a sloth to cross a road because it’s just gonna take him an hour to do it and during that time a car is gonna get him. No, I don’t know why he’s crossing the road; maybe he’s got a lady friend. Maybe he’s rescuing other sloths from a sloth villian. But the fact remains that the circumstances for good action would have passed him by if he’d waited too long to cross the road.

*The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.
(Proverbs 22:3) This verse is important for people who’ve ever said YOLO.

Wisdom Wednesday: The Master of Destruction and Deep Work

Proverbs 18:9 Even he who is slack in his employment is a brother of a master of destruction. (Author’s Translation)

I can’t tell if I translated the passage above based solely on a desire to be literal or because “master of destruction” simply sounds better than the less literal, “him who destroys (ESV).”

Anyhow, the book of Proverbs, at its heart is about the good life. And central to the good life in the Bible is work. Many people see work as a punishment, but this is not so. Work is the task of humanity from the beginning (take dominion…tend the garden, etc).

Today we are apt to face distractions. These distractions can keep us from fulfillment in terms of skill level, relationship quality, spiritual growth, and employment.

The proverb above reminds me of Cal Newport’s concept, of deep work, which is work “for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction.”

To work in a fashion designed to produce the most efficient and highest quality results leads to the good life.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the proverb at hand. One who is slack (by doing less than required) is cheating those to whom the work is owed. You may as well destroy their property. On the other hand, one who does not do their best, while meeting the expectations of the job should still feel the force of this proverb. Why? Because while not being literally like the one who destroys as in the previous case, such a person is still missing out on their potential for blessedness (Proverbs 3:13), which is the lot of those who destroy rather than create and tend.

So, find a way to do deep work, or be the brother of the master of destruction.

 

Thoughts on being a nerd and being well liked

When I was younger, I was a nerd. I played too many video games, my favorite class was computer programming, I couldn’t figure out social interactions, and felt resentful of people who could make friends well. Now, I’m happy to say that I figured it out from reading the Bible after my conversion. I have friends from a wide variety of walks of life.

I had bought into the Disney myth: just be yourself and the right people will like you for who you are.

There is a piece of truth in this: do the right thing and pursue your own excellence no matter what haters say.

But, there is some serious silliness (heh, get it) in the notion as well. If people do not respond positively to your social interactions then, even though they might be evil and exclusive, you also might actually be uninteresting or unpleasant to be around.

I was rereading the Song of Solomon last week and noticed this line:

Song of Solomon ESV 1:2-3 She: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; (3) your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you.

The woman wants kisses from this guy because his romantic overtures make her dizzy, he smells good, and people talk about him positively. But in all of that, she notices that the young maidens/virgins all love him. In other words, he wasn’t some complete doofus who put his foot in his mouth, screwed up all of his jobs with laziness, and ruined his relationships with unchecked eccentricity or rudeness. He was well liked (Jesus was well liked for most of his like, btw).

Though not the point of the passage, what I observed is how often younger nerds won’t look around and ask, “What do people like about each other?” And the thing is that back then all the other young nerds resented not being accepted, but very few of us hit the gym, studied Proverbs, or engrossed ourselves in planning for our future. We mostly played video games.

If somebody isn’t accepted by others because they’re legitimately doing well for themselves, living righteously and wisely, and he/she gets hated on any way, that’s one thing. If somebody isn’t accepted by others because they don’t take the time to figure out how to make friends, but they still resent everybody, that’s a failure of observation.