Intellectual Sloth

Our society may still (generally) value physical labor, but it is increasingly leaving behind intellectual labor. Leigh Bortins, in her book The Core, compares us to the early Americans by stating that “overall, the same percentage of Americans read Common Sense in the late 1770s that watch the Super Bowl today” (p. 29)!

I am convinced that intellectual laziness is not a matter of intelligence but of work. The human mind is capable of far more than we assume, and so is the “common” man. Remember that Jesus chose common men, ordinary laborers, to be the foundation of His church. Peter and John were mere fishermen, but under the power of the Holy Spirit, the religious leaders of their day “perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Of course, both men authored books of Scripture that reveal this boldness to us as well.

We must remember, therefore, that the Bible is not for scholars alone but for every man and woman. The riches of God’s Word are not vaulted to all but the theologian. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (that is, common Greek), and Christianity has a long, historical precedent of attracting and educating the lower classes of society, both valuing and teaching them.

Teaching all people is crucial to Christianity because we believe that God has revealed Himself to all people through the knowledge of Himself. A relationship with God necessarily demands a knowledge of God. I can have no relationship with someone I do not know. Neither can I divorce loving God from knowing God, and knowing God requires the intellect.

Presidential Debates

The intellectual sloth of our day is made quite evident in politics. Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, uses the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas to accentuate how far cultural literacy has declined. The structure of these debates was for Candidate #1 to deliver an hour long speech, Candidate #2 would then provide an hour and a half rebuttal, and finally Candidate #1 would close with his half-hour counter-rebuttal.

Consider two quotations Postman cites from Lincoln and Douglas in these debates.

At one point during his speech, Douglas was met with a particularly lengthy applause to which he responded:

My friends, silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms (p. 45).

How scandalous that a politician would actively appeal to the judgment, understanding, and consciences of his listeners, instead of merely inciting their passions and enthusiasms.

And here is a sampling of how Lincoln spoke during these debates:

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground (p. 46).

This kind of language is rarely employed for writing today and certainly not for speaking! Debates can no longer be held in this manner because we are too intellectually lazy to care. We need politics to be mingled with entertainment in order to hold our attention for any significant length of time.

Once more, the problem is NOT intelligence itself. Lincoln and Douglas were speaking to the general public, not society’s intellectuals. The problem is with our expectations and efforts, not our intellectual capacity.

As Christians, if we require that the proclamation of God’s very Word be no longer than half an hour, how can we bear to focus on political discourse for an hour and a half!

Knowing the Word

New English translations of the Bible continue to appear, promising to be translated into more readable language. The problem, however, with our comprehension of the Bible is not with the translations themselves but with how the biblical authors wrote. The letters of the New Testament, for example, are composed of densely-constructed logical arguments, but we wrestle to connect each dot of reasoning because our minds are now used to news-segment-sized nuggets of thought that do not exceed 140 characters. We cannot understand the Bible because we do not give ourselves to learning how to understand it.

Paul, for example, was immensely intelligent, but his letters were not written to the scholastic elite. He wrote to all believers, educated or uneducated, that they might know the truth of the gospel by reading for themselves or having his letters read to them. The God-breathed truth is more than accessible so long as we are willing to work at understanding it.

To be fair, a significant portion of this problem arrives from the expectations of education not being high enough. When people are expected to struggle and/or fail, they tend to do just that. Education, like most of life, both rises and falls on the basis of expectations. Bortins states as much:

Parents have forgotten that a century ago, the average nine-year-old worked hard enough to earn his or her own way in life. I wish every child had a life so blessed with ease that he thought loading the dishes into a dishwasher was hard work, but that is not reality. Parents need to stop believing excuses from poor Johnny that learning is too hard, or that he can’t pay attention, or that practicing penmanship is boring, or that math is repetitive. Tough. Life is repetitive. We are crippling our children’s brains instead of providing the extensive mental exercise they need for normal development. Mental exercise with a core of quality material is comparable to physical exercise with a healthy diet.

 

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Sloth: the overlooked sin

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:6-11 ESV)

Here Solomon speaks to the Sluggard, the slothful person who refuses to work. He calls his attention to the ant, demanding that he learn from her. Without an overseer looking over her shoulder, the ant gathers food and works diligently. The Sluggard, on the other hand, is pictured as sleeping the day away. He creates excuses in verse 10, saying that it is only a little sleep, only a little rest. But poverty will befall him like a robber.

The application of these verses is near infinite, and I find the sin of sloth to be deceptively prevalent in both my life and the society at large. I will, therefore, do my best to make sense of my scattered thoughts regarding this sin.

Let’s address two questions: 1) What is sloth? and 2) Why is it a big deal?

First, the sin of sloth is the refusal to do God-glorifying work. Adam was given work in Eden (Genesis 1:28), so work is not a byproduct of sin. Work is difficult and does not always bear fruit because of sin, but God designed us for the activity of work. By denying work, the Sluggard is, thus, denying his role as an image-bearer of God. We should never denigrate the sinfulness of sloth by assuming that it is merely laziness. No, it is, at heart, a rejection of God’s designed order for creation.

Second, because sloth rejects the godliness of work, slothfulness is problem of worship. We worship God whenever we joyfully embrace what He has ordained for and commanded of us. We withhold worship whenever we disobey God’s commands and designs. Paul displays the importance of this in his warning and exhortation to the Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 | Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

The Thessalonians were wrestling against the sin of sloth (or idleness). Many in the church were refusing to work (likely waiting for Christ’s return). Paul, therefore, gives them the command if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. He even encourages them to keep away from those who refuse to obey this command (thereby issuing church discipline).

Sloth is, therefore, not a sin that can be overlooked or taken lightly. But its sinfulness is subtle rather than overt, which makes it easily ignored while we focus on “more important” sins. Yet sin is sin, and all sin is a rebellion against God. My intent over the three following posts is to provide clarity on three areas where sloth is prevalent in the U.S. culture. These forms of sloth will be as follows: intellectual sloth, spiritual sloth, and busy sloth.

A Dialogue

God: I gave you my very Word. Why did you not meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2)?

Man: I definitely would have, but you see, I was far too busy.

God: Yet you most days watched multiple hours of television. You gave 9 years of your life to it.

Man: Perhaps, but that was my leisure time. I was so weary and exhausted from life. I think I deserved some rest.

God: You sought rest in vain. Did I not tell you where to find true rest (Matthew 11:28)?

Do You Love the Church?

The church is terribly important in the Bible.

After all, it is called the body and bride of Christ. For most men, their wife and their own body come pretty high up on their list of priorities, and I believe the Bible uses those metaphors for that very reason.

Today, even many otherwise theologically sound believers want to neglect the importance of the church. Of course, they would rarely ever say this exactly. But often when they speak, it becomes clear that they nearly always speak about the universal church instead of the local church.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of the universal church is important. I love reading about church history, specifically because I know that in Christ I am reading about my brothers and sisters. The universal church, that transcends time and space, is a glorious truth.

The local church is no less glorious, but it often doesn’t feel like it.

It’s invigorating to read about Ambrose of Milan defiantly refusing to sway his conscience at the Roman Emperor’s command. But it’s less invigorating to sit through a business meeting talking about what the new paint color of nursery’s walls should be.

Our emotions are stirred when we read stories of miraculous conversions from missionaries we support. But they are significantly less stirred when we listen to an older member tell us the same story about their grandchild for the ninth time.

Passion is ignited when reading Calvin’s Institutes or Spurgeon’s sermons. But it’s difficult to find such passion when we learn that a beloved family is leaving to join another church because they dislike the new leader’s style of worship.

The local church looks less glorious than the universal church, but the universal church is composed of regular, sinful people, just like the local church. We see the universal church as more exciting because the stories that travel across time and oceans are typically the worthwhile ones. And if we hear stories of Christians in sin, we can simply dismiss those them as not being a part of the real church. That’s far easier than looking contrition in the face and walking with a brother or sister through the bumpy road of repentance and reconciliation.

Although we get much benefit from the writings and lives of Christianity’s theologians, almost all of them devoted themselves primarily to serving their church. They were pastors, deacons, and members of local churches before they were ever giants to the church universal.

The local church is not perfect, but she is the bride and body of Christ.

Bear with her.

Cherish her.

Lover her.


This quick post was inspired by this video of Paul Washer.

You really should watch it.

Like right now.

Is God Disciplining Me Through Suffering?

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, nor be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12 ESV

God loves us so much that He disciplines us.

That is not a fun statement.

It is, however, no accident that discipline and disciple come from the same root word for training or teaching. You cannot be a disciple of Christ without facing the discipline of the LORD because discipline is a means of teaching and training us to follow Jesus.

In fact, Proverbs teaches that disciplining his children is an expression of parental love, while the lack of discipline is equated with hatred.

Consider two proverbs.

Proverbs 13:24,  “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline.”

Do we think of discipline in those terms? If a father does not discipline his children, he hates them. He does not love his children, and he is setting them up for failure later on in life.

Or Proverbs 19:18: “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.”

That’s saying that without discipline, children are heading for death (maybe not always in this life, but certainly spiritual death).

Discipline is a good thing. Hebrews 12:7-11 also quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 and then offers this commentary:

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Anyone who has ever exercised knows the truth presented in these verses. In the moment, the discipline of working out is painful, not pleasant. But in the long run, it produces the fruit of greater endurance for our bodies. Likewise, God’s discipline is a means of training us and growing us in the peace, righteousness, and holiness of God.

Let me make this clear, the discipline of the LORD is NOT punishment. The ultimate goal of discipline is not to punish sin but to correct the heart. Discipline takes us off the path leading to destruction and back onto the path leading to eternal life. It corrects us out of love, calling us toward repentance. Punishment is simply about satisfying justice, but discipline is about teaching, instructing, and correcting. Punishment is an act of righteousness, but discipline is an act of love, mercy, and grace.

In the Bible, there are (at least) two big forms of God’s discipline, and they both center on suffering.

First, God sometimes disciplines us by allowing us to face the consequences of our sin. Remember that we believe that Jesus’ death absorbed all the punishment for our sins; therefore, there is not one ounce of God’s wrath left for us. We have nothing but love, grace, and favor from God our Father. But at times, God allows us to feel the temporal consequences of our sin as a means of discipline. These consequences are meant to show us the sinfulness of our sin and remind us that sin leads to death.

We find God using this form of discipline on Israel in the Old Testament. Coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites were meant to enter the land of Canaan and conquer it by God’s strength. Unfortunately, only two of the twelve spies sent into the land encouraged the Israelites to trust the LORD to give them the land, and the people eagerly sided with the other ten. God, therefore, caused the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that present generation died off. God did not permit them to enter into the land of promise because they failed to trust Him. This wilderness wandering was a disciplinary act of the LORD as a consequence of their sin. In fact, at the end of the forty years, God explicitly tells them this in Deuteronomy 8:2-5:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did you fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not sell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.

The LORD allowed them to feel the consequence of their sin as discipline, not punishment. The entire point of the wilderness was to teach them trust in Him. The humility of forcing the Israelites to rely upon God for their daily provision was an act of love from the LORD.

The second form of discipline is through general sufferings, which are the natural sufferings that come with living in a broken, fallen world. In other words, these are sufferings that are not the consequences of particular sins but instead are the result of living in a world scarred by sin. Paul speaks of these sufferings in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been give to us.

Why does God allow us to go through suffering?

Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hoping in God means trusting and relying upon Him. Suffering forces us to hope only in God, to trust Him. Suffering conforms us to the image of Christ. Suffering brings into closer communion with the LORD.

All suffering, whether it is the consequence of our sin or simply the product of life, is the discipline of the LORD. For the Christian, this is good news because it allows us to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that nothing happens to us as a punishment from God. Jesus has already absorbed every drop of punishment for our sins, satisfying the justice of the Father. Therefore, every trial and suffering that we face, even when caused by our own sin, God uses to discipline us, teaching us how to trust Him more and more.

How has God disciplined you through suffering? 

How has your suffering caused you to trust Him more?

Is Skipping Church Sin?

Although I once gave little thought to church attendance, I now lean toward viewing serial church skipping as a sin against the congregation.

If that sounds a little harsh, here are my reasons why.

Consider for a moment secular organizations.

No one is ever considered a part of a basketball team without having to commit to practice times.

You will promptly get kicked out of a theater production if you only attend every other practice.

Employees are fired from organizations when they fail to come to their job.

Of course, the church is not merely an organization, social club, or team, but that’s also precisely the point.

Too often, we readily accept the necessary commit for worldly matters of lesser importance, while shirking commitment to the things of God, namely being His church.

As a member of Christ’s body, your fellow members expect your commitment to the church; in fact, they need it.

WHY WE MEET TOGETHER

Attending church is not simply for your benefit; it is also so that others can benefit from you. Hebrews 10:24-25 says it like this:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Meeting together grants us the opportunity to love and encourage others, while also being loved and encouraged by them. We cannot complete our walk with Christ without this encouragement. Hebrews 3:12-14 emphasizes the importance of encouraging one another (particularly to continuous repentance):

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Notice that the author of Hebrews purposely connects encouraging one another to finishing our lives in faith. The solution for an evil, unbelieving heart is the exhortation  and encouragement of one another in Christ. We need our brothers and sisters to help expose for us the deceitfulness of sin.

Therefore, a Christian without a community is an unbiblical concept. Repeatedly God’s Word reminds us that we need each other in order to finish our race.

Because of this, neglecting to meet together as Jesus’ body is a sin against our brothers and sisters because we rob them of our encouragement and exhortations, as well as our gifts, talents, and abilities.

Of course, everything ultimately hinges upon the heart. Certainly, physical attendance is not required in the case of those who lack the ability to leave their home, and the church should strive to meet with them regularly where they are. Vacations, visits to family, and other such things are also a normal aspect of life.

We cannot be legalists about how frequent attendance ought to be, but we must also refuse to compromise on what the Bible clearly commands. Both extremes are equally damaging to the church.

EVALUATING THE HEART

Since the heart is what truly matters, take time to prayerfully answer these questions, considering and evaluating how you view gathering together as Christ’s church.

How many times did you miss church over the past three months? What were your reasons for missing those Sundays?

Sometimes we simply do not take the time to consider how often we might be missing church. Reflecting upon our number of absences may help reveal any unhealthy patterns.

Do you regularly attend church? What is regular attendance for you? Would your fellow members agree with your definition?

Do you delight in meeting together with your brothers and sisters, or is going to church more of an obligation?

Here is the BIG question to ask because this gets to the root of the matter. We can attend church every week, but still fail to biblically meet together. If church is not a time of revitalization and encouragement, then we likely have an incorrect view of the church.

How would attending church during vacation make you feel? Why?

Like the previous question, this one hits the heart of the issue. Reluctance to attend church on vacation probably indicates that we view church as life-draining, not life-giving.

What would you consider valid reasons for missing church? Why?

Everyone has a line in the sand on this issue. Where is yours? Is hospitalization the only thing that keeps you away? Is catching up on laundry a sufficient reason for not meeting together? What about sporting events? Extra-curricular activities of our children? Exhaustion?

CONCLUSION

My heart with this post is not stamp SIN on everyone’s head; instead, I want encourage deep self-evaluation (and if necessary, repentance) on this topic.

As a pastor, I am almost never absent on Sunday mornings, but the battle between delight and obligation is always raging. It is far too easy to view the worship and sermon as “work” rather than being soul-feeding fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Viewing church as a restful activity is often difficult, but it is restful. Jesus commands us to come to Him for true rest (Matthew 10:28), and we know that Jesus is found in the presence of His people (Matthew 18:20).

Gathered together, Jesus ministers to us through our church family.

We desperately need each other.

Do you believe that?

2 Tips for Reading More Books

Reading, like exercise, is something that many people do sporadically, a small population is obsessed with doing it, and almost everyone grudgingly admits to needing to do more often.

With search engines, online encyclopedias, and every kind of website imaginable, information is constantly at our fingertips. But with all of these tools, I still believe that books are one of the best forms for acquiring new knowledge.

But wait, you say, YouTube videos or internet articles can communicate the same knowledge in a more succinct fashion, right?

Well, yes and no.

You see, there is a cost-benefit ratio for using the internet, and one of the internet’s great benefits is also one of its great costs. The ease of accessibility enables us to gather information faster than ever before, but that same accessibility also allows us to shift to a new piece of information just as quick. The internet’s information can rapidly expand our knowledge, but it often does so to the detriment of our ability to focus.

And when it comes to concentration, the book has few rivals. It takes immense focus for a writer to coherently compose a comprehensible collection of words (you’re welcome for the alliteration, by the way). And likewise, it takes the reader a degree of focus to unravel the message that the author pieced together using words.

If you do not typically read books, you probably know the intimidation factor all too well, as even small books can sometimes feel like an impossible undertaking.

If you fall into this category, or perhaps you like reading books but want to read more, here are two quick thoughts to help you dive in.

1. TURN OFF THE TV

To be fair, television isn’t the only reading-killing culprit. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other such websites and applications are now just as prevalent as TV.

Many Americans devote large amounts of their free time to these forms of entertainment, and while there is nothing innately wrong with them, they are far easier to consume than even the most simply written books. Like the internet, visual media requires less focus to comprehend than written media; therefore, our attention will almost always tend toward the former.

If you truly want to incorporate more books into your life, turn off the television first.

If you use the TV for white noise, play music instead or learn to embrace silence.

Video will almost always hold our attention more than written words, so when you pick a book up, make sure the screen is turned off.

And for the sake of brevity, I will refrain from discussing on social media… perhaps another post at another time. 

2. START SMALL

Runners obviously do not start out with the ability to run marathons. When many begin their training, they can only run in short sprints before stopping to catch their breath. But over time, their bodies learn to adapt, and they are able to run distances that they once thought impossible.

For many of us, reading books proves to be as difficult as running a marathon. Fortunately, the brain, like any other muscle, can be trained to focus on long form reading with enough time and discipline.

Practically, this means if you can’t remember the last book you finished, Augustine’s City of God is probably not the best place to start. Begin with something in a more modern style and with fewer pages. Then work your way up to more complex works.

This also applies to the amount of time being given to reading.

At first, you may find reading for an entire hour to be boring and undoable.

That’s fine.

Start by reading for fifteen minutes. Once you enjoy focusing on a book for that time, up it to thirty and keep going.


So there you have it.

If you want to read more books, cut the visual distractions and begin with doable goals.

Remember that you will almost never simply find the time to read; instead, you must make time to read.

But as with most difficult tasks, it is worth the effort.