Transition time: #3. Transitioning to…

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My first go at teaching in Khmer, with a favourite subject of mine Biblical Theology.

I’m about to combine two realms. Training and experience as a minister (spanning 10 years) together with learning Khmer (almost 2 years) to teaching the Bible in Khmer. The past two years, not only have I put the first of these on hold (somewhat), but I transitioned to a realm of complete newness and sucking (learning Khmer). Now I combine my poor Khmer together with teaching the Bible (a realm I feel more confident in, though hopefully never too confident in). This brings excitement (bringing in what I have put on hold) as well as fear (doing it in a new way). But it also brings excitement to the teaching as I do it in a new way and learn new things (teaching in a different context). While I’ve taught the Bible before, I don’t have any formal teaching qualifications. What I have is experience in teaching, but in different situations (small groups, larger groups), but not regular classroom teaching experience. So not only is the Khmer new, but teaching with assessments and that sort of thing is also new. COMING SOON- new blog series on first time teaching.

A further way to look at my transition is in terms of visibility. As a student (Masters or language learning) you are either on your own or in a different position from the teacher. Coming into a teaching role puts you more in the spotlight, particularly in a South East Asian context. Now I’ve had this visibility before as a minister. The difference this time is the context and the high view that teachers are given in Cambodian society. I’ll move from less structured independent language learning to part of a team at the Bible school; part of a facility with its rhythms and community life that I’ll join. In terms of thoughts about how to teach, in terms of vulnerable mission I aim to give away power by being honest about mistakes and showing myself to be a learner even as I’m teaching. So that even though I transition from learning to teaching, I don’t really transition out of learning.

Series wrap up: Fav Provs 28

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I’ve found this series helpful for me. Spending time thinking through a number of proverbs in some detail has helped reinforce my reading of the book as a whole. The result is hopefully that they may more ‘ready on [my] lips’ than before (Provs 22:18). But more than that, I hope they’re shaping my actions as well, that I may not only be reading and learning the path of wisdom, but walking in it as well.

I look forward to another chapter of my Fav Provs to come at some stage in the future (maybe later this year).

Next week I hope to start a series on settling into Cambodia. It should complement the facebook posts of our time so far, but go into more depth with some reflection.

 

Fav Provs 28: Eye’s open!

Proverbs 28:27

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing,

but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

We convince ourselves that the above proverb can’t be true. ‘We need to look after me first’, we say. We make this argument assuming that resources are finite.  But God’s Word throws this logic back in our face. Those who lack nothing are not those who look after ‘number 1’ first. Those who actually lack nothing are those who are generous to others. Want to be in want of nothing, then, the answer is give.

I’m assuming that this proverb speaks more than just about our money. It seems it could be applied to being generous with our possessions, time, energy (emotional energy included) or even speaking about a generosity of heart. And I’m assuming that the poor are not those who are only financially poor, but are poor in other ways or even those who are under us or in our care.

For me this proverb, again, relates to my high expectations as well as my material wealth. The cure for me is to give, to be generous with my family and friends and those around me. I need to keep my eyes open to them.

The irony is that those who end up poor are those who are probably materially rich, but their poverty is in curses received. Those who may be materially less well off are the ones then who actually ‘lack nothing’ (assuming there situation is as a result of generosity).

So keep your eyes open (to the poor) and you won’t get hit (with curses).1

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NB. I was watching a TED Talk the other day on giving and taking. Even secular research agrees with the Bible’s stance on generosity.

 

 


  1. By curses, I don’t see this as some sort of witchcraft, but the active judgment of God in our lives that is often imperceptible to us. 

Fav Provs 28: Look within! Really??

Proverbs 28:26

Those who trust in themselves are fools,

but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.

Although it’s hard to admit, there is actually a right distrust of ourselves. We want the opposite to be true. We want to be trustworthy in ourselves. We want it to be true, and, led astray in this wish, we’re bolstered by the messages around us. Our culture says, ‘Trust yourself’, ‘believe in yourself.’ Our culture says, ‘Look within,’ to find truth.

In reality, however, wisdom isn’t found within, but comes from without. The first line of the proverbs puts wisdom-found-within myth to rest. It poses another paradigm. Wisdom is external to us, not internal. The proverb flips ‘proverbial wisdom’ and says that ‘we need to be in wisdom’. That is, us-in-wisdom rather than wisdom-in-us. The result is that the way we receive wisdom is not by looking within, but by being ‘in’ it ourselves. As the proverb says, we ‘walk in wisdom’. In this sense wisdom is not internal (not in us) but we need to become internal to wisdom.

Wisdom can still become internal, but that doesn’t happen till we are internal to wisdom (walking in wisdom). Even then, wisdom still will remain external. We will always be dependent on God and others for wisdom, for walking in wisdom. The outcome of this way of wisdom is that the wise person knows they remain dependent on God and others for wisdom, even while seeming to possess an ‘internal’ wisdom themselves.

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Fav Provs 28: Blessings as side affects.

Proverbs 28:20

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A faithful person will be richly blessed,

but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

Two surprises arise from this proverb. The first is that blessing comes not from seeking blessing (as the one eager to get rich). Blessing comes to the one who is faithful. In this sense blessings are indirect. The problem, then, is not riches per se, but the eagerness to get rich. We can enjoy blessing,1 but eagerness for riches pushes us past proper conduct into punishment. I think the proverb is underlining that the one who is eager to get rich pushes past others, pushes others down or forgets about others. They end up hurting others in the pursuit of riches. In contrast, the one who is faithful (I take faithful as thankful the blessings God has given them) already as “the other” in mind, since thankfulness is the implicit recognition of a gift from someone else. The take home is that blessings are side affects and shouldn’t be the goal.

The second surprise is that those eager to get rich don’t just end up poor, as you’d expect. Instead they’re punished.

On a slight tangent/rant…

I wonder if this proverb also speaks to the faithfulness/fruitfulness debate.2 The usual answer to this dilemma, made by those who are aiming at fruitfulness, is that it doesn’t need to be one or the other, but both. However, those on the faithfulness camp would argue that faithfulness is more important that fruitfulness.

This proverb might say something to both, affirming the priority of faithfulness, but also the importance of fruitfulness. It could do this by affirming that its fruitfulness through faithfulness.

In the end, I can’t help but wondering whether both sides (me included) should heed the warning of Proverbs 14:12 – “there is a way that appears right, but in the end it leads to death.” To me, I see this as a caution about siding with one particular approach as “the right” way.


  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if the use of blessing and riches is intentional. In this proverb, riches becomes an adjective of blessing, a description or one part of it. You could say riches-as-blessing is a narrow view, or just one part of blessing. 
  2. The faithfulness/fruitfulness is the debate over which approach is better – to seek to be faithful (stay true) or to seek to be fruitful (spread and grow). 

Fav Provs 28: Def Not Winnie the Pooh!

Proverbs 28:15

Like a roaring lion or a charging bear

is a wicked ruler over a helpless people.

 

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Scary isn’t it. A wicked ruler is like a charging bear. One of things about proverbs is that while this proverb is directed at rulers, its general enough to be applied much more broadly. You don’t have to be a ruler to be able to gain wisdom from this proverb. One easy application is as a parent or as a boss or leader of some sort.

The mention of ‘helpless’ ones turns me straight to my kids; not that they’ll be helpless forever. But in these early years, my anger has the same effect that this charging bear would. Now I don’t see my self as a wicked ruler. Yet, because of sin, I inhabit some of the traits of a wicked ruler. Thus, while parts to my anger that are probably right, not all of it is. There’s always some frustration and impatience mixed in as well – hence wicked ruler-esque.

This proverb has similar themes to Proverbs 28:3. In a previous post I majored on more subtle forms of wicked leadership. In this post, I have in mind a more obvious kind. The kind of ruling (hear parenting or some other form of ruling i.e., being the boss) that instils a more localised fear. This type of ruling instils fear not from a wearing down from high expectations year after year, but from a sudden and often unexpected outburst. Just like a charging bear is often unexpected and localised. This proverb gives us a glimpse into the effect of our own actions, particularly that of anger, for me. It should help us realise our sin and to make amends before God and before those who we charge at. I want to be able to say, ‘Bye-bye beary’.

 

 

Fav Provs 28: From dreaming to reaping

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Proverbs 28:191

Those who work their land will have abundant food,

but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.

This has been one of my favourites for a number of years now. I like it because it points me back to doing the important regular things. Land work takes daily care, again and again, and the pay off is often delayed. Its this delay that leads me to chase the fantasy of the short cut or the golden bullet. Often, partly because of my high expectations, I end up in long searches or spending too much time chasing things that aren’t going to happen. This proverb reminds me to do the basics, that of working the land that is before me instead of as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it ‘chasing the wind.’ In a similar vein to my high expectations, when we’re chasing fantasies we’re not dealing with reality. Working the ground before us is the reality in all its messiness–ordering the disorderly.

Often the working of our land means doing the things we should–the responsibilities that have been placed before us; our vocation. They are often less glamorous. But like discipline, working the land means reaping the benefits in due time: abundant food. Food here is as the symbol of receiving the benefit of our labour. We may not receive food for working the land, it might be proficiency or results of a less material nature. So what do you want to be filled with? Abundant food or poverty.

 

 


  1. I just realised today that a similar form of the proverb appears in chapter 12, verse 11. 

Fav Provs 28: Wearing our heart on our knees?

Proverbs 28:14

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,

but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Many times in the Bible, people are described as hardening their hearts. In one way this is  a vivid image that is easy to grasp. A hard heart is no longer soft, no longer soft to those who call to it-either the Lord’s call or the call of those in need. What does a hard heart look like in our life? This proverb fills out this picture slightly more.

To harden your heart, according to this proverb, is to stop trembling before God. In other words, the right response to God from our heart includes trembling. The opposite is also true, a lack of trembling leads to a hard heart.

We often think of a soft heart in terms of compassion and caring. But this proverbs adds another description of how our hearts need to be. Part of a soft heart includes an aspect of trembling, of fear, of being in the presence of greatness, or being in the presence of goodness (when we are not).1 The obvious application is that trembling before God keeps our hearts soft.

A previous post linked head and heart. But from this post and the last post we should also link heart and knees. On our knees we tremble before God as a medicine against a hard heart. But also, on our knees we confess and find mercy (Prov 28:13). Instead of wearing our heart on our sleeves, maybe we should wear our heart on our knees.

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  1. As an aside, 1 John speaks of the love that drives out all fear. How do we reconcile a love that drives out all fear with an appropriate trembling as part of a soft heart? 

Fav Provs 28: Exposing our dark side

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Proverbs 28:13

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,

but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

This is not a proverb about letting our our inner-Vader.

Our impulse in life is the opposite of this proverb. We’re often (and I say often as in constantly) tempted to think that by concealing our faults and wrongs, we’ll prosper. Underlying this is the assumption that if we reveal we’ll need to pay the price of our wrongs. In other words, we think confess pay, conceal prosper.

But the reality is opposite. As this proverb in God’s Word shows us it’s not confess-pay, conceal-prosper, but confess-prosper, conceal-pay. Prosperity, in the form of mercy, follows confession.

A few quick thoughts that follow:

  1. The assumption of this proverb is that everyone sins. None is exempt.
  2. Notice its not just confess, but confess and renounce. We’re not to just say words, but to renounce (give up on, turn away from our wrongs). There are such things as cheap confessions. Confession when it is true involves renouncing – it’s not just saying the words, but meaning it in our heart.
  3. Prosperity comes in the form of mercy. Mercy is not just to be let off the hook, given a second chance. Mercy is given a much higher value than we might ordinarily give it. Mercy as we see in this proverb is a form of God’s blessing, its the way he does good to those who turn to him.

 

 

 

Fav Provs 28: Head or heart?

Proverbs 28:5

Evildoers do not understand what is right,

but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.

Which came first, the head or the heart? Or which has more say, head or heart? You might ‘think’ or ‘feel’ yourself to go with your head or heart more. The reality is that none of us use our head or heart alone. We use both. There are no pure facts. What we know is based on what we love. In other words, our understanding is linked to what we love, what we seek. What happens in life is that what we love will determine what we understand. It’s not enough to just know the right thing/way on its own – the bare facts as you might say. Understanding relates to what we love, what we seek.

If understanding comes from what we love, then the path to understanding is an indirect pathway. It’s not that we seek understanding and find it. Instead, we seek God and get, or get given, understanding. Understanding comes as a result or as a gift as we seek the God who does the know the right fully.

The implication that I take away from this proverb is that my understanding is dependent on God’s Word for direction. But I don’t go to God’s Word looking for understanding, on its own. I need to go to God’s Word in search of him and in that seeking him, I’ll receive understanding from him.1

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  1. I do want to address the elephant in the room. The Proverb could be taken as meaning only Christians get knowledge and that everyone else doesn’t. I don’t take it that way. Firstly, Christians knowledge will be faulty in this present age, because of sin. No-one will understand the ‘good’ fully until Jesus returns. Secondly, there is understanding for those who don’t seek God or for those who seek a different God. But it too is always provisional. What’s the difference then if both Christians and non-Christians can’t know fully? I see it as, God’s Word provides the foundation for us to know fully. It provides the standard that I check my own understanding against. God’s Word constantly reforms my knowing as I seek God.