Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - charity is an humble spirit

 Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture VII, part one

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Seven through Roman Numeral One. We will complete the rest of Lecture Seven in next week's reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

The Spirit of Charity is an Humble Spirit
"Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly." 1 Cor. 13:4,5

In our last reading we learned that Christian love prevents us from envying others what they have. In this lecture we will learn how charity "keeps us from glorying in what we possess ourselves" as well as how it keeps us from behavior which provokes envy in others. It is a very unloving thing, indeed, to behave in such a way as to make others more uncomfortable or unhappy with their circumstances than they might otherwise be.
"Christian love, or charity, tends to make all behave suitably to their condition, whatever it may be; if below others, not to envy them, and if above others, not to be proud or puffed up with the prosperity."
The thesis of our lesson is this: That the spirit of charity, or Christian love, is an humble spirit.

I. I would show what humility is...

Edwards begins by defining humility: "Humility may be defined to be a habit of mind and heart corresponding to our comparative unworthiness and vileness before God, or a sense of our own comparative meanness in his sight, with the disposition to a behavior answerable thereto." In other words, humility is the habit of thinking of oneself rightly in relation/comparison to God and man, and the behavior which stems from such an attitude.

1. A sense of our own comparative meanness...
Edwards' definition for meanness would have been along these lines: "The state of being inferior in quality, character, or value; commonness."
"...humility is an excellence proper to all created intelligent beings, for they are all infinitely little and mean before God, and most of them are in some way mean and low in comparison with some of their fellow creatures."
Humility is appropriate to all created beings, because all created beings are infinitely smaller and inferior to God, who upholds them...for 'In him we live and move and have our being' and "...he is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Acts 17:28, Col. 1:17)

Keeping that in mind, take a moment, if you will, to reflect on the words of Bill Bryson in his secular work, A Short History of Nearly Everything:
"...for you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had to somehow assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.

Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle. Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level. For all their devoted attention, your atoms don't actually care about you - indeed, don't even know that you are there. They don't even know that they are there. They are mindless particles, after all, and not even themselves alive. (It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, on atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.) Yet somehow, for the period of your existence they will answer to a single overarching impulse: to keep you you.

The bad news is that atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting - fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours. And when that modest milestone flashes past, or at some other point thereabouts, for reasons unknown your atoms will shut down, silently disassemble, and go off to be other things. And that's it for you..."
Humbling thoughts indeed! Now Edwards will break it down a bit further.
  • First, Humility doth primarily and chiefly consist in a sense of our meanness as compared with God, or a sense of the infinite distance there is between God and ourselves. We are little, despicable creatures, even worms of the dust, and we should feel that we are as nothing, and less than nothing, in comparison with the Majesty of heaven and earth.....we are not truly humble unless we have a sense of our nothingness as compared with God." (emphasis mine) In other words, we who are made from nothing, are as nothing compared with the One who made us from nothing. Humility remembers that.
  • Secondly, A sense of our own meanness as compared with many of our fellow-creatures....He that has a right sense and estimate of himself in comparison with God, will be likely to have his eyes open to see himself aright in all respects. Even before the fall of mankind, such an attitude was appropriate, but it is even more so now that "his natural meanness has become much greater since the fall, for the moral ruin of his nature has greatly impaired his natural faculties..." And so, we are now both "naturally" and "morally" mean in relation to God: "His natural meanness is his littleness as a creature; and his moral meanness is his vileness and filthiness as a sinner." We see this attitude illustrated in Scripture as Isaiah said upon seeing God exclaimed,"Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Is. 6:5 And as Job confessed, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:5-6
Now Edwards takes us a step further. As he says,
" is not only necessary they we should know God, and have a sense of his greatness, without which we cannot know ourselves, but we must have right sense also of his excellence and loveliness. The devils and damned spirits see a great deal of God's greatness, of his wisdom, omnipotence, etc....However unwilling they are to know it, God makes them know how much he is above them now, and they shall know and feel it still more, at and after the judgment. But they have no humility, nor will they ever have, because, though they see and feel God's greatness, yet they see and feel nothing of his loveliness. And without this there can be no true humility, for that cannot exist unless the creature feels his distance from God, not only with respect to his greatness, but also his loveliness....From such a sense of their comparative meanness, persons are made sensible how unworthy they are of God's mercy or gracious notice."
Devils and rebels may recognize that God is omnipotent, and yet hate Him. That is not humility, as the very fact that they rise up to judge Him and declare Him unworthy of their love, and their moral value as superior to His. It is the vision and recognition of His loveliness which leads us to acknowledge our comparative vileness. If we despise God's goodness and moral beauty, we will not regard ourselves properly in relation to Him.  It is not enough to recognize only that He is great. We must recognize that He is lovely. To acknowledge that He is great, but not lovely, is to declare ourselves more lovely than Him, and our values more valuable than Him. Only, a clear vision of the loveliness of His moral perfection will cause us to see how great a thing His mercy to us filthy sinners really is.

2. A disposition to a corresponding behavior and conduct - without this there is no true humility.

The example Edwards gives us of the "humility" of devils should give us pause. It is possible to "obey" God, but with no true humility. We learn from the story of Job that the devil, though he would like to utterly destroy Job, is not permitted to. We can also see this in the authority Christ and His apostles exhibited over demons in the New Testament narratives. Satan and his minions obey; they do not cross the boundaries God prescribes for them. This, however, does not mean that God is pleased with the obedience of the devil. What Satan does within the limits God has constrained him to, is not done from love for God, nor does it please God. It is done only in acknowledgment of God's superior power, not willing subjection in loving recognition of God's moral worthiness to be obeyed.
"...not knowing and feeling his loveliness and excellence, their wills and dispositions by no means comply with and conform to what is becoming their meanness; and so they have no humility, but are full of pride."
A sight of God's greatness may lead us to "surrender" to His will out of fear, but only a view of His loveliness will bring our hearts into loving repentance. And so it is that the Scripture tells us that "...God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance..." (Rom. 2:4) And from it we also learn that even the terrors of God's wrath are not enough to inspire humility or loving obedience. (See Rev. 9:20; 16:9; 16:11.) Although it might bring about outward compliance, fear of wrath and pain do not inspire loving obedience - kindness and mercy do - something to keep in mind in our own relationships.

Regarding this behavior and conduct, Edwards first lists four dispositions of a humble heart toward God:
  • The humble heart readily and even happily recognizes its littleness and vileness in relation to God, and its unworthiness of God's mercy.
  • The humble person relies solely upon God and not its own strength or abilities. The proud man, on the other hand, "has a high opinion of his own wisdom, or strength, or righteousness, is self-confident."
  • The humble soul really does give all glory to God
  • The humble heart readily and without murmuring submits to God's commands and providence.

Secondly, he describes the effect of true humility in our behavior toward our fellow-man by addressing seven kinds of behavior it prevents:
  • Humility tends "to prevent an aspiring and ambitious behavior amongst men." The humble man is content with the position in life in which God has placed him and "is not greedy of honor, and does not affect to appear uppermost and exalted above his neighbors."
  • "Humility tends to prevent and ostentatious behavior. If the truly humble man has any advantage or benefit of any kind, either temporal or spiritual, above his neighbors, he will not affect to make a show of is a small thing with him what men may think of him...he is content that the great Being who sees in secret beholds and will approve it." This is not to be confused, however, with the arrogant and insensitive attitude so prevalent today which speaks this way: "I've got to be myself, and I don't give a damn what anyone thinks, or who gets hurt."  What Edwards is talking about it a person who really lives day to day seeking no one's approval but God's. For the humble soul, it is God's opinion which sways decisions and motivates actions. A humble person may in fact speak very boldly at times, risking great risk of harm and insult from others, finding courage in the knowledge that God would have him do just that.
  • "Humility tends also to prevent an arrogant and assuming behavior...His behavior does not carry with it the idea that he is the best amongst those about him, and that he is the one to whom the chief regard should be shewn, and whose judgment is the most to be sought and followed....he gives all due deference to the judgment and inclinations of others...he has not the air, either in his speech or behavior, of one that esteems himself one of the best saints in the whole company..."
  • "Humility tends also to prevent a scornful behavior. Treating others with scorn and contempt is one of the worst and most offensive manifestations of pride toward them....They are not found treating with scorn and contempt what others say, or speaking of what they do with ridicule and sneering reflections, or sitting and relating what others may have spoken or done, only to make sport of it."  We live in scornful times.  Contempt is so embedded in the dialogue of American media outlets that we can easily become oblivious to it, absorbing such attitudes and regurgitating them.  It's not without cause that so much of the world views Americans as arrogant. In the name of Christian love, we who name the name of Christ must guard ourselves against such attitudes and displays of arrogance and superiority over others, both in public and in the privacy of our homes and hearts.
  • "Humility tends also to prevent a willful and stubborn behavior....They will not be stiff and inflexible, and insist that everything must go according to what they happen first to propose, and manifest a disposition by no means to be easy, but to make all the difficulty they can, and to make others uneasy as well as themselves, and to prevent anything being done with any quietness, if it be not according to their own mind and will...always bent on carrying their own points, and, if this cannot be done, then bent on opposing and annoying others....A truly humble man is inflexible in nothing but in the cause of his Lord and Master, inflexible, because God and conscience require it; but in things of lesser moment, and which do not involve his principles as a follower of Christ, and in things that only concern his own private interests, he is apt to yield to others. And if he sees that others are stubborn and unreasonable in their willfulness, he does not allow that to provoke him to be stubborn and willful in his opposition to them..." (emphasis mine)
  • "Humility prevents leveling behavior. Some persons are always ready to level those above them down to themselves, while they are never willing to level those below them up to their own position." A humble man "will be willing that all should rise just so far as their diligence and worth of character entitle them to; and on the other hand, he will be willing that his superiors should be known and acknowledged in their place, and have rendered to them all the honors that are their due...."
  • "Humility also prevent a self-justifying behavior." A humble person "will be willing to acknowledge his fault, and take the shame of it to himself. He will not be hard to be brought to a sense of his fault, or to testify that sense by a suitable acknowledgment of his error....It is pride that makes men so exceedingly backward to confess their fault when they have fallen into one.... But humility in the behavior makes men prompt to their duty in this respect, and if it prevails as it should, will lead them to do it with alacrity and even delight."
I found it helpful to review this final list by looking at it in light of love.  How is it that love brings about humble behavior? When we love someone, we do not want to drag them down, dominate them, make them feel unhappy about their lives - or unhappy at all. We do not want someone we love to feel stupid, low, ugly, demeaned, accused, guilty, poor, unwelcome, unloved, unrewarded, or unwanted. We want the ones we love to have all the joy and peace we can contribute to them. Thus love teaches us to behave humbly.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Meanderings

Freely you have received. Freely give.
An amazing life.


What makes a sociopath tick?
"Scientists have long known what psychopaths lack: emotions like empathy, fear and remorse. Now, a new study focuses on what they may have, a brain abnormality that may lead them to seek rewards like money, sex or fame at any cost."
Read more of the story here.  And please don't skip the interview.  It's fascinating stuff.


Just for the delight of it...
Here's something you will almost never see here: a TV commercial.  But this one is so whimsical and lovely I just couldn't let it pass without sharing it.


A Religious War as Old as Christianity Itself

"Who do you say that I am?" asked Jesus of his disciples. And the rest of humankind has been struggling to answer that question ever since."

More thoughts on the "Jesus Wars" here


Think you're great at multi-tasking? Think again.
(and while you're at it, put down that cell phone!)

"A new study from University of Utah psychologists found a small group of people with an extraordinary ability to multitask: Unlike 97.5 percent of those studied, they can safely drive while chatting on a cell phone."  Read more here.


One for the LOST fans

"Religion took center stage in the March 23 episode of the ABC television series Lost, “Ab Aeterno.” And that shouldn’t be a surprise, Butler University Associate Professor of Religion James McGrath said, because religion has always been part of the show’s journey."  Read the rest here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Two Seconds Is All I've Got

I've been overrun by life, and the minute and a half I've had for writing has been devoted to my joint venture with Paul.  I invite you to join us over at Iron Sharpens Iron (aka the Dueling Dodos). Perhaps that will entertain while I catch up around here....not sure when that will be....Give me a few more days.

By the way, Paul has just put up his first pod-cast.  You can read his introduction to his first recording, and listen here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Science Saturday - big and small

A Moment for Awe!

"Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?" Job 38:31


Created to Dance

"In perhaps the cutest study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, psychologist Marcel Zentner and Tuomas Eerola found that babies will spontaneously boogie when they hear music and other rhythmic sounds."

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:...a time to weep, and a time to laugh;a time to mourn, and a time to dance...(Ecc. 3:1,4)

"Praise him with tambourine and dance;  praise him with strings and pipe!" Ps. 150:4


A Remarkable Science Fair Story
Intel Science Talent Search

Erika DeBenedictis, age 18, won top honors (and $100,000) for her work on an original optimizing search algorithm for spacecraft that discovers energy minimizing routes in specified regions of space.

Listen to an interview with this exceptional student here.

A Glimpse of Eternal Power

"... his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made..." Rom. 1:19-21

While you're at it, check out a great interview on the future of 3D technology here. It's way more interesting than I thought it would be...really.


Quantum laws may govern more than we thought.

"Scientists in California have done something astounding. They've shown that physical laws thought only to rule in the mysterious realm of atoms and electrons can also apply to stuff you can actually see."

Read the rest of the story, and listen to the interview here. Read a very simple overview of quantum physics here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - charity envieth not, part two

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture VI, part two

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Application" portion of Lecture Six. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Seven in next week's reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

Charity is inconsistent with an envious spirit.

"Charity envieth not." 1 Cor. 13:4

From last week's reading we learned that envy is the unhappiness or discomfort we feel upon recognizing that someone is superior to us, or better than us in any way. An envious person dislikes more than anything to see someone excel above them, either monetarily, spiritually, aesthetically, or in any measure of success.  In fact, because of a deep desire for superiority, the envious person will not even feel comfortable when a person is quite their equal.

In this week's brief reading Edwards encourages us:   

1. examine ourselves, whether we are in any degree under the influence of an envious spirit.
He asks us to think of those we've known in times past, and present, who we've seen prosper in ways beyond us.   To bring it current, consider those who've grown wealthier than you, with lovelier homes than your own, or newer cars.  Think of those with more status, more respect in the community, more friends, greater beauty, education, intelligence, or talent, those with more or fewer children. What about those who've augmented their appearance with a better sense of style, or even with expensive surgeries? How about those whose husbands are gentler, more understanding, or more spiritual, those who have more peaceful marriages. Maybe it's someone's good health, energy, recreation, free time, or travel you're inclined to envy.  These are all things, and there are many more, in which we may find ourselves second-best, or worse.

Edwards would have us ask ourselves:
"Has there not been a great deal of uneasiness, dissatisfaction, and uncomfortable feeling, and of a desire to see those who were prosperous brought down? Have we not been glad to hear of anything to their disadvantage? and, in forebodings we have expressed about them, have we not in reality spoken out of our wishes? and, in word or deed, have we not been ready to do that which might in some respect lessen their prosperity or honor? Have we ever cherished a bitter or unkind spirit toward another because of his prosperity, or been ready on account of it to look upon him with an evil eye*, or to oppose him in public affairs, or, from an envious spirit, to act with the party that might be against him? As we look we not see that in these, and many other...things, we have often exercise and allowed an envious spirit? and many times have not our hearts burned with it toward others?"
  • Are there any against whom you carry grudges?
  • Are there those whose prosperity makes you uncomfortable?
  • Do you ever find yourself speaking unkindly or contemptuously about someone as a result?
  • Does seeing such a one experience some misfortune bring a secret smile to your heart?

Now, for those among us who do prosper, or find ourselves above others, in one way or another (and we all do find that we excel above some people in some ways):
  • Do you ever pride yourself in being better than another in this way or that? Perhaps you are younger, smarter, thinner, better educated, more mature, more skilled in a craft or art, more popular, have a more appealing personality...?
  • Do you begin to feel uncomfortable if that person begins to become your equal in that area? Do you secretly hope they will fail in their progress?

A "yes" answer to any of these questions is an indication of envy at work in your heart. May the Lord grant that we recognize it for what it is, and run to the cross for grace and mercy to overcome it.

Edwards, understanding how adept we can be at deceiving ourselves, goes on to list the excuses we sometimes use to justify our envy:
  • "...they are not worthy of the honor and prosperity the have."
"It is generally the case that, when others are promoted to honor, or in any respect come to remarkable prosperity, some are always ready to improve the occasion to tell of their faults, and set forth their unworthiness, and rake up all possible evil about them. Whereas, it is not so much that they have faults, for these would often be unnoticed if they were in obscurity, as it is that they are prospered; and those who talk about their faults are envious of their prosperity, and therefore speak against them."
We ought to ask ourselves, is it their faults that grieve us so, or is it really their prosperity.
"If it be their faults, then you would be grieve on account of them, whether the persons were prospered or not; and if truly grieved with their faults, then you would be very slow to speak of them except to themselves, and thin in the true spirit of Christian compassion and friendship."
  •  "But you may say, they make a bad use of their prosperity and honor; that they are lifted up by it, and cannot bear, or do not know how to manage it; that they are insufferable, and scornful, and there is no doing anything with them in their prosperity, and it is best they should be brought down; that this will tend to humble them, and that the best thing for their own good is, to bring them down....
To this, Edwards would have us ask ourselves if we honestly "lament the injury their prosperity does to them" - really? Are you really, because of your deep love for them, worried about their souls - really?
"Do your lamentations spring from pity, or from envy?"

2.  " disallow and put away everything approaching to an envious spirit."

I can't improve upon Edwards:

"So contrary is the spirit of envy to a Christian spirit -so evil in itself - and so injurious to others, that it should be disallowed and put away by all, and especially by those who profess to be Christians....The spirit of envy is the very contrary of the spirit of heaven, where all rejoice in the happiness of others; and it is the very spirit of hell itself - which is a most hateful spirit- and one that feeds itself on the ruin of the prosperity and happiness of is the disposition of the devil, and partakes of his likeness, so it is the disposition of hell, and partakes of its misery....It is like a powerful eating cancer, preying on the vitals, offensive and full of corruption.  And it is the most foolish kind of self-injury; for the envious make themselves trouble most needlessly, being uncomfortable only because of others' prosperity, when that prosperity does not injure themselves, or diminish their enjoyments and blessings.  But they are not willing to enjoy what they have, because others are enjoying also. Let then the consideration of the foolishness, the baseness, the infamy of so wicked a spirit, cause us to abhor it, and to shun its excuses, and earnestly to seek the spirit of Christian love, that excellent spirit of divine charity which will lead us always to rejoice in the welfare of others, and which will fill our own hearts with happiness." (emphasis mine)

* "Evil eye is a look that is believed by many cultures to be able to cause injury or bad luck on the person at whom it is directed for reasons of envy or dislike."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My first-ever recipe post!

Yesterday marks two weeks since Paul and I went vegetarian.  Don't worry, I'm not about to try and convert anyone.  It's just what we're doing right now, for a host of reasons I won't go into here.  Anyway, the last thing I expected when making this switch was how exciting it would turn out to be. Really. It's forced me to entirely re-think the way I cook, which has gotten my latent creativity juices flowing again.  I'm a pretty good cook, by all accounts, but before all this I was really getting bored.  I felt like I was sick of everything.  Now I'm inspired.  In the last two weeks I've prepared some of the best meals I've ever had.  I have the internet and some wonderful friends to thank for a lot of great ideas.  I've only begun to scratch the surface.

One of the great things I've noticed about veggie cooking is the ease with which you can make substitutions. Of course I've had a lot of practice with subbing anyway, since Paul is allergic to tomatoes, but, I haven't followed a single veggie recipe to the "T", and haven't had a flop yet.

And all this is the preamble to my post - my first ever recipe post - inspired by my unbridled enthusiasm over tonight's dinner.  If I'd have known in advance I was going to do this, I'd have snapped a photo of the dish before we chowed down.  I had no idea how great it was going to be.  

It all started with my friend Deb Wolf. She heard my Facebook plea for help and responded with an e-mail list of recipe links.  This is the one that inspired me tonight: The Easiest Pasta Dish Ever. I looked it over and thought it sounded wonderful (especially since it called for a lot of spinach, and we have a giant bag I'm trying to use up), but, as usual, I didn't have all the ingredients. So, I changed it up to match what we did have around.  The result was so unusual, and so great that I just had to share it with someone.  Be warned, however, that the measurements listed are not exact.

1 package tortellini
1/2 sliced onion
1 carrot shredded with potato peeler
1 small package fresh baby spinach
1 heaping tbsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese (not the powdered kind)
red wine vinegar or white wine (enough for a splash or two)
salt & pepper

  • Bring a 2 quart pan about half full with water to a boil on the stove.
  • Toss in sliced onions and carrots and allow them to cook as the water is heating. 
  • Once water, onions, and carrots are boiling – add tortellini and cook according to package instructions. 
  • While the pasta cooks, in a small sauce pan over medium heat saute the minced garlic and walnuts in the olive oil, stirring occasionally. 
  • Add a splash or two of the red wine vinegar or white wine
  • Add salt and pepper to taste. (I probably added about a 1/4 tsp. of pepper and several shakes of salt.)
  • Place fresh spinach in the bottom of your colander. 
  • Once pasta is cooked pour the contents of the pan over the spinach and drain off the water through the colander. 
  • After the water is drained place all of the ingredients back in the original cooking pan.
Add the garlic, olive oil, walnut mix, and parmesan cheese. Toss gently to mix ingredients. Place in serving dishes. Tasted great with cheesy sourdough bread!

Science Saturday - good to be back after a few weeks off edition

Okay, call me a geek if you want, I'm used to it. But I just loved this concept building, and the best part has to be the toilet - really! Check this out:


In China, 3000 dinosaur footprints have been found, of all different types and sizes - all facing in the same direction

Taking the Gold: news in the ongoing battle against cancer

 "Taking gold nanoparticles to the cancer cell and hitting them with a laser has been shown to be a promising tool in fighting cancer, but what about cancers that occur in places where a laser light can’t reach?" 
Read the rest and check out the video here.


More Vaccine Talk

The latest in the autism/vaccine discussion. It's time to look for the real cause.
Also, you can listen to an interview here with Paul Offit on "The Costs of Vaccine Denialism".

 Blood Falls

"This five-story, blood-red waterfall pours very slowly out of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica's McMurdo Dry Valleys. When geologists first discovered the frozen waterfall in 1911, they thought the red color came from algae, but its true nature turned out to be much more spectacular."
What is it? Find out here.
Hope in sight for sufferers of one severe food allergy
"Children with egg allergies who consume increasingly higher doses of egg protein — the very nutrient they react to — appear to gradually overcome their allergies, tolerating eggs better over time and with milder symptoms, according to research conducted at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and elsewhere."
Get the rest of the story here.


Great news for us batty folks!

Yes, we're just bats around here, and always glad to find there are people out there concerned for our best interests.  So we absolutely loved this video:

Also, do check out the audio for this interview about the biology, geology and history of Missouri caves. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

In which I give up all my best secrets....except the pork taco recipe!

Friends of mine know, that for the last five years I've supplemented my family's income by cleaning houses part-time. In those years I've gotten quite good at it.  Sometimes my clients think I'm a miracle worker.  I'm not, but I have learned a trick or two.  Since I've gotten quite a few requests for advice of late, I thought I'd share some of my tips here.

Over the years, I've tried product after product, things my clients have provided, and things I've experimented with on my own.  The products I display below are the ones I've come back to again and again, the ones I never want to be without, and the ones I always have on hand in my own home.  Heed my warning: I'm going to give advice shamelessly and un-apologetically.  Take what you can live with, and leave the rest, but I really do swear by the things I'm going to share.

Let me start here: Gloves.  Don't do anything that involves water without them, even if it's just rinsing your dishes.  If you don't like them, get over it. You will get used to them eventually, and when you do, you will thank me.  Wearing gloves takes the "icky" out of cleaning.  No task will be too disgusting.  Also, they will protect your hands from drying, cracking, and spider bites.  NEVER clean in crevices, or behind or under anything without gloves.  Just this week I encountered a black widow in a home, and frequently I find brown recluses.  I have no fear, because I have gloves.  As you would guess, I've tried just about every kind of glove.  But it is still the good old Playtex Living I come back to time and again.  They are the best quality for the price.  Be sure they fit well. If they are too big you will drop things, or get them caught or pinched in things. If they are too small, they will tear prematurely from the tugging it requires to get them on and off. Keep one pair for kitchen use and one for bath.

This next product is nothing short of fantastic.  I use it in place of pumice.  It is drywall sanding screen, available at any home improvement or hardware store.  I think 3M brand is the best quality, but if you cannot find it, the off brand will do.  I usually choose a medium grit, for versatility.  Take a sheet of it and fold in half and again until it is a rectangle that fits comfortably in your gloved hand.  Keep one handy for kitchen use, and another for bath.  I use these to clean the interior of toilets. (Yes, this means putting your gloved hand in the toilet.) They are flexible and so can follow the contours of the bowl, even under the rim. (Do not use these for any part of the toilet that is not porcelain - it WILL scratch.  NEVER use on glass. Take my word for it.  If you are uncertain about a surface, test first in a small inconspicuous area.) These are also preferable to pumice for cleaning ovens, and will make that task easier than you ever imagined was possible.

Next, Formula 409 cleaner.  There's a reason this product has been around as long as I've been alive - it works.  Use it anywhere where grease or soap-scum is a problem. I get the big jug at our local restaurant supply and just keep refilling the spray bottle. I've tried the industrial strength degreasers, but for household use I find 409 to be as reliable as they come, and I've never found it to harm or discolor grout or other kitchen or bath surfaces. (By the way, if you prefer a bathroom specific product, Lysol 3-in-1 is also good.)

Also for the kitchen and bath, there's another oldie but goodie.  Ajax, or Comet cleanser - inexpensive, reliable, and disinfecting. I use these for white porcelain, or other bathtub surfaces where the disinfecting and whitening of bleach is desirable.  I shake it into toilet bowls and white porcelain sinks before scrubbing.  It is also great for white tiles and grout.

(Remember, never mix any product containing bleach with any product containing ammonia.  The mixture creates a fatal vapor cloud.  I actually know a person whose aunt died from mixing these two ingredients in hopes of making a super strong cleaner. I also know a woman who was almost overcome in this manner in the middle of the night while urinating in a toilet bowl which her husband had, unbeknownst to her, decided to pour bleach in to soak overnight. Urine can react with bleach in the same manner as ammonia!)

Ah, and one of my secret special favorites - Endust!  I poo-pooed this product for years, thinking it a silly waste of money.  Then I tried it.  It is perfect for dusting any (non-glass) surface, especially high gloss enamel wood furniture.  It does not build up or leave streaks.  But here's the real reason I love Endust so much: stainless steel. Get rid of all those expensive stainless-steel specific products. Nothing works better on the new, ever-so-popular stainless appliances.  No streak, no greasy feeling, cleans and restores to like new in one easy step.  And for the price, it's the best product out there.

Now, I know some of you will think Pine-Sol is the name in household general purpose cleaners.  I'm not going to argue, but I can't stand the stuff. Though it works pretty well, it tends to leave streaks on floors, and the smell makes me sick, even in the lavender scented variety. Mr. Clean, on the other hand, has a fresh lemony smell, and besides being great for the mop-bucket, can be diluted in a spray bottle and used for all kinds of light cleaning. It is my favorite for the exterior surfaces of toilets.  Because it is cheaper in dilution than 409, I use it for light cleaning of counter tops. 

Barkeepers Friend is one of the world's best products. I use it for stainless steel sinks, and all metals which can tarnish: copper, brass, silver, etc.  It works better, faster, and cheaper than any specialty metal polish I've tried, and with no disgusting smell. (Sorry Tarn-X, but I don't like to use products that cost seven dollars and smell like dead fish.) I even use it on silver jewelry. It's a great rust-remover as well. It can also be used for anything a Comet type cleanser can be used for, but with less abrasiveness, and no bleach properties.

Now, this next product will not likely be available everywhere.  I buy it at a local window glass company, but I'm quite sure you can order it on the internet.  I do think this one is worth the trouble.  Bio-Clean, Water Stain Remover.  Don't waste your money, time, or environment using those harsh acids, or CLR, or Lime Away for water stains. They just don't do the trick on anything that can't be literally soaked in them.  Bio-Clean is a thick liquid which can be applied with a moist scrubbie or a damp cloth, depending upon the surface and severity of the hard-water build up. It is the only product I've found that really works on water-spotted glass shower doors. I've also used it on my car windows when they've gotten spotted. I should warn you, though this product works, it does not work like magic.  Nothing works like magic on water spots.  But Bio-Clean, and some steady, patient rubbing will actually get the job done.  Oh, like Barkeepers Friend, it can also be used on tarnished metals, though it doesn't work quite as quickly.  And it, too, will remove black pot/pan marks from white porcelain sinks.

Okay, here's where I step on some sacred cows.  Use Windex, or another brand name window cleaner.  The cheap replacements require far more product and far more wiping to remove streaks.
Vinegar, or homemade ammonia mixes will work - but only as well as the cheap replacements, and for only a minimal savings. For me, the extra trouble is not worth the few cents' savings.  Also, don't over-wet the surface.  It takes more wiping and wastes product if you do. Paper towels are wasteful and leave lint.  Newspaper - well - it's a mess.  The ink gets all over your hands.  I really don't get the appeal. (And besides, the way the newspaper industry is headed...well, you know.) Use rags. 

Oh, by the way, never use fabric softener with your cleaning rags.  It kills their absorbency and will leave cloudy streaks on your glass and mirrors, which defeats the whole purpose.

Next up, scrubbies.  I like these green and yellow ones for bathrooms and the blue variety for kitchen work. They can be freshened up every few days in the laundry.

Now for the wood, the kind that needs oiling.  I like Liquid Gold.  It also is good for shining up stainless steel sinks after they've been cleaned.  Nuff sed.

Finally this heavy duty recommendation.  T.S.P. can be diluted in a spray bottle for cleaning washable walls.  It is highly recommended prior to re-painting such surfaces.  When mixed with bleach (as indicated on the label) nothing beats it for removing mold and mildew.  This is what I use on my bathroom walls and ceilings, which my hubby so dearly loves to steam up at least twice daily. It also works on soap scum. I keep a spray bottle with this mix handy just for that reason.  This is a heavy-duty product you will find many uses for if you keep it on hand.  I get mine at the restaurant supply store, but it is also available at Lowe's and Home Depot.

I'll end with some miscellaneous tips.
  •  If you happen to have one of those new razzle-dazzle washer/dryer sets that looks like race cars.  Here's just the thing for you - Turtle Wax, or whatever your favorite automotive wax is.  This will protect that beautiful red, blue, or whatever you've chosen surface from scuffs and scratches.  I also know of some folks who use automotive wax to protect their stainless steel sinks.  Mind you, these are the true perfectionists, the ones who wipe their kitchen sink dry after every use.
  • If you have Pergo or the like, buy a product specific for that type of floor.  Other floor cleaners will likely leave streaks, which is really frustrating.  Pledge makes a reasonably priced product for that purpose, as do many other manufacturers.
  • For carpet spots, I like Folex.  The price is right; the bottle is big; and it does what it's supposed to.
  • Vinegar, in my humble opinion, is food. Cook with it. It is entirely overrated as a cleaner. 
  • I've also found that in a pinch a few drops of dish soap in my mob bucket is a perfectly fine cleaner for a kitchen floor.
Well, there you go.  Have a blast.  If you have any questions, or want more specifics, don't be afraid to ask.

Ah, the challenge presented when we resolve to love one another!

HT to John at Cogitavi

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - charity envieth not

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture VI, part one

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Six. We will continue with the "Application" portion in next week's reading. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)
Charity is inconsistent with an envious spirit.
"Charity envieth not." 1 Cor. 13:4

Here we discuss the feelings Christian love will lead us to have regarding the goods, happiness, honor, and comfort of others as compared to our our own. Edward's thesis for today's lesson is this:


 In explaining this we will discuss the nature of envy, how it is that the spirit of a Christian opposes it, and the reason and evidence for this doctrine.

I.  The nature of envy.
"Envy may be defined to be a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own.  The thing that the envious person is opposed to, and dislikes, it the comparative superiority of the state of honor, or prosperity or happiness, that another may enjoy, over that which he possesses."
In other words, envy is the unhappiness or discomfort we feel upon recognizing that someone is superior to us, or better than us in any way. An envious person dislikes more than anything to see someone excel above them, either monetarily, spiritually, aesthetically, or in any measure of success.
"It is a disposition natural in men, that they love to be uppermost; and this disposition is directly crossed, when they see others above them. And it is from this spirit that men dislike and are opposed to the prosperity of others, because they think it makes those who possess it superior, in some respect to themselves."
And beyond this, men are also strongly inclined to feel the same way toward those who are their equals in honor or happiness:
"...they cannot bear a rival much, if any, better than a superior, for they love to be singular and alone in their eminence and advancement. Such a spirit is called envy in the Scriptures....From such a spirit, persons are not only unwilling that others should be above them or equal to them, but that they should be near them; for the desire to be distinguished in prosperity and honor is the more gratified just in proportion as they are elevated, and others are below them, so that their comparative eminence may be marked and visible to all.""
In other words, we want our superiority to be obvious to all.  We aren't content even to be on the same level as others. We want to stand out as the best. When we do not, and someone else does, we will be prone to envy.

There are two ways in which we will find envy manifesting itself:
  • " an uneasiness and dissatisfaction with the prosperity of others."  Rather than rejoicing in the good and honor another receives, the envious heart is troubled by it.
"From such a spirit, the envious person stands ready to rejoice at anything that happens to diminish the honor and comfort of others.  He is glad to see them brought down...the sight even of others' prosperity often sets the envious on talking against them and speaking evil of them, even when perhaps they do not know them."
  •  " a dislike of their persons for it."
"They entertain and cherish an evil spirit toward them, for no other reason but that they are prospered.  They are embittered against them in spirit, only because they are eminent in name or fortune...the envious generally resent the prosperity of others, and their coming to honor, as if in it they were guilty of some injury to themselves."  (emphasis mine)
 II. ...a Christian spirit is the opposite of such a spirit of envy.

1.  A Christian spirit disallows of the exercise and expressions of such a spirit.

If we are born of and led by the Spirit of God, we will not be able to tolerate the stirrings of envy in our soul.  When they rise up from our flesh our spirits detest them and vehemently oppose them. We all experience the sprouting of the seeds of envy, but a child of God will not be able to rest in their presence.  I'll quote at length here, because Edwards' words are just so good.
"He that is influenced in the course of his life and actions by Christian principles, though he may have envy as well as other corrupt feelings in his heart, yet abhors its spirit, as unbecoming in himself as a Christian, and contrary to the nature and will and spirit of God.  He sees it to be a most odious and hateful spirit, and he sees its odiousness not only in others, but also and equally in himself....he will be alarmed at it, and will fight against it, and will not allow its exercise for a moment. He will not suffer it to break forth and show itself in words or actions; and he will be grieved at whatever he sees of its movements in his heart, and will crucify within him the hateful disposition, and do all in his power to go contrary to it in his outward actions." (emphasis mine)
2.  A Christian spirit not only opposes the exercise and outward expressions of an envious spirit, but it tends to mortify its principle [source] and disposition in the heart.
"A Christian spirit disposes us to feel content with our own condition, and with the estate which God has given us among men, and to a quietness and satisfaction of spirit with regard to the allotments and distributions of stations and possessions which God, in his wise and kind providence, has made to ourselves and others. Whether our rank be high as that of the angels, or as low as that of the beggar at the rich man's gate..., we shall equally be satisfied with it, as the post in which God hath placed us, and shall equally respect ourselves, if we are endeavoring faithfully to serve him in it."
When we trust in the wisdom and sovereignty of God, we are inclined to be content with the way He deals with us, and to glorify Him in every way we can, whatever our current circumstances. Such contentment is a strong deterrent to envy.

3A Christian spirit...disposes us to rejoice in the prosperity of others.

When you truly love someone, their happiness is your happiness.  Every mother, and anyone who has ever been in love knows this full well.  A heart full of joy over the happiness of another has no room for envy.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." Rom. 12:15

III. show that it is so, and why it is so, that a Christian spirit is thus the opposite of a spirit of envy.

1.  The Scriptures warn Christians against envy frequently and in the strongest of terms:

"Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy."  Romans 13:13

"...for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" 1 Cor. 3:3
"For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder." 2 Cor. 12:20

"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal. 5: 19-21

"For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." Titus 3:3

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." James 3:16-16

"So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander." 1 Peter 2:1

The Scripture is clear.  Envy is "earthly, unspiritual, demonic".  A Christian heart will not be dominated and characterized by envy.  If you find that this is who you are, a personality characterized by envy, do not despair.  Christ died to save the envious.  Run to Him. And if you are a Christian fighting the ongoing battle against envy, run to Him.  

"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:8-10

2.  The great doctrines and the history of the Gospel are opposed to a spirit of envy.

In the Gospel we learn:
  • " far God was from begrudging us the most exceeding honor and blessedness, and how he has withheld nothing as too much to be done for us, or as too great or good to be given us."
  • " far Christ was from begrudging us anything that he could do for or give us. He did not begrudge us a life spent in labor and suffering, or his own precious blood which he shed for us on the cross."
  • " Christ came to deliver us from the power of Satan's envy toward us; for the devil, with miserable baseness, envied mankind the happiness that they at first had, and could not bear to see them in their happy state in Eden, and therefore exerted himself to the utmost for their ruin, which he accomplished."
  • " Christ came into the world to destroy the works of the devil, and deliver us from that misery into which his envy hath brought us, and to purify our natures from every trace of the same spirit, that we may be fitted for heaven."
 3.  Christian love will lead us to honor these teachings and yield our lives to them.  It does this in two ways, by it's own tendency, "...for love does not grudge, but rejoices at the good of those who are loved." and "by inclining us to humility":
"It is pride that is the great root and source of envy.  It is because of the pride of men's hearts that they have such a burning desire to be distinguished, and to be superior to all others in honor and prosperity, and which makes them so uneasy and dissatisfied in seeing others above them.  But a spirit of love tends to mortify pride, and to work humility in the heart.  Love to God tends to this, as it implies a sense of God's infinite excellence, nothingness and unworthiness.  And love to men tends to a humble behavior among men, as it disposes us to acknowledge the excellencies of others, and that the  honors bestowed on them are their due, and to esteem them better than ourselves, and thus more deserving of distinction than we are."
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2: 1-8

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just a Quick Note

My latest Charity and Its Fruits post should be up later this evening, but I wanted to take a moment to announce a new venture.  Paul and I have just launched a brand new blog, Iron Sharpens Iron, a collaborative effort, sort of a He Said, She Said on whatever topic strikes our fancy from one week to the next.  It's a labor of love, as learning and discussing is what we love to do best.  We thought is might be fun to include others in our process.  I hope you'll enjoy it as much as we have putting it together.

Friday, March 5, 2010

non posse non peccare - someone else's thoughts on the bondage of the human will

non posse non peccare 
"not able not to sin" - St. Augustine

Martin Luther, reformer of the church and former Augustinian monk put it this way:
"[A] man without the Spirit of God does not do evil against his will, under pressure, as though he were taken by the scruff of the neck and dragged into it, like a thief...being dragged off against his will to punishment; but he does it spontaneously and voluntarily.  And this willingness of volition is something which he cannot in his own strength eliminate, restrain or alter.  He goes on willing and desiring to do evil; and if external pressure forces him to act otherwise, nevertheless his will within remains averse to so doing and chafes under such constraint and opposition."
Loraine Boettner describes the predicament of fallen man this way:
"How can he repent of his sin when he loves it?
How can he come to God when he hates Him?"
The blindness of the fallen heart does not allow it to see the glory of God that is in the face of Jesus Christ, and so it cannot treasure Him.  Fallen man will never choose Christ, because fallen man cannot see Him as worthy of it.  And so it requires a creative act of God - a giving of sight to the spiritually blind - for a man to receive the Gospel of salvation in Christ as the glorious treasure that it is:
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Cor. 4:3-6
"The true dimensions of a soul are seen in its delights. Not what we dutifully will but what we passionately want reveals our excellence or evil." - John Piper

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

You are the light of the world

 "No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts in on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.  For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.  Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he things he has will be taken away." Luke 8:16-18

As Christians we are given to the world as salt and light.  Our lives and our faith are to be lived in the open.  As the saying goes, we should be open books - accessible and with nothing to hide.  When the world looks at our lives the only offense they should see is the offense of the Gospel. The only crime of which we could be convicted should be that of preaching Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, assuming that ever becomes a crime.  And even that "crime" is one of which we should not be ashamed, but be willing to commit openly.

We must beware of our tendency to create sub-cultures which hide us from the world and put our light under a bushel. We must abandon any practice, besides the affirmation and preaching of the gospel, which puts us in violation of the laws of our government. (See Rom. 13.) All our behavior, public and private, should be above reproach and such that if exposed openly the cause of Christ would not be brought into disrepute.  We must be willing to forgo even our rights, if it becomes necessary, for the sake of the Gospel. (See 1 Cor. 9) We must never let our politics, or our lifestyle preferences become a barrier between the light of our Gospel and the  world so steeped in darkness.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  Matthew 5:13-16

Monday, March 1, 2010

God's purpose in Satan's attacks

"The purpose of Satan's attacks is to dislodge us from our foundation , which is Jesus Christ.  He will do that if he can.  God's purpose is to settle us on Jesus, and God has arranged things so that the attacks of Satan, rather than unsettling us, actually serve to bond us to that foundation even more firmly than before." - J. M. Boice

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope..." Romans 5:3-4