Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - love is kind, part two

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture V, 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 Five. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Six 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 suffereth long, and is kind." 1 Cor. 13:4

In last week's reading we learned that "a truly Christian spirit will dispose us freely to do good to others". What this means is that a truly Christian spirit will seek to do good to the souls of others and will look to their temporal well-being as well. It will do kindness to the good and the bad, to friends and enemies, and to the thankful and the unthankful. And it will do all this freely, without compulsion, and with a generous heart.

According to Edwards, this understanding is useful for reproof  and for exhortation. This week's reading expounds on those two uses.

1.  Reproof - "If a truly Christian spirit disposes persons freely to do good to others, then all those that are of a contrary spirit and practice may by it be reproved."

There are several traits we may find in ourselves for which we should accept Edwards' reproof:
  • A malignant and malicious disposes men to do evil to others, and not good
  • A close and selfish spirit...bent wholly on their own interest...unwilling in anything to forgo their own ends for the sake of others. (By "close" here, Edwards means stingy or tight-fisted)
  • A grasping and avaricious spirit...who take every opportunity to get all they possibly can from their neighbors in their dealing with them.
"Such...are the very opposite of a Christian spirit, and are severely reproved by the great law of love, viz. That we do to others as we would have them do to us."

2. Exhortation - to the duty of freely doing good to others
"let us seek, as we have opportunity, to do good to the souls and bodies of others, endeavoring to be a blessing to them for time and eternity. Let us, to this end, be willing to do, or give, or suffer, that we may do good alike to friends and enemies, to the evil and the good, to the thankful and the unthankful. Let our benevolence and beneficence be universal, constant, free, habitual, and according to our opportunities and ability; for this is essential to true piety, and required by the commands of God." (emphasis mine)
To encourage us along in this, Edwards gives us four points to consider:

First, What a great honor it is to be made an instrument of good in the world.

Those who do good in this manner Edwards likens to Abraham, who God honored with these words: "I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing." (Gen 12:2) He likens them again to the sun and moon, which shed their light on the world blessing both good and evil, to the angels who minister selflessly for the good of others, and, finally, to God Himself "the great fountain of all good, who is for ever pouring down his blessings on mankind."

Second, Thus freely to do good to others, is but to do to them as we would have them do to us.

We approve of and commend those who treat us well, "who have a hearty good-will to us, and show us a great deal of kindness, and are ready to help us when we stand in need, and...are free to do, or give, or suffer for us, and to bear our burdens, and feel for us in our calamities, and are warm-hearted and liberal in all this..." When people treat us in this manner, we think it is good and right. Therefore, Edwards concludes "if it is so noble and so much to be commended in others when we are its objects, then we ought to do the same to them, and to all about us. What we thus approve we should exemplify in our own conduct." (emphasis mine)

Third, Let us consider how kind God and Christ have been to us and how much good we have received from them...
"Their kindness in things pertaining to this world has been very great. The divine mercies are new to us every morning, and fresh every evening: they are as ceaseless as our being....He has given us what is of more value than all the kingdoms of the earth. He has given his only begotten and well-beloved Son - the greatest gift he could bestow. And Christ has not only done, but he has suffered, great things, and given himself to die for us; and all freely, and without grudging, or hope of reward....and what great things hath God done for those of us who are converted, and have been brought home to Christ; delivering us from sin, justifying and sanctifying us, making us kings and priest unto God...and all this, when we are not good, but evil and unthankful, and in ourselves deserving only of wrath." (emphasis mine)
Fourth, Let us consider what great rewards are promised to those that freely do good to others.

In Scripture God has promised mercy to the merciful (Ps. 18:25), and blessing to those who give (Acts 20:35). "He that gives bountifully, is more blessed in the bountiful gifts that he parts with than he that receives the bounty. What is bestowed in doing good to others is not lost, as if it were thrown into the ocean....What is so given is loaned to the Lord. (Prov. 19:17)...It is easy for God to make up, and more than make up, to us, all that we thus give for the good of others....though the poor whom we benefit cannot recompense us, 'we shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just' (Luke 14: 13,14)."
 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mt. 25:31-46)
(For those reading along, we will be taking a break next week as some of our Chico group will be traveling down south to the Shepherds' Conference.  My posts will resume in two weeks from today.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

in which I discuss the unthinkable

Paul and I have just returned home from the funeral of a most precious little girl.  Lydia's smile could have lit a room. Now it reflects the glory of God the Savior for all eternity.

Perhaps you've noticed the sparsity of my entries here these last two weeks. We've been struggling and praying for appropriate ways to handle what we're dealing with, and when and whether to speak about it. Up until now, for reasons which will become obvious, I've only shared this with a very few trusted friends. Paul made reference to it on his blog several days ago, but with no specifics.  I think it may be time for me to fill in the gaps. What we're dealing with is horrible and ugly - about as ugly as it gets. This all happens on the heels of my mother's death, and has now somehow managed to even overshadow that.  Mother's death, as difficult as it made sense. She was 87 years old, and hadn't been well in many years. This, on the other hand, is a mess, an unfathomable tragedy, one horror heaped upon another. I haven't wanted to speak of it, because I can barely stand to think of it. But a time comes when, for the sake of love, it is right to stand up and speak. And I think, for me, that time has come.

It is now exactly two weeks since we got a phone call....well, let me back up. Over a year ago a new family began attending our tiny church. A husband and wife with nine kids - six biological, three adopted from Liberia. They were a lovely family, the children polite and well behaved. They home-schooled. That's how they found our church actually. They belonged to the same home-school organization as our pastor. Anyway, the wife was one of the kindest women I've ever known. Anytime there was a gathering of the church she and I would often find ourselves off somewhere together, talking quietly until it was time to leave. Her warmth was a soothing thing. No two people could be more different than she and I, and yet there was a sweet comfort in our times together. We'd been to their house a few times for church related functions, and once just Paul and I were there, for dinner. We ate shepherd's pie, and the children were a delight. They showed us how to milk their goats.  The husband also had always taken time to reach out to Paul, who in person is extremely reserved and tends to be overlooked, and so Paul was fond of him as well.

After about nine months they decided to leave our church. They had just completed our series of membership classes, so their change of heart came as a bit of a shock, and a disappointment. As I understood it, the differences they had with us were doctrinal. No agreement could be reached, and so they determined to find a church more in line with their beliefs. I was so sad, because I'd grown so fond of my friend, and also her little adopted girls, especially little Lydia, who always looked at me like I was some kind of miracle.

It has been maybe six months since they left, maybe a bit more. I saw them once after that, when we went to their house to pick up a bookshelf they gifted to us, twice if you count the time we chatted with the father and a few of the kids in the parking lot at Costco. Then Saturday night, two weeks ago, we got a phone call. Little Lydia was dead. Her older sister, Zariah, was in the hospital in critical condition. The other seven children had been placed in foster care and both parents were in jail - accused of murder, and child abuse.

I can't tell you how this has shocked and devastated us. We loved this family. We love them still. The first thing we did when we learned of all this, before we had any idea who did what, and still held out hope that it was all some kind of mistake, was to write them letters. Our next instinct was to want to rescue the children, at least one or two of them. But we were told by others who knew them that they would not allow anyone with any connection to the parents to have anything to do with the children (which would become quite understandable later as more details began to surface). So we felt helpless. We then began simply waiting, praying for the best outcome for all involved, and hoping some light would be shed on how such a thing could have happened - and wishing none of it was real. Elizabeth, the mother, is possibly the warmest person I’ve ever known. One of the hardest things for me, has been squaring the soft, meek woman I know with the hard cold fact of a dead child (and another who was at that time critically injured and fighting for her life).

As the days have gone by, more and more information has been uncovered about our friends. It turns out they were following the methods of Michael and Debi Pearl's "ministry" of systematic child "training". My husband and I have spent hours upon hours since this discovery poring over Pearl literature, disgusted. Horrified. I wanted understanding of what could have led to this tragedy, and I got it. The Pearl Method was the missing link. It made “sense” of what made no sense before. From what I've read, and even from some hindsight reflections of what I knew of this family, it appears they were following Pearl teachings very carefully - in doctrine and in practice. If the autopsy reports verify what preliminary findings suggest, it was the form of whipping (using the identical implement recommended in Pearl literature) taught by them which killed Lydia, and nearly killed Zariah.

They claim to be a Christian organization, and yet offer no grace and NO mercy. They actually teach parents to show no mercy to their children, and to love them only when they are lovable. ("When they do something lovely, then you can love them.") The whipping is to begin in infancy. It is to be used in "training" - what you might call behavior modification, and in "chastisement" which is actual punishment. They suggest keeping a whipping instrument in every room, and that the plumbing line they recommend is a perfect implement because it is inexpensive, available at Home Depot, and the parent can even drape it around his or her neck, so when the children see the parent, they see the whip*. And it gets worse. They speak as if it's all sweetness and delight, and yet talk about calmly stalking the child if it runs from the spanking, laughing at their frail attempts to escape. And there's so much more**, yet all couched in language of smiles and happy families. There is no Good News to be found there, just legalism, punishment - salvation by "the rod". Listen to the powers Michael Pearl ascribes to the rod - powers I've only heard elsewhere ascribed to Christ and His Cross:
"When a child is bound in self-blame and low self-esteem, parents are not helpless. God has given them the gift of the rod. The rod can bring repentance, but it goes much deeper than that. The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid." (Emphasis mine)

It is possible that my friend and her husband will spend the rest of their lives in prison. If the news and police reports are true, then this may be the penalty their actions call for. Paul and I determined from the outset that regardless what happens we will continue to extend the grace and hope of the Gospel to them there. And with every new horror that I learn, I find I love them no less. They are sinners, and so am I. They need the grace of God, and so do I. I, as a Christian, have been called to the ministry of reconciliation. As a recipient of God's mercy, I am called to extend that same mercy to every sinner I meet - no matter the sin.

So that's what we find ourselves dealing with - and the pain of loving the people misled by this religious system. None of this absolves our friends of the responsibility which they bear, nor am I making excuses for them. But, I believe they are not the only ones who bear responsibility. They were deceived, and were also ensconced in a little sub-community which encouraged them that what they were doing was the best thing, and even the most godly thing. The Pearl's system does not just mold children, it molds well-meaning parents into the kind of people who think they can and should expect perfect obedience and perfect behavior from imperfect and defenseless little creatures. In fact, it teaches them that if they don't succeed in this, they are not fit to be to be parents at all.***

So, that's where we find, waking, and sleeping with this tragedy never far away. It will stay with us in some way for a long time (likely forever). I hope you will pray with us that our friends will come to understanding and repentance, and that they will come to know the mercy and grace of God which their doctrinal system has so carefully hid from them. I hope you will pray for their precious children, the 8 that are left, scattered to the four winds and so confused - that they will be protected and loved wherever they are, placed permanently in loving and caring homes, and come to know the love of the Savior Jesus Christ and His mercy and grace to undeserving sinners. That they will not be poisoned against Him because of the way He has been misrepresented, or continue to think of obedience as a means to grace rather than a product of it and thus either try to earn their way to heaven or lose hope altogether. I hope you will remember us in prayer as well, for wisdom and opportunity to help in any way we can...if there's any way we can...and that somehow, in all of this, that God be glorified.

I've included a couple of links to news stories. There are some inaccuracies in them, but they give what the public sees, and whatever general information the police have seen fit to share:

Here are a couple of other articles addressing the Pearl "ministry", which also include many other helpful links:
*What instrument would I use?
"As a rule, do not use your hand. Hands are for loving and helping. If an adult swings his or her hand fast enough to cause pain to the surface of the skin, there is a danger of damaging bones and joints. The most painful nerves are just under the surface of the skin. A swift swat with a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument. It will fit in your purse or hang around you neck. You can buy them for under $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store. They come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps the kids in line." (quoted from the Pearl's website)
** "And when you do spank, make sure that it is forceful enough to get her undivided attention. If she can scream "huggie" while you are spanking her, you are probably not spanking hard enough." (quoted from the Pearl's website)

"They try you, test your limits, and seek emancipation from all authority and rule of law. They are liberal totalitarians seeking a following, not passive peasants groveling to do your will. Children must be broken to the yoke of authority. " (emphasis mine - notice "passive peasants grovelling" is the desired state; quoted from the Pearl's website)
*** The soul of your child needs to be punished. "He feels the need to suffer for his misdeeds. What I am telling you is well understood by the most reprobate of modern psychiatrists and psychologists. They call it a “guilt complex.” Children and adults in this state of mind often do harm to themselves. Their anger is turned inward because they hate the bad person they know themselves to be. Their soul is crying out for justice to be done to the self. They don’t know what is happening, and they will not voluntarily seek punishment, but their soul needs judgment. When your child is in the first throes of this debilitating condition, be kind enough to punish him. Care enough and love enough to pay the emotional sacrifice to give him ten to fifteen licks that will satisfy his need to experience payback.
If you do not see the wisdom in what I have said, and you reject these concepts, you are not fit to be a parent. I pity your children. They will never experience the freedom of soul and conscience that mine do." (emphasis mine; quoted from the Pearl's website)
 (This post has been edited slightly from its original form. A bit of information regarding a specific doctrinal matter which may or may not have been the reason our friends stopped attending our church has been removed, and the wording has been altered for the sake of clarity in a couple of other places. In addition, we now attend a different church than we did at the time of this post.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - love is kind (part one)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture V, 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 Four. We will continue with the "Application" portion of this lecture 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 suffereth long, and is kind." 1 Cor. 13:4

Our last two readings focused on the first portion of this verse, "Charity suffereth long...." We learned that Christian love inclines us to bear the offenses we receive at the hands of others meekly, without seeking or desiring revenge. This week we will turn our attention to the next phrase, " kind".
We will first discuss what kindness entails, and then how it is that the Christian spirit inclines us to it.

I. The "nature of the duty of doing good to others." At this point we will focus on three aspects of Christian kindness: 1) what it does, 2) who it does it to, and 3) with what disposition is it done.

1. What kindness does: Kindness seeks to do good to others, both spiritually and temporally.

First, Persons may do good to the souls of others, which is the most excellent way of doing good. There are many ways in which we can extend kindness to the souls of others. We can:
  • "instruct the ignorant" - leading them to Christ and sound doctrine
  • "counseling and warning"
  • "stirring them up to their duty, and to a seasonable and thorough care for their soul's welfare."
  • "setting them good examples"
And the last must not be overlooked:
"Such and example must accompany the other means of doing good to the souls of men...and is needful to give force to such means, and to make them take effect; and it is more likely to render them effectual than anything else whatsoever; and without it, they will be likely to be in vain."
It is common wisdom. Even unbelievers say that "actions speak louder than words". Unsubstantiated words are little more than noise. We prove our words by our deeds and in our acts of kindness give form to the love in our hearts. It is one thing to tell someone who's never seen one that a flower is lovely. It's another to produce a rose.

Some of the hopeful outcomes of our kindness to the souls of others are their comfort, establishment in the faith, strengthening, encouraging in trials, "raising one another out of dull and dead frames, and helping one another out of temptations, and onward in the divine life...and thus being mutually fellow-helpers on their way to glory."

Second, Persons may do good to others in outward things, and for this world. They may help others in their external difficulties and calamities. Edwards lists many ways in which we can do "external" good to a person:
  • "furthering their outward estate or substance"
  • "aiding their good name" - speaking well of them, defending them against slander or unfair accusation, seeking to ensure that others think as highly of them as is appropriate
  • adding to their physical comfort and personal happiness through kind words and deeds.
The kindnesses we can do for others can be summed up under three headings:
  • Giving to others
  • Doing for others
  • Suffering for others - "aiding them to bear their burdens, and doing all in our power to make those burdens light."
"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." Gal. 6: 2
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:11
"...when our instructions, counsels, warnings, and good examples are accompanied with such outward kindness, the latter tends to open the way for the better effect of the former, and to give them their full force, and to lead such persons to appreciate our efforts when we seek their spiritual good."

2. Who kindness does good to:  Edwards gives us three categories:
  • the good and the bad. If we claim God as our Father, then we will seek to love as He loves, and who He loves.
And, as if to ensure we rule no one out, Edwards names many of the bad types we are to love. I found it helpful to list them. I think you'll find everyone you've made excuses for not loving somewhere in this list :
the proud
the immoral
the covetous
the profane
the unjust
the severe
the despisers of God
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matt. 5: 43-45
As Edwards says, "...any or all of these bad qualities should not hinder our beneficence, nor prevent our doing them good as we have opportunity. On this very account, we should rather be diligent to benefit them, that we may win them to Christ..."
  • friends and enemies
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Mt. 5:43-48
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." Romans 5:6-10
"To do good to those that do ill to us,
is the only retaliation that becomes us as Christians..."

I found it very interesting that Edwards referred to doing good as "retaliation". It doesn't sound very spiritual to view it that way, and yet when I read Romans 12:19-21 I'm forced to reevaluate:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' To the contrary, 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head'. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
It's not only okay to want to heap "burning coals" of guilt on the head of an evildoer, Paul encourages us to think of our retaliation of kindness in that way. We are to want to see evil overcome by good, and this is a means to that end. Just as when we avenge ourselves we are seeking a triumph, so when we retaliate with kindness we are to have a conquest in mind. When we seek our own revenge we cannot conquer; evil overcomes us. When we "retaliate" with good, evil is overcome, and only then do we triumph.

Vengeance belongs to God, not us. We Christians are called to be instruments of His mercy and grace. That's what we've been freely given; that's what we are to freely give. It is not even acceptable for us to rejoice when we witness God's judgment on our enemies, as it is purely a result of the grace of God that we do not find ourselves under the hand of His judgment.

"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him. "
Prov. 24:17-18

  • the thankful and the unthankful
"But love your enemies, and do good,and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:35-36
Edwards has this to say of those who refuse to do good to those they feel consider ungrateful:
"...such persons do not sufficiently look at Christ; and they shew either their want of acquaintance with the rules of Christianity, or their unwillingness to cherish its spirit."

3.  The disposition of kindness: in other words, the attitude with which true Christian love does good to others. Edwards sums it up in a single word: freely. By "freely" Edwards has three things in mind:

First, That our doing good be not in a mercenary spirit.
"We are not to do it for the sake of any reward received or expected from the one to whom we do the good....not for the sake of any temporal good, or to promote our temporal interest, or honor, or profit, but from the spirit of love."
" good,and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most High..." Luke 6:35

If we love our Father in heaven, then being like Him and being His child is joy enough, and reward enough for us.

Second, That our doing good be free, it is requisite that we do it cheerfully or heartily, and with real goodwill to the one we would benefit...
"...What is done heartily, is done from love; and what is done from love, is done with delight, and not grudgingly or with backwardness and reluctance of spirit."
 "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 2 Cor. 9:7

If you look into your own heart, you will find it to be true that whatever you do heartily, with energy and gusto, is done from love, whether it be love of God, love of another, or love of self. Understand that love of self is something Scripture assumes us to have (Mt. 22:39), and is not sinful in and of itself. We do love ourselves. That's a fact. This love for ourselves is to be our guide for how to love others. It is when our love for ourselves leads us to disregard God or others that our self-love is sinful.

Third, That we do it liberally and bountifully. We are not to be stingy or tight-fisted in our giving, but liberal, big-hearted, and open-handed, seeking more ways to help and give rather than less.

II. A Christian spirit will dispose us thus to do good to others.
1. The main thing in that love which is the sum of the Christian spirit, is benevolence, or good-will to others...the main thing in Christian love is good-will, or a spirit to delight in and seek the good of those who are the objects of that love.

A true and heart-felt desire to see good come to a person is at the heart of Christian love.  I've so far found this to be the best test of my own heart toward any individual: "Do I really want good things to happen to this person, or does the idea of their misfortune give me a secret smile?"

2. The most proper and conclusive evidence that such a principle is real and sincere, is, its being effectual...
"...The proper and conclusive evidence of our wishing or willing to do good to another is, to do it. In every case nothing can be plainer, than that the proper and conclusive evidence of the will, is the act; and the act always follows the will, where there is power to act."
Our actions are the only reliable evidence of what we will, of what is most important to us. This is why James can say:
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works is dead....Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.....For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (See James 2:14-26)
And so, as faith without works is no living faith, so love without acts of kindness is no real love.
(See Gal. 5:6)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - charity suffers long (part two)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture IV, part two

(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Application" portion of Lecture Four. We will continue with the "Doctrine" portion of this lecture in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the 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 suffereth long, and is kind." - 1 Cor. 13:4

In last week's reading we studied what kinds of injuries a heart full of Christian love will meekly bear,  what this meek long-suffering does and doesn't look like, and how it is that love for God and our neighbor accomplishes this in our hearts.  This week Edwards explains what effect this teaching should have in our lives:

It should motivate us
What we have learned so far should lead us to "suppress all wrath, revenge, and bitterness of spirit, toward those that have injured, or that may at any time injure us..."

Edwards gives us six truths to meditate upon which should motivate us toward long-suffering:

"First, consider the example that Christ has set for us."

There is no finer example of  "a meek and quiet spirit, and of a most long-suffering behaviour."
He was treated with contempt, threatened, slandered with accusations of demon-possession, blasphemy, drunkenness, and gluttony, among other things - and all this at the hands of those who He came to show God's kindness to, those he worked miracles for and among, those who should have recognized Him and welcomed him, those who claimed to serve the very One who sent Him. He was betrayed by one in His inner circle, and at a moment of greatest need was denied by one of His dearest friends. In the end all this hatred led to His torture and cruel execution. And yet, "Not one word of bitterness escaped him.  There was no interruption of the calmness of his mind under his heavy distress and sufferings, nor was there the least desire for revenge.  But, on the contrary, he prayed for his murderers, that they might be forgiven, even when they were about nailing him to the cross; and not only prayed from them, but pleaded in their behalf with his Father....The sufferings of his life, and the agonies of his death, did not interrupt his long-suffering toward those that injured him."

"Second, If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in the world, for in it we must expect to meet with many injuries from men."
As Edwards puts it: "...those that have not a spirit, with meekness, and calmness, and long-suffering, and composedness of soul, to bear injuries in such a worlds, are miserable indeed, and are like to be wretched at every step of their way through life."  Or, as my sister-in-law, Andi so nicely summed it up: "We live in a sinful world among sinful people, therefore we must expect to be sinned against."

"Third, In this way we shall be most above injuries."
"Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
A spirit of meekness and long-suffering leaves our enemies powerless over us.  When we do not respond as one harmed we disarm the opposition, leaving them with no reward for their cruelty, no satisfaction for their desire to injure us.  Our good response overcomes their wicked intent.  And, as Edwards says, "...just in proportion as we allow our minds to be disturbed and embarrassed by the injuries offered by an adversary, just in the same proportion do we fall under his power."

"Fourth, The spirit of Christian long-suffering, and of meekness in bearing injuries, is a mark of true greatness of soul. It shews a true and noble nature..."

"Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense." Proverbs 19:11

"Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." Proverbs 16:32

The way to nobility is a paradox - it comes through the gracious acceptance of ignoble treatment.
"He that possesses his soul after such a manner that, when others harm and injure him, he can, notwithstanding, remain in calmness and hearty good-will toward them, pitying and forgiving them from the heart, manifest therein a godlike and long-suffering spirit shews a true greatness of soul....On the contrary, those that are apt highly to resent injuries, and to be greatly angered and vexed by them, are spoken of in the Scriptures as of a little and foolish spirit."
Did you ever realize that the lack of long-suffering is considered a trait of fools?

"One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless.
A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
and a man of evil devices is hated. "
Proverbs 14:16-17

"Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
   and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
  Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the bosom of fools."
Ecc. 7:8,9

Fifth, The spirit of Christian long-suffering and meekness is commended to us by the example of the saints.
By way of example Edwards gives us David as he was hunted by Paul, Stephen in his martyrdom, and the Apostle Paul: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place..." (1 Cor. 3:11).

"Sixth, This is the way to be rewarded with the exercise of the Divine long-suffering toward us."

"With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless" Ps. 18:25

"For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."  Mt. 7:2

"For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. "  Mt. 6:14,15

Edwards puts it bluntly, the "trespasses" in Matthew 6 are "the same as injuries done to us; so that if we do not bear with men's injuries against us, neither will our heavenly Father bear with our injuries against him; and if we do not exercise long-suffering toward men, we cannot expect that God will exercise long-suffering toward us.  But let us consider how greatly we stand in need of God's long-suffering with regard to our injuries toward him."  Every time we sin against another person, and every time we sin quietly, in our thoughts, we sin first and foremost against God.  We are in desperate need of God's patience at all times.  How dreadful it would be to lose it. How dreadful it would be if He adopted the same un-forgiving attitude toward us which we have toward others!  And so it comes back to the Golden Rule, but with a twist - do unto others as you would have God do unto you.

Indeed, what a different world this would be if, as Edwards muses, "such a spirit  as this prevailed.  It would prevent contention and strife and diffuse gentleness and kindness, and harmony and love.  It would do away with bitterness and confusion, and every evil work.  Our affairs would all be carried on, both in public and private, without fierceness, or edge, or bitterness of spirit....without any of the malignant backbiting and contemptuous speech, that so often are heard among men, and which at the same time do great injury in society...."


Certainly as you've read this far your heart has at some point cried out: "But what about....? Certainly it can't mean that!"  And perhaps you've already begun to formulate excuses for your particular situation.  Rest assured, Edwards has considered your objections.

Objection 1:  But my injuries are intolerable!  Edwards has six responses to this argument: 

1) Have you been been more offended by others than God has by your behavior?
"Has your enemy been more base, more unreasonable, more ungrateful, than you have to the High and Holy One?"
2) Do you hope God will keep forgiving you?

3) Do you approve of and admire God's long-suffering? Or...
"...would you have liked God better, if he had not borne with you, but had long since cut you off in his wrath?"
4) If you really do consider God's long-suffering so excellent a thing, then why do you not imitate it?

5) How would you like it if God were to stop being patient with you - if He began to deal with you as you deal with those who offend you.
"Would you be willing, for all the future, that God should no longer bear with the injuries you may offer him, and the offenses you commit against him?  Are you willing to go and ask God to deal with yourself for the future, think of dealing with your fellow-men?"
6) How did Christ respond to those who offended Him?

Objection 2: But they aren't repentant.  They're still at it!  To this Edwards responds with something so obvious we might otherwise miss it:
"But what opportunity could there be for long-suffering, if injury were not persisted in long? If injuries are continued, it may be for the very purpose, in providence, of trying whether you will exercise long-suffering and meekness, and...forbearance... "
In this sense, every offense is a gift, a unique opportunity to reflect the long-suffering character of our God, both to Him and the world at large.  If you're anything like me, you prayer regularly that He would be glorified in your life.  Each offense is an opportunity to see that prayer answered.

Objection 3: If I'm long-suffering it'll give them permission to keep on with their bad behavior.
"But you do not know this, for you have not insight into the future, nor into the hearts of men.  And, beside, God will undertake for you, if you obey his commands; and he is more able to put a stop to the wrath of man than you are (Rom. 12:19)...if you do but obey him, he will take part with you against all that rise up against you.  And in the observation and experience of men, it is generally found that a meek and long-suffering spirit puts an end to injuries, while a revengeful spirit does but provoke them."
"A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
Proverbs 15:1 
"Cherish, then, the spirit of longsuffering, meekness, and forbearance, and you shall possess your soul in patience and happiness, and none shall be permitted to harm you more than God in wisdom and kindness may permit."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

C.S. Lewis, on the great risk of love...

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell". - C.S. Lewis

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Conspiracy Theories and the Christian

"People love themselves some fear," has become a saying in our household. It accounts for a ridiculously high proportion of the harsh lessons Paul and I have learned in our 78 years of combined life experience. Barely a week goes by when one of us doesn't have occasion to utter it. Our experience has taught us that frightened people are often the most dangerous people, and that the person who tries to deliver them from their fear is often the person at greatest risk of harm. Folks with fears will cling to them, desperately and with all their might, snapping and lashing like trapped animals at those who try to free them.

Though we've found our saying useful for identifying what we are dealing with when we happen upon it, it really only reveals a part of the truth - the part at the surface. Underlying that strong attachment to fear is an intense desire for control. Our deepest human fears are all representative of the fact that we have precious little control over our lives, that our lives are fragile, that they are temporary, that they can be unthinkably painful, that they can and usually do end without our consent or input, that we don't ultimately make the rules, and that we may be held accountable by some higher power for the lives we've lived. But these big fears are unmanageable. They are too overwhelming, too generalized, too unthinkable, too terrifying. And so we grasp for the things which we feel we can control - we trade those giant and very real fears for smaller targets real or imagined, which seem somehow within our reach, and possibly more subject to our control We focus our fear instead on things we can see, shout down, maybe even defeat.
"For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people saying, 'Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread." Isaiah 8:11-13
According to Scripture, there is only one appropriate focus for our fear - God. Everything you could possibly fear exists under God's sovereign control. To fear anything or anyone else is idolatry, because God is over everything and everyone else. So take your fear where it belongs - take it to God.

At this point there may be those who object, "But there really is a conspiracy!" To that I would offer a very loving and heartfelt, "So what?" If there is a conspiracy God is sovereign over it. Consider the story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers' evil intention, and yet it was part of God's good plan for him, to bring him to Egypt where he would save numerous lives (Gen. 50: 19-20). Consider Jesus, so conspired against by evil men, whose wicked schemes only succeeded in accomplishing God's perfect plan of salvation (Acts 4: 24-29). Rather than focus on and rail against those who conspired against them, Joseph and Jesus concentrated on their own callings and their own character. Evil conspirators will answer to God for their behaviors. We will answer to God for ours. It is His approval, and His alone which we seek.
"Fret not yourself because of evildoers,
and be not envious of the wicked,
for the evil man has no future;
the lamp of the wicked will be put out." Prov. 24:19-20
Fear and fear-mongering are entirely inappropriate responses from the people of God. Unless we are directly involved, or very close to a matter and have verifiable proof, there is likely nothing we can or should do about it. (In the case that we actually do have such involvement or inside knowledge, we are obligated to intervene. But for the average person that will seldom be the case.) Beyond that, in the absence of such proof, we find ourselves relying on hearsay and risk making ourselves guilty of spreading falsehoods, slandering the good names of any number of people, and leaving them with little recourse to right the wrongs spoken against them. Christ tells us to " your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you..." Matt. 5:44 Even if what we believe to be true is true, we have no right to spread about evil reports. Rather than harboring hatred and suspicion, Christ would have us love.

Again, what if a particular conspiracy theory proves to be true? Imagine with me a worst case scenario: several highly placed and influential officials in the government concoct a secret agenda to step-by-step discredit Christianity with the goal that public opinion be so swayed that systematic extermination of Christians may be carried out without the objection of the majority populace. Well, this has happened before, during the time of the apostles, and Paul had an entirely novel (Christian) way of dealing with it. When writing to his fellows who were being persecuted, he did not coach them to fight, to bully, to cajole, to revile, to demand, or to seek power or strength in numbers. In fact, he seemed to find weakness a preferable position for the Christian:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.'" 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
His fellow apostle, Peter, agreed:
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name."1 Peter 4:12-1
And as to the behavior a Christian under the rule of a potentially hostile government which has no respect for Christianity (recall that in this case he was speaking to those suffering under the reign of the Nero) Paul gives the following commands:
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." Romans 13:1-7
And further:
"... then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." 1 Timothy 2:1-2
So, from the Scripture we are instructed in the appropriate Christian response to actual anti-Christian conspiracies: contentment, rejoicing, submission under and respect to governmental authority, continued payment of taxes, and prayer, even for wicked rulers.

Let me add here, on a parenthetical note, that such theorizing is not appropriate for Christians even when the matters are smaller and seemingly less significant, even when they are considered nothing more than interesting and harmless diversions. I've heard any number of such theories bandied about over the years, some quite silly (like the recent one about Lady Gaga being a secret member of the Illuminati). These "lighter" theories, while less likely to arise from fear than from the prideful desire to be the "possessor of hidden knowledge", are still acts of passing judgment on not only the actions of the parties involved, but the heart motives behind them. We are saying that they not only did the thing, but we know the real reason why. We know what they're really up to. According to Scripture, we are not even adequate judges of our own hearts."All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit." (Prov. 16: 2) If a man cannot even view his own heart with clarity, what hubris it is to claim to have secret knowledge into the hearts and motives of others. Only God sees clearly into the heart of a man.

Finally, and briefly, when we Christians spout and circulate information from questionable sources  which we cannot verify, we often end up accomplishing little more making fools of ourselves, undermining our credibility, and bringing disgrace on the Gospel.

We are experiencing difficult and uncertain economic times as well as political unrest. Some fear is inevitable, and there will always be those who seek to exploit it to their advantage, be it financial or political. We live in an information age, and a time when the media is under increasing pressure, struggling to maintain an audience, and the pressure to sensationalize is greater than it has ever been. Pay attention to what you watch and listen to. Pay attention to the emotions your information sources are eliciting from you. If you find yourself becoming suspicious, consider. If you find yourself becoming fearful, consider. If you find yourself becoming malicious, spiteful, or bitter, consider. Remember, there are forces at work in this world that benefit greatly from arousing you in this way, for "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" and "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind". Those who would seek to motivate you by any fear but a deep, reverential fear of God are unwitting dupes of the spirit of this world. Do not allow yourselves to be swayed by anything but the fear of the Lord.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Love, Law, and the Gospel

Our ladies' study through Jonathan Edwards', Charity and Its Fruits, produced some frank and animated discussion this past Wednesday. The first several weeks of our study focused on the supreme importance of Christian love, and the worthlessness of all our works and sufferings without it (1 Cor. 13:1-3). This week we took our first step into the love passage made world famous by wedding ceremonies and needlepoint samplers. In those common settings it sounds so lofty and romantic - sometimes even trite. In practice, however, there is nothing light, soft, or breezy about Christian love; and this is we've begun to get a taste of already, even though we've only gotten as far as the first adjective: "long-suffering". "Love suffereth long..." 1 Cor. 13: 4, or as some other versions render it, "Love is patient..."

Edwards describes at length what long-suffering does and does not look like. As we picked our way through a list of behaviors and attitudes which evidence an unforgiving or vengeful heart, there wasn't a single woman in the group who did not have a reaction, or a confession: some story, some experience, some attitude for which they're feeling convicted, or from which they'd learned. There was a lot of knowing, sympathetic laughter and many words of comfort and encouragement passed around. As we discussed the behaviors, many of them subtle, which may betray a heart that is not long-suffering but desires rather to return hurt for a wrong suffered, there came a point when one of the gals asked, "How do I know when I've crossed a line, what I should not do?" To which my response was along these lines, "I can't tell you that, because it's a matter of your heart. I can't give you a checklist. These are guidelines, helpful indicators, but only by relying on the Spirit can you know whether your thoughts or words have crossed the line into sin." At this the woman put to words a desire I believe most of us have had at some point or another in our Christian lives:
"But I want a list! I want it spelled out for me what to do and not to do!"

Our pastor just began a new teaching series this past Sunday night entitled, "The Law and the Gospel". I'm not sure where he's going with it yet, but I must say, the tension between the two has been on my mind a lot over the last week or so, and has looked on from the wings in my study of Christian love. It is easy to become bogged down in all the "requirements" of perfect love. "And so," I wonder, "what does Paul really mean when he says we have "died to the law", that "we are released from the law"?
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code." Romans 7:4-6

This lady's frank question, as I pondered it the next morning, shed the light I needed and Paul's meaning began to come into focus. In spite of the slavery to which the law puts us, there is something about our flesh that prefers a list of ordinances to the whole-hearted abandon of faith. To submit to a list, is to submit a finite part of ourselves to the will of another - the part impacted by the rules, mainly our actions, and only a limited number of those. The rest of our lives and hearts, then, remain our own. We can do our list, count it done, whether our heart was in it or not, and feel secure in that. But the law of Christ is a much higher thing than a list of Ten. (Mt. 22:35-40; Gal. 15:4; James 2:8) The Law of Christ is not a series of restraints, but a heart entirely free of constraints. By freeing us from sin, to love God wildly, selflessly, and with all our hearts, Christ has freed us from rule of law. To one who loves in this way, the Law is no more than the vague shadow of which Christ is the substance. We have Christ, the object of our desires, what more need do we have of the shadow? (Heb. 10:1) And yet, the temptation is always there from our flesh, which is weak and limited, to cling to what it knows and prefers - that which is also weak and limited. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are constantly tempted to return to the familiarity and predictability of bondage, rather than face the uncertainties, risks, and seeming vulnerabilities of freedom....
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
God has given us the Spirit of His Son - the same Son who cried, "Abba, Father!" in the Garden of Gesthemene, whose love for God was so great He sacrificed all. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly; and how did He do it? Not through slavish obedience, but through the love of a Son for His Father.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit....So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' Romans 8: 1-4,12-16

God has given us, by His Spirit, hearts to love Him. We've been set free from the list of rules to walk in the freedom of love which encompasses and overshadows any "Thou shalt not". We no longer are slave to a code written in stone, but are free and walk in the power of children who adore their Father and want nothing more than to emulate and reflect His loving nature. Not only do we not need a list, but to turn back to living by one would severely limit our focus. When we serve God in the freedom of love, not only do we fulfill the law, we overflow it. Love doesn't just do no harm. Love heaps good upon good. Consider the testimony of Paul, who happily traded the law for the gospel:
"If anyone else thinks he has , I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel,of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:4-11

Paul counted his blameless life of obedience to the law, rubbish for the sake of Christ's righteousness. And so we, too, need to exchange our fleshy attempts at righteousness for the righteousness of God, which can only be found in Christ. We must not subject ourselves again to the yoke of bondage
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
"Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love." Galatians 5:1-6
Seeking to live by the rule of law has no value in the sight God, who looks to the heart, and whose principle command is that we love Him with all our hearts. (And it is only right that we do so.) To Him who is the Creator of all - the most magnificent and indescribable, the most loving, the picture of perfection and holiness, the most worthy of the love and adoration of all who exist - to Him, slavish obedience is an insult. Rather, love for Him should pour forth from His creatures - a love which desires what He desires and loves what He loves.  This kind of love does not need a checklist. And this is why love is the fulfillment of the law:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8-10

If I do not commit adultery, does that prove my love for my husband? 
If I love my husband with all my heart, do I need to be told not to commit adultery?
My love for my husband renders the law against adultery obsolete - and yet, I will fulfill this law anyway - without trying. When I love my husband with all my heart - I can't help but please him, and he can't help but be pleased. This is how the Gospel of Christ renders the law obsolete.  This is what it means to be free from the law.  This is the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). This is how love is the fulfilling of the law.  And so, being led by the Spirit, we are led to a joyful and willing obedience to God, fulfilling His wishes from the heart of love we have for Him.  When we find ourselves burdened down with laws, that obedience is not from the Spirit of God; that is from the flesh, which seeks to drive us like a slave-master and destroy our love and freedom. We must not let ourselves be burdened again by that yoke of slavery!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's Saturday - and boy do I have a load of science stories for you this week!

 "The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers."
Psalm 24:1-2

The uncertain future of the world's ugliest fish
"Can't the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) get some love? This ugly, gelatinous, inedible fish now risks extinction thanks to humans..."
Read more here.


They're calling this giant salamander a living fossil
"This is a dinosaur, this is amazing....We're talking about salamanders that usually fit in the palm of your hand. This one will chop your hand off."
Find the story and really slimy video here.


Faster and Faster

"' of the most universal changes is that as humans age, they change the way they feel about time. As people get older, they just have this sense, this feeling that time is going faster than they are,' says Warren Meck, a psychology professor at Duke University."
Why does time seem to travel faster the older we get?  Well, here's the theory of a neuroscientist.  It's sweet, really, though it doesn't account for a lot of things and I'm not sure I buy it.  But, it is interesting, and it is sweet. See the story, hear the radio interview, and watch some video here.


Singing the blues...or are they?

"Blue whales have changed their songs. It's the same old tune, but the pitch of the blues is mysteriously lower -- especially off the coast of California where, local researchers say, the whales' voices have dropped by more than half an octave since the 1960s."
What does all this mean? Find out science's best guess here.


File this under "It Can't Hurt"

A new possible benefit of fish oil: 
"Taking a daily fish oil capsule can stave off mental illness in those at highest risk, trial findings suggest."
Find the rest of the story here.


Hela cells - the amazing and complicated story of the "immortal" cells of Henrietta Lacks: 
"In 1951, an African-American woman named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She was treated at Johns Hopkins University, where a doctor named George Gey snipped cells from her cervix without telling her. Gey discovered that Lacks' cells could not only be kept alive, but would also grow indefinitely...."
This story is compelling on a number of levels.  Find an interview with the author, and an excerpt from the book here.


The study which sparked an anti-vaccination panic has been officially discredited

Lancet relents, retracting the study it published a decade ago which fueled worldwide concern over MMR vaccines.  More here.


Study confirms what many have long suspected about patients in "vegetative" states:

A new study found that some of its subjects, patients diagnosed with vegetative states, were able to communicate using their thoughts.
"Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.The research, carried out in the UK and Belgium, involved a new brain scanning method. Awareness was detected in three other patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state."
Read the rest of the story, and view related video here.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Charity and Its Fruits - charity suffers long...(part one)

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture IV, part one

(This week we continue our reading together of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded the reading of the "Doctrine" portion of Lecture Four. We will continue with the "Application" portion of this lecture in next week's reading. This is the pattern we will be using for the entirety of the 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 suffereth long, and is kind." - 1 Cor. 13:4

Charity Disposes Us Meekly to Bear the Injuries Received from Others.
Having proven in the previous lectures just how essential this Christian love is, and hopefully yearning to see this virtue at work and growing in our lives, Edwards, following the reasoning of Paul, moves us forward to show us just what this love looks like in its activities “by describing its several amiable and excellent fruits.” Here is where we get into specifics, and things begin to get very practical. If your experience is anything like mine, and the rest of the ladies in our local study, you will find that it is here where you really begin to feel the rubber meeting the road. Here is where the testing begins in earnest. Not only that, I've found that it is here where I begin to find the understanding and encouragement I need to grow in this grace. Edwards begins painting a picture here of what Christian love looks like, and it is beautiful. That's the encouraging part - seeing the beauty of it and desiring it. The challenging part is not to give way to discouragement when seeing how far we fall short of this beautiful standard, but to persevere, in spite of failure after failure, and bumbling step after bumbling step - looking instead to Christ and running to Him.

The verse we will begin unpacking now teaches two main aspects of love:  "Charity suffereth long..." "which has respect to the evil or injury received from others..."; and charity "is kind," "which has respect to the good to be done to others".

The focus of this lesson will be the first of these, and Edwards "would endeavor to show...


"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Mt. 11:28-29

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience [long-suffering], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." Gal. 5:22

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." Eph. 4: 1-2

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Col. 3:12-13

Edwards, drawing upon such Scriptures concludes that "Meekness is a great part of the Christian spirit....And meekness, as it respects injuries received from men, is called long-suffering in the Scriptures." In other words, long-suffering is how meekness responds when mistreated or offended.

Expounding further upon this, Edwards will discuss: (I) the types of injuries we can expect to endure meekly (II) what it means to bear injuries meekly, and (III) how it is that love will dispose us to do this.

I. "I would briefly notice some of the various kinds of injuries that we may or do receive from others."

Edwards lists several main categories of injury. Men may be injured:

  • "in their estates": "by unfairness and dishonesty in their dealings, by being fraudulent and deceitful with them, or at least by leading them to act in the dark, and taking advantage of their ignorance; or by oppressing them, taking advantage of their necessities; or by unfaithfulness...not fulfilling their promises and engagements, and being slack and slighting in any business they are employed in by their neighbors, aiming at nothing but just to meet the letter of their engagements, and not being careful to improve their time to the utmost in accomplishing that which they are engaged to do; or by asking unreasonable prices...or by withholding what is due...neglecting to pay their debts, or unnecessarily putting their neighbors to trouble and difficulty to get what is due from them...."
  • "in their good name": "by reproaching or speaking evil of them behind their backs...making or spreading false reports about them, and so cruelly slandering them....Others, without saying that which is directly false, greatly misrepresent things, picturing out everything respecting their neighbors in the worst colors, exaggerating their faults, and setting them forth as far greater than they really are, always speaking of them in an unfair and unjust manner...uncharitably judging one another, and putting injurious and evil constructions on on another's words and actions."
  • in their thoughts" " unjustly entertaining mean thoughts, or a low esteem of them. Some are deeply and continually injurious to others, by the contempt they habitually have of them in their hearts, and by their willingness to think the worst about them. And, as the outflowing of the thoughts, a great deal is done to the injury of others by the words; for the tongue is but too ready to be the wicked instrument of expressing the evil thoughts and feelings of the soul."
"So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brother, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have better jealousy and selfish ambition in your hears 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. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." James 3: 5:18
  • "in their treatment and actions toward them" Those who bear some authority may abuse their authority in any number of ways, in actions and attitudes. Those who are under authority by disrespecting those over them. Some have
"a very selfish spirit, seeming to be all for themselves...having no regard to the good or benefit of their neighbor, but all their contrivance is only to better their own interests. Some carry themselves injuriously in the manifestation of a very haughty and proud spirit, as though they thought they were more excellent than all others, and that nobody was at all to be regarded except themselves the exercise of a very willful spirit, being so desperately set on having their own public affairs, [think politics here] acting not so much from a regard for the public good, as from the spirit of opposition to some party, or to some particular person....Some injure others by the malicious and wicked spirit they cherish against them, whether with or without cause....having no delight in each other's honor and prosperity, but, on the contrary, being pleased when they are cast down and in adversity, foolishly and wickedly thinking, perhaps, that another's fall is their own the spirit of envy they shew toward them, cherishing ill-will toward them for no other reason than for the honor and prosperity they enjoy. Many injure others from a spirit of revenge..."
 II.  "I would go on to shew what is meant by meekly bearing such injuries, or how they ought meekly to be borne."

1.  "I would show the nature of the duty of meekly bearing the injuries we suffer from others."
    First...injuries should be borne without doing anything to revenge them. And there are more ways of exercising revenge than obvious retaliation:
    "...if after we are offended or injured, we speak reproachfully to our neighbor, or of him to others, with a design to lower or injure him, and that we may gratify the bitter spirit we feel in our hearts for the injury that neighbor has done us, this is revenge.
    This attitude may also be expressed in the inability to tolerate hearing the object of your anger spoken well of without saying something to bring them down a notch or two. It may be revealed in your strong words to or about them, an impatient attitude, rolling of the eyes (what Edwards called an "exasperated countenance"), or rough handling of them in conversation.

    Edwards here recognizes that occasions may arise when it is necessary and appropriate to reprove one who has committed an offense against us and gives us some guidelines for the appropriate attitude and demeanor with which this is to be undertaken.
    "...if he does, it will be without impoliteness, and without that severity that can tend only to exasperate; and though it may be with strength of reason and argument, and with plain and decided expostulation, it will still be without angry reflections or contemptuous reproving the offender for a sin against God, rather than as for the offense against himself; as lamenting his calamity, more than resenting his injury; as seeking his good, not his hurt; and as one that more desires to deliver the offender out of the error into which he has fallen, than to be even with him for the injury done to himself."
    Secondly, that injuries be borne with the continuance of love in the heart, and without those inward emotions and passions that tend to interrupt and destroy it.
    "Not only a smooth external behavior should be continued, but also a sincere love with it."
    Thirdly, That injuries be borne without our losing the quietness and repose of our own minds and hearts. Here Edwards gives us several symptoms to look for which evidence a lack of long-suffering:
    • we are unsettled
    • we are unable to enjoy ourselves
    • our ability to engage in our various duties is affected
    • our prayer and spiritual life in negatively impacted