Holy Fear

Christians sometimes have great difficulty understanding how to appropriate the “fear of the Lord” urged upon us by the biblical writers and of course God himself. If God is loving, how could one fear him? If God is love, how could he command fear?

The answer is bigger and longer than this, but meet Shiphrah and Puah: “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex. 1:17). Pharaoh instructed them to execute the male Israelite babies, but instead they feared God. They would rather displease a human tyrant and almost certainly endanger their own lives than disobey Yahweh. In this instance, fear means obeying God and not man. It’s never if you obey, but whom, and one obeyed is the one feared.

When asked why they spared the Hebrew boys, they showed not only their fear of God, but their cunning as well: “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” And how does God feel about this lie? “So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families” (Ex. 1:20-21). I wouldn’t coin the slogan (though maybe I ought to) “Fear God, lie to tyrants, and have a family”, but pietism shouldn’t define the fear of God. Holy fear made these women saviors of babies. It put a slow and eventually a stop to genocide. And it caused them to righteously deceive one of if not the most powerful men in the world.

Diversity by Isolation

“Indeed, the map of medieval European “states” looks remarkably like a map of hunting-and-gathering cultures in Europe about five thousand years ago. The reason is that, unlike China or India, for example, Europe is not one large plain but a multitude of fertile valleys surrounded by mountains and dense forests, each often serving as the core area of an independent state. Wherever geographic barriers limit communications, cultural diversity always arises.”  –Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason, 83.

More than Money

One of the central problems with so much of the aid given to the poor today, whether it be that given to third world countries or to individuals, is that it lacks any transformative power. Money given without gospel care is like the old comparison of fish given without teaching anyone how to catch their own. Once the thing is eaten, nothing remains. Give another and another and soon no one will be inclined to ever learn. Aspirin helps remove pain but it does not heal the wound.

Thomas Chalmers was rector of St. John’s Parish in Glasgow in the early 19th century as well as chair of Philosophy at St. Andrews. He fought indiscriminate aid given by the state because it didn’t cure poverty but rather perpetuated it. The solution was not less money necessarily, but given with much more.

First, Chalmers insisted on a distinction between pauperism (a state of unnecessary dependence, characterized by intellectual lassitude and spiritual malaise) and poverty. Second, he argued that legal or statutory relief tended to pauperize because it removed the need for self-help and discipline. Third, he stressed the biblical obligation of the better-off to become personally involved with the poor. Fourth, he argued that those who were poor because of their own failings needed to indicate a willingness to change modes of thinking or acting that were dragging them down; if they did not, those who wished to help were to step away for a time, renew the offer, and be willing to step away again for a time if hearts had not changed.

Chalmers lost the political battle in Glasgow generally but gained permission to try his alternative plan in a specially created ten thousand-person district–an early enterprise zone–officially titled the Parish of St. John. Chalmers said he would meet the expenses of all needed relief in the district, one of the poorest in Glasgow, by asking parishioners for donations. His only stipulation was that state authorities and others who wanted to give indiscriminately agree to stay out. They did, and Chalmers divided his parish into twenty-five districts, putting a deacon in charge of each. When anyone asked for relief, the appropriate deacon investigated in order “to discriminate and beneficially assist the really necessitous and deserving poor. . . .

The result was extraordinary. Chalmers’ Sunday evening church collections for deaconal purposes increased, for givers were confident that the funds would be used wisely. The cost of relief also dropped as better-off church members used personal counseling and established savings banks and work exchanges to “foster amongst the poor the habits of industry, providence, frugality, saving and honest desire to rise in the world, and simple dependence on their own exertions.”  (The Tragedy of American Compassion, Olasky, 24-25)

This sort of poverty relief is as necessary as it is difficult. The deacons over every district in the parish worked closely with the elders in the church, men qualified to be officers, bringing not just aid but there own lives to the deserving and undeserving poor. This approached was described as Christian in its severities and its generosities, liberal to the deserving poor and encouraging to the wasteful, Chalmers claimed his success resulted from God’s blessings and man’s management. He didn’t set out to simply take care of struggling church members but everyone in the districts, the majority of which were not Christians. Only the church could provide such a wholistic solution to the problems of poverty, and the call to minister to the hurting would be felt by every parish member.

Stick in the Spokes

Scott Brown’s election to the Senate in Kennedy’s former seat is astonishing. Just when it looked like Obama might actually get something done in line with his campaign promises, Brown from Massachusetts (of all places!) provides a firm stick in the spokes. While the president’s legislative agenda is all the buzz right now, what will have as much or more impact is Brown’s influence on the executive and judicial appointees as relayed here. Senator Brown, dig heels in and PULL. It will be fun to watch all the quasi-socialist-for-the-moment-democrats go back to their “moderate” positions. Who said change has to work all in one direction? Change we can believe in!

Planned Parenthood vs. The First Amendment?

This week from the Family Policy Institute:

Legislators frequently propose things that I find redundant, wasteful, or counterproductive. Then sometimes they propose things that make me wonder if I live in America or Iran. A host of legislators led by Sen. Rodney Tom and Rep. Judy Clibborn are sponsoring bills (SB 6452 and HB 2837) aimed at harassing crisis pregnancy centers and revoking the first amendment rights of anyone in them. …

Proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished, the supporters of these bills claim these clinics are a threat to public health. How? Well, apparently they don’t immediately disclose that they don’t provide abortions.

Read the whole thing here.  It must be inevitable that those who would force their will, or allow others to force their wills, to take the life of unborn children would also take the right of free speech away from those who disagree with them.

Helping Haiti

The devastating earthquake in Haiti has now killed over 50,000 people. We support the Maison de Lumiere orphanage in Port au Prince where thankfully no one was killed and only one girl broke a leg. MDL staff is engaged helping the overwhelming number of wounded people in their neighborhood with their facility and clinic, and our missionary nurse Brooke James is working there around the clock with little food or sleep. You can see updates at the blog here: http://www.childhope.org/about/earthquake.html, and you can donate through eDivvy where 5% is matched: http://www.edivvy.com/childhope/. They have a goal of $100,000 and thus far have raised over $70,000. We look with confidence to God’s mercy during this situation.

All That I Ever Did

Following Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (the biblical setting for an engagement scene), John says “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did” (John 4:39).

For those with sentimental views of love and a tighter-than-the-Bible views of the Gospel, Jesus’ confrontation with the woman loses its punch. He didn’t just deliver the bad news “we are all sinners” or talk about her failure to glorify God though both are true. In love, he spoke to her sin while she was trying to hide it from him. He’s talking about living water, and she if she doesn’t directly know Solomon’s comparison of clean water to sexual fidelity and delight (Prov. 5:15-20), she certainly knew the connotation.

Teachers often note the racial lines Jesus crossed talking to the Samaritan woman, and he did cross those lines. But he also crossed the line to point out this woman’s sexual corruption straight up the middle. She had had five husbands and was shacked up with her latest man. Christ’s kind and frank confrontation frees her, and what caused many of her countrymen to believe was this testimony. They did not believe because Jesus was a magic-man who somehow figured out her secret sins. He told her what she had done, and how to be free of it, in all mercy and love. This woman was notoriously immoral like any woman who has had five husbands, and what a testimony–someone who didn’t pridefully or scornfully shame her, but took the time to tell her the truth! All who would turn others away from not just sin, but their sins, must do likewise.