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Hi, my name is Justus, I'm a Christian.I attended Patrick Henry College for three semesters, and I transfered to College of the Ozarks this fall. I love the Lord Jesus Christ the savior of my soul. He has made me new. He leads me in the Old Path; He is the Way. I am not perfect; my Lord is sanctifying me though.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

0h the Humanity!

Humanity-- to be humane-- human-- what does all of this mean? I have been receiving a lesson in this for my entire life, but over the last three months it has been especially emphasized to me. The professor who inspired the last three or so posts on this blog influenced me once again, along with another professor. In a class called Classical Ideals of Character, he suggested that to be human does not mean, as Aristotle defines it, to be a rational animal. He suggests compassion as the main trait that sets humans apart from animals. Learning to be human is what the humanities are about, so learning what a human is is of utmost importance to one studying the humanities.

As a side note, knowing what it means to be human is why the humanities are important in the first place. They aren't there just so that people can enjoy them, though if someone doesn't enjoy any part of the humanities I would suggest they need them more than those who love them. To hate art, literature, and history would be to hate the creations and stories that teach us what beauty, love, mercy, and all the other virtues are like. Someone who hates that would find it hard to exemplify those virtues to others.

Compassion is something I have always admired. Occasionally I lack compassion due to the miasm of the culture and my own shortcomings. And occasionally I feel the sharp pangs of empathy worse than anything I can imagine. But usually I am somewhere in the middle. Compassion links us together. It creates community and breaks the walls of isolation to pieces. We attend funerals to mourn the passing of a loved one, and we visit hospitals to encourage our friends, and we volunteer our time, money, and assets to help those in need. Without compassion, community and civilization would crumble. Humanity would fall.

When the Hindenburg burst into flames the famous cry was "Oh the humanity!" This was a spur of the moment lament that carried the sentiments of despair for life and compassion for death. There was nothing that anyone could do to save the lives lost in the accident, just like there is nothing we can to keep our bodies alive forever, until God makes them new. Death is a part of humanity, and compassion for the dead is part of that too.Consider "The Ruined Cottage" by Wordsworth. It is a poem about a man who meets another outside of a cottage in shambles. The second man, Armytage, is a peddler who knew the family that lived in the cottage. Armytage watched the family fall apart like the cottage when the husband went to war in order to keep them alive, since he could find no other way to do it. When the first man urges Armytage to continue his story after taking a moment, Armytage responds (emphasis mine):
It were a wantonness and would demand
Severe reproof, if we were men whose hearts
Could hold vain dalliance with the misery
Even of the dead, contented thence to draw
A momentary pleasure never marked
By reason, barren of all future good.
But we have known that there is often found
In mournful thoughts, and always might be found,
A power to virtue friendly; were’t not so,
I am a dreamer among men, indeed
An idle dreamer. ’Tis a common tale,
By moving accidents uncharactered,
A tale of silent suffering, hardly clothed
In bodily form, and to the grosser sense
But ill adapted, scarcely palpable
To him who does not think.
This response and much of the rest of the poem indicate that memory of the dead and mourning as a community create and hold community together. This is also evident in the Odyssey. When Odysseus is shipwrecked, the men who do not mourn his loss, the suitors of his wife, have forgotten him. They have left his memory by the wayside in order to further their positions in life, and this is cruel. The memory of the dead in the Odyssey is sacred. And without it civilization falls to pieces, which is why those people who did the unthinkable and did not consider those who had fallen while the kings and warriors were at Troy were punished through diverse means. Even in the Bible mourning was a public event, and the community participated in it together. (See the story of Jairus and the story of Lazarus for instances.) In today's society mourning as a community is much less dramatic. There is a short service and then most people just go on with their lives, leaving those most affected to mourn in solitude while we should be mourning together.

Compassion for the injured, sick, and dying is also something that makes us human. We cringe when we see a man do something cruel, such as the villain stepping on some helpless child's broken arm and laughing at their pain. That cringe is a moment of compassion that breaks through the numbness we have in our violent society. We even cringe when we're laughing at fail videos on Youtube. Compassion is inherent to what it means to be human. That's why visiting hospitals, sending get well cards, helping sick friends to take care of themselves, and all of these other gestures of compassion are seen as such essential parts of friendship. Friends are those people in whom we see humanity the clearest. We see their vices and their virtues, their cruelties and their compassions, and their hatreds and their loves. We know them by what makes them human, not simply by what makes them a fellow student or a neighbor or a coworker. Friends or enemies, when we see someone's compassion, we see them at their most human. They are participating in humanity with other humans by empathizing with their pain. (And this doesn't even just apply to compassion toward humans. See Proverbs 12:10. I have some trouble with this one because I tend to think that compassion is misspent on animals if people are still suffering, but I know that the Bible indicates here that compassion is for the suffering, not just humans. And the world groans with us, so why shouldn't I groan with the world? Romans 8:18-23) To participate in the pain of others, whether you have felt the pain yourself or not, is to participate in a community with them. We call that community between men "humanity," and participating we call "being human" or even "humane" when we are specifically talking about compassionate participation.

I have felt the sting of compassion. That is, I have had compassion that leaves me groaning with the suffering, but helpless to do anything to prevent the pain. The only action we can do in those cases is to pray to the One who has all power. In those cases compassion hurts, and why shouldn't it? It is an empathetic emotion and state of mind. Christ knows this feeling more deeply than any of us could fathom. He took all of our pain and all of our death upon himself and directly experienced it all. Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 bear that out. To be compassionate is not only to be human, but it is also to be Christlike, to be Christian. That is why Christians throughout the ages have been involved in prison ministry, hospitals, insane asylums,  funeral homes, slums, third-world nations, war hospitals, and even social justice movements. The Church has always been compassionate. The Church has a long history of mistakes, but those mistakes are only clouds that will burn away when the sun rises on the eastern horizon. When Christ comes back the Church will be glorified for the compassion she has had in this world. How will you contribute? How will you be Christlike? How will I?

P.S. God wants us to have compassion for our enemies too. Proverbs 24:17-18, Matthew 5:23-28
Written from my dining room.
P.P.S. Bonus verses: Psalm 25:6

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Right Way to Educate: Part 2 (What is the Goal?)

This post comes from a paper I wrote for the same class that inspired the last post. The views included do not represent anyone other than myself, unless you agree with me. (That goes for all of my posts unless otherwise stated.)

The citations are in the MLA style.

            In the debate on education reform, the most controversial perspective is one that calls for no reform. Obviously, the education system could be improved; the only serious debates now are how to reform it and why one method is better than another. The two most controversial conversations currently on the docket are whether morality should be a part of the educational system and whether students should get a broad, general education or a narrow, specified education. These questions come from a difference in philosophical ideals. Increasingly, educators adopt the view that morality is not something that teachers should promote and that a narrow education is more useful. These two positions, however, undermine the whole purpose of education: to shape a virtuous and intelligent populous which can care for itself and lead others.
            In the United States especially, the goal of education is to develop moral people. Benjamin Franklin suggested that “[w]ise and good men are... the strength of the state; more so than riches or arms.... [and] that general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortation of adult persons” (Federer 240). This country was founded with the trust that schools would continue to promote virtues. However, in the last century, virtue has been undermined in the school system. C. S. Lewis noticed this trend in the middle of the twentieth century in England, a trend which was occurring simultaneously in the United States. In his work The Abolition of Man Lewis uses a book he calls “The Green Book” to illustrate his point (13). He argues that works like The Green Book subvert the work of the educator to inculcate morals. Lewis notes that the way the authors achieve this subversion is not direct: “It is not a theory they put into [the schoolboy’s] mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all” (16-17). The moral nature of education is part of an ancient tradition which has only recently been broken, but the break was so sudden and so surreptitious that it was accepted with little protest; Lewis refers to this tradition as the Tao (29). He indicates that the difference between education into the Tao and modern education is the difference between a bird teaching its young to fly and a poultry keeper developing his chicks for the slaughter (Lewis 32-33). A moral education is necessary for the populous to be able to care for itself; if the education system does not develop morals to live by, the people will not be able to live independently. Someone will have to tell them what to think.
            If people are to think for themselves, they had better think well. Uninformed decisions could lead to very dangerous results. However, the problem here is not whether students should be taught, but how. If the students are taught in a narrow, focused education system, then the students will be able to perform better in their jobs or careers. However, if they are trained in a broad, general system, they will be able to make connections that a focused education would not afford. Cardinal Henry Newman approached this dilemma in The Idea of a University. Newman, defending the university against the utilitarian cry for practical education, suggests that a general, or liberal, education holds knowledge as an end in itself rather than a tool as a practical, or servile, education does (524-525). He argues that knowledge “is an object, in its own nature so really and undeniably good, as to be the compensation of a great deal of thought in the compassing, and a great deal of trouble in the attaining” (Newman 524). He later writes that “we are satisfying a direct need of our nature in its very acquisition” (Newman 524). However, Newman insists that knowledge can and does lead to more than itself; his main argument is that it need not, but he agrees that it is useful in attaining other ends as well. With that in mind he argues that the Liberal Arts teach that “which... provides the most robust and invigorating discipline for the uninformed mind” (Newman 537). Yet modern thinkers argue that a practical and focused education would be more beneficial. Even those who argue for a binary system, allowing students to choose which they will pursue, assume that those who will choose the Liberal Arts “don’t have a sense of direction,” implying that the Liberal Arts is a mere failsafe for the students who do not know where they belong in the society (Allitt 594). Patrick Allitt, though well meaning, has fallen for the trap set up centuries ago, that education must bear fruit apart from virtue and knowledge. The idea that “physicists who want only to study physics should be free to do so, without laboring through courses in art history that seem to them a waste of valuable time” is born from the assumption that knowledge itself is not worth the thought it takes to understand, or the time it takes to acquire (Allitt 593). This utilitarian view of education misses the point, however, a liberal education affords students more tools to solve complex problems, making it more useful than an education in the practical arts in the long run. Knowledge itself is the main goal of an education, and a liberal education is best suited to that pursuit.
            Education has been such a troublesome subject because those who argue about what it should do have not taken the time to understand what it is. Cardinal Newman says that “education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connexion with religion and virtue” (529). The character that education forms is part of the purpose that Louis Menand assigns education: “to empower people, to help them acquire some measure of control over their lives” (597). However, implications and purpose still do not answer the question of the definition of education. The word education comes from the Latin educere, which means “to lead out.” An associated word, pedagogy, has similar connotations; it comes from peid ago: “to lead children.” Now, to lead requires a leader. Manand indicates this when he argues, “[I]t isn’t what [teachers] teach that instills virtue; it’s how [they] teach. [Teachers] are the books... students read most closely” (599). In the definition of educere, the idea of leading also indicates that the students are being led out; but from where? One assumes that Plato answers this question with his analogy of the cave. The enlightened man leads those chained out of the cave of ignorance into the light of the sun, viz., knowledge.
In an education system where the end goal is the production of workers, as opposed to self-reliant citizens, reform is necessary if the society is to resume its original, successful course; likewise, this reform would be best if it were to make the education method like the one in place during the height of the society’s growth. Therefore, the system best suited to the reform of the current methods of education is that of the Liberal Arts— let free men be taught as such.
           
Works Cited
Allitt, Patrick.  “Should Undergraduates Specialize.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education 16 June 2006.  Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions.  Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau.  Boston:  Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1999.  591-594. Print.
Federer, William J.. America’s God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations. St. Louis: Amerisearch, 2000. 240. Print.
Lewis, C. S.. The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1965. Print.
Menand, Louis.  “Re-imagining Liberal Education.”  Rollings College, Florida. Speech. Rpt. in Education and Democracy. Ed. Robert Orill, City of New York College Entrance Examination Board, NY, 1997. Print.  Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions.  Eds. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau.  Boston:  Bedford/St.Martin’s, 1999.  597-599. Print.
Newman, John Henry. “Discourse V, Knowledge its Own End.” The Idea of a University, Defined and Illustrated. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898. 99-123. Rpt. In The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010. 522-533. Print.

---. “Christianity and Letters.” The Idea of a University, Defined and Illustrated. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898. 256-265. Rpt. In The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What it Means to Be an Educated Human Being. Ed. Richard M. Gamble. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2010. 533-537. Print.

In love,
Justus
(Written from my desk at school)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Right Way to Educate: Part 1 (What is Wrong and What is Missing)

     I have a wonderful class this semester called Composition II. It is basically a class in written rhetoric, or persuasion if you will. Those who are in the class with me are engaged and engaging, the professor who teaches it is a wonderful and thought provoking man, and the content of the class is superb. Both in and out of the class I have been piecing together this blog post.
     Throughout the semester we have been discussing a set of ideas centering around Natural Law. We wrote a paper discussing the similarities or differences between Sophocles' "law of Zeus" in Antigone and the "Law written on [men's] hearts" in Paul's letter to the Romans. We considered Machiavelli's ideas and compared them to the Declaration of Independence and to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." And we read C. S. Lewis's work "The Abolition of Man." All these sources have led most of our class to the conclusions that persuasion is the only alternative to violence and that in order to be persuasive it is necessary to have shared values to which the rhetorician must appeal.

      I thought I would share some of my thoughts on this subject. Firstly, I agree with the above conclusions. I am a realist, as opposed to a nominalist, which means I think that words mean something outside of what meaning the hearer chooses to give them. I also believe in definite virtues and vices which are defined by their adherence or lack thereof to God's character. That aside I think the rest of my argument will fit nicely together.

Most of my argument will come from "The Abolition of Man" (hereafter "The Abolition"). C. S. Lewis's work is a masterpiece and I don't think one blog post could do it justice. You should definitely read it at least once. In it he argues that the way children are taught, and the way teachers are thinking are destructive and that Natural Law, or the Tao is being thrown out for the first time in history which will lead to "the abolition of man". Now this was written several decades ago, and we can see that his argument is more relevant than ever before. The Tao indicates that we should honor our parents and look in wonder at beautiful things and be kind to our fellow man. The appendix in "The Abolition" gives examples of this from many cultures. One of his main focuses in the first chapter "Men Without Chests" is that of the two tourists in front of a waterfall, one calling it pretty and the other calling it sublime. Lewis brings this up via the authors of what he calls "The Green Book." These authors debunk the idea of sublimity by saying that it is merely how the man feels about the waterfall. Lewis suggests that the waterfall merits wonder, which is why we call it sublime. Even if we didn't feel that wonder, Lewis argues, it would still merit that feeling. I learned this my Freshman year of college in a class which almost everyone else complained about. The class was meant to teach us meta-cognitive techniques and to help us to combine our learning into a harmonious whole. In one of the lectures the guest speaker spoke about intrinsic and instrumental good. He differentiated by telling us that intrinsic good is good in itself, whereas instrumental good is good because it eventually leads to an intrinsic good. This struck me because I had spent a couple of years trying to understand why snow and traditions like keeping the top button of my shirt unbuttoned were called good. (I learned that tradition is there for a reason and that snow is beautiful and thus intrinsically good by applying this lecture and some other things that were going on at the time.) All that said, Lewis is arguing for the real, objective existence of intrinsic values. Intrinsic values are, like intrinsic good, values that exist in the thing in question.
     The example of the waterfall was carried further in my class. The waterfall not only merits feelings of wonder, but also feelings of dread. In this way, the world is much more complicated than we try to make it. Once we made that observation I thought back to my Western Literature class in which we read "The Franklin's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer. I compared the waterfall to the black rocks in the story. They merit fear. Dorigen cannot think of any useful reason for the rocks and in her monologue by the cliff she questions the wisdom of creating such "fiendish" works and prays that they may "sink into hell." This fear of the rocks was not simply how she felt about them; the rocks were dangerous. Countless men had died on them and few, if any, lived. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, as the old adage says. The purpose of education is to teach the way to recognize and to appreciate that beauty. (It also teaches us to recognize and appreciate other intrinsic values such as fear.)
     Quintilian, an early rhetorician, addressed this "education of the heart" that Lewis calls for in his "Institutes of Oratory." In chapter two of book six in his work, Quintilian writes, "But what more peculiarly belongs to it [ethos] is simulation of some virtue, of making satisfaction to some one, and εἰρωνεία (eirōneia), "irony" in asking questions, which means something different from that which it expresses." Lewis adds to this as he discusses education of the heart. He refers to his own attitude toward children: "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind." Here he refers back to St. Agustine's ordo amoris: "the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it."
     Lewis's attack on modern educational trends is not limited to "The Abolition." Eustace, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is described as liking "[A]nimals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card...[And] books of information [that] had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools." Here is the result of "The Green Book." This passage describing Eustace is also mentioned in Anthony Esolen's book "How to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child." In it Esolen uses Eustace to make the same point. Proverbs 22:6 is an axiom which indicates that children inculcated with the Tao at early ages will not leave that path. (Tao means the Way. ;-) ) This works both with the Tao and against it. For a child trained to debunk will debunk and train others to do so as well.

I hope to write another post like this one. It was getting long, and I have a few tidbits which wouldn't fit into the topic I chased.

Blessings,
Justus

(Written from my desk at school.)


Friday, October 4, 2013

Kingdom Fandom

      This one will be short. I was talking the other day with some friends and the idea of  fandom came up. For those of you who might not know what that is I'll try to describe it, then I'll give some examples. A fandom is a group of people who are radical fans of a TV show, book series, movie, or something else. Popular fandoms include Ringers (Lord of the Rings), Whovians (Dr. Who), and Potterheads (Harry Potter). I was curious what the difference was between a casual fan and a member of the fandom. The first option we considered was their internet presence. That is are they constantly on blogs, Pintrest, Twitter, Facebook, or forums talking about the fandom? We rejected this  as a good definition for fandom because fandom has existed longer than the internet, and many of the members of these fandoms and others do not spend a lot of time on the internet. Our second thought was the purchase of items related to the fandom, but that didn't come out quite right either. After asking another friend I finally got an answer I liked. A fan is passive, whereas a member of a fandom is active. 

Now to the meat. I have nothing against being part of a fandom. I probably fit into one or two myself. However, I thought about the way we treat these interests and the way we treat Christ. Usually we spend more time thinking about the interest we follow than following Jesus with interest. Jesus calls us to follow. His origional followers were called disciples <followers>. (And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Matthew 4:19-20) We are called to be members of his fandom. And this doesn't mean we just post things about Him on the internet or purchase Jesus themed merchandise, though there is no problem with either of these things. This means that we are to actively pursue Him in our thought, our conversations, and our lives. (Yes I realize this idea has been done before; it's an old old story. I'm just updating phraseology.)

Follow the Old Path,
Yours affectionately,
Justus

(Written from my desk at school.)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Think Again, or Don't Be a Cultural Lemming

     I haven't been doing a lot recently. Though I just started my transition into a new school, I've been relatively unproductive. Production is something necessary for a healthy society. A culture made of entirely consumers will soon consume itself.
   There have been a lot of  things that have brought these sort of thoughts to mind.I recently heard a police officer bemoaning the culture after yelling at several people who did not understand the traffic directions he had given. He said, "We live in a society in which people want to be told what to do, but don't want to think about what they can do." I thought this was an astute observation, one which applies to almost every aspect of life. We want to be told how we should dress, how we should eat, and what movies we should watch. We are always looking for opinions, we are  always looking to others. And yet we are looking to others in order to further ourselves. We want to know what the critics and our friends are saying so that we can show how sheik we are. But does that really matter? Do the things people tell us we should do get us anywhere? Where will we end up if all of us follow the crowd? Are we headed for a cliff? Like lemmings, will we leap off when everyone around us is? I hope not.
     Now, I'm not trying to tell you to go do whatever you want. Social mores are there for a reason. I learned this a couple of years ago. (The semester before this blog started.) I do not need to rebel against tradition, just for the sake of rebellion. Some traditions are there in order to preserve order, to keep us from running off by ourselves and falling off a cliff.
     What I am suggesting is that we think before we follow the faceless crowd. Jesus, in His "High Priestly Prayer" in John 17 says, "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." We, as Christians are not to be like the rest of the world, so why should we look to them for our culture? Paul, likewise, admonishes: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." The way we think should be different. 
     The other day, my brother showed this video. The kid here, Jacob Barnett, has asperger's syndrome and is fourteen years old. He is on track to disprove Einsteinian astrophysics. His advice at the very end of the video caught my attention. (Here's a quote if you don't have time to watch the video:

Stop learning and start thinking. You guys have a passion out there, and you all know what it is. So I want you to think about that field instead of learning in that field. And, instead of  being a  student of that field, be the field.

His advice is interesting because I see in it Biblical principals. The writer of Hebrews chastises his audience  for similar reasons:

Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

He tells us the same thing. We need to stop just learning and start doing. (Though I'll admit that I think both should be happening.) I am guilty of this. I love to learn, but I don't do much with it. Both Paul and James weigh in on this issue as well. Paul writes, "it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified." And James echoes, "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves."
     This mindset pervades our thinking as deeply as our own vision for the future. We tend to think about our future in terms of where we will be, what job we will have, and what we will be doing. This idea was challenged in my mind at my school's orientation week, which I attended at the end of last month. One of the speakers spoke against drinking, as the school has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol. But instead of simply telling us of the dangers, he challenged our character, and our own vision of the future. He suggested that: "Who do you want to be is what we should be asking ourselves instead of what do you want to be."
     This question should be in the forefront of every Christian mind. Who do I want to be? I hope in my life that the answer is clear; I want to be a little Christ, a reflection of the mercy and love of the Living God. I see that reflection in Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon. Recently Dr. Carson spoke at my school, reiterating much of what he said at this year's national prayer breakfast. Here are some of my favorite quotes: "Humans are made in God's image, and God's no dummy." (And from his mother) "Do you have a brain? Yes? Then you can sort your way out of the problem."  But my favorite over all, and the one that is most relevant is: "When we stop looking for excused, we start looking for solutions." This is my favorite because of the practical value it has, and because it is an echo of Jacob Barnett's video in my mind. We need to stop learning, stop complaining, stop making excuses, and stop sitting on our hands waiting for something to change. We need to make change ourselves. We need to be doers.
     One thing we need to start doing is to start thinking. We need to learn to let our mind be renewed by dwelling on "Whatever is  is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and... anything worthy of praise." We need to abide in Christ and in His word (John 15). We need to meditate on God's Word. As the writer of Hebrews refers to the solid food, or meat, so we need to chew on it. And once we've learned to think rightly, let's do what God's Word says. Let's produce a new culture that won't lead to a dead end, a culture of life. Let's get out of the lemming parade, and "enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." Let's get back on the Ancient Path and walk in the Way.

Blessings, Justus

Written from my dining room.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Laws of Life

     This summer I was tasked with writing a paper with the topic "The Laws of Life". I started to write down ideas and came up with a list that could take me in several directions. Once I decided on how I wanted to approach it I sat down and started to type. That's how I often start essays (and how I start a lot of my blog posts). This time, though, I was hit with a problem: I had to write a narrative about the topic, which meant a story. That would not have been a problem, but for the topic and my thoughts on it. The way I had started led to something like this blog, an essay in which I discuss my own take on the subject, not a story. My problem was taking my thoughts on the idea and looking for stories in my life which showed that I knew what I was talking about and lived it out.
     As I thought, I just couldn't think of any significant times in my life in which I had used the laws of life I had set for myself. (I had some minor things, but writing about them just seemed like trite bragging.) So I stopped writing and stood back. Often we set rules out for ourselves and we make them as easy to follow as possible, yet still we break them and end up feeling guilty. This problem (termed akrasia by philosophers) is the very problem Paul struggled with in Romans 7.

"I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"
     Luckily he approaches it from the same angle I have to. (I wrote these verses down in my original list) In Romans 8 the first thing Paul does is compare the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus with the law of sin and of death. The two different laws are at war with each other: akrasia. More and more I realise that submitting to one law is rejecting the other. And I can never follow both at once.
     When I first got this assignment I was staffing at the Bible camp that I have grown up going to and staffing at (after I turned 14). One theme that the staff has been focusing on this summer is the enemy Christ came to defeat (what we are really freed from). I have always thought of Christ's motives in terms of heaven and hell, and a long time ago God vs. Satan, but the real enemy is sin! Not to say that Christ didn't defeat the devil or free us from hell, but these were all minor battles in the war against sin. Sin is the sting of death; it is the cause of death, it is the problem introduced into the world by Adam's rebellion. John writes:
 "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."
In the past I always read this passage as "the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil", now the emphasis I see is "the works of the devil". And just before that he tells us what those works are: sin.
     Look through all the passages you associate with Christ's mission on the world (He came to seek and to save that which was lost, etc.). These passages all point back to the problem philosophers, politicians, religious leaders, teachers, parents, employers, and every day people deal with: sin. John talks about it, Peter talks about it, David talks about it, and all of them have only one answer: God.
     The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is the only alternative to the law of sin and of death. The Old Testament Laws were all inspired by the Spirit and given by God. Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. This is the Gospel we spend so much time talking about. This is the Gospel we need to share. God created men in His image, an image which was marred by man's choice to allow sin in his life. But God didn't let that get in the way of His plan. He sent the Law to show us that we need Him. And He sent grace to save us from the Law of sin and of death. He sent His sinless Son to become sin and to die on our behalf, that His justice might be done, and that He might show us His love. The old path was set. We left it. The boundaries were set. We moved them. And after getting lost and finding we had led ourselves to death's door, He brought us back and showed us the boundaries He had set before time.
"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Frustrating God

     Our God is frustrating. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way, but I mean to catch your attention. God is sovereign and all knowing, and He orchestrates all things according to His own plan. We make plans every day, even if they are spontaneous, they're still our plans. We decide that we are going to have a burger for lunch, we decide today is the day to propose, we plan to get a paper done today, and we decide that in two weeks we are going to go on vacation. None of these things are bad, though many people plan to do wrong according to Proverbs 15:26. But our God is a God of frustration. Proverbs 16:9 says "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." Not all of our plans pan out.
     I have been learning that this year. I had plans to come to Patrick Henry College and graduate here, then to find a job I love and to get married. These plans are all pretty vague, except that I planned a specific place I wanted to be when I graduated. Now it looks like God has other plans. It seems I ignored James' advice. "Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." I had counted on my own plans, and now, due to circumstances out of my control (God's hand, as far as I can tell) my plans have been frustrated. I was upset, in more than one sense of the term. Like many saints before me I was displaced from where I thought God wanted me. My own plans were not His. God makes this clear in Jeremiah 55:8-9. What makes my situation worse is my original reaction. I was angry. Why would God bring me here just long enough that I should get comfortable, then force me to leave? Why would He let me come at all? These questions put me in an analogous position to Jonah. Not the sitting in the belly of a big fish, where Jonah learned to repent and obey God, but sitting under a withered weed where Jonah questioned God's mercy and justice. I was sitting under the withered weed of my self-centered hopes and blaming God for killing a plant I didn't even raise. I didn't do anything extraordinary to get to Patrick Henry, I was trusting God for every cent to pay for the education. I had even made this clear to myself beforehand. So when I found out I wouldn't be able to come back next semester, I should have accepted the change as God's new plan for my life, but instead, I questioned His wisdom.
      Recently I have been getting over my resentment. Almost every conversation I have had in the last week has centered around the goodness of God and His plans for my future. Romans 8:28 has been coming to mind frequently. Though out of context, I have been connecting the idea of God's good plans for me from here and Jeremiah 29:11 with a passage in James 1, where James tells us that all good things come from God. God's plans for me are good. In this I have faith. He is good, sovereign and will not fail to reward those who love Him, be it on earth or in the Kingdom.
     George Müller is one of my heroes. His faith that God would provide everything he needed and that God's will for him was where he needed to be was seemingly unwavering. (Though as a man, I suspect he had many doubts.) I came to Patrick Henry wanting to be like George Müller, never wanting for anything because of God's provision, but I didn't have the faith to let God choose my path. I tried to direct my own way and then let God provide what I needed to follow it. Who is to say God won't still do this, but I suspect God wants me to follow a different path now, and that He will provide, but in a much different way than I had planned. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

-From my desk at Patrick Henry College
In faith, Justus

Proverbs 15:26, Proverbs 16:9, James 4:13-14, Jeremiah 55:8-9, Jonah 4, Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, James 1:17, Proverbs 3:5-6