Monday, March 10, 2014

But for Grace . . .

"There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness." 

----Andrew Murray

"She wears A LOT of make-up." That was my first thought. 

I looked at her picture and I mentally judged her character based on the amount of mascara that she had on. A Godly woman. A woman who had proven herself a servant of the Father, a humble example of grace. 

What was I really thinking? What was my heart saying? "I would NEVER wear that much."

Did it matter how much foundation she had on her face? Didn't the Lord see through to the beauty of her soul? But here I was, judging by the outward appearance, thinking myself just a tiny bit better because I supposedly had a tad bit more "discretion," and because my lipstick shade was just a little lighter. 

We can become caught up in "secondary" issues -- things that don't ultimately matter in the light of eternity and lose sight of what is real and important. 

Is it right to pierce my ears?

Can I wear a skirt that is just above my knee?

How tight is too tight?

Is my hair long enough? Is it wrong to cut it?

We become encumbered in these issues and forget what the Lord requires of us--

To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. 

And there is a present pride that is real and rampant in each of us -- that needs to be subdued and crushed daily, through the power of the risen Christ. 

And that is the sin of rebellion.

The old, Garden-of-Eden transgression. 

We think of rebellion as those "obvious" sins -- drunkenness, swearing, premarital sex, open flagrant acts--

We forget about the "little," hidden things, the carefully polished piece of forbidden fruit that we conceal in our pocket, shining it until it is just ripe enough to bite. 

We forget that "rebellion" is more than drinking, swearing, disobedience to parents, premarital sex. 

Rebellion is any form of pride.

Because pride is rebellion against God.

And this is why the Pharisees and the Sadducees received Jesus' greatest rebuke. These "whitewashed tombs" were literally full of rebellion and hypocrisy. 

I can do well to heed the warning . . . It is only too easy to become a beautiful, marbled place of death.

Fairly recently, I was surprised (surprised, but not shocked; there is nothing "new" under the sun) to hear that the President of Vision Forum was stepping down. 

A strong advocate of the "Quiverfull" movement and a powerful influence within some conservative Christian circles, Doug Phillips was guilty of the sin of a "natural" man--he behaved "inappropriately" with a woman who was not his wife. 

And so he and his family suffered the shame of his indiscretion -- to a greater degree, I think, because of his strong, insistent advocacy of Christian marriage, the importance of the marriage covenant, the purity of his own sons and daughters, and (in my own personal opinion) a strongly legalistic, unbiblical approach to the whole issue of biblical "courtship" and childbearing, and a father's patriarchal role within his family -- and how these issues should play themselves out within Christian relationships and family structures. 

(I would add a brief note here that I believe that there are some very Godly individuals who subscribe to these and to other such movements -- It is my personal conviction that these individuals are misled in their interpretation of Scripture in these particular areas -- but some are otherwise very sincere and Godly individuals who love the Lord with all of their hearts.)

I've always felt uncomfortable with Doug Phillips and his teachings because they smacked of pride to me -- not overt pride, but always the undercurrent of it. 

And I see the same pride in my own heart and shrink back. 

I know from experience the power that it can wield. 

I know from experience the danger of thinking too highly of myself.

And I know how capable I am of it.

My husband and I saved our first kiss for our wedding day -- Were we any more "pure" than Elisabeth Elliot and her first husband, Jim, who shared their first kiss on the eve of their engagement?  

I think not -- I know not.  Each child of God is responsible before Him for their actions and in-actions. And the Holy Spirit convicts different Christians in different ways in these so-called gray areas where the will of the Father needs to be sought for each individual life--always within the guidelines of His Word, but unique to individual Christians as they seek His Spirit. 

And again these decisions need to be prayerful, obedient responses to His Word, applied in our lives through prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit.

It is when we cling to a "pet" idea, philosophy, or principle -- or even to our own moral goodness based upon our interpretation of Scripture, rather than to Christ Himself -- then, no matter how "good" or wholesome or "right" these things may be, we are in danger of succumbing to spiritual pride. 

He alone can teach us whether or not it is best for us to wear a skirt above the knee (and it may be "right" for some and not for others--the issue is the motive of the heart--not the exact length of fabric), when the "right" time is to share a kiss, what respect for our husband means for us Biblically, and so on.

Does it matter what term we use to describe the time that we spent with our life partner before marriage? As someone once commented, "I've known some very impure 'courters,' and some very God-fearing 'daters.'" 

And I won't say that the words that we use to describe things aren't important -- they are -- but they aren't the "end-all" -- rather, our heart's motives and the fear that we have towards God are. 

And there is much good--or at least, good principles--in many of the things that Doug Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr. and those who are like-minded, purport.

For example, their "quiverfull" idea which springs from the truth that "children are a treasure from the Lord."

Their high regard for Biblical manhood and womanhood.

Their insistence upon purity before and within the marriage relationship.

However, it is when these ideas and truths are not joined with humility and a sincere searching of God's Word that things go awry and confusion sets in.

When, instead, the idea itself is clung to proudly and arrogantly, dismissing any other interpretation of God's Word -- within the realm of orthodoxy and legitimate interpretations of the Scripture.

We can strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.

And our own spiritual pride entraps us.

When I was a young girl, if someone would comment to my Mom about her parenting, she would always answer -- "It's only by the grace of God."

And her constant response made a strong impression upon me.

I knew, from my experience, that my Mom gave all of her heart and strength, poured every ounce of herself into raising us.

She literally went for years without buying new clothing for herself, made strong, costly sacrifices to stay home with us when we were very little, and was constantly, mentally and spiritually engaged in raising us up, to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion.

And yet, whenever anyone asked her what the "secret" to her parenting "success" was, she always answered, "only the grace of God."

Because my Mom believed that the Lord had given her a physical illness so that she would become closer to Him and pour everything that she had into her children.

Because she believed that He protected our family despite my father's constant backsliding and unfaithfulness.

Because she put her trust in God and knew what she was capable of without Him.

And I read about people who give all of the credit to themselves, with God as a sidenote, and my heart is disturbed.

I read about people whose children never (outwardly) rebelled, who never miss a church service, who glory (honestly) in their own goodness, in their own efforts.

And I think -- maybe they have forgotten that it is only because of the grace of God.

They think, we think, I think, "Oh, it is something that I have done -- some good thing, some right thing, heeded some scriptural principle -- that is why my family, my job, my dating relationship, etc., is flourishing."

And if anything goes wrong, if a child rebels, if the sink gets backed up, if my daughter won't sit still in church one day, that we have "messed up" in some way.

Not necessarily so.

Maybe -- and we definitely need to reflect, repent of things done and left undone, but the Lord at times allows trials such as these to test us, and to help us to remember that everything is grace -- that it is "only the grace of God" that touches what would have, could have been an ugly disaster and makes it beautiful through Him.

When we put our confidence in our own efforts, become enamored with our "correct doctrine," or parenting methods, or excellent child-rearing abilities, we forget the grace of God.

And again, I'm not saying that it it not important to pour all of our strength and mind and heart into the work that the Lord has called us to, whether it be parenting or some other vocation/ministry, but our spirit must be so knitted to Him, that we know that

nothing in our hands we bring; simply to His cross we cling.

It is His grace working in and through us to bring glory to Himself.

It is His mercy that makes everything beautiful in its time -- nothing that we have done.

We simply offer Him our obedient hearts -- or our desire to want an obedient heart, and we cast ourselves upon Him.

And when we look up, from a position of humility, His hand reaches down and blesses us--

The glory is all of His, none of ours.

We lay our crown at His feet--

And bless Him.


Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me,
As Thou didst bless the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
And I shall find my peace, my all in all.

Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me,
Thy holy Word the truth that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above;
Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.

O send Thy Spirit, Lord, now unto me,
That He may touch my eyes, and make me see:
Show me the truth concealed within Thy Word,
And in Thy Book revealed I see the Lord.

--Mary A. Lathbury

This was a very good, unbiased  blog post that I came across while researching the Doug Phillip's affair--very worthwhile to read and to reflect upon- written by a homeschooling mother of 8:

Photo credit --mascara
 Manuel MarĂ­n / Foter / CC BY

Publican and the sinner:
 Lawrence OP / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 Jason A. Samfield / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

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