Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Guest Post: Vanishing Lovingkindnesses and Tender Mercies

The idea that kindness seems to be vanishing in our day and in our country is not a matter of a pessimistic outlook but one of everyday observation. Political differences, as an all-too-obvious example, appear to have reached a new level of ugliness. Kindness hasn’t disappeared altogether, yet neither has it taken society by storm. For many people, an act of kindness is little more than a “nice” occurrence, even though some are aggressively promoting the action. Hence the bumper sticker: “Practice Random Acts of Kindness!” Things like holding the door open for a person or letting an individual with very few items go ahead of us in a checkout line are just a few of the countless number of acts that we can all appreciate.
On the other hand, it’s grievous that many even consider their acts of kindness to be a contributing factor toward getting their “ticket” to heaven. They erroneously believe that their works add up to making them a “mostly good person”—certainly not one deserving of hell!
None of these views relate to what the Bible has in mind regarding kindness—not even one’s accumulated “nice” acts. When I want to get a better idea about the definition of English terms used in Scripture, I’ve found Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary to be very helpful. His love of God’s Word is evident, as he often supplied the KJV scripture verses in which the words are used. In addition, his 1828 Dictionary is easily accessible and can be searched online. He defines “kindness” as an “Act of goodwill; beneficence; any act of benevolence which promotes the happiness or welfare of others. Charity [love], hospitality, attention to the wants of others, etc., are deemed acts of kindness or kindnesses. Acts:28:2.”
The primary focus of the biblical Christian is understanding what God is communicating to His creatures through His Word. His major objective is to go beyond what the world thinks, and the Scriptures indeed go far beyond the mindset, practices, and capabilities of the world. How far? God’s kindness itself is a significant action on His part that is involved in the salvation of humanity. “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” (Titus:3:4-6; emphasis added). That’s “opening a door for us.” That’s providing a “kindness” that no one but Jesus could—and did—provide. He has “set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” (Revelation:3:8). Notice that the verse in Titus:3:4 connects kindness and the love of God.
Twenty-three times in the psalms we read of “kindness” and “love” as one word. That’s rarely, if ever, found in the world’s “random acts”—and certainly not God’s lovingkindnesses. Here is what’s involved in His lovingkindnesses, as given throughout the psalms: physical salvation for those who put their trust in Him (17:7); tender mercies (25:6); truth (26:3); trust, protection (36:7); continuation, righteousness (36:10); proclamation (40:10); preservation (40:11); night and day (42:8; 92:2); worship (48:9); mercy and forgiveness (51:1); better than life (63:3); goodness (69:16); faithfulness (88:11; 89:33); His promises (89:49); redemption (103:4); understanding (107:43); reviving and refreshing (119:88, 149, 159); praise (138:2); guidance (143:8). These are just some of the attributes found within the character of our loving God, whom we are to know and love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark:12:30).
Isaiah declares, “I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses” (Isaiah:63:7). Yes, that was for Israel, but better yet, it’s made available for all mankind! Yet humanity has a penchant for taking what God has “bestowed” and turning it to self-glorification. The word received by the prophet Jeremiah corrects that self-serving orientation, which completely misses what God’s lovingkindness is all about: “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah:9:23-24).
God wants us to understand Him and know Him. It’s not about us; it’s about Him. He wants us to delight in what He delights in, and He delights in our extending lovingkindness to others. To that end, He has enabled us by His grace to reflect His attributes. We are to “be the children of the Highest: for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil [person]” (Luke:6:35). We are to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians:3:12). For all of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ, those are not just things we do, but they are who we are to be as Christians. True Christianity is wholly others-directed. Selfless. Is that the way the world sees us? 
I received an article recently that startled me. It was an interview with Richard Dawkins. What surprised me was his observation that Christianity is losing its influence for good in the world, and, as a consequence, creating a vacuum that is giving rise to increasing wickedness. That is a stunning reflection by a man who is arguably the chief of the atheists. He still doesn’t believe in God, but he sees a literal fear of God by those who do believe in Him as a welcome deterrent against evil. He’s concerned that losing that fear will give “people a license to do really bad things,” and what he sees happening throughout society is shaking his confidence in his own belief in humanity’s inherent goodness. He realizes that people need help to do good (http://bit.ly/2R9eiPs). 
But that’s not the main shocker. When a committed atheist can see Christianity failing in its influence while, at the same time, Christendom’s own leaders are mostly heedless of that fact, the church is in serious trouble.
What’s the problem? Much of the church is in the world, and much of the world is in the church. How can the church influence the world for good when it’s emulating it? When they both look and act alike, their differences fade away. Consequently, those things that delight God—particularly our emulation of His lovingkindnesses and our “others” directedness—are slowly but surely vanishing.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is what Martin and Deidre Bobgan refer to as “hidden in plain sight” (See http://bit.ly/30g2UFC). That has to do with counseling and its errors. The Bobgans have written volumes to enlighten the church as to the true biblical way that believers in Jesus are to minister to one another. This case in point displays a classic irony. Biblical counseling should be an altruistic activity in which people help one another by first and foremost restoring their relationship with the Lord, and out of that will follow a reconciliation with one another. In other words, growing in our love for Jesus and being obedient to His instructions is the only true solution to a believer’s problems, whatever they may be. The irony is that the opposite, through counseling (with few exceptions), is taking place throughout Christendom. 
Counseling in the church emulates psychological counseling, which is all about self and is therefore antithetical to the Word of God. “Hold on a minute!” protest those who function in a church as so-called biblical counselors. “We are doing it God’s way!” The Bobgans have read volumes of biblical counseling instructions and watched hours of such videos and have yet to find counselors doing it “God’s way.” Here are only two examples that demonstrate just how destructive such “therapy” is for the body of Christ. 
Everyone who goes to counseling wants to have his or her problems solved, no matter what those problems may be. When that becomes the focus, however, it departs from the biblical solution, which is only found in one’s personal relationship with Jesus. Problems (which never end this side of heaven) for the believer in our Lord must be worked out according to Galatians:2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” To think that a significant problem of living, especially involving our relationships with others, can be solved by any other means is to invite the disaster of Proverbs:14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Death here means separation from the truth of God’s Word.
The second very critical error found in church counseling is the “hidden in plain sight” state of affairs. Counselors and counselees are seemingly oblivious to their opposition to God’s Word as they go about their counseling sessions. How opposed are they? Let’s start with what is declared all through the Scriptures regarding how we, as believers, should treat others. The golden rule is basic and covers a great deal: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew:7:12). That’s fundamental, yet Jesus sets the bar way beyond that. After declaring what was the first of all the commandments, He adds the second: “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark:12:31). When questioned by the lawyer as to who was his neighbor, Jesus gave the example of what the Samaritan did for the man attacked by robbers and left half-dead, ending with the admonition to “Go, and do likewise” (Luke:10:29-37). Luke also records, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil [person]” (Luke:6:35, emphasis added).
The word “kind” in this verse is translated “gentleness” in the passage that lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians:5:21-22). It’s the same Greek term: chr─ôstos. Similar to fruit, kindness must be cultivated and grown in grace. As noted earlier, a believer’s life in Christ must reflect His lovingkindnesses. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another” (Romans:12:10). A host of analogous verses are far too numerous to list here simply because this is what biblical Christianity is all about. Any belief or practice that deviates from those verses is a travesty, meaning a false and utterly destructive representation. Does present-day psychological counseling and psychologically influenced “biblical” counseling qualify as a travesty? Yes, even though its practice clearly perpetuates sin, that fact seems to be hidden in plain sight of the perpetrators.
Typically, as noted above, counselees come to counseling to have their problems solved by a counselor. The counselor believes that he or she must amass details related to the problem to discern what needs to be addressed and fixed. The counselee’s primary focus is upon getting the problem solved. Two critical errors are exposed here. 1) The counselor is displacing the Holy Spirit, who alone knows the heart, mind, depth, and complexity of the sin involved, as well as the truthfulness of the counselee. 2) The process bypasses the counselee’s current relationship (or lack thereof) with the Lord as the only truly effective way to resolve his or her sin issues.
As bad as that is, it leads to a far worse situation. Both counselors and counselees are clearly sinning against the Lord in their counseling process. That is particularly evident when relationships are involved. Take, for example, a married couple that is not getting along. In the counseling process, complaints are brought against one another. These complaints inevitably turn into bad-mouthing each other, which the Bible calls “evil speaking.” The counselor is guilty of prompting such a sinful activity through his problem-solving attempts. Furthermore, all of this is diametrically opposed to God’s lovingkindnesses and tender mercies. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians:4:31, emphasis added). Tragically, the above describes most attempts at counseling failing marriages. This may also contribute in a major way to the fact that, statistically, the number of divorces among Christians is little different from non-Christians. 
In summary, God’s lovingkindnesses and tender mercies are vanishing—not from God but from His church. That’s because His church is slipping away from Him (Hebrews:2:1) and leaving its first love, who is Christ himself (Revelation:2:40). His bride is turning to the world for ways to solve its problems—ways that will only make her conditions worse. Although Richard Dawkins does not know the reasons for Christianity’s failing influence, he recognizes its current state. Counseling that is truly biblical should be what the world sees, and its successes should glorify our Lord and increase Christianity’s influence for good. 
When psychotherapeutic counseling entered the church in the 20th century, it began as a snowball rolling down a mountainside. It quickly reached avalanche proportions, burying the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture in its destructive path. The only change in this century is the incredibly massive remaining snow and debris that seems to be frozen solid. Turning Christianity back to counseling God’s way may not happen, given the increasing apostasy that is and will continue to take place prior to the Lord’s return. Nevertheless, as watchmen of God’s Word, we must heed the words of Isaiah: “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence” (62:6). Our function as watchmen is to warn those individuals who are entrapped by the Christianized psychological delusion. We are to be in a grace-enabled rescue operation, praying that the Lord will help us to reach those who have “ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Revelation:2:7,11,17,29;3:6,13,22).
By T. A. McMahon