Saturday, December 29

Thank You Notes

Are thank you notes the "last bastion" in an epidemic of discourtesy? This fascinating article in the London Times by Valarie Grove quotes everyone from St. Ambrose to Emily Post, from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the Von Trapp Family Singers. I love it--even though I've not finished writing my thank you notes yet either.

Tuesday, December 25

Merry Christmas

Christians have celebrated the incarnation and nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25 since at least the early part of the third century—just a few generations removed the days of the Apostles. By 336, when the Philocalian Calendar—one of the earliest documents of the Patriarchal church—was first utilized, Christmas Day was already a venerable and tenured tradition. Though there is no historical evidence that Christ was actually born on this day—indeed, whatever evidence there is points to altogether different occasions—the conversion of the old Pagan tribes of Europe left a gaping void where the ancient winter cult festivals were once held. It was both culturally convenient and evangelically expedient to exchange the one for the other.

And so joy replaced desperation. Celebration replaced propitiation. Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices. Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor. In other words, it wasn’t that the new Christian calendar was an accommodation to the old Pagan calendar, it was that Christ had begun the process of converting the culture. Glad tidings of great joy, indeed.

Monday, December 24

Yet: O Glorious Yet

This day,
In sadness borne,
We must confess:
The Spirit of the Age
Has crushed
The infant in the cradle.

And yet:
O glorious yet,
One day, in gladness shown,
We must profess:
The infant from the manger
Has crushed
The Spirit of the Age.


Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

Saturday, December 22

Christmas Gifts

Exchanging gifts, specially wrapped in colorful foils and papers, was a feature of Christmas celebrations from as early as the fifth century. A reminder to everyone within the community of faith that, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” the gifts well represented the character of the incarnation itself--the most glorious act of selfless giving that could every possibly be imagined.

Thus, gift giving was originally conceived as an act of covenant renewal and commitment. It was intended as a simple but beautiful expression of a Christo-centric worldview. Joyeux Noel.

Thursday, December 20

Not for Fashion

The fad has passed. The fashion has dulled. But cancer continues to harry us. I wear the yellow LiveStrong band to remind me to pray for Kay. I wear the red St. Jude Hospital band to remind me to pray for Charlotte. I wear them both together with thanksgiving for the faithfulness, courage, and testimony of all those who suffer the adversity of illness and pain, yet not as those who have no hope.

Wonderful

It's a Wonderful Life was shown in a charity preview at New York's Globe Theatre the day before its official premier on this day in 1946. The film was directed by Frank Capra and starred Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. It became an instant holiday hit.

Based on the story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, it focused on a man who believed he was a failure in life--all because he never left the small town where he grew up. George Bailey, ran his family's small-town savings and loan, something he swore as a child he’d never do. George, a decent and good man who served his town well, struggled to make ends meet at a job he never really loved. When disaster strikes, Bailey decides to commit suicide. But then, in a Christmas Carol-like twist of fate, an angel named Clarence helps George see what life would have been like in the town if he had never been born. In the process, he rediscovers all the things that matter most--and realizes that he has actually had them all along.

The film's emotional ending, vindicating the values of hard-work, community, faithfulness, service, loyalty, friendship, faith, family, and true love, is an undoubted classic.

It's a Wonderful Life was reportedly the favorite work of both actor Stewart and director Capra from their long and illustrious careers. And, as you might have guessed, it is one of my all-time favorite films as well--holiday or otherwise.

A Wonderful Trailer

Tuesday, December 18

Expelled

Bierce's Franklin

When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Ambrose Bierce, formerly a student of Architecture, History, and Latin at the Kentucky Military Institute, had aimlessly drifted into itinerant life as a waiter and day-laborer. Out of sheer boredom he enlisted in the Ninth Indiana Infantry and for the next four years he was anything but bored as he was thrown into the maelstrom of the terrible battles of Shiloh, Picketts’s Mill, Chickamunga, and Franklin.

The experience provoked him to begin keeping a journal—and ultimately those battlefield musings became the basis for some of his greatest literary works including “The Crime at Pickett’s Mill” (1888), “A Son of the Gods” (1888), “The Coup de Gr√Ęce” (1889), “Chickamauga” (1889), “The Affair at Coulter’s Notch” (1889), “Parker Adderson, Philosopher and Wit” (1891), “A Horseman in the Sky” (1891), “Two Military Executions” (1906), and his hauntingly provocative short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890). In 1891 his collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians was published gathering all these works together in a single volume.

Bierce went on to become one of the great iconic writers of the day, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mark Twain, Henry Adams, and Stephen Crane.

My friend Bing Davis recently drew my attention to a previously uncollected Bierce journal entry from his years as a soldier. His eyewitness reminiscences of the Battle of Franklin tell the story of the five bloodiest hours of the entire war on November 30, 1864. With economy, irony, and cinematic clarity the short piece, What Occurred at Franklin, already shows the young writer’s promise and affords a rare glimpse into one of the most tragic engagements in all of American history.

The Terms of the Debate

On this day in 1979, Francis Schaeffer gave an historic speech which would form the basis of his landmark book A Christian Manifesto. He asserted that "the basic problem with Christians in this country" over the last two generations or more has been that "they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals." The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to the dire dilemmas of our day: "They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality--each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem."

Of course, the issue of worldview had been prominent in modern theological discussions ever since the work of Abraham Kuyper made it the centerpiece of the debate between Revolutionary Enlightenment Modernity and Reformational Biblical Christianity a century earlier. But by raising the issue when he did and how he did, Francis Schaeffer altogether altered the terms of the cultural debate in America and ushered in a new wave of reform by making it the everyday parlance of Evangelicalism.

Saturday, December 15

Amending the Constitution

Because of fierce opposition to the adoption of the newly drafted Constitution by the anti-federalists, several of the independent American states proposed amending the document to better protect the states as well as individuals from the incursions of the centralized federal government. Thus these ten new planks were drafted, debated, and eventually adopted. They became the first ten amendments to the Constitution—finally ratified on this day in 1791. Ultimately, this Bill of Rights, as the amendments came to be known, proved to be among the greatest cornerstones of American liberty.

The preamble—often edited out of school book copies of the Bill of Rights—laid out the purposes of the amendments as well as the character of the fledgling federal union, “The conventions of a number of states having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

The first of the amendments, quite contrary to modern interpretations, clearly prohibited the new federal government from restricting religion in any way shape or form, as well as providing for free speech and expression, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The second of the amendments clearly expresses the need for citizens to be able to defend themselves against the incursions of oppressors—including those that might come from the government itself, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth amendments secured legal rights for the citizens against possible incursions by the government, while the ninth asserted the extremely limited nature of government allowable by the new constitution—only those prerogatives specifically enumerated by the covenant could be exercised, and no more, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Finally, the tenth of the amendments asserted that any governmental powers not specifically assigned to the new federal union automatically remained in the hands of either the states or the people, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

It was a remarkable hedge of protection that has served for all these many years now to preserve the unprecedented freedoms of the American people.

Thursday, December 13

St. Columba

Two centuries after Patrick had carried the Gospel of Christ to Ireland, Columba was born in the Irish town of Donegal on this day in 521. He was a member of the royal family—though his parents were devout Christians, and as a boy Columba attended what was said to be the first church established by Patrick.

Columba was ordained and apparently established several churches and monasteries in Ireland, but in 563 he left his native land (some say, under a cloud of controversy) and went on pilgrimage for Christ. With twelve companions he sailed to Iona, a rugged little island just off the west coast of Scotland. There he established a monastery which would eventually serve as a base of evangelism among the barbarian Caledonians and the Picts.

He and his cadre of pioneer evangelists courageously preached to the fierce Scots peoples who were still under the strong influence of the Druid religion. Brude, king of the Picts, was converted under Columba's influence, and Christianity began to spread quickly and have a strong influence on the region.

The monastery Columba founded at Iona also became a center of learning and piety. In a day when the Roman church was becoming more ceremonial and priestly, the school at Iona emphasized the Bible as the sole rule of faith. For these Celtic Christians, Christ alone was head of the Church—they did not follow the hierarchical authority or the liturgical ceremonies of the Roman church.

From Iona, a vast number of missionaries went out to the lands of Holland, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. As a result, the island became a favorite burying place for kings—more than seventy Irish, Scots, Norse, and Fleming kings sought to be interred within its holy confines.

By the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory tried to bring the movement Columba had begun under the authority of the Roman ecclesiastical see. He sent the missionary Augustine to Britain in 592 and established him as bishop at Canterbury. For a century there was a struggle between the British church and the Roman church for authority in the region. At last though, in the seventh century, at the synod of Whitby in 664, the authority of the Roman prelacy was affirmed and accepted by all but a few of the churches. Even those few recalcitrant parishes in the Highlands of Scotland eventually acceded to Rome’s control by the end of the eighth century and Columba’s vision seemed all but lost—until that is, as many later claimed, it was revived under John Knox and George Buchanan during the Scottish Reformation of the sixteenth century.

Wednesday, December 12

George Clymer (1739-1813)

The heir of a substantial Philadelphia business and banking fortune, George Clymer risked everything to become a leader of the patriots in the early in the conflict with the King, served in public office for over twenty years, and signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. A man of unusual intellectual curiosity, he also served as an officer of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Agricultural Society.

One of the first members of Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety, and one of the first to advocate complete independence from Britain, Clymer was called upon by the Continental Congress to serve as the first treasurer for the United States, and he undertook the almost impossible assignment of raising money to support the government’s operations, chief of which was the new Continental Army. And Clymer devoted not only his great energy, but also his own fortune to the cause, exchanging all his money, which was in hard coin, for the shaky continental currency.

On this day in 1776, when Congress fled a threatened Philadelphia, Clymer was one of the committee of three left behind to maintain essential government activities. During this crisis Clymer drove himself almost to a state of exhaustion. Shortly after this ordeal, the British captured Philadelphia and plundered and destroyed his home.

In Congress, Clymer performed valuable services as a member of committees dealing with financial matters. During the final years of the war, he was again responsible for obtaining funds for the Army. At the Constitutional Convention Clymer, who was not an exceptional speaker, distinguished himself by his work in committees dealing with his specialty--finance. In 1791, after a term in the first Congress, Clymer served as Federal Collector of the controversial tax on liquor, which led to the Whiskey Rebellion.

He concluded his career by negotiating an equitable peace treaty between the United States and the Creek tribe in Georgia. Clymer served the cause from the beginnings of the movement for independence and established his place among the Founding Fathers, although he never sought a public office in his life.

Saturday, December 8

Fasting

The Hebrew word for "fast" used throughout the Old Testament is tsome. The Greek word used throughout the New Testament is nacetis. Both literally mean "to cover over" or "to affix." The idea is not simply to cover over the mouth--and thus to refrain from eating for a few hours or even a few days--but to affix the attentions to other matters altogether. It is "to focus on" or "to fasten on" spiritual matters rather than merely temporal matters. It is "to hold fast" to Christ--and nothing else. It is to abstain from one thing in order to attain to another.

It is only by a slow and patient walk in grace that we are able to fully comprehend that "man does not live by bread alone" (Matthew 4:4). Fasting is a means that God has appointed to realize anew how it is that Christ has liberated us from the tyranny of the flesh and from the awful surrender of the spirit to the body and its appetite. It is a mighty provocation for us to "humble ourselves under God's mighty hand" (1 Peter 5:6).

Whenever and wherever it is mentioned in the Bible, this gracious appointment of the mature Christian life--the discipline of fasting--has a conspicuously prominent role in humbling God's people so that they can concentrate on spiritual things:

Joshua and the elders kept a solemn fast after their people were defeated by the men of Ai (Joshua 7:6).

Jehoshaphat appointed a day of fasting and prayer throughout his kingdom when the confederated forces of Ammon and Moab came against him (2 Chronicles 20:3).

When Queen Esther felt herself and her people to be in danger from the conspiracy of Haman, she set apart a season of solemn prayer and fasting (Esther 4:16).

Ezra, when setting out on his mission to Jerusalem, assembled the returning captives at the River Ahava, and there proclaimed a fast (Ezra 8:21).

David fasted and prayed in humiliation in the aftermath of the Bathsheba incident (2 Samuel 12:16).

The inhabitants of Nineveh set apart a season of special prayer and fasting following the pronouncement of judgment by Jonah (Jonah 3:7-8).

Even the hardened Ahab fasted and cried for mercy when the judgment of God was denounced against him by Elijah (1 Kings 21:27).

In the New Testament, we see the pious prophetess Anna engaged in serving God day and night with fastings and prayers (Luke 2:37).

Cornelius, the devout centurion, likewise was engaged in fasting and prayer when the Lord first appeared to him (Acts 10:30).

The apostle Paul repeatedly speaks of his habit of waiting on God by fastings as well as by prayer (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27).

And even our Lord Jesus entered on His public ministry only after a long season of preparatory fasting (Matthew 4:2).

Mentioned more than seventy-five times in the Bible--more than Baptism, the Lord's Supper, witnessing, or even tithing--fasting is one of the most basic and essential of the disciplines of the Christian life. Of course, iving as we do in these modern times, the very idea of fasting seems a bit arcane and esoteric. Perhaps a tad legalistic. Maybe even bordering on fanatical. But from a Biblical perspective it is just a normal aspect of the Christian faith.

But, Why Fast?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus drives home the importance of normal, regular fasting for His disciples with a warning, a command, and a promise, "And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret, will repay you" (Matthew 6:16-18).

First, notice that fasting is not an exercise of ritual correctness: for those who must put on holier-than-thou airs. Jesus says that when we fast, we are not to look like it. None of that baptized-in-vinegar look. No woe-is-me-I'm-in-the-midst-of-a-spiritual-trial expression to wrinkle our nose or mar our visage. Fasting is supposed to evoke humility. If we fast for some outward, physiological, or social benefit; if we fast for whatever sympathy, empathy, or kudos we can muster, then we have already received our reward in full. "Do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do," that is the warning.

Second, fasting is to be a part of our regular routine. It is to be seamlessly woven into our normal lifestyles. It is to be fully integrated into our walk with both God and man--with a minimum of disruption. We're to do good--but we're to look good while doing it. "Anoint your head, and wash your face," that is the command.

Third, fasting is Godward in its orientation. It's only audience is Him. It's only intent is Him. It's only object is Him. It is wholly and completely subsumed in Him. "And your Father who sees in secret, will repay you," that is the promise.

Inherent in all three--the warning, the command, and the promise--is the assumption that no matter what, one way or another, the disciples will fast. That much is understood. It is assumed. It is a given. "When you fast," Jesus says (vs. 16). And again He says, "when you fast" (vs. 17). No ifs, ands, or buts about it. "When."

Our fasting may be absolute (Deuteronomy 9:9) or partial (Daniel 10:3). It may be entirely private (Nehemiah 2:1) or demonstrably corporate (Jeremiah 36:6). It may be occasional (Acts 13:3) or seasonal (Zechariah 9:19). But one thing is certain: if we are followers of Christ; if we are genuine Christian disciples; if we are seriously seeking the will of God, obeying His Word, and walking in dependence on Him, we will fast (Matthew 9:14-15).

It is interesting to consider that Adam and Eve lost both their spiritual purity and their temporal paradise--all because they failed to fast at the appropriate time.

It is equally interesting to survey the annals of history to discover that virtually all of the heroes of the faith through the ages have put a high priority on fasting. From Athanasius to Augustine, from Polycarp to Patrick, from John Chrysostom to John Calvin, from Brother Andrew to Mother Teresa, and from Francis of Assisi to Francis Schaeffer, the saints of yore took advantage of every appointment of grace--not the least of which was fasting. Not only that, but they encouraged their churches, their communities, and their nations to do likewise. It is nothing if not common to find references to whole congregations consecrating themselves to covenantal fasts and solemn assemblies. Calls by national leaders for days of prayer and fasting were regular occurrences throughout the West during the glory days of Christendom. Washington, Adams, Jackson, Lee, Davis, Harding, Coolidge, and Eisenhower all stood foursquare in that tradition of "seeking first the kingdom" by establishing regular days of national repentance and fasting.

It would have been inconceivable to any of them to neglect such an essential aspect of humble discipleship--as inconceivable as substituting recovery for repentance, serenity for sanctification, or limericks for creeds.

Otto Blumhardt, the great seventeenth century Lutheran missionary speculated that should the day ever come when such substitutions did actually occur, the minions of the "culture war" would be the least of our worries. He said, "On the day the church abandons its care of the poor, its fervent ministry of supplication, and its intently chosen fast--for whatever good will or intentions--on that day we will undoubtedly see its clergy dragged off in wickedness and promiscuity, its parishes awhoring after greed and avarice, and its congregations awash in every vain imagination and unspeakable perversion. On that day, the church will cease to be the church. May it never be. May it never be. Stay that day with the hand of faithful diligence, I pray. Stay that day with the fastening of faith."

Thursday, December 6

St. Nicholas

The fourth century pastor who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, may not have lived at the North Pole or traveled by reindeer and sleigh but he certainly was a paradigm of graciousness, generosity, and Christian charity. Nicholas of Myra’s great love and concern for children drew him into a crusade that ultimately resulted in protective Imperial statutes that remained in place in Byzantium for more than a thousand years.

Though little is known of his childhood, he was probably born to wealthy parents at Patara in Lycia, a Roman province of Asia Minor. As a young man noted for his piety, judiciousness, and charity, he was chosen bishop of the then rundown diocese of Myra. There he became gained renown for his personal holiness, evangelistic zeal, and pastoral compassion.

Early Byzantine histories reported that he suffered imprisonment and made a famous profession of faith during the persecution of Diocletian. He was also reputedly present at the Council of Nicaea, where he forthrightly condemned the heresy of Arianism--one story holds that he actually slapped the heretic Arius. But it was his love for and care of children that gained him his greatest renown. Though much of what we know about his charitable work on behalf of the poor, the despised, and the rejected has been distorted by legend and lore over the centuries, it is evident that he was a particular champion of the downtrodden, bestowing upon them gifts as tokens of the grace and mercy of the Gospel.

One legend tells of how citizen of Patara lost his fortune, and because he could not raise dowries for his three young daughters, he was going to give them over to prostitution. After hearing this, Nicholas took a small bag of gold and threw it through the window of the man’s house on the eve of the feast of Christ’s Nativity. The eldest girl was married with it as her dowry. He performed the same gracious service for each of the other girls on each of the succeeding nights. The three purses, portrayed in art with the saint, were thought to be the origin of the pawnbroker’s symbol of three gold balls. But they were also the inspiration for Christians to begin the habit of gift giving during each of the twelve days of Christmas--from December 25 until Epiphany on January 6.

In yet another legend, Nicholas saved several youngsters from certain death when he pulled them from a deep vat of vinegar brine--again, on the feast of the Nativity. Ever afterward, Christians remembered the day by giving one another the gift of large crisp pickles.

The popular cultural representation of St. Nicholas as Father Christmas or Santa Claus, though drawing on a number of such legends, was based primarily on a the Dutch custom of giving children presents--slipping fruits, nuts, and little toys into shoes or stockings drying along the warm hearthside--on his feast day, December 6. Throughout the rest of Europe during the middle ages, that day was marked by festively decorating homes and by a sumptuous feast that interrupted the general fasting of Advent. And in Scandanavia it was celebrated as a day of visitation, when the elders of all the remote country churches would bundle themselves in their thick furs and drive their sleighs laden with gift pastries through the snowy landscape to every home within the parish.

The transformation of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus is rooted in a number of intertwined traditions, legends, and archetypes. But perhaps more than any other sources, the advertising of soft drink manufacturer Coca Cola and the holiday cartoons of New York newspaperman Thomas Nash have profoundly shaped our perception. Coca Cola’s serving trays, signage, and print ads popularized the Nash caricature of a rotund, jolly, fur-draped, gift-laden, and unbidden visitor who pops down chimneys and distributes gifts to children all over the world.

Alas, thus stripped of his pastoral function and parish proximity, Santa has become almost fairy-like in his mythic proportions--and this day of remembrance has become little more than just one more shopping day before Christmas.

Sunday, December 2

The First Sunday of Advent

"There is something about saying, 'We always do this,' which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts." Edith Schaeffer

Throughout history, Christians have marked the passing of the days, weeks, and months of any given year with the sequential details of the Gospel story—with an anticipation of the coming of Jesus during Advent, His birth at Christmas, His trials, temptations, betrayal, and death during Lent, His resurrection at Easter, the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost, and then the growth and maturity of the church thereafter until the cycle is repeated the next year. In other words, the keeping of the seasons is a way for us to retell the Gospel every single year, from start to finish.

Advent is thus, the beginning of the “church year” or “church calendar.”

This season is one of those rare times when even the most spontaneous of us loves to recall old traditions and familiar legacies. We love to sing old carols. We love to break out the old dishes, the old recipes, and the old stories. Advent traditions abound.

For instance, the Advent season begins today--four Sundays prior to Christmas. Traditionally, Christian families and churches have celebrated this season of preparation each Lord’s day with the lighting of one candle in a small table-top evergreen circle--known as an Advent Wreath--accompanied by an appropriate Scripture reading. The candles vary in color from culture to culture, but generally the first three candles are red or purple and the last one is white or golden. For families that find themselves each year vowing that their celebration of the season will focus more on the real meaning of Christmas and less on the brouhaha, this is the place to begin to set the tone for the holidays.

Another enduring tradition is Saint Nicholas Day. Celebrated on December 6, this day recalls the selfless service of Nicholas of Myra (c. 288-354). The fourth century pastor ultimately inspired the tradition of Santa Claus. In reality, he was a model of graciousness, generosity, and Christian charity. His great love and concern for children drew him into a crusade that ultimately resulted in child protection laws that remained in force for more than a thousand years. His feast day is celebrated around the world. In the Netherlands, cookies and gingerbread treats are often placed in shoes or laid out stockings for the sleeping children--which may well have been the origin of Christmas gifts and hearthside stockings.

Regardless of what particular traditions our individual families celebrate, as we begin this new season of glad tidings, let us enter into a new season of Gospel retelling with great joy, remember the old paths, the old ways, and the old traditions, with new and fresh faith.

Monday, November 26

St. Jude Marathon

This weekend in Memphis several members of the King's Meadow Endurance Team will be running in the St. Jude Marathon. They will be running those 26.2 miles in an effort to raise support for the study center's Gospel-centered educational and discipling endeavors. Because of my shoulder surgery this past week, I won't be able to pound the pavement with them. But, that is not stopping me from participating. I am committing to support them with my dollars as well as my prayers. Won't you join me--and them--as we attempt to raise up the next generation of leaders? You can pledge right online.

Saturday, November 24

The Highest Things

From James Schall's On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs:

"All education begins and ends in our souls, in our view of the highest things, and in the courage we have to pursue them."

"I think in general that you can get a terrible education in the best and most expensive universities and that in fact most students do."

"I believe it is practically impossible to obtain an education in the highest things in most existing universities. I do not say that especially loudly, and it is not necessarily a cry of despair. But the first thing one must notice about today's schools, if he is to begin at all, is that students have little real confrontation with the highest things, including the truths of revelation."

Constant Assiduities

"It is by dint of steady labor; it is by giving enough of application to the work, and having enough of the time for the doing of it; it is by regular painstaking and the constant assiduities; it is by these, and not by any process of legerdemain, that we secure the strength and staple of real excellence." Thomas Chalmers

"It is not by irregular efforts that any great practical achievement is overtaken. It is by the constant recurrence and repetition of small efforts directed to a given object, and resolutely sustained and persevered in." Thomas Chalmers

Tuesday, November 20

Religion Externalized

Culture is simply a worldview made evident. It is basic beliefs worked out into habits of life. It is theology translated into sociology. Culture is a very practical expression of the common faith of a community or a people or a nation. Culture is, as Henry Van Til famously quipped, "religion externalized."

What a person thinks, what he believes, what shapes his ultimate concerns, and what he holds to be true in his heart—in short, his faith or lack of it—has a direct effect on his material well-being, behavior, and outlook; on his sense of what is good, true, and beautiful; on his priorities, values, and principles. After all, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”

What is true for one person is equally true for a whole community of persons. In 1905, Max Weber, the renowned political economist and “founding father” of modern sociology, affirmed this fundamental truth for modern social scientists in his classic work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He argued that the remarkable prosperity of the West was directly attributable to the cultural, personal, and ethical prevalence of the Christian tradition. In contrast to so many other cultures around the globe, where freedoms and opportunities were severely limited and where poverty and suffering abounded, Weber found that faith brought men and nations both liberty and prosperity.

The Christian faith changes people. Therefore, the Christian faith changes culture. The reasons for this are multitudinous:

First, true faith reorients all of us fallen and sinful men to reality. Because of our selfish proclivities we are all too naturally blind, foolish, ignorant, and self-destructive. More often than not, we are ruled by our passions, our lusts, and our delusions. We simply have a hard time facing reality without the perspective of faith. Faith in Almighty God, however, removes the scales from our eyes and the shackles from our lives. In Him we are at last acquainted to what is right, what is real, and what is true.

Sociologist James Gleason has said, “Faith serves us all well as a kind of reality-check. It is a transcendent value that enables us to more adequately and objectively evaluate our most bewildering situations and circumstances. In other words, it gives us a perspective beyond our own purblind vantage.”

A culture shaped by what is right, what is real, and what is true will manifest significantly art, music, literature, science, and ideas just as surely as a person shaped by them will.

Second, the Christian faith counteracts the destructive effects of sinful actions and activities. Sin is not a concept that has much currency with modern social scientists, economists, politicians, community organizers, civil rights activists, and social service providers. It has become rather politically incorrect to even speak of it. Men who have rejected God and do not walk in faith are more often than not immoral, impure, and improvident. They are prone to extreme and destructive behavior, indulging in perverse vices and dissipating sensuality. And they—along with their families and loved ones—are thus driven over the brink of destruction. On the other hand, faith reforms us with new and constructive values. We are provoked to moral and upright lives of diligence, purity, sober-mindedness, thrift, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

According to psychologist Nancy Hellman, “Where poverty, violence, and destruction germinate in the rotting soil of sin, productivity, harmony, and hope flourish in the fertile field of faith. If we were to recover the concept of sin in our society—even from a moderately secularized perspective—we would go a long way toward eradicating the evils of modern life.”

In other words, a culture that understands the character and nature of the Fall is going to be tangibly, substantively, and manifestly different than a culture that does not.

Third, the Christian faith establishes a future orientation in our hearts and minds. All too often the modern men and women either flounder in a dismal fatalism or we squander our few resources in an irresponsible impulsiveness. Many of us are terribly short-sighted, unmotivated, and naive. And “where there is no vision the people perish.” On the other hand, genuine faith provokes us to live thoughtfully, to plan, to exercise restraint, and to defer gratification in order to achieve higher ends. We are induced to self-control, wisdom, and careful stewardship in order to build for the future.

Bartok Havic, the great Czech historian, has said, “History’s record is clear: a people who cannot look past the moment, past the fleeting pleasures of fleshly indulgence, will be a people whose culture vanishes from the face of the earth. Ultimately, only faith gives men a sustaining vision for that which is other than their own selfish desires.”

Fourth, the Christian faith provokes us to exercise responsibility. Outside of the bounds of faith in God we are all naturally prone to selfishness, wastefulness, and sloth. Faith on the other hand enables see past ourselves, growing into selfless maturity. We are able to become more responsible to redeem our time. We are able to become more responsible to make the most of every opportunity. We are able to become more responsible to fulfill our calling in life. We are able to become more responsible to use our money wisely, to care for our families, to serve the needs of others, and to be an example of redemptive love before all men everywhere. It is this very kind of diligent responsibility—this very fruit of faith—that we most need if they are ever to fully recover the vision of life and culture that brought the Western world to flower.

“It is faith,” says George Gilder, “in all its multifarious forms and luminosities, that can by itself move the mountains of sloth and depression that afflict the world’s stagnant economies; it brought immigrants thousands of miles with pennies in their pockets to launch the American empire of commerce; and it performs miracles daily in our present impasse.”

Senator Ted Kennedy once asserted that, "The ballot box is the place where change begins in America." Although he has been fiercely and vehemently wrong in the past, Kennedy has never been more wrong than this. As George Will has argued, “There is hardly a page of American history that does not refute that insistence, so characteristic of the political class, on the primacy of politics in the making of history.” In fact, he says, "In a good society, politics is peripheral to much of the pulsing life of the society."

This is the great lesson of history: it is ordinary people of authentic Christian faith who are ultimately the ones who best able to shape the outcome of human events--not kings and princes, not masters and tyrants. It is laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances that upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is plain folks, simple people, who literally change the course of history--because they are the stuff of which history is made. They are the ones who make the world go round. For, as G.K. Chesterton said, "The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children."

Ultimately, that is our greatest hope for the future. It is simply that a new grassroots majoritarian emphasis on things that really matter--on the Gospel and its fruits--will emerge as we train up the next generation of culture-shapers. It is that a love for hearth and home, community and culture, accountability and availability, service and substance, morality and magnanimity, responsibility and restoration will capture hearts and minds and lives. It is a hope that may be stymied, obstructed, and hampered--but ultimately it cannot fail.

As the famed journalist H.L. Mencken once said, “The man who invents a new imbecility is hailed gladly, and bidden to make himself at home; he is to the great masses of men, the beau ideal of mankind. His madness must necessarily give way to right, sooner or later, though usually later.”

Or as the poet F.W. Faber wrote:

“For right is right, since God is God,
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.”

Shocking Survey

A shocking new survey reveals how dire the situation is for the contemporary American church. The great tragedy is that it is the church which has been entrusted with "the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world."

According to the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy's 2007 State of the American Church Survey:

- Just over 1500 American pastors leave the ministry each month.
- Nearly 4,000 churches are planted each year.
- But more than 7,000 close each year.
- 50% of all pastors’ marriages end in divorce.
- 70% of all pastors constantly fight depression.
- 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged by their role as pastor that they would leave the ministry today if the could.
- 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, a confidant, or a mentor.
- 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry in the first five years.
- 90% of pastors say that their seminary of Bible school training did only a fair to poor job in preparing them for the ministry.
- 85% of pastors said that their greatest problems that are discouraging, divisive, and disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, staff members, and associate pastors.
- 75% of Pastors are regular users of Internet pornography.
- 80% of pastors’ wives wish their husbands would choose another profession. A majority of pastors wives said the most destructive thing to ever happen to their lives was the day their husband entered the ministry.

May God raise up in our midst pastors, leaders, and parish congregations to buck these wretched trends. As my friend Cindy Rollins has beautifully reminded us, the need of the hour is for faithful reapers and kingdom seekers to lay down their lives to and share the harvest--for the Lord is calling such to His great Gospel work.

Friday, November 16

Servanthood

The idea of “servanthood” is showing up just about everywhere these days—even in places you might least expect it. Many business and management consultants for instance, are beginning to see the importance of a life of selfless service as the key to prosperity and progress.

Servanthood is a much ballyhooed concept in the burgeoning literature of business success and personal management. We are told for instance, that our dominant industrial economy has been almost completely transformed into a service economy by the advent of the information age. The service factor is the new by-word for success in the crowded global marketplace. Good service guarantees customer loyalty, management efficiency, and employee morale. It provides a competitive edge for companies in an increasingly cut-throat business environment. It is the means toward empowerment, flexibility, and innovation at a time when those qualities are essential for business survival. It prepares ordinary men and women to out-sell, out-manage, out-motivate, and out-negotiate their competition. It enables them to "swim with the sharks without being eaten alive."

According to Jack Eckerd and Chuck Colson, service on the job and in the workplace can mean many things, “Valuing workers. Managing from the trenches. Communicating. Inspiring excellence. Training. Using profits to motivate.”

Virtually all the corporate prognosticators, strategic forecasters, motivational pundits, and management consultants these days seem to agree--from Tom Peters, John Naisbitt, and Stephen Covey to Richard Foster, Michael Gerber, and Zig Ziglar. They all say that servanthood is an indispensable key to success in business or success in life.

These analysts have begun to grasp the fact that selfless service is essentially a complex combination of common courtesy, customer satisfaction, and the spirit of enterprise. It is simply realizing that the customer is always right and then going the extra mile. It is a principle-centered approach to human relationships and community responsibilities. It is putting first things first. It is the recovery of that positively medieval concept of Chivalry.

This resurgent emphasis on servanthood is not just confined to the corporate world however. It has also reappeared as a stock-in-trade public virtue in the discourse of politics. Candidates now offer themselves for “public service” rather than to merely “run for office.” They invoke patriotic images of community service, military service, and civic service as evidence of their suitability to govern the affairs of state. Once in office they initiate various programs for national service. They charge the government bureaucracy with the task of domestic service. And they offer special recognition for citizens who have performed exemplary volunteer service.

Servanthood is the leading edge of a new approach to sports as well—with the recovery of the concept of “team” over individual achievement. Likewise, it is the latest trend in academic counseling—where campus “spirit” is emphasized over and against the old dog-eat-dog world of scholastic competition. Indeed, the notion of selfless service is making its way into a myriad of cultural applications—and none too soon in light of the culture of selfishness our consumerism and materialism have helped to create over the past three or four decades.

This sort of servanthood is defined rather broadly in a series of happy public and private virtues—as an expansive sense of civic-spiritedness, good neighborliness, community-mindedness, big-hearted cooperativeness, open-minded receptiveness, and unbridled patriotism.

Of course the genuine spirit of service inherent in servanthood can’t simply be a tactic designed to boost profit margins, to protect market shares, to keep customers happy, or to improve employee relations. It can’t just be a strategy designed to inculcate patriotism, strengthen community relations, or attract more investments. It can’t merely be a technique to pad resumes, garner votes, or patronize constituents. It cannot be a matter of recasting a style of leadership, a personality bent, or a habit of highly effective people.

Instead, true servanthood is a function of gracious mercy. It is a genuine desire to seek the best for others, to put their interests before our own, and to exercise authentic love. Thus, the difference between the ministry of service and the business of service is like the difference between faith in God and faith in faith.

And that makes all the difference.

Faith in Faith and Faith in God

Faith in God is personal and objective. Faith in faith is impersonal and subjective. Faith in God transcends self-interest and self-fulfillment. Faith in faith descends into self-reliance and self-assurance. Faith in God is a belief in Someone who has revealed Himself to man “at many times and in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Faith in faith is simply “a belief” in something or anything (James 2:19).

Parish Model

Thomas Chalmers argued for the "parish model" of ministry, particularly in cities, saying, "Now, in our large towns, we have the ministerial service without the pastoral; and we all know what a loose and precarious connection between ministers and people this has given rise to."

He explained, "It forms a most imperfect spiritual husbandry—just as much so as if in natural husbandry the whole of the agriculture were confined to the mere casting of the seed upon the ground, without any preparation of the soil before, without any inquiry or care about the progress of the vegetation afterwards, although the rains of heaven, which easily might have been drained off, should destroy the rising crop, or the fowls of the air, which might have been easily scared away, should devour it. The scanty and uncertain produce from such mere scatterings as these, will represent the scanty and uncertain produce of all our city sermons."

Indeed, he asserted, "There has been little or no preparation of the soil for them beforehand, in a rising generation trained by religious schooling, or taught in the bosom of well ordered families; and no surveillance, whether by the pastor or his associates, afterwards, as in those good old days when it was not thought enough that ministers should preach, but that elders should seek the fruit of it among the people—armed with authority enough to put down those moral nuisances which multiply now without check and without control on every side of us. There is a wide, and, under the present system of things, an impracticable gulf of separation between the clergyman and the families of his territorial charge; and even should his church, Sabbath after Sabbath be filled to an overflow by people not his own, he, on the one hand, can take no adequate weekly cognizance of them—nor, on the other, can he do aught to stem or make head against that practical heathenism, which is taking deeper root, and every year becoming more inveterate and hopeless within the limits of his own peculiar vineyard.

Therefore, he concluded, "Let the patronage be as righteous as it can, there is not a city-population what will not rapidly degenerate under the regimen of well-served pulpits and ill-served parishes. The word that is sounded forth may be carried far and wide, as by the four winds of heaven, and even descending here and there upon individual consciences, may cause that the town shall not be spread, but, if I may use the expression, be spotted with Christianity; just as in savage islands, where, with the distribution, such as it is, of the vegetable family under the random play and operation of nature’s elements still we might behold occasional tufts of richest luxuriance, or surpassing loveliness and verdure—yet the island after all is a howling desert; the town after all is a moral wilderness."

Vegas Cant

After reading news reports of the Las Vegas "debate" between Democratic presidential contenders last night, I began to wish the old maxim was actually true, that "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." If only.

It was then that I remembered a wonderful quote from the inimitable Thomas Chalmers, "Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world, there is no cant to me more hateful than the cant of an ostentatious and affected liberality."

Thursday, November 15

Bow Ties

Since my posts on bow ties just over a week ago, I have had a host of inquiries about where to get them. Far and away my favorite source for an excellent selection of handmade, easy-to-tie, silk, cotton, and wool ties is Beau Ties of Vermont. There are lots of cheaper sources and a handful of more expensive ones. Over the years, I've tried them all. What I have learned is that poorly constructed, inappropriate materials, or improperly shaped bow ties are the stuff of bad comedy. But, as Oscar Wilde observed, “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life."

Saturday, November 10

Jonathan Beach (1960-2007)

Jonathan Beach was among the rarest of breeds--he was a genuine renaissance man. In his 47 short years, he accomplished much. He was a financial consultant and international banker. But he was also a gifted artist and musician. He was a scholar, teacher, and historian. Beneath his calm New Englander’s exterior, he was an accomplished athlete and a fierce competitor. He held an M.B.A, an M.A. in Media Management, and an M.A. in American History. Committed to Christian education, he taught at various times at the elementary, high school, and college levels. He was a member of the Trevecca University Orchestra, having recently been named first chair violinist. And of course, he was a devoted husband and daddy to his girls—wife Diana and daughters Isi and Lina.

But, most of all, Jonathan was a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus. He had a heart for ministry and was committed to a life of service. He was a devoted member of Christ Community Church for 17 years, serving as a deacon, a Sunday School teacher, an instructor in church history classes, and a catechism mentor to our covenant children. For the past year, he furthered the work of Gospel serving as a church planter and charter member of Parish Presbyterian Church.

At my daughter’s wedding this past summer, Jonathan served our family as the usher who escorted my dear wife to and from her seat and my ring-bearer-grandson up and down the aisle.

This past Wednesday evening, he taught violin lessons to some of the children in our church family at their home. He got in his car intending to come to the church’s prayer meeting and then afterward home to his beloved family. Instead, he went home to be with the Lord.

This Monday afternoon, we will come before the Lord in worship at Jonathan’s homegoing service. Our hearts will be filled with gratitude in light of the great legacy he leaves behind, with sadness in light of our great loss, and with thanksgiving in light of Heaven’s gain. “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be given to the Jonathan Beach Family Education Fund at any Regions Bank.

Wednesday, November 7

Bow Tie Trend

I guess if you are persistently old-fashioned enough, long enough, fashion trends have a chance to circle back on you. I dare not say too much here, but it looks as if my penchant for bow ties just might have a chance to become respectable again. At least, that's what a photo-essay in New York Times asserts. What will those crazy kids think of next?

Apocalypse Now

Say what? Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson held a press conference this morning to endorse pro-abort Rudy Giuliani for the Republican presidential nomination. What's next? The four horsemen?

I have always found Robertson to be inscrutable. But, this really does take the cake.

D. James Kennedy, once prayed at the Republican National Convention, "Lord, deliver us from politicians--and give us statesmen." To which I might add, "And Lord, deliver us from wanna-be televangelist kingmakers while you're at it."

How to Tie a Bow Tie

King's Meadow Endurance Team

Over the course of the next several months the students and teachers at King's Meadow will not only be studying, reading, writing, thinking, and growing--we will be running and cycling. Our plan is to run more than 100 miles and bike another 100 in seven different endurance events throughout the mid-South--all in an effort to raise support for our educational and discipling endeavors. Won't you join us as we attempt to raise up the next generation of leaders? You can pledge by the race, by the mile, or by the season.

King's Meadow Study Center is a covenantal community of Reformed Christian thinkers, writers, artists, teachers, students, activists, and friends endeavoring to facilitate Gospel faithfulness and Word and Deed effectiveness in their own lives, families, and communities. In the coming months, we are seeking state approval for an expansion of our work to include a full-fledged collegiate program. Serving as a missional extension of Christ’s church to cultivate knowledgeable, wise and faithful servants of God, our mission is to provide the best in liberal arts education under the Lordship of Jesus Christ according to the Holy Scriptures.

Obviously, this is a large undertaking and it will require substantial resources. But, we don't simply want to ask our friends for donations, we want to demonstrate our willingness to "go the extra mile" in a well-rounded pursuit of beauty, goodness, and truth. So, won't you join us in this endeavor? Please, pledge today.

Wednesday, October 31

Atheist Tantrums

One of my favorite writers, Theodore Dalrymple, aptly quips, "To regret religion is to regret Western civilization." He has a great editorial exposing the farce of neo-Atheism in the current issue of the City Journal. In it, he surveys the bevy of new anti-religious best-sellers, noting their inevitable "sloppiness and lack of intellectual scruple, with the assumption of certainty where there is none, combined with adolescent shrillness and intolerance." Its almost enough to prompt one to suddenly stand and shout "Amen," though that would likely make Dalrymple, himself a skeptic, more than a little uncomfortable.

Monday, October 29

Dead Again

Are we witnessing an Evangelical cultural and electoral crackup in America? David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times thinks so. He cites substantial evidence that the once influential Born Again demographic may be well on its way to retreating to its traditional Dead Again individualism.

Friday, October 26

Anti-Narnia

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes yet another blockbuster from our good friends on the Left Coast. According to movie critic Ted Baehr, the new film, The Golden Compass, is actually An Atheist’s Narnia. Based on the first book in Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy entitled His Dark Materials, the big budget fantasy won’t be released to theaters until December 7, but it is already receiving a heady dose of Hollywood’s pre-holiday hype.

According to Baehr, Pullman wrote the book “because he was so upset by the Christian evangelism of C.S. Lewis.” Thus, dedicated to undermining Christianity and the Church among young readers, he represents God as a decrepit and perverse angel “who captures the dead in a prison camp afterlife.” And things only get worse from there. Just what we all needed for Pearl Harbor Day--yet another insidious attack!

Errol Flynn's Charge

Thursday, October 25

Saint Crispin's Day

Saint Crispin and his brother Crispinian were Christians who were martyred during the persecution by the Emperor Maximian in Rome. They preached to people during the day and made shoes at night in order to earn their living. Interestingly, two of England’s greatest battles were fought on the anniversary of their feast and as a result, Saint Crispin’s Day is more immediately associated with those battles than with the saints it was intended to memorialize:

On this day in 1415, England’s King Henry V defeated the overwhelming force of the French Army in the fields of Agincourt. The stunning and unexpected turn-about inspired Shakespeare’s famous monologue:

“If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss;
And if to live, the fewer the men, the greater share of honor.
God’s will, I pray thee, wish not one man more.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother;
Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap
Whiles any speaks that fought with us on St. Crispin’s Day.”

Then, in 1854, the Charge of the Light Brigade took place during the Crimean War. It was the climax of Battle of Balaklava. The battle which has been long regarded as one of the most famous military blunders in history--yet, provided great inspiration for the courage and tenacity of the troops.

The Light Brigade consisted of five regiments totaling 661 men. The men were ordered to attack a well-entrenched Russian force—it was a certain slaughter but due to confused communications and conflict within the officer corps, the men advanced into a withering line of fire. Amazingly, despite heavy casualties, the men achieved their objective. The charge lasted no more than 20 minutes. When the brigade was mustered afterwards, there were only 195 mounted men left.

Though the maneuver was a complete disaster, General Liprandi was deeply impressed by the stature and composure of the prisoners. The moral effect on the Russians of the discipline, courage, and resolve of the Light Brigade was immense. For the rest of the war, the Russian cavalry refused combat with the British, even when vastly superior in numbers. Long afterwards, the fact that a single, under-strength brigade of light cavalry had captured a battery of guns and driven off a far larger body of Russian horses was the admiration of Europe.

This battle too, was the inspiration for great soliloquy in English literature. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Wednesday, October 24

Love Is Not Enough

During a counseling session yesterday, I reminded a friend of something he has long known, "love alone is hardly sufficient for a good marriage--only Christ and the fruits He produces in the Gospel are sufficient for such a thing." Agreeing, he in turn recalled the counsel of C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves. There Lewis wrote:

"William Morris wrote a poem called Love is Enough and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly with the words 'It isn't.' To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns. A garden is a good thing but that is not the sort of goodness it has. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it."

Tuesday, October 23

Crowded Hours

There are times and seasons in life when busyness seems to crowd out all our best intentions. The belligerent insistence of "the urgent" takes over. The last few weeks have been a bit like that for me--a flurry of nagging health issues, an intensely crowded itinerary, and an onslaught of minor controversies have conspired together with my regular responsibilities to make life more than a little crazy.

A few years ago my friend Marlene Frey reminded me of Spurgeon's wise counsel--for times like these when lives are so hectic, bodies are so weary, and minds are so distracted that it seems almost impossible to have quality time with the Lord:

"Private devotions ought to be a dialogue between the soul and God: by the Scripture the Lord speaks to us, and by prayer we speak to Him. Sometimes, you know, in conversation with a friend, you have not much to say. Very well; you listen while your friend speaks. When prayer is not urgent, read your Bible, and hear what God the Lord shall speak; and when you have heard His voice, you will usually find it in your heart to pray unto Him. If the prayer be soon over, because you have expressed all your thoughts, then let the Lord speak again, and do you hearken diligently. But do speak to the Lord. Realize His presence, and then speak to Him as a man speaketh with his friend."

Wednesday, October 17

October 26th-27th: Films about Home


It is not too late! There is still room! So, please join us in historic downtown Franklin for the Third Annual King's Meadow Film and Worldview Conference. This year we will watch and discuss films about home--a sense of place, universal longing, and rootedness. In my seminar, I will discuss the Biblical concept of home and in the process will tell the continuing story of Dan and Bea--the main characters in my novel, Going Somewhere, who will feature in two sequels (someday). In addition, Greg Wilbur will  present seminars about film and worldview and we'll be treated to a premier from a fine local film maker.  Email office@kingsmeadow.com for any questions you may have or for more information.

Tuesday, October 16

Tradition Tech

A funny thing happened on the road to music's web-armageddon. Apparently, while the internet may be killing off the pop music industry as we know it, classical music may actually have been saved. According to Alex Ross in the current issue of the New Yorker, online downloads, MP3s, blogs, googling, IMs, stubhubbing, web radio, podcasting, youtubing, and live streaming have made classical music a disproportionately influential and lucrative segment of the market.

Friday, October 12

On the Bedside Table


Answering Critics through Kingdom Giving

My friend Mike Milton, in preparation for the annual missions conference at First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, reminded me of the vital import of Great Commission investment by quoting these two Christian stalwarts of the past:

"The evangelization of the world is the only enterprise large enough and important enough to provide an adequate outlet for the Church's wealth." J. Campbell White

"Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be branches of the true Vine. You pray to be made over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like Him in giving. 'Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.'" B. B. Warfield

The Threat of Creation

A resolution adopted by Europe's top human rights body last week declared that the idea of “Creationism” is a potential “threat to human rights.”

On October 4, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted 48 to 25 in support of the resolution entitled the dangers of creationism in education in which the legislative body urged its 47 constituent governments to “firmly oppose” the teaching of Creationism, arguing that such beliefs are “promoted by forms of religious extremism” seeking to “to impose religious dogma “ at the expense of children’s “education. “

“For some people the Creation, as a matter of religious belief, gives a meaning to life,” stated the report. “Nevertheless, the Parliamentary Assembly is worried about the possible ill-effects of the spread of Creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, Creationism could become a threat to human rights which are a key concern of the Council of Europe.”

The report, which had been moderated significantly since it was first introduced a few months ago by those great champions of freedom and integrity around the world, the French Socialists, also charged Creationists with denying the validity of modern science. Indeed, “the total rejection of science,” the revolutionary do-gooders said, “is one of the most serious threats to human rights and civic rights.” It then added that those threats came as Creationists sought to “replace democracy by theocracy.”

Of course, the European legislators did not offer any evidence whatsoever for their brazen assertions—these brave new heroes of a brave new liberty, equality, and fraternity apparently just assume that any questioning of presuppositional and dogmatic Darwinism necessitates a wild-eyed totalitarianism that has only ever existed historically in their own fevered-dreams (and in their own modernist revolutionary governments). Such lawmakers rarely allow the dumb certainties of experience to deter them from blindly pursuing their ribald ideological agendas.

As Dinesh D'Souza has argued, “This is not a time for Christians to turn the other cheek. Rather, it is a time to drive the money-changers out of the temple. The atheists and radicals no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control the school curricula, so that they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion--and especially the Christian religion--disappear from the face of the earth.“

Wednesday, October 10

Monday, October 1

Poor Africa

The current issue of the New York Times, has published brilliant book review by the veteran travel writer Paul Theroux. I don't know if Tim Jeal's new biography of Henry Morton Stanley, The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, is worth the $32 Yale University Press is asking for the volume, but the review is most assuredly a must-read--however discomfiting it may be. The first sentence alone shows why:

"Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer."

Friday, September 28

Classical Education in the Times

The most recent issue of the New York Times Magazine features a remarkable profile of New St. Andrew's College and focuses on the burgeoning Classical Christian education movement.

Tuesday, September 18

Breakfast Lectures


David Dillard and I will be offering four Friday morning breakfast lectures on the history of Iraq starting this next week. We'll be covering a wide range of time and subjects:

Lecture 1: Ancient Iraq--From Eden to Ottomans (September 28). We'll survey the cradles of civilization, the tides of the great empires, the devastation of the Islamic conquest, and the denouement of the Ottoman Empire.

Lecture 2: British Iraq--Wars and Wishes (October 5). We will give an overview of the discovery of oil, the tumult of the World Wars, and the British occupation.

Lecture 3: Revolutionary Iraq--Coups and Chaos (October 19). We will provide some context for the struggle for national identity, power, and the rise of Saddam and the Baathists.

Lecture 4: Whose Iraq?--Desert Storms and Hopes (November 2). We will conclude with the story of the American occupation, the emergence of ethnic strife, and the search for lasting peace.

Thankfully, pre-registrations exceeded the capacity of our first venue so we have had to change locations--to a much larger facility. Even so, the new venue is already almost full as well. So, if you've been wanting to attend but weren't able to get in before, now's your chance. Pre-register ASAP by visiting the Servant Group International website. MP3 CDs of these lectures may also be pre-ordered on the site--in addition to a host of other helpful resources.

Monday, September 17

Thursday, September 13

Tuesday, September 11

Rejection

Ever been rejected? Well, welcome to a very esteemed club. According to a remarkable story in the New York Times, Anne Frank, Pearl Buck, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, A. J. P. Taylor, Barbara Tuchman, Vladimir Nabokov, and James Baldwin were all rejected by the zealously discriminating editors at Knopf before going on to become mega-bestselling authors. Maybe there is still hope for your “great American novel” after all.

Truth Stranger than Fiction

Friday, September 7

The Dawkins Delusion

"Angels fly," G.K. Chesterton once said, "because they take themselves lightly." Maybe they provide an example Richard Dawkins could learn from--at least that is the premise of a new book by John Cornwell, Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Response to the God Delusion, delightfully reviewed in the London Times this week by Salley Vickers.

Wednesday, September 5

D. James Kennedy (1930-2007)

"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit. They will rest from their labors, and their deeds follow them" (Revelation 14.13).

D. James Kennedy, was one of the most influential Christian pastors, thinkers, writers, social reformers, educators, evangelists, and broadcasters of our generation. He was also my pastor, my friend, my boss, my mentor, and my hero. This morning at around 2:15, Dr. Kennedy went home to be with the Lord--he had been quite ill over the last several months. A memorial service has been scheduled for Thursday, September 13, at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The last time I saw Dr. Kennedy face-to-face, he called me his "son in the faith." I have never been paid a greater compliment. May God continue to multiply Dr. Kennedy's words, his example, and his influence for the glory of Christ and His Kingdom--and may I have the courage to uphold his legacy of Gospel faithfulness as a true "son in the faith."

More Alive than Ever

“Now, I know that someday I am going to come to what some people will say is the end of this life. They will probably put me in a box and roll me right down here in front of the church, and some people will gather around, and a few people will cry. But I have told them not to do that because I don’t want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead. I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living. And I will be alive forevermore, in greater health and vitality and joy than ever, ever, I or anyone has known before.” D. James Kennedy, Ph.D.

A Life Well-Lived

November 3, 1930 – Dennis James Kennedy is born to George and Ermine Kennedy in Augusta, Georgia.

December 1930 – The Kennedy family moves to Chicago, settling in an apartment just 50 yards from Lake Michigan.

1945 – The family relocates once more to Tampa, Florida.

1952 – Arthur Murray Dance instructor Jim Kennedy meets Anne Lewis and signs her up for six months of dance instructions.

1953 – Sleeping late on a Sunday morning, Jim Kennedy hears the Gospel for the very first time from a radio preacher. Shortly thereafter he professes faith in Christ.

December 3, 1955 – After fighting God’s call to full-time ministry for nearly a year, Jim Kennedy, with great trepidation, quits his job as a dance studio manager.

December 3, 1955 – Jim Kennedy and Anne Lewis become engaged.

December 4, 1955 – Jim is given the chance to preach at a local Presbyterian church and, to his surprise, is employed as the interim minister the same day.

August 25, 1956 – Jim and Anne are married at First Presbyterian Church of Lakeland, Florida.

Fall 1956 – Jim Kennedy begins seminary training at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.

May 11, 1959 – Days before his seminary graduation, Jim receives a letter from the Home Missions Committee of the Everglades Presbytery inviting him to consider pastoring a new church to be started in Fort Lauderdale.

June 21, 1959 – The first Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church worship service is held at McNab Elementary School, led by D. James Kennedy.

July 21, 1959 – Rev. D. James Kennedy is ordained.

1960 – Rev. Kennedy tells his fledgling congregation: “You know what? I believe we can change the world!”

July 31, 1960 – Rev. D. James Kennedy is installed as minister of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.

1962 – Rev. Kennedy begins to train church members to share Christ using the techniques learned from Rev. Kennedy Smartt.

March 16, 1962 – Jennifer is born and adopted into the Kennedy family.

March 18, 1962 – A new church building seating 500 on Commercial Boulevard is dedicated.

February 20, 1967 – The first Evangelism Explosion clinic is held with 36 people in attendance.

Summer 1967 – Tragedy strikes when Anne undergoes cancer surgery. Rev. Kennedy later describes God’s provision during that dark time in his message, “Songs in the Night.”

1970 – Evangelism Explosion, the first of more than 65 books by Dr. Kennedy is published by Tyndale. To date, more than 1.5 million copies have been sold.

1970 – Like A Mighty Army, a dramatic motion picture depicting the story of Evangelism Explosion, is produced by Gospel Films.

August 28, 1970 – Lay Evangelism, Inc., later changed to Evangelism Explosion III International, Inc., is organized.

April 11, 1971 (Easter Sunday) – Groundbreaking for new church on Federal Highway.

August 1971 – Classes begin at Westminster Academy with 300 students enrolled.

February 3, 1974 – The new church building on Federal Highway is dedicated. Dr. Billy Graham addresses the 11,000 people in attendance, some on benches outside the church, and 597 decision for Christ are recorded.

October 1, 1974 – Radio station WAFG (90.3 FM) is licensed as a non-commercial educational station.

October 3, 1976 – Church membership reaches 5,000 people.

January 8, 1978 – Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church votes to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.) and unites with the Presbyterian Church in America (P.C.A.).

September 17, 1978 – First television broadcast of worship service.

February 1979 – Dr. Kennedy receives his Ph.D. from New York University, completing his list of degrees as follows: A.B., M.Div., M.Th., D.D., D.Sac.Lit., Ph.D., Litt.D., D.Sac.Theol., and D.Humane Lit.

November 30, 1980 – Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church celebrates its 20th anniversary.

May 29, 1990 – George Kennedy, Dr. Kennedy’s brother, dies. Dr. Kennedy learns after his death that George, who had long resisted the Gospel, was led to Christ on his death bed by a young hospital chaplain.

1984 – Truths That Transform, Dr. Kennedy’s daily radio program begins.

November 24, 1985 – Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church celebrates its 25th anniversary.

1988 - With Evangelism Explosion in only 66 nations, Dr. Kennedy challenged the organization’s vice presidents to take the lay-evangelism training program to every nation by 1995.

March 14, 1989 – The Session of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church establishes Knox Theological Seminary and appoints Dr. Kennedy Chancellor.

March 30-April 1, 1990 – Coral Ridge Church marks its 30th Anniversary during a “Celebrate the Dream” weekend celebration.

September 1990 – Knox Theological Seminary begins classes to train pastors and laymen in a graduate school of theology.

1992 – The Kennedy Commentary, a daily 90-second radio commentary, is launched.

May 21, 1994 – Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church celebrates Dr. Kennedy’s 35th year in Gospel ministry.

September 14, 1995 – Dr. Kennedy dedicates the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, D.C.

February 23, 1996 – Evangelism Explosion International becomes the first Christian organization in history to establish its ministry in all 211 nations of the world.

March 7, 1999 – Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church celebrates its 40th anniversary.

December 2000 – Along with Dean Jones, Dr. Kennedy co-hosts Who Is This Jesus, a one-hour documentary viewed by some 12 million people nationwide.

February 15, 2005 – Dr. Kennedy is inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

October 2005 – After Hurricane Wilma rips off the church roof and drenches the sanctuary, Dr. Kennedy encourages the congregation, telling them this is “our finest hour.”

December 9, 2005 – Dr. Kennedy is feted at a surprise 75th birthday celebration.

August 25, 2006 – Dr. and Mrs. Kennedy celebrate 50 years of marriage.

September 5, 2007 – Dr. Kennedy enters into the presence of God in Heaven.

Surprises Today?

Monday, September 3

What I'm Listening To





Antediluvian Man

A sharp antithesis cuts a wide swath,
Across the whole fabric of space and time,
It’s divide sets kith and kin on separate paths,
It’s jagged serrated edge altogether divides,
With Cain to one side, and Seth to yet another,
‘Tis the tale of two cities, two destinies, two ways,
Enoch and Enosh twin sons of different mothers,
Till mighty Rephaim impose a paler shade of gray,
Hoping to forget such bitter, tragic, noxious climes,
We skulk in caves, and graves, and bones,
Heedless of the hope invested in archon-lines
As told in musty, dusty, glorious tomes.

Wednesday, August 29

Living As If People Matter

The Gospel calls us to live as if people matter. It calls us to live lives of selfless concern. We are to pay attention to the needs of others (Deuteronomy 22:4). We are to demonstrate concern for the poor (Psalm 41:1). We are to show pity toward the weak (Psalm 72:13). We are to rescue the afflicted from violence (Psalm 72:14). We are to familiarize ourselves with the case of the helpless (Proverbs 29:7), give of our wealth (Deuteronomy 26:12-13), and share of our sustenance (Proverbs 22:9). We are to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12). We are to become “a father to the poor,” and are to “search out the case of the stranger” (Job 29:16). We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) thus fulfilling the law (Romans 13:10). It is only as we do these things that we are able to earn the right to speak authoritatively into people’s lives.

In writing to Titus, the young pastor of the pioneer church on the island of Crete, the Apostle Paul pressed home this basic truth with persistence and urgency. In the midst of a culture marked by deceit, ungodliness, sloth, and gluttony (Titus 1:12), Titus was not only to preach grace and judgment, he was also to make good deeds a central priority in his ministry. He was to exercise charity. Paul wrote, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

This was a very familiar theme for Paul. It wasn't aimed exclusively aimed at the troublesome Cretan culture. For instance, he had earlier written to the Ephesian church with essentially the same message, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

God saves us by grace. There is nothing we can do to merit His favor. Because of our sin, we stand utterly condemned. Thus, salvation is completely unearned and undeserved. But, we are not saved capriciously, for no reason and no purpose. On the contrary, we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We are His own possession, set apart and purified to be zealous for good works.

Our concern for others begins right in church pew—as we greet one another, extend hospitality to one another, and meet the needs of one another. As the Westminster Confession asserts, “Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offers opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In addition though, we are to extend the love and care of Christ to others as well. We are to love as Christ loves, sacrificially, substantially, and sincerely. In other words, we are to live as if people really do matter.

May God grant us this kind of love. May this, the final apologetic (John 13:35), be the hallmark of our lives, our families, and our churches.