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.

Tuesday, August 28

Half-Done Work

“If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart. And equally, if our heart flatters us, God is greater than our heart. I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose. Have we any reason to suppose that total self-knowledge, if it were given us, would be for our good? Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he would know what to do next. The unfinished picture would so like to jump off the easel and have a look at itself!” C.S. Lewis

Sunday, August 26

I Can't; He Will

You say: "All this seems impossible."
God’s Word says: “All things are possible.” (Luke 18:27)

You say: "I am just too tired."
God’s Word says: “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "I cannot go on."
God’s Word says: “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:9; Psalm 91:15)

You say: "I do not know where to turn."
God’s Word says: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5- 6)

You say: "I cannot do it."
God’s Word says: “You can do all things in Christ.” (Philippians 4:13)

You say: "I know I am not able."
God’s Word says: “But I am able.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

You say: "I cannot see the purpose in all this.”
God’s Word says: “All things work together for good.” (Roman 8:28)

You say: "I simply cannot manage"
God’s Word says: “I will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19)

You say: "I am fretful, fearful, and unsettled."
God’s Word says: “I have not given you a spirit of fear.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

You say: "I am worried and frustrated."
God’s Word says: “Cast all your cares on me.” (1 Peter 5:7)

You say: "I cannot figure all this out."
God’s Word says: “I will give you wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You say: "I feel that I am all alone."
God’s Word says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Saturday, August 25

Love Never Fails

"Love is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival." C.S. Lewis

"No man has learned to live until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Length without breadth is like a self contained tributary having no outward flow to the ocean. Stagnant, still, and stale it lacks both life and freshness. In order to live creatively and meaningfully, our self-concern must be wedded to other concerns." Martin Luther King Jr.

"Love, for therein lies true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is oft done well." Vincent van Gogh

“As affecting as is the image of terrorists crashing into buildings in an effort to take as many lives as possible, the image of firemen rushing into those same buildings in an effort to save as many lives as possible is more affecting still. The worst that evil can do is no match for the best that love can do. Love never fails--ultimately it can overcome every obstacle and solve every dilemma.” Tristan Gylberd

Friday, August 24

Coffee and Modern Times

And you thought $2 cups of coffee at your local Starbucks was just American Capitalism’s latest extravagant fad? Think again.

According to Jakob Norberg’s brief social history of coffee and coffeehouses published in this week’s edition of Eurozine, the Starbucks phenomenon is actually a maturing of an essential characteristic of Modernity. It is a kind of “third-space.” It is a social center where the “bourgeois” can enter into relationships with one another without the restrictions of family, civil society, or the state. It is a sort of “universal community,” integrated neither “by power nor economic interests, but by common sense.” Indeed, it is “a symbol of Gem├╝tlichkeit, or the bourgeois desire to enjoy undisturbed security.”

Wow. All that and a cup of good java for just a couple of bucks? Maybe its not such a bad deal after all.

Oh, and speaking of Starbucks and the Sociology of Modernity, there is this collaborating tidbit in the most recent edition of Slate. Ron Rosenbaum has served up a venti double-shot espresso of rhetorical flourishes for us all to savor!

What I'm Reading


Thursday, August 23

Ah, Politics!

"The great virtue of a democracy is that it always thinks its leaders are frightful." A.J.P. Taylor

Sunday, August 19

The Environs Of Wit

Hartford, located midway between New York and Boston, is the capital of the State of Connecticut. The city is a center of government and a wide range of commercial, social, and cultural activities. But it is perhaps best known as the Insurance Capitol of the World. Aetna, Cigna, ITT Hartford, Phoenix Mutual, and Travelers are some of the larger insurance firms that make their corporate headquarters here.

At the turn of the century, Mark Twain also called Hartford home. He once quipped, “Of all the beautiful towns it has been my fortune to see this is the chief.” Most people probably think he was looking out over the wide twists and slow turns of the muddy Mississippi as he wrote his most popular books. In fact, he wrote a good number of them while looking out over the Park River in here in central Connecticut.

Today, the Twain house is the sort of place a bibliophile can spend an entire day. It is a wonderfully colorful brick Victorian mansion built in the midst of a famed artist’s colony. It bristles with creativity. The place is like a tonic of inspiration—in the same way that a visit to Winston Churchill’s Chartwell, Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill, Hilaire Belloc’s Kings Land, William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak, William Butler Yeats’ Thoor Ballylee, Vita Sackville-West’s Sissinghurst, or Walter Scott’s Abbotsford always are.

You can spend hours just perusing Twain’s massive library or looking out at the spectacular views from the billiard room’s tall turreted windows. And besides the Twain house, there are several other homes in the neighborhood—a little writers colony—very much worth visiting. For instance, the home Harriet Beecher Stowe bought with the enormous royalties from her controversial novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is right next door at Nook Farm.

Interestingly, it was while he was living there in Hartford that Twain first defined a literary classic as “one of those books which people praise or damn yet they don’t actually ever read.” Alas, by that standard much of his own work has achieved classic status. Certainly, if anyone were actually to pay attention to the noisy multicultural debate over The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer, it would be obvious that those with the loudest opinions could never have actually read the book.

Be that as it may, it is likely that most people today know Mark Twain from his sparkling, dead-on, humbug-piercing epigrams rather than his more extended writing. He once wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.” And he knew that finding just the right word could be a mighty struggle. In a notebook page from the last decade of the nineteenth century, he left evidence of his great labor to breathe life into a new wisecrack:

“The man that invented the cuckoo clock is no more,” he began.

Then come several attempts—all heavily scribbled over—in an effort to construct a suitable punch line:

“This is old news but good.”

“As news, this is a little stale, but some news is better old than not at all.”

“As news, this is a little old, but better late than never.”

“As news, this is a little old, for it happened sixty-four years ago, but it is not always the newest news that is the best.”

“It is old news, but there is nothing else the matter with it.”

Finally, he must have concluded that no amount of polishing was going to make that particular material shine, for at the bottom of the page he wrote, resignedly, “It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.”

But he did take the trouble, and most of the time he got it right—which is why we still quote Twain today, nearly a century after his death. In fact, to get a respectful hearing for just about any statement, a speaker need only preface it with the magic words, “As Mark Twain said…”

It would be quite easy—and perhaps equally profitable—to fill an entire notebook with some of Twain’s pithiest and wittiest quips—but beware: if you do, you’ll likely wind up quoting the best of them ad nauseum. I know that only too well from my own personal experience.

At any rate, here is Twain at his best:

“It is agreed, in this country, that if a man can arrange his religion so that it perfectly satisfies his conscience, it is not incumbent on him to care whether the arrangement is satisfactory to anyone else or not.”

“All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.”

“We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.”

“Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.”

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”

“The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.”

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.”

“If you invent two or three people and turn them loose in your manuscript, something is bound to happen to them—you can't help it; and then it will take you the rest of the book to get them out of the natural consequences of that occurrence, and so first thing you know, there’s your book all finished up and never cost you an idea.”

“It is by the goodness of God that in the West we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”

“A literary classic is one of those books which people praise or damn yet they don’t actually ever read.”

And we could go on and on like that. But, I fear I bore you—after all, the best part of uncovering Twain’s wit is the joy of personal discovery. So, why not start your own Twain quote notebook?

Friday, August 17

Breakfast Lectures


Once again, Servant Group International will be hosting a series of breakfast lectures on the saga of faith and faithlessness, war and peace, tyranny and hope, terror and opportunity, oppression and freedom that is the history of Iraq. Dave Dillard, the director of the mission will team up with yours truly to discuss this fascinating, relevant, and polarizing subject just south of Nashville on four Friday mornings this fall.

Preregistration is available on the Servant Group Website.

Thursday, August 16

They Like Mike

Amazingly, he's gotten good press. When the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, decided to run for president, I half expected him to be either grilled by the media or altogether ignored. Neither has happened. In fact, it almost seems as if most reporters actually like him--despite the fact that they would disagree with him on virtually every single issue, large and small. In the current issue of the Atlantic Online, Marc Ambinder explains why.

Tuesday, August 14

The Legacy of Comenius

By almost any modern definition, Jan Comenius (1592-1670) was anything but a success. Though Herman Bavink called him “the greatest figure of the second generation of reformers” he is practically forgotten today. Though Andrew Bonar said he was “the truest heir of Hus, the chief inspiration of Chalmers, and the first model for Carey,” he is rarely mentioned alongside such men. Though J. Hudson Taylor said he was “the single greatest innovator of missions, education, and literature during the Protestant Reformation,” his is hardly remembered. And though Abraham Kuyper said that he was “the father of modern Christian education,” his vision of substantive and systematic discipleship is only infrequently practiced.

He was astonishingly diverse in both his interests and his endeavors. Comenius helped to shape the educational systems of Holland, Sweden, Prussia, Scotland and Puritan New England. He launched missionary outreaches to Jews and Turks, Gypsies and Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Liberals. He initiated projects to create a comprehensive Christian encyclopedia, a translation of the Scriptures into the Turkish language. He wrote and published a veritable library of books of inspiration, educational theory, cultural criticism, history, practical devotion, exposition, and theology. He was asked to lead both King’s College in Cambridge and Harvard College in America. He served the Swedish king as a chaplain. He developed innovative plans for a Christian university program. And he was able to do all this despite suffering a series of personal tragedies and living most of his life in uncertain exile. As his contemporary Cotton Mather argued, he was a man of “extraordinary accomplishments amidst inordinate adversity.” It is a marvel then that he is not remembered as such.

Jan Comenius was born in eastern Moravia, the heir of a rich Czech Protestant legacy that traced its roots to the reforming work of Jan Milic (1313-1374), Jan Hus (1371-1415), and Jerome of Prague (1365-1416). He was catechized and educated in the rich Reformed tradition of the day by godly parents. Alas, the first of many tragedies struck his happy home when Comenius was just twelve. Both of his parents died in a virulent outbreak of the plague. Nevertheless, shortly afterward he went to Heidelberg to study theology. In 1616, having completed his studies, he returned home to teach in the little parish school where he had once been a student. Less than eighteen months later, he was ordained into the Hussite Reformed church and served a small congregation in Falnek—where he married his childhood sweetheart and began his family.

The second great tragedy of his life struck just two years later. The first decisive battle of the Thirty Years War was fought at White Mountain, near Prague. The Hapsburg Catholics overwhelmed the Protestant Czech forces and a fierce new persecution was imposed on the Reformed community throughout the land. Comenius, like most of the other pastors, was forced into hiding. The next month, another outbreak of the plague took the lives of his beloved wife and their two young children.

It was just the beginning of a life marked by suffering, sadness, and exile.

Shortly thereafter, Comenius led a large contingent of displaced Protestant refugees across the mountains into southern Poland in order to begin to rebuild their lives, their families, and their churches. It was then that Comenius began writing such classics as The Labyrinth of this World (a beautiful allegory of the Christian life written more than half a century before Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) and Man of Sorrows (a classic meditation on the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross). He also began to travel to other Protestant lands to advocate the cause of his Moravian brethren, uprooted from their homeland, impoverished, and harried.

The genius of Comenius was soon recognized—not only by the grateful community of Reformed exiles huddled together in the mountain villages of southern Poland, but also by the wider church. In the years that followed, he entertained invitations to teach and live in the cities of London, Boston, Stockholm, Paris, Amsterdam, Wittenberg, and Geneva. He was called on to devise universal Christian curricula, to reform educational systems, to administer colleges, to oversee theological projects, and to supervise publishing efforts. He corresponded with the infamous Cardinal Richelieu as well as with the philosopher Rene Descartes, Cotton Mather, Oliver Cromwell, Charles X of Sweden, and the industrialist Louis de Geer. He was among the most influential and sought after men of his day.

But the pastoral responsibility for his little, beleaguered flock always remained his first and foremost concern. He attempted to utilize every opportunity, every contact for their sake. Meanwhile, despite the insecurity of living in exile on very limited resources, his vast vision for missionary outreach and educational reform was never dimmed. Always the optimist, he continued to devise new plans, to hammer out new strategies, and to formulate new projects.

In 1656, after a lifetime of hardship and opportunities deferred, tragedy struck Comenius again. Polish troops burned and looted the Moravian villages harrying the survivors across the border. They had lost everything. Again.

Comenius and the other refugees were scattered across Europe, on estates throughout the German and Dutch provinces. There, they would live out their remaining days as strangers in yet another strange land.

Comenius, energetic as always, set his hand to a host of new projects. Though he had lost a dozen unpublished manuscripts, his printing press, and all of his worldly goods, he was unshaken in his confidence in the Gospel to change the course of both men and nations. He had set his ultimate hope on the day that Christ would make manifest His New Heavens and Earth. But he was also steadfast in the certainty that a deposit of that future glory would be made in the tired domains of the old heavens and earth. To his dying day he lived in accordance with that notion, planning for the evangelization of the Muslims and Gypsies, undertaking the first complete translation of the Bible into the Turkish language, and refining his vision for a “Pansophic College.”

When he died at the age of seventy-eight, he left behind a glorious legacy, not of this world, that would inspire the likes of Whitefield, Wesley, Zinzendorf, Chalmers, and Kuyper as well as providing a powerful reminder that success in the Kingdom rarely looks like success in the world.

Buy, Buy, Bye

Americans have an insatiable appetite for consumer goods. Our ravenous consumerism has created a wholesale culture of debt. Indeed, to finance our unfettered national buying frenzy even our healthy economic output has had difficulty keeping up—as have our banks, our lending institutions, and our investment brokers. As a result we have had to borrow from foreign sources on an increasingly stunning scale.

Consider this: every year since the turn of the millennium, we have been forced to borrow between half a trillion and a trillion dollars; last year, the infusion of foreign cash required to close the gap between American incomes and consumption totaled more than $850 billion or nearly seven percent of the nation’s entire gross domestic product; the quantity of goods and services that Americans consumed last year in excess of what we produced was close to the entire annual output of Brazil (the world’s tenth largest economy); our investment balance with the rest of the world has now tipped to a deficit for the first time since World War Two.

In the current issue of the Harvard Magazine Jonathan Shaw provides a sobering look at what it may mean for us now that we are a debtor nation swiftly heading deeper into debt.

Saturday, August 11

Biography Business

Love biographies? Me too. In the current issue of The New Yorker, Louis Menand gives us a glimpse of the biography business and the business of the biography.

Jesus at Stanford

Tod Lindberg is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and the editor of its professional political journal. In the current issue of the journal, Policy Review, he excerpts an essay on Christ's Beatitudes from his new book, The Political Teachings of Jesus (HarperCollins). Both his essay and his book are noteworthy, not so much for what he argues in them--Lindberg is well within the broad ethical tradition of mainstream Christian ethical thought--but for the fact that he seriously argues for the relevance of Christ’s teaching to the political realm at all. This is not exactly standard fare at universities and think tanks these days.

Digital Magazines

It is not likely that digital media will ever replace libraries. Books remain an essential human and cultural form. But, digital media just might replace magazine archives.

Thursday, August 9

Tuesday, August 7

2007 1-Click Award

No wonder the Japanese are such remarkable innovators! Talk about "high-tech/high touch." Check out this year's 1-Click Award winner for web creativity courtesy of David Pogue at the New York Times. Move your cursor across the image--and then stop momentarily before moving on.

Monday, August 6

Yep! We're Starting Over. Again!

Here we go again. Again. Because of a server bankruptcy a couple of months ago, King's Meadow lost its entire external database of e-mail addresses. This was the list that we used to send out our monthly literary newsletter that also gave further information about how to pray for the ministry, a schedule of events, and upcoming conferences.

If you were on the old list, please take the time to sign up again (the sign-up box is on the right-hand side of this page). If you’ve never been on the list, now’s a great time to make sure that you get all of the information for the coming year. We’re planning some exciting things around here in the coming months and look forward to telling more about them as time unfolds! And, this time around we're using a much more reliable server company--one with our own back up system!

Oh yes, and if you were wondering, this did not have anything to do with our office computers. All the data on our Macs is safe and sound. It was our out-sourced server data that was lost. Oh well. Live and learn.

Friday, August 3

Spam

I have a love/hate relationship with e-mail. What I love is the speed, efficiency, convenience, and brevity of communication. Although it should never be mistaken as a replacement for any and all other forms of correspondence, e-mail is nevertheless a marvelous tool.

But then, there is the "hate" part of the equation. There is e-mail's seeming omnipresence, its avid contribution to the tyranny of the urgent, and its time-wasting-black-hole capabilities. Of course, a modicum of discipline and discretion, along with a bit of automation and elimination, can adequately deal with these loathsome limitations.

But then there is spam. Even with all our best efforts, filters, firewalls, and security features, it can flow into our mailboxes, onto our desktops, and even into our SMS, phone, and IM displays in torrents. Some of it is laughably inept. Some of it is dangerously malignant. All of it is a nuisance. I still cannot for the life of me imagine why this enterprise is still worth it to the spammers who perpetuate its awful annoyance--who is still gullible enough to try to buy vI@gRa or c!aLi$ or r0!Ex w@+C#e$ over the internet from unsolicited spam?

Worse than junk mail, spam is a blight, an epidemic, a scourge. As Michael Specter points out in the most recent issue of the New Yorker the seemingly endless struggle against spam is a losing battle that we simply cannot afford to lose.

Wednesday, August 1

Jacob Collins

Over the course of the past year or so, I have been following the work of the artist Jacob Collins. He is one of the leading practitioners of Classical Realism and the dean of two art schools that, like his paintings, harken back to a bygone era of apprenticeship, craftsmanship, and beauty. His work is extraordinary. His commitment to raise up a whole new generation of fine artists is even more extraordinary. And this from a very young man!

I first became aware of Collins when he staged a spectacular one-man show at the prestigious John Pence Gallery.

Then I read a fascinating interview in the New Criterion.

My interest was further peaked when I read a profile of the artist and his wife, author Ann Brashares, in the New York Times.

Then, this past week as I read a MSNBC piece on the impact of Evangelical Christians on the arts--featuring the inscrutable abstract work of Makoto Fujimura--I was struck by the strange paradox of the loud and garish publicity of Modernity standing over and against the quiet substantiveness of Christendom.