Sunday, December 31

New Years Day

The celebration of the New Year did not occur on the first day of January after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582—even then only in France, the northern Italian city states, Portugal, and in the Spanish nations of Castile and Aragon. The new calendar was not accepted until 1600 in Scotland and 1752 in England.

From the earliest days of the Roman imperial calendar the New Year was celebrated on March 25—which is why September, October, November, and December are derived from the Latin words septem (seven), octo (eight), novem (nine), and decem (ten).

Despite this, January 1 was still a special day. It was most often celebrated as a day of renewal—for vows, vision, and vocation. It was on this day that guild members took their annual pledge, that husbands and wives renewed their marriage promises, and that young believers reasserted their resolution to walk in the grace of the Lord’s great Epiphany.

When the new calendar was finally adopeted, these covenant renewals gained an even more celebratory significance. In Edinburgh beginning in the seventeenth century, revelers would gather at the Tron Church to watch the great clock tower mark their entrance into the new year—which was the inspiration behind the relatively recent Times Square ceremony in New York. But in Edinburgh, the purpose was not merely to have a grand excuse for a public party, but a way of celebrating the truth of Epiphany newness.

Thursday, December 28


Often called Childermas, this day on the Christian calendar has traditionally been celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day which solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod the Great following the birth of Christ. At Parish Pres, we will celebrate Childermas this coming Lord's Day.

This commoration has always been the focus of the faithful Church’s commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of human life—thus serving as a prophetic warning against the practitioners of abandonment and infanticide in the age of antiquity, oblacy and pessiary in the medieval epoch, and abortion and euthanasia in these modern times. Generally set aside as a day of prayer, it culminates with a declaration of the covenant community’s unflinching commitment to the innocents who are unable to protect themselves.

Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children. Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients. Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures. Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness. Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical pessaries--abortifacients that were pushed or pumped directly into the womb through the birth canal. Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous tortures--their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies. Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disemboweling and dismembering them shortly after birth--their collagen was then harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams.

Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were so much a part of human societies that they provided the primary literary liet motif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables, and legends. The founding of Rome was, for instance, presumed to be the happy result of the abandonment of children. According to the story, a vestal virgin who had been raped bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus. The harsh Etruscan Amulius ordered them exposed on the Tiber River. Left in a basket which floated ashore, they were found by a she wolf and suckled by her. Romulus and Remus would later establish the city of Rome on the seven hills near the place of their rescue. Likewise, the stories of Oedipus, Jupiter, Poseidon, and Hephaistos, were are victims of failed infanticides.

Because they had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as instinctive as the autumn harvest for them to summarily sabotage their own heritage. They saw nothing particularly cruel about despoiling the fruit of their wombs. It was woven into the very fabric of their culture. They believed that it was completely justifiable. They believed that it was just and good and right.

The Gospel therefore came into the world as a stern rebuke. God, who is the giver of life (Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), and the defender of life (Psalm 27:1), not only sent us the message of life (Acts 5:20) and the words of life (John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (John 8:12). He sent us His only begotten Son—the life of the world (John 6:51)--to break the bonds of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-56). For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Wednesday, December 27

Arkhangelsk Architecture

Arkhangelsk is a city in the far north of European Russia at the mouth of Dvina River where it empties into the White Sea. It was once the chief seaport of medieval Russia. Originally settled by Vikings in the 8th century, it was later the northern administrative capital of the 12th century Novgorod Republic. By the 15th century the area passed into the control of the rising Principality of Muscovy.

In the 16th century, Czar Ivan the Terrible made the city a major point of contact with English and Dutch traders. The region became a commercial hub--and as a result of that, a creative center--in this most unlikely clime. The city greatly prospered as a result. It was not surprising then that the Red Army built a major base and shipyard there in the early 20th century. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire however, the town has suffered serious decline--with all of the deleterious economic consequences that you might expect.

Nevertheless, there is something rather extraordinary going on in Arkhangelsk today.

An out-of-work shipyard laborer has been transforming his humble wood-frame home into a handcrafted architectural wonder. Though every other home in the town is no more than a simple two-story domestic shed, the hodgepodge handiwork of N.I. Vnukovo stands more than 120 feet high. The complex, twelve-story, wooden tower has spires, porches, gables, and balconies all cobbled together into a labyrinthine scheme reminiscent of a Tolkien film set. And all of it is being built by Vnukovo, working alone with nothing but hand-tools and scavenged lumber and building supplies. What a marvel of creativity and ingenuity!

Tuesday, December 26

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Every day, from December 25 to January 6, has traditionally been a part of the Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion--in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion--each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany was to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many cultures, gift giving is not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, spread out through the entire season.

In that delightful old folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, each of the gifts represent some aspect of the blessing of Christ’s appearing. They portray the abundant life, the riches of the Christian inheritance, and the ultimate promise of heaven. They also depict the essential covenantal nature of life lived in Christian community and accountability.

Playoff Scenarios

OK. So, it is not really complicated at all. In order to make it into the the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans simply need to:

1. Win their final game against the formidable New England Patriots--who have already clinched their division.

2. Then, the Cincinnati Bengals have to lose or tie.

3. Plus, the Denver Broncos have to lose.

4. Plus, the Kansas City Chiefs have to win.

Uh, yeah. Right. But look, unlikelier scenarios have already occured this year--like every single win the Titans have had since Vince Young became the starting quarterback and totally rescued the team. They began the year with 5 straight losses for heavens sake! No one believed they would be able to win even two games in the season--much less 6 in a row and 8 out of the last 10. So, why not go ahead and contemplate yet another absurdly improbable outcome?

Monday, December 25

Glad Tidings of Great Joy

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 scant 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. That is how cultures are Biblically transformed--it will always be reformational (renewing, restoring, and regenerating) rather than revolutionary (destroying, denying, and denuding).

And so joy replaced desperation. Celebration replaced propitiation. Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices. Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor. Glad tidings of great joy, indeed. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 23

December Newsletter

Just in time for Christmas, the new King's Meadow newsletter has arrived. There is a wonderful article by Susan Sadler on Advent--both the tradition and the traditions. There are two articles by her wise and witty daughter, Blair Sadler, on Christmas trees and on Epiphany. Then, Susan's sister (and thus, Blair's aunt), Sharon Haney reveals some yummy family traditions. Amy Shore offers up a favorite carol and its story. And finally, Greg Wilbur concocts a way to make the obligatory year-end appeal actually rather appealing. You don't want to miss any of it. So, if you're not already signed up to get the e-mail version of the newsletter, be sure to download the online version today. And do have a very merry Christmas and a joyeux noel.

Thursday, December 21

Down in Yon Forest

Some of the very best Christmas carols were originally written as Eucharistic hymns--usually intended for use during Christmas Eve communion services. That appears to be the case with the delightful Down in Yon Forest. Perhaps the most familiar version of this traditional six-stanza folk cycle was collected and arranged by the American balladeer, John Jacob Niles. But my favorite is that of the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams:

Down in yon forest there stands a hall:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
It's covered all over with purple and pall:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

In that hall there stands a bed:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
It's covered all over with scarlet so red:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bedside there lies a stone:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Which the sweet Virgin Mary knelt upon:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Under that bed there runs a flood:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:

The one half runs water, the other runs blood:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

At the bed's foot there grows a thorn:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Which ever blows blossom since he was born:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Over that bed the moon shines bright:
The bells of Paradise I heard them ring:
Denoting our Savior was born this night:
And I love my Lord Jesus above anything.

Tuesday, December 19

Of the Father's Love Begotten

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is Of the Father's Love Begotten by the fifth century poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413). It is a whole course in incarnational theology in just nine short stanzas:

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framed; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessed, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Monday, December 18

Oh, the Wonder

"Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas." Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Yuletide Traditions

"When I think of Christmas Eves, Christmas feasts, Christmas songs, and Christmas stories, I know that they do not represent a short and transient gladness. Instead, they speak of a joy unspeakable and full of glory. God love the world and sent His Son. Whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. That is Christmas joy. That is the Christmas spirit." Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983)

"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 (1916-)

"All heaven and earth resound with that subtle and delicately balanced truth that the old paths are the best paths after all." J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

Caroling and Wassailing

Singing traditional carols has long been a beloved aspect of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany season. Carols are hymns or songs that are usually narrative and celebratory in nature with a simple spirit and are often in verse form. The term “carol” has a varied and interesting past and is derived from several foreign words that include the ideas of dancing, feasting, and rejoicing as well as singing.

Biblical scholars have often asserted that the Angels sang the very first carol to the shepherds on the night of Christ's birth. But, Mary's song, the Magnificat, is also a sort of carol.

The idea of caroling through town from one home to another seems to have started sometime during the Reformation in Holland and Scotland. Carolers would visit each house of a parish on Christmas Night to sing songs of the Nativity and to call forth blessings on every home.

The term “wassail” literally means "Good health!" Carolers would go through town “wassailing” to bless their neighbors--who would then often reciprocate by giving them refreshments for the further spreading of good cheer.

Last night after our second service, the congregation of Parish Pres joined together for a brief time of strolling, fellowshipping, and caroling through downtown Franklin (on our way to a home just a couple of blocks from the chapel where we sang and ate way, way, way too many goodies). I hadn't done anything like that in years! We had so much fun. I felt like we were in Mitford. We are a blessed people, indeed.

Federal Vision Investigation

The Standing Judicial Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America is currently taking up the issue of the so-called "Federal Vision" theology and its proponants. Though no charges have as yet been brought against him, as a part of this process, Pastor Steve Wilkins of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church was examined by his presbytery on December 9. An audio recording of the exam is now available on the church's web site. Having these transcripts should go a long way toward helping all of us sort through these very difficult, divisive issues.

How 'Bout Them Titans?

Vince Young leading in the fan's Rookie of the Year balloting? Jeff Fisher a top choice for Coach of the Year? The Titans actually with a chance (a wild, outside chance, admittedly) to make the playoffs with just two games to go in the regular season? Wins in 7 of the last 9 games after going 0-5 to start the year? Who'd a-thunk it?

Saturday, December 16

Boniface and the Little Pascha

Boniface of Crediton spent the first forty years of his life in quiet service to the church near his home in Exeter. He discipled young converts, cared for the sick, and administered relief for the poor. He was a competent scholar as well, expounding Bible doctrine for a small theological center and compiling the first Latin grammar written in England. But in 718, Boniface left the comfort and security of this life to become a missionary to the savage Teutonic tribes of Germany. For thirty years he not only proclaimed to them the Gospel of Light, he portrayed to them the Gospel of Life.

Stories of his courageous intervention on behalf of the innocent abound. He was constantly jeopardizing his own life for the sake of the young, the vulnerable, the weak, the helpless, the aged, the sick, and the poor—often imposing his body between the victims and their oppressors. Indeed, it was during one of his famed rescues that his name was forever linked to the celebration of Advent during Yuletide.

Wherever he went among the fierce Norsemen who had settled along the Danish and German coast, he was forced to face the awful specter of their brutal pagan practices—which included human mutilations and vestal sacrifices. When he arrived in the region of Hesse, Boniface decided to strike at the root of such superstitions. He publicly announced that he would destroy their gods. He then marched toward their great sacred grove. The awestruck crowd at Geismar followed along and then watched as he cut down the sacred Oak of Thor, an ancient object of pagan worship standing atop the summit of Mount Gudenberg near Fritzlar. The pagans, who had expected immediate judgment against such sacrilege, were forced to acknowledge that their gods were powerless to protect their own sanctuaries. Together, they professed faith in Christ.

A young boy from a neighboring village, hearing of such boldness, rushed into the missionary camp of Boniface three evenings later. It was just about twilight on the first Sunday in Advent. He breathlessly told of a sacrifice that was to be offered that very evening—his sister was to serve as the vestal virgin.

Hurrying through the snowy woods and across the rough terrain, Boniface and the boy arrived at the dense sacred grove just in time to see the Druid priest raise his knife into the darkened air. But as the blade plunged downward Boniface hurtled toward the horrid scene. He had nothing in his hands save a small wooden cross. Lunging forward, he reached the girl just in time to see the blade of the knife pierce the cross—thus, saving her life.

The priest toppled back. The huddle of worshipers were astonished. Their was a brief moment of complete silence. Boniface seized upon it. He proclaimed the Gospel to them then and there, declaring that the ultimate sacrifice had already been made by Christ on the cross at Golgotha—there was no need for others.

Captivated by the bizarre scene before them, the small crowd listened intently to his words. After explaining to them the once and for all provision of the Gospel, he turned toward the sacred grove. With the sacrificial knife in hand, he began hacking off low hanging branches. Passing them around the circle, he told each family to take to the small fir boughs home as a reminder of the completeness of Christ’s work on the tree of Calvary. They were to adorn their hearths with the tokens of His grace. They might even chop great logs from the grove as fuel for their home fires, he suggested—not so much to herald the destruction of their pagan ways but rather to memorialize the provision of Christ’s coming. Upon these things they were contemplate over the course of the next four weeks, until the great celebration of Christmas.

Such exploits inspired a number of Advent traditions. The Advent wreath—a fir garland set with five candles, one for each Sunday in Advent and one for Christmas Day—was quickly established as a means of reenacting the Gospel lesson of Boniface. In addition, the Christmas tree, decorated with candles and tinsel, strings of lights and garlands under the eaves and across the mantles, and the Yule log burning in the fireplace were favorite reminders of the season’s essential message.

In time, Boniface established a number of thriving parishes. He eventually became a mentor and support to the Carolingians, and he reformed the Frankish church, which Charles Martel had plundered. Ultimately, he discipled Pipin the Short, the father of Charlemagne the Great.

Then, when he was over 70, Boniface resigned his pastoral responsibilities, in order to spend his last years working among the fierce Frieslanders. With a small company, he successfully reached large numbers in the previously unevangelized area in the northeastern Germanies. On Whitsun Eve Boniface and Eoban were preparing for the baptism of some of the new converts at Dokkum, along the frontier of the Netherlands. Boniface had been quietly reading in his tent while awaiting the arrival of his new converts, when a hostile band of pagan warriors descended on the camp. He would not allow his companions to defend him. As he was exhorting them to trust in God and to welcome the prospect of dying for the faith, they were attacked—Boniface was one of the first to fall.

Though his voice was stilled that day, his testimony only grew louder, surer, and bolder. And thus, to this day, his message lives on—in the traditions of Advent.

Tuesday, December 12

A Modern Apocalypto

According to a disturbing new BBC Report, the grisly international trade in stem cells may have taken yet another nasty turn. It seems that Ukraine has built a thriving little industry as "the self-styled stem cell capital of the world." Amid undocumented claims the tissue can help fight many diseases, cells there may have been harvested not only from commercially aborted fetuses but now also from healthy, live-birth babies--who are brutally sacrificed in the process.

The horrors of this new flesh trade was uncovered when the BBC spoke to mothers from the city of Kharkiv who charged they "gave birth to healthy babies, only to have them taken by maternity staff." In scenes reminiscent of Mel Gibson's new film about the barbarous Mayan civilization, the report describes "a general culture of trafficking of children snatched at birth, and a wall of silence from hospital staff upwards over their fate. Photos show organs, including brains, have been stripped--and some bodies dismembered."

It is a slippery slope indeed. Just as pro-life pioneers and prophets have always asserted.

Thursday, December 7

Pearl Harbor Address

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese military conducted a surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulting in the loss of more than two thousand American lives and the destruction of the bulk of the Pacific fleet. The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress and the nation in a broadcast heard worldwide. He branded December 7 “a date which will live in infamy.” The speech was a call for a declaration of war against Japan--as well as its Axis allies in Europe. Later that afternoon, Congress passed the resolution:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the secretary of state a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese government had deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the army and navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounded determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

Tuesday, December 5

Quite Peculiar

An e-mail from a friend today reminded me of the distinctly peculiar walk Christ calls us to in this poor fallen world. That in turn brought to mind several notable, quotable epigrams:

"It appears that the rumor is in fact true: the world is run by C students." Jean Renoir (1894-1979)

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Robert Frost (1874-1963)

"If you always go where you have always have gone and always do what you have always done, you will always be what you have always been." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

"With visions of redemption, I walk against the crowd." Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)

"Never forget that every place is unique—just like every place else." (Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

Sunday, December 3

Parish Pres

Our first services were glorious. Thanks be to God.

Both services were full--indeed, the first was all but overflowing.

The refreshment of Word, sacrament, and covenant community was particularly rich.

We are a blessed people--beyond all measure.

In the Word

One of the distinctives of Parish Presbyterian Church is a commitment to verse-by-verse, expositional preaching. As Daniel Iverson always used to say, "In our church we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice." So, I will have the great privilege of opening the Word, week by week and in a systematic fashion, proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

During this month-long season of Advent we will be studying the Incarnation of Jesus as portrayed by the Gospel writers. This week we examine the beginning of Matthew’s account. Next week we will look at Mark’s narrative. Then, we will proceed in turn to Luke and John. After Christmas, we will stay in the Gospel of John—probably for the rest of the year. Here is the complete preaching schedule the elders have approved through the next couple of months:

December 3: First Sunday of Advent: Matthew 1:1-17
December 10: Second Sunday of Advent: Mark 1:1-11
December 17: Third Sunday of Advent: Luke 1:1-4
December 24: Fourth Sunday of Advent: John 1:1-3
December 31: Sanctity of Life Sunday (Holy Innocents): John 1:4-5
January 7: Epiphany Sunday: John 1:6-18
January 14: John 1:19-34
January 21: John 1:35-51
January 28: John 2:1-12
February 4: John 2:13-22
February 11: John 2:23-25
February 18: John 3:1-15
February 25: First Sunday of Lent: John 3:16-21

May God be pleased to pour forth abounding grace as we seek to hear and heed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Thursday, November 30

What Comes After

On this day in1864, the decisive Battle of Franklin was fought in and around the idyllic little town just south of Nashville. Though the forces of the Confederate Army under the command of General Hill technically won the engagement, their losses were so great that they never were able to muster a full fighting force again, thus heralding the end of the bitter War Between the States.

During the battle, Northern partisans captured E.M. Bounds, a chaplain for the Southern troops. In later years he would become renowned as a pious pastor and a brilliant theologian—perhaps best known for his many fine books on prayer. He would often reflect on how the horrific experience of war, captivity, and loss had shaped his character and tempered his virtue.

Bounds asserted, "All of life is but preparation for what comes after." Though slightly wounded, ravenously hungry, bitterly cold, and now made servile, Bounds understood that the past is but a prelude to the future and that the present is necessarily tutelage in an unending process and thus not to be chaffed at. He went on to say, "The primer of faith is never closed for the child of God. It's lessons never end. No matter what circumstances may bode, we remain under the bar of instruction forever. Every incident builds upon the last and anticipates the next."

Wednesday, November 29

On the Bandwagon

John Quincy Adams once quipped, "Anyone who actually wants to be president is probably not qualified." Today, for the first time, I have begun to think that Bill Frist might actually be qualified. It wasn't a reassessment of his Senate career that changed my mind. It wasn't some new policy proposal or platform that he issued. Rather, it was his statement that he has decided not to run for president. To my mind, it is the sanest decision he has made during his political career. Here is what he said:

My dad in his later years wanted to impart some wisdom to his grandchildren and great grandchildren he would never meet. One thing he wrote that has stuck with me--in fact been a clarion call to me--was "there is so much good to do in the world and so many ways to do it."

Politics is a noble occupation. Medicine is a noble profession. Service to others underlies both.

The people of Tennessee elected me twice to the U. S. Senate, and I was humbled and honored by their support and every day I did my best to serve them with integrity and common sense.

Twelve years ago, I pledged to the people of Tennessee that I would serve two terms in the Senate--to serve as a true citizen legislator--and then return home. I said I'd come to the Senate with 20 years experience in healing, spend 12 years serving in Washington, then go right back to Tennessee to live where I grew up. I've never deviated from that commitment. And I will do just that.

In the Bible, God tells us for everything there is a season, and for me, for now, this season of being an elected official has come to a close. I do not intend to run for president in 2008.

Karyn and I will take a sabbatical from public life. At this point a return to private life will allow me to return to my professional roots as a healer and to refocus my creative energies on innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges Americans face.

"We have been blessed with the prayers and support of countless individuals around the country who have shared our vision of making America a better place. We thank you and pledge to represent these values in our daily lives and wherever our journey takes us next.

I especially thank Karyn, who has honored me with her love every step along the way. And to our sons, Harrison, Jonathan and Bryan and our extended family: your support and love has sustained me both in and out of politics.

That call from my father still rings true, so we will explore ways to continue to serve outside of politics. Politics for us was never an end--it was a means--a means to serve our country and humanity, to improve lives. And for that opportunity I am truly grateful.

Karyn and I will seek the best opportunity to serve. I may eventually return to what I've done for most of my adult life, heal through medicine and health.

In the short term, I will resume my regular medical mission trips as a doctor around the world to serve those in poverty, in famine, and in civil war. I will continue to be a strong voice to fix what is broken in our health care system and to address the issues of clean water and public health globally. We will stay actively engaged in policy issues affecting the lives of Americans.

"The time for Karyn and me to leave Washington has arrived and we do so with tremendous respect for the institution of the Senate and for my colleagues, for our government, for our President, for the genius of the American people, and for the enduring principles of freedom and liberty upon which our country has prospered.

He doesn't want to be president! What a novel, noble notion! Now, at long last, I think I could actually get on a "Draft Frist" bandwagon.

Tuesday, November 28

Taper Time

I am now down to the last few days before the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis. My training has gone well and now I am in my final taper (that's fancy runner talk for "resting up a bit before the big day," or something like that). Alas, I am also having to keep a close eye on weather. We've had spectacular temperatures and glorious weather ever since Thanksgiving. But, it looks as if that is about to change rather dramatically. A cold front starts blowing through tonight. By Saturday, we should have clear skies again. But, temperatures could be in the low twenties for the start of the race. Yikes! So, I am having to prepare accordingly!

Of course, the primary reason go to all this trouble is to raise awareness and finances for the Memphis hospital that has done more than any other single institution to pioneer new treatments for children's cancer. Won't you help me support the remarkable ministry of St. Jude to children and families battling cancer? I won't even ask you to run in the cold with me! Just donate to this very worthy cause and come back to visit my st. jude sponsor site often. Tell others about what I'm trying to do. Learn how my effort to help find cures and save lives is going.

Oh yes, and do pray for the run itself! A lot can happen to old bones like mine over the course of 26.2 miles.

Monday, November 27

Recovering Conquered Lands

The idea of some kind of a just war to avenge the Muslim subjugation of Christian lands first occurred to Pope Gregory VII, and then to his successor Victor III, but affairs closer to home kept them both more than a little preoccupied. Soon though, stories of gross atrocities against captive churches began to reach Europe. The brutal conquest of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq sent shudders of fear throughout the kingdoms of the West. The penetration of Moslem armies into Spain, France, and Italy and the slaughter of whole communities of believers shook their confidence even more. The vulnerability of the once invulnerable Byzantine empire was utterly terrifying to them. And horrific stories of the occupation of the "Holy Land"--Jerusalem and Palestine--and the desecration of the beloved and historic sites of the Christian faith there distressed them no end. Soon, they could no longer ignore such abscesses of despotism.

At the Council of Clermont on this day in 1095, Pope Urban II issued a call for concerted and forthright action that was heard throughout Europe: "From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth. An accursed people, a people utterly alienated from God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and depopulated them by the sword, plundering, and fire."

He went on to list in detail the outrages of Ji'had and Dhimma: the plunder of churches, the rape of Christian women, the torture of priests and monks, the pilfering of villages and towns, and the occupation of the territories. He appealed to both their sense of Christian mercy and their sense of covenantal honor: "Recall the greatness of Charlemagne. O most valiant soldiers, descendants of invincible ancestors, be not degenerate. Let all hatred between you depart, all quarrels end, all wars cease. Start upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher, to tear that land from a wicked race and subject it to yourselves thereby restoring it to Christ. I call you to take the cross and redeem defiled Jerusalem."

Immediately a stirring chant arose from the crowd there at Clermont: Deus Vult, "God wills it." It was a chant that would quickly spread throughout Europe. The following year, their campaign of liberation the historians now call the "Crusades" began in earnest resulting in the emancipation of all the lands from Edessa to the Gaza--including the city of Jerusalem--less than four years later.

Sunday, November 26

Stir-Up Sunday

Stirring Day or Stir-Up Sunday, as it is sometimes called, is the Sunday before Advent--usually falling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. A holiday borrowed from the Victorians, it provides a wonderful way to make the transition into the Advent season. On this day mothers and grandmothers gather their whole family into the kitchen, assign various chopping, stirring, measuring, and clean-up tasks and bake the Christmas Plum Pudding together. Then, pudding baked and ageing nicely in a cool, dark spot, they relax with the feeling of satisfaction that although the busy Yuletide season is soon to be upon them, at least some of the preparation for Christmas Dinner was completed. The preparation has begun.


Saturday, November 25

On the Run, Again

One week from today, I plan to run the Memphis St. Jude Marathon for the third year in a row. Once again, I am running for a very special cause. Even though I have tapped the fundraising well quite a few times this year already, I will be trying to raise funds for essential cancer research. With the diagnosis of my dear friends Todd Burleson and Wes King with cancer during the past couple of years and the continuing battle against the dread disease by two of my students here in Franklin and three of my correspondence students in New York and Texas, I am more committed to this cause and this work than ever before. My goal is to raise $1000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital this year. Won't you help?

The reason I picked St. Jude as the focus of my fundraising efforts is actually very simple to explain: this nationally renowned children's charity hospital is one of the most remarkable and effective medical research institutions anywhere in the world. St. Jude has treated children from across the United States and from more than 70 foreign countries. And yet ability to pay is never an issue because St. Jude is the only pediatric research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. Not one penny! Not ever! Zip! Zilch! Nada!

The treatment of children and the onging research at St. Jude includes work in bone marrow transplantation, chemotherapy, the biochemistry of normal and cancerous cells, radiation treatment, blood diseases, resistance to therapy, viruses, hereditary diseases, infectious diseases, and psychological effects of catastrophic illnesses. Vital work, indeed. And again, always made available to families regardless of their financial means.

Obviously, this kind of care is very expensive. Won't you help me support the remarkable ministry of St. Jude to children and families battling cancer? Please donate now and come back to visit my st. jude sponsor site often. Tell others about what I'm trying to do. Learn how my effort to help find cures and save lives is going. Oh yes, and do pray for my training!

Tuesday, November 21

What a Great Week to Read!

The newest King's Meadow Study Center ministry newsletter is now available online--if for some strage and unexplainable reason you are not already a subscriber.

This month I have a long, long article on the influence of the Scots in the American founding era. I tried my utmost to exhort our esteemed editor, Dave Raymond, to do some serious cutting, but he left the article pretty much in its original state, for better or for worse. But speaking of our esteemed editor, Dave has a great review of the influential David McCullough book, 1776, that really ought not be missed. Then, there are two reports, one from the always enlightening Greg Wilbur, and another from the delightfully gifted Blair Sadler, on our most recent event, our annual film festival.

Got some good curl-up-in-an-easy-chair-by-the-fire time this holiday week? Catch up on all the doings here at the study center--it'll be a good warm up for that new Tim Powers novel or perhaps the new Colin Thubron book on the Silk Road or maybe even the new R.C. Sproul exposition on the Westminster Standards or, if you're like me, all three of those plus the L.L. Bean catalog, the latest Chesterton Review, and of course, the Sabbath Scripture Readings of Chalmers! Oh, what a great week to read!

Monday, November 20

The 63 Tacos

The cover story of the latest Texas Monthly is, "The 63 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die" by the ever vigilant Patricia Sharpe. Now, that really is news I can use. My issue arrived just in time for the long Thanksgiving weekend. Thank goodness. As a result, I am even now resetting my palate accordingly.

Friday, November 17

Tristan Gylberd on Bookstores

"Browsing is but one of the many time-honored traditions that have been heedlessly cast aside amidst the hustle and bustle of modernity. Nevertheless, it is a habit that seems almost as natural as breathing in a bookstore. Whether it is a fine old antiquarian dealer with dusty shelves, dark labyrinthine rooms, and hidden treasures amidst every stack or a familiar neighborhood shop featuring fresh coffee, warm conversations, and the latest bestsellers, readers relish the comfortable haunts of their determined hunts nearly as much as they love the books they ultimately find there."

"A bookstore is an earthly elysium. In some strange way, it seems to represent so much of what man aspires to and it embodies so much of what man yearns for. Like a well-stocked library, a good used bookstore can be a sort of nexus of piety and sensuality, of holiness and seduction. Such sanctuaries from the hustle bustle of everyday life are in some sense cenacles of virtue, vessels of erudition, arks of prudence, towers of wisdom, domains of meekness, bastions of strength, and thuribles of sanctity as well as crucibles of dissipation, throne rooms of desire, caryatids of opulence, repositories of salaciousness, milieus of concupiscence, and trusses of extravagance."

"The creative arts consist of signs. Thus, if images are, as Aristotle long ago asserted, the literature of the layman, then books consist of signs of signs. And thus, bookshops consist of signs of signs of signs. They are thus, the truest of all the creative arts—combining rhythm, tone, structure, progression, logic, melody, heft, texture, redolence, cipher, perspective, harmony, balance, epic, symbol, emblem, saga, craftsmanship, hue, lyric, form, function, ballad, and sanctity. They are united in their variety and varied in their unity, unique in their diversity and diverse in their apt assembly. They are sustained by a law at once heavenly and worldly. The rich fragrance of hand-oiled Moroccan leathers, the visual panoply of deep natural hues, the effluvium of fine vellum, the hollow ring of sequestered silence, the sacred spectacle of light filtered through high dusty windows, and the hush of monkish thoughtfulness combine to grant fine antiquarian bookstores an air of amplitude. The total effect is of a concert of alluring terrestrial beauty and majestic supernatural signals."

Thursday, November 16

A Tale of Two Men

The great Scottish historian and social critic, Thomas Carlyle, believed that the meaning of history might be best understood as we turn our attentions to the heroes who act boldly and decisively on the stage of the world. If Carlyle was even partly right then Western culture could well be considered the tale of two men: Augustine and Aquinas.

Both men are numbered among the most brilliant and influential writers and thinkers of all time. Both men rose from obscurity to launch movements that literally changed the course of whole civilizations. Both men transcended their quiet, contemplative, and pious lifestyles to become champions of stunning intellectual and social reform. Both men are considered among the greatest of the saints of the church.

Augustine lived during the waning days of the Roman Empire and was one of the most remarkable men Africa ever produced. He studied rhetoric at the great University of Carthage in order to become a lawyer, but later gave up his plan to for a career in teaching. His study of rhetorical philosophy, with an emphasis on Pagan Greek thought, resulted in a complete renunciation of Christianity. He lived a self-confessedly debauched life, including keeping a mistress for fifteen years by whom he had a son. In pursuit of opportunities to improve his academic standing he took teaching posts, first in Rome and later in Milan. It was in Milan that he fell under the sway of the eloquent bishop Ambrose. After a long and tortured battle of the soul, described in his classic autobiography Confessions, Augustine was converted under Ambrose's ministry and was baptized.

After some two years of intensive training, he returned to Africa and established a scholastic community in Hippo. There he founded a classical school, a kind of prototype for the modern university devoted to study, writing, and the work of cultural transformation. The school was famed for its emphasis on logic, rhetoric, art, music, politics, theology, and philosophy. But it was equally recognized for the brilliance of its founder.

Soon the steadfastness, holiness, and giftedness of Augustine was recognized and he was ordained, though very much against his own objections. And a few years later he was elevated to the bishopric of the city. He was a devoted pastor, but his writing was where he made his greatest impact. During his career he wrote more than a thousand works, including 242 books. Most of these quite brilliant writings have endured the test of time. But he is probably best known for his manifesto of faith, The City of God.

According to Martin Luther, this one book “set the very course of Western Civilization.” According to John Knox, it is the very essence of “incisive Christian thought applied to the circumstances of theis poor fallen world.” When Peter Lombard compiled his Sentences, providing the Medieval world with its basic handbook of theology, he acknowledged his “supreme debt” to the “masterful work” of Augustine in City. When Gratian compiled the principle handbook of canon law, he too recognized the “vital import” of the “seminal foundations” laid by Augustine’s City. Cassiodorus and Boethius both relied heavily on Augustine’s worldview paradigm as exposited in City as well as his tripartite arx axiom methodology in establishing the Western pattern of covenantal and classical education. Anselm, Petrarch, Pascal, and Kierkegaard all counted The City of God as their first and primary intellectual influence. Indeed, this one book has had an astonishing influence on the shaping of our culture for centuries.

Thomas Aquinas was born into a well-connected Italian family, related to the Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II as well as the royal families of Aragon, Castile, and France, during the high Medieval Age. Landulph, his father, was Count of Aquino; Theodora, his mother, Countess of Teano. He showed early promise as a student and was marked by a deep and profound piety. At the university he quickly surpassed his professors and his parents hoped he might establish himself as a lawyer or diplomat. But he yielded to a call into the Dominican Order. The whole city of Naples was said to have wondered that such a noble young man should don the garb of poor friar and his family, appalled, his family had him confined two years in the fortress of San Giovanni at Rocca Secca in an effort to dissuade him from his holy intentions. He refused to relent however and finally he was released to the monastery.

In Paris and Cologne he studied under the most brilliant mind of the age, Albert Magnus. But it was not long before the wisdom of Aquinas outstripped that of even Albert. After obtaining his doctorate, Aquinas began to write; soon his remarkable mind made its mark on the world. He was nearly as prolific as Augustine, composing hundreds of works and dozens of books. But like Augustine, his reputation rests on his magnum opus, a systematic theology entitled the Summa.

Like the City of God, the Summa quickly altered the course of men and nations. Virtually every Roman Catholic theologian since Aquinas has found in the Summa all the language, categories, and philosophical frameworks for faith. G.K. Chesterton called it the “North Star of Western thought.” Hilaire Belloc called it the “loadstone of orthodoxy.” And Pope John Paul II asserted that it was an “indispensable guide to the Christian world and life view.”

Given all this, you might be tempted to think that Augustine and Aquinas were very similar men, thinking very similar thoughts. But nothing could be further from the truth.

While Augustine categorically rejected the principles of Greek philosophy, including the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas embraced them and wove them into his Christian understanding of the world. Augustine thought in black and white; Aquinas thought in various shades of grey. Augustine drew a line through all of history; on one side was the “City of God” on the other was the “City of Man;” nearly every fact, every event, every idea, and every movement could be sorted out on one side of the divide or the other. Aquinas drew lines of distinction as well, but they were far more complex, subtle, and broad. Augustine thought in exclusive Biblical categories. Aquinas thought in inclusive philosophical categories. Augustine drew inferences from Scriptural ideas. Aquinas drew inferences from Aristotelian ideas. Philosophers and theologians have said that Augustine’s ideas were based largely on antithesis while the ideas of Aquinas were based largely on synthesis. And never the twain shall meet.

Wednesday, November 15

The Articles of Confederation

The first constitution of the newly independent American nation was sent to the states for ratification on this day in 1777--though it would be amended in July of 1778 and not actually adopted until March of 1781. Throughout most of the War for Independence therefore, the federal union was held together by a provisional government and both the nascent Presidency and the assembled Congress had only such powers as the states afforded them by proxy. The new constitution, called The Articles of Confederation, enumerated the powers of both the federation and of the individual states and was heralded as a great leap forward in republicanism.

The document began with a clear delineation of powers and authorities, “To all to whom these presents shall come, we the undersigned delegates of the states affixed to our names send greeting. Whereas, The delegates of the United States of America in Congress assembled did on the fifteenth day of November in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven, and in the second year of the independence of America, agree to certain articles of confederation and perpetual union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the words following, viz: Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Done at Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight, and in the third year of the independence of America.”

The Articles actually were written in 1776 and 1777 during the early part of the American Revolution by a committee of the Second Continental Congress. The head of the committee, John Dickinson, presented a report on the proposed articles to the Congress on July 12, 1776, eight days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Dickinson initially proposed a strong central government, with control over the western lands, equal representation for the states, and the power to levy taxes.

Because of their bitter experience with Great Britain, the thirteen states feared a powerful central government; consequently, they changed Dickinson’s proposed articles drastically before they sent them to all the states for ratification. The Continental Congress had been careful to give the states as much independence as possible and to specify the limited functions of the federal government. Despite these precautions, several years passed before all the states ratified the articles. The delay resulted from preoccupation with the revolution and from disagreements among the states.

The final document laid out a kind of decentralized authority and a mixed government of checks and balances. Though it was eventually superceded by the new Constitution of 1789, the Articles of Confederation set the pattern for virtually all the guaranteed liberties that would become the hallmark of the American experiment in freedom.

Monday, November 13

Parish Pres

In September of this year, the elders of Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee completed the first stages of a strategic planning process committing that congregation to a new vision for church planting--among many other things. Putting feet to that vision immediately, they issued a call to me--asking me to consider launching the inaugural work.

After praying, thinking, praying, dreaming, and praying for the better part of a month, Karen and I accepted their call. We were already working with City Church (PCA) in East Nashville and so had gotten a good taste of the excitement and opportunities for ministry impact that a church plant affords. And so, just a few weeks later, on November 8, 2006, the first group of elders for this new work in Franklin gathered together and officially constituted Parish Presbyterian Church as a mission of Christ Community and the Nashville Presbytery, named a provisional session, and reaffirmed the call for me to be their organizing pastor.

That night, the provisional elders, Brent Moelker, Grant Hensley, Jim Smith, John Scherrer, Bill Iverson, Mike Felts, Danny Ketchum, and Louis Huesmann had a joyous season of prayer and thanksgiving as I reminded them that the vision of a “parish model” means that the new church will “go deep and go slow.” No razzle-dazzle. No hoopla. No blitzkrieg of programming. Just in-depth Bible teaching, worship marked by reverence and awe, intentionality in both community and outreach, a focus on covenantal succession among our children, and purposeful mission to our city. It is a distinctive vision--what will be, we pray, an authentic Kingdom vision.

Services will begin Sunday evenings in Advent. We sent out our first e-newsletter just yesterday. More information will be forthcoming on our still-under-construction website. Obvious, things are now moving very quickly. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 12

Parish Presbyterian Church

It is now official! Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) In Franklin, Tennessee has been constituted as a mission of Christ Community Church and the Nashville Presbytery. Evening services will commence the first Sunday of Advent. The provisional elders have called me to be the organizing pastor. And, for that, I am extremely excited and grateful. Visit our temporary website for more information.

The Pulpit

William Cowper (1731-1800) was an influential English poet and hymn writer who, with his spiritual mentor John Newton, helped to dramatically reform the character and canon of Evangelical hymnody. His long lyrical excursus on everyday British life, The Task, includes this beautiful reminder of the unlikely power of preaching:

The pulpit, (and I name it fill'd
With solemn awe, that bids me well beware
With what intent I touch that holy thing);
The pulpit (when the satirist has at last,
Strutting and vapouring in an empty school,
Spent all his force, and made no proselyte);
I say, the pulpit (in the sober use
Of its legitimate, peculiar pow'rs)
Must stand acknowledg'd, while the world shall stand,
The most important and effectual guard,
Support, and ornament of Virtue's cause.

Wednesday, November 8

Fluttering Only a Fringe

The midterm elections of 1994 resulted in Republicans winning a majority in the Senate while at the same time gaining control of the House for the first time in 40 years. It looks like today, that result has been finally, decisively reversed. For losers and winners alike, it is essential to remember that politics is important. But it is not all important. That is not just a modern phenomenon. It has always been a fact of life.

Many who live and die by the electoral sword will certainly be shocked to discover that most of the grand glorious headline making events in the political realm today will go down in the annals of time as mere backdrops to the real drama of everyday banalities. But it is so.

As much emphasis as is placed on campaigns, primaries, caucuses, conventions, elections, statutes, administrations, surveys, polls, trends, and policies these days, most of us know full well that the import of fellow workers, next door neighbors, close friends, and family members is actually far greater. Despite all the hype, hoopla, and hysteria of sensational turns of events, the affairs of ordinary people who tend their gardens and raise their children and perfect their trades and mind their businesses are, in the end, more important. Just like they always have been. Just like they always will be.

That is the great lesson of history. It is simply that ordinary people doing ordinary things are ultimately who and what determine the outcome of human events not princes or populists issuing decrees. It is that laborers and workmen, cousins and acquaintances can upend the expectations of the brilliant and the glamorous, the expert and the meticulous. It is that simple folks doing mundane chores can literally change the course of history because they are the stuff of which history is made. They are who and what make the world go round. As G.K. Chesterton has aptly observed, "The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity."

Thus, what many presume to be electoral apathy is merely electoral ambivalence. It is not that the American people believe that politics is insignificant. It is just a recognition that in the end, there are any number of things in life that are more significant.

Most of us would have to agree with the astute political axiom of commentator George Will, "Almost nothing is as important as almost everything in Washington is made to appear. And the importance of a Washington event is apt to be inversely proportional to the attention it receives."

Eugene McCarthy, once the darling of the New Left, also said it well, "Being in politics is like being a football coach; you have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important."

Intuitively, we know that is true. Especially on days like today.

Sozzled with preposterous false expectations and bedazzled by a ceaseless chatter of well meant platitudes, the media and the ideologues have told the truth about the falsehood that they tell. Like all the other quacks and conycatchers now crowding the public trough in Washington, their suppositions drift ethereally above normal logical processes and pass into the murky domain of transcendental metaphysics. Such is to be expected. That is their job. And they have done it.

So now, it is time for us to do our job--back in the real world.

No More Plagued

On this day in 1787, Richard Allen and a number of other African American Methodists arrived at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend Sunday services. They were directed toward a newly built seating gallery, and mistakenly sat in its "white" section. During a prayer, white ushers pulled the black worshippers to their feet and demanded that they sit in the "proper" section. Humiliated, Allen--a former slave from Delaware who had joined the Wesleyan movement because of its work against slavery and who eventually became a licensed Methodist preacher--and several others left the church at the prayer's end. "They were no more plagued with us in the church," he later said dryly.

Similar indignities were suffered by African American Christians all across both the North and the South. There were incidents where children were refused baptism because white pastors refused to take the infants into their arms. Likewise free black parishioners were often forced to wait until all the whites had been served the Lord's Supper before they were admitted to the table. There were even conflicts over access to cemeteries.

In response to such discrimination, African American Methodists in Baltimore and Philadelphia began holding separate prayer meetings as early as 1786, two years after Methodism had made its way to American shores. Allen tried to buy a separate building for such meetings, but abandoned his plan in the face of white hostility. Recognizing the importance of black self-reliance, Allen, Absalom Jones, and others had formed the Free African Society--a benevolent organization whose commitment to abolition and the aiding of blacks in times of need became a model for other societies nationwide. But they were still dependent on dominant Methodist institutions.

By 1794 Philadelphia's black Methodists had raised enough money to build their own church, which a majority of the congregation voted to align with the Episcopalians rather than the Methodists. They named it the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Allen, however, believed that "no religious sect or denomination would suit the capacity of the colored people as well as the Methodists, for the plain and simple gospel suits best for any people." Thus, he purchased a blacksmith shop with his own money and converted it into a storefront church. Methodist Bishop Frances Asbury named it the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

By 1816 black Methodists, still facing persistent discrimination, had come to believe that separate churches were not enough. Allen and a number of other prominent African American pastors decided to organize under the name the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Afterward, they successfully sued for independence before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Not surprisingly, Richard Allen became the first AME bishop.

Tuesday, November 7


Karen and I stood in line almost two hours on this dreary, rainy evening in order to cast our votes--so much for our effecient new voting machines. I never dreamed that I would go to such lengths and still only have candidates to vote against rather than candidates to vote for--so much for the present state of American politics.

Planning for Next Year

The Little School That Could

Franklin Classical School is little. By design. We focus on academics. On purpose. We keep our tuition as low as we possibly can. In principle. Our resources are thus quite limited. Of necessity. So, it probably surprises a lot of floks when they see FCS do big things. Really big things. Like staging the Uttermost 3-day, 175-mile, duathlon. Like presenting a first-rate cultural award to a national figure like Jan Karon. Like winning state and national titles in football.

Uh, say what?

Yep. You read it right. Little bitty Franklin Classical School went undefeated this year in football. Little bitty Franklin Classical School went on to the playoffs and won the Tennessee state title. Little bitty Franklin Classical School then proceeded to win the National Christian Athletic League title.

Wow! I'm amazed. And, ever so grateful for the Lord's bounteous grace, mercy, and blessing.

Saturday, November 4

Chalmers Award

Following a wonderful evening, I'm posing here with the Chalmers Cultural Vision Award that I had presented to Jan Karon just moments before.

Best-selling author, Jan Karon, speaks during a special assembly at Franklin Classical School this past week.

Thursday, November 2

Jan Karon and the Chalmers Award

Tonight, in a special ceremony with a thousand of her fans in attendance, I will be privileged to give Jan Karon, the New York Times bestselling author of the Mitford series, the first Chalmers Cultural Vision Award. For the award itself, we commissioned Caleb Faires, a remarkably gifted sculptor, to create a beautiful original bronze. I was so wowed by the finished work that I just had to share it with you--as well as with Jan:

Just click on the image for a closer look at the sculpture. Isn't it wonderful?

I'll do my best to post some photos of the gala event sometime over the weekend--or at the latest, early this next week.

Wednesday, November 1

All Saints' Day

In the earliest years of the Church, so many martyrs died for their faith, Christians set aside special days to honor them. For example, in 607 Emperor Phocas presented the beautiful Roman Pantheon to the Church. Pope Boniface IV quickly removed the statues of Jupiter and the other Pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to all the martyrs who had suffered during the Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ--that great cloud of witnesses to the Christian faith. The venerable old building was renamed "All Saints Chapel" and a festival was set aside to remember the courage and the sacrifice of the faithful. Originally celebrated on May 1, the festival was eventually moved to the first day of November by Pope Gregory IV. It was, in a very real sense, the Church's first commemoration of "thanksgiving."

Tuesday, October 31

Luther and the Reformation

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben on November 10, 1483. He was descended from the peasantry, a fact in which he took great pride. His father was a copper miner in the mining area of Mansfield--but humble as he was, he determined to procure a sound education for his children. Thus, Luther received a classical Brethren of the Common Life education at Mansfield, Magdeburg, and Eisenach. In 1501, he enrolled at the University of Erfurt, receiving his undergraduate degree in 1502 and his Master's degree in 1505. He then intended to study law, as his father wished.

But in the summer of 1505, he suddenly abandoned his studies, sold his books, and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. The decision surprised his friends and appalled his father. Later in life, Luther explained it by recalling several brushes with death making him astutely aware of the fleeting character of life. Luther made his profession as a monk following year and was ordained as a priest the year after that.

After his ordination, Luther was asked to study theology in order to become a professor at one of the many new German universities. The following year he was assigned by Johann von Staupitz, vicar-general of the Augustinians and a friend and counselor, to the University of Wittenberg which had been founded just six years earlier. He was to give introductory lectures in Moral Philosophy and Theology. Two years later, he had the opportunity to visit Rome and was shocked by the worldliness of the Roman clergy.

Increasingly concerned about corruption within the church--both material and spiritual--Luther suddenly became a public and controversial figure when he published his Ninety-Five Theses, on this day in 1517. They were supremely academic in character--Latin propositions opposing the manner in which indulgences were being sold to raise money for the construction of Saint Peter's in Rome.

The Theses caused great excitement and were immediately translated into German and widely distributed. Luther's spirited defense and further development of his position through public university debates in Wittenberg and other cities resulted in an investigation by the Roman Curia that led to his condemnation three years later and his excommunication a year after that in 1521. Summoned to appear before Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in April 1521, he was asked before the assembled secular and ecclesiastical rulers to recant. He refused firmly, asserting that he would have to be convinced by Scripture and clear reason in order to do so, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Condemned by the emperor, Luther was spirited away by his prince, the elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony, and kept in hiding at Wartburg Castle. There he began his translation of the New Testament from the original Greek into German, a seminal contribution to the development of a standard German language. Disorders in Wittenberg caused by some of his more extreme followers forced his return to the city in March 1521, and he restored peace through a series of sermons.

By that time, it was clear that the protesting churches, or "Protestants," would not succeed in reforming the whole Western and Catholic church as Luther had wished. Thus, they established a new ecclesiastical structure--focusing on reforming its worship as much as reforming its doctrine--rooted in the long-lost idea of Sola Scriptura, or "Scripture Alone."

Thus was born the Reformation.

All Hallow’s Eve

Many of the ancient peoples of Europe marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter by celebrating a holiday in late autumn. The most important of these holidays to influence later customs was Samhain, a holiday observed by the ancient Celts.

Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next. According to their tradition, the spirits of those who had died in the preceding year roamed the earth on Samhain evening. The Celts sought to ward off these spirits with offerings of food and drink. They also built bonfires at sacred hilltop sites and performed rituals, often involving human and animal sacrifices, to honor Druid deities.

When the Celts were absorbed into the Roman empire, many of their traditions were adapted by the conquerors as a part of their own celebrations. In Britain, Romans blended local Samhain customs with their own pagan harvest festival honoring Pomona, goddess of fruit trees--from which the game of bobbing for apples was derived.

In many places such as Scotland and Ireland, Samhain was abandoned only when the local people converted to Christianity during the early Middle Ages. But even then, pagan folk observances were linked to a number of Christian holidays. Thus, many of the old Samhain traditions thought to be incompatible with Christianity often became linked with Christian folk beliefs about evil spirits in the celebration of Halloween. Although such superstitions varied a great deal from place to place, many of the supernatural beings now associated with the holiday became fixed in the popular imagination during the Renaissance.

In British folklore, small magical beings known as fairies became associated with Halloween mischief. The jack-o’-lantern, originally carved from a large turnip rather than a pumpkin, originated in medieval Scotland. As belief in many of the old superstitions waned during the late 19th century, Halloween was increasingly regarded as a children’s holiday. Beginning in the 20th century, Halloween mischief gradually transformed into the modern ritual of trick-or-treating. Eventually, Halloween treats were plentiful while tricks became rare.

Thus, this strange amalgamation of Pagan and Christian traditions known as All Hallow’s Eve.

Friday, October 27

King's Meadow Film Conference

Tonight, the second annual King's Meadow Film conference begins with a screening of Ang Lee's Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. Tomorrow morning, I will lecture twice: first, on the ideas of feasting and festival in the Christian worldview, and then later, on film as a medium for worldview propogation. Greg Wilbur and Thomas Purfoy will both lecture during the day. We'll preview a new film produced by local artists. And of course, we'll enjoy good food, good fellowship, good discussion, and several more great flicks (including one of my all-time favorites, Babette's Feast) throughout the weekend. Join us in the downtown Franklin Chapel if you can possibly break away from the ever-present tyranny of the urgent. For more information, read our conference brochure or download our most recent ministry newsletter.

Wednesday, October 25

Jan Karon and Steve Green

Don't miss this extraordinary opportunity to meet best-selling author of the Mitford series, Jan Karon, and Dove Award winner, Steve Green, during a very special evening right here in Franklin. Visit our website for more information and to purchase tickets online.

A Good Encyclopædia

A recent e-mail correspondent asked my opinion about the best encyclopædia to procure for her library. Her concern was that most modern projects seem to be rife with political-correctness, modernist ideology, and secularist bias. And of course, she is right about all that. But even worse, the material in the most recently published encyclopædias is often so dumbed-down by a least-common-denominator-brevity that the articles are really no longer academically reliable.

So, what would I recommend? Here is what I told my friend:

Alas, there have been no solid or substantive encyclopædia projects for many, many years. The last two really useful projects were the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition, published by the Times of London and the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition, published by the Cambridge University Press.

I have been talking to publishers for years about the need for an entirely new encyclopædia project, written by the world's foremost authorities in every discipline, but from a faithful Christian worldview perspective. But, as you can imagine, such an undertaking would require enormous resources of time, energy, and money. Alas, most publishers cannot justify that kind of a project given the financial restraints they face day in and day out.

Tuesday, October 24

Who Knew?

Who knew? Just a few weeks following the September 11 terrorist attacks a relatively small, struggling computer company held a press conference to announce a new product. At the time, the whole affair seemed more than a little insignificant. But now in hindsight, it is evident that the new product, a little music storage and playback device, would have a stunning impact. Indeed, the Apple iPod has become one of the most recognizable products in the world. It has transformed Apple’s business and its public image--but, perhaps even more significantly, it has transformed the computer industry, the music industry, and perhaps very soon, the television and movie industries as well. All this, from a device smaller than a cigarette package. Who knew?

Well, apparently, Steve Jobs knew.

Admittedly, the Apple CEO’s carefully choreographed pronouncements are more often than not accompanied by cynical quips and murmurings about a “Reality Distortion Field” that always seems to surround him. But in the case of the iPod, on that particular October day in 2001, Jobs couldn’t have been more right. When his stood before a handful of media reps that day, his company had just reported quarterly revenues of $1.45 billion, down 22 percent. Profits had been cut in half, and many were wondering if Apple would be able to survive the onslaught of low-cost PC competitors like Compaq, Dell, Micron, and Gateway.

Oh how the iPod changed all that. This past week Apple reported that it shipped 8.7 million iPods during its fourth fiscal quarter, which ended September 30. In fact, Apple's $1.6 billion from iPod sales in the quarter was more than it generated as an entire company back in October 2001. Those iPod sales were also 35 percent more than the same period last year—far more than what Wall Street’s cautious financial analysts had been expecting. The halo effect for Apple's Mac computers has been nothing less than astonishing, boosting sales in just the last quarter 72 percent (and, oh yeah, of those low cost PC competitors, only Dell still exists in any form even beginning to resemble its former self).

It's hard to overstate the impact of the iPod in just five years on the wider culture. It’s not just the likes of Bono and Madonna who sport those ubiquitous white earbuds these days. The Pope and the President both have iPods. Lance Armstrong trains with his. Condoleza Rice travels to the world’s hot spots with hers. Yo Yo Ma has one. So does Stephen Hawking. So does Billy Graham. So does Brad Pitt. So do I (in fact, I have two--one to run with and one for my home stereo system).

Surely, even the ever optimistic Jobs could not have forseen this.

Friday, October 20

No Lowly Callings

The pioneering African American scientist, George Washington Carver, developed a keen interest in plants at an early age. Growing up in post-emancipation Missouri under the care of his parents' former owners, Carver collected a variety of wild plants and flowers, which he planted in a garden. At the age of ten, he left home of his own volition to attend a school for freed slaves in the nearby community of Neosho, where he did chores for an African American family in exchange for food and a place to sleep. He maintained his interest in plants while putting himself through high school in Minneapolis, Kansas, and during his first and only year at Simpson College in Iowa. During this period, he made many sketches of plants and flowers. He made the study of plants his focus in 1891, the year he enrolled at Iowa State College.

After graduating in 1894 with an degree in botany and agriculture, he spent two additional years at Iowa State to complete a master's degree in the same fields. During this time, he taught botany to undergraduate students and conducted extensive experiments on plants while managing the university's greenhouse. These experiences served him well during the first few years after he joined the faculty of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute.

Carver used scientific means to tackle the widespread poverty and malnutrition among the local African American farmers in south Alabama. Year after year, farmers had planted cotton on the same plots of land and thereby exhausted the topsoil's nutrients. By testing the soil, he discovered that a lack of nitrogen in particular accounted for consistently low harvests. While at Iowa State, Carver had learned that certain plants in the pea family extracted nitrogen from the air and deposited it in the soil. To maintain the topsoil's balance of nutrients, Carver advised farmers to alternate planting cotton and peanuts. This farming method proved effective and within a few years, farmers saw a dramatic increase in their crop production. Carver then created an outreach program in which he would travel once a month to rural parts of Alabama to give hands-on instruction to farmers in this and other innovative farming techniques.

Because of Carver's emphasis on the cultivation of the peanut, peanuts flooded the market and their prices dropped. This predicament presented Carver with yet another challenge--how to prevent farmers from resorting to the exclusive cultivation of cotton, which had a higher market value. Carver began to explore alternative uses for the peanut that would increase its market value. He developed over three hundred peanut products that included peanut butter, cheeses, flours, ice creams, and stains. Then, on this day in 1921, he helped the United Peanuts Growers Association persuade Congress to pass a bill calling for a protective tariff on imported peanuts.

The development of the peanut also helped Carver resolve the problem of malnutrition in the rural south. He stressed that the peanut was a valuable source of protein that could enrich farmers' diets and improve their health. As part of his extension program, Carver taught farmers' wives how to preserve food and prepare tasty, well-balanced meals. For many African American southerners who had never given thought to eating a tomato, which were once widely believed to be poisonous, Carver explained its nutritional value and demonstrated several recipes in which it could be used. Carver was also innovative with the sweet potato and the pecan, introducing approximately 100 uses for each of those two foods.

Carver translated his life-long love of plants into a powerful tool for economic, social, and cultural transformation. As he often told his Tuskegee students, "Every calling is a means for good. There are therefore no lowly callings."

Saturday, October 14

Mission Accomplished

The first annual running of the Uttermost was a roaring success. We did it. Every mile, every day, every event. I'll be posting photos and final tallies on our fundraising totals this next week on my run blog. Right now though, I am going to rest--at least for a little while!

Wednesday, October 11

Three Days; One Goal

It starts tomorrow. 175 miles, 100 students, 12 events, 9 sponsors, 7 ministries, 3 days, 1 goal. The Uttermost. Together, we can make a difference. Won't you help us? Listen to our radio spot and then, pledge your support at our website. Our kids will never be the same. You will never be the same. Our world will never be the same--from here to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Tuesday, October 10

Just 2 More Days!

Make a difference. Have an impact. Use your influence, your gifts, and your opportunities. That's what I tell my students almost every day. With such heady imperatives, it is important that I steer those idealistic young men and women in the right direction when it comes to practical application. I can't just encourage them to change the world and then leave it at that. I need to give them some sense of how. I need to let them see that they don't have to wait until they're grown before they can excercise their influence for good.

That is why I launched the Uttermost. We are just two days away from a titanic effort to run and cycle 175 miles, raising funds for some of the most vital missions organizations in the world today--providing medical care for the poorest of the urban poor, raising up the next generation of leaders in benighted refugee camps and slums, educating young minds in war-torn Iraq, and digging fresh water wells in AIDS-ravaged communities in Africa.

So far we have raised just over $14,000. That is wonderful. My goal however is to top $20,000. We have two more days to get there. Will you help?

Won't you take time to listen to a brief audio message describing what the Uttermost is all about? Or, visit the websites of each of the ministries to which we are commited. And then, pledge your support--won't you?

Our kids will never be the same. You will never be the same. Our world will never be the same--from here to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Sunday, October 8

An A-1 Time in Life

At a campaign stop in Milwaukee on this day in 1912, a deranged, out-of-work bartender emerged from a crowd and shot Theodore Roosevelt in the chest at point-blank range. Staggered by the impact of the bullet and the shock of the injury, the great man nevertheless righted himself. As the crowd converged on the man, the wounded former president cried, "Stand back! Don't hurt the man! Bring him to me!" After examining his would-be assassin with a dismissive glare, he told his aides to get him to the rally.

"This may be the last speech I deliver," he admitted. Seeing that he was bleeding heavily, several doctors in Roosevelt's party wanted to rush him to the hospital at once, but he waved them aside. "You just stay where you are," he ordered. "I am going to make this speech and you might as well compose yourselves." When they persisted, he said, "Get an ambulance or a carriage or anything you like at ten o'clock and I'll go to the hospital, but I won't go until I've finished my speech." He then demanded that his driver proceed to the auditorium.

The crowd was told what had happened. But as Roosevelt appeared on the platform, the familiar figure smiled and waved weakly to the awestruck crowd. "It is true," he whispered in a hoarse voice, "I have just been shot. But it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Now beginning to gain his composure, he said, "Friends, I should ask you to be as quiet as possible. And please excuse me from making a long speech. I'll do the best I can." He then took his manuscript from his jacket; it had been pierced through by the bullet and was soaked with blood. "It is nothing,” he said as the people gasped. "I am not hurt badly. I have a message to deliver and will deliver it as long as there is life in my body." The audience became deathly still as he went on to say, "I have had an A-1 time in life and I am having it now."

He always had the ability to cast an intoxicating spell over crowds. Even now, his physical presence was dominating. Though he was bleeding profusely, he went on to speak for an hour and a half. By the end he had almost completely regained his typical stump fervor--rousing the crowd to several extended ovations. When at last he allowed his concerned party to take him to the hospital, the audience reached a near frenzy chanting "Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!"

At the hospital he joked and talked politics with his attendants. But his condition was hardly a joking matter. The surgeons found that the bullet had fractured his fourth rib and lodged close to his right lung. "It is largely due to the fact that he is a physical marvel that he was not mortally wounded," observed one of them later. "He is one of the most powerful men I have ever seen on an operating table."

Nevertheless, he was no longer a young buck at the age of fifty-four. He was required, against his quite considerable will, to sit out the remainder of the campaign. Later, his biographers would view the incident as quintessential Roosevelt: imposing the sheer force of his will upon a seemingly impossible circumstance, and yet prevailing.