Monday, January 30

Francis Schaeffer

Variously called the "Guru of the Fundamentalists," "Missionary to the Intellectuals," and "Godfather of Evangelicalism," Francis A. Schaeffer was undoubtedly one of the most influential thinkers, theologians, authors, and apologists of the past generation. Born on this day in 1912, his books, tapes, and films gave new credibility to Evangelicals interested in the arts, culture, politics, and society.

After serving for a short time in Presbyterian congregations in the United States, he moved to Switzerland in 1948 to begin a unique missionary outreach—to whoever God would send to his door. Over the years literally thousands of students, skeptics, and searchers found their way to the door of the small mountain chalet that he shared with his wife and four children. Calling his work L'Abri—the French word for shelter—he set up a study center and simply attempted to provide "honest answers to honest questions."

Asserting the Lordship of Christ over the totality of life, he wrote a series of intellectually stimulating books documenting the drift of Western art, music, ideas, and law from their Christian moorings. Though he had a wide following among academically minded Evangelicals beginning in the mid-sixties, it was not until the release of his book and film series How Should We Then Live? that he gained national and international notoriety. He followed that with another book and film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? which brought new prominence to the struggle against abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. But it was his book, A Christian Manifesto, that catalyzed the burgeoning Evangelical consensus in the culture.

Despite a difficult and protracted battle against cancer, over the last five years of his life, he gave the lion's share of his time, energies, and efforts to promoting the authority of Christ over every aspect of life and society. In both Word and Deed, Schaeffer confirmed the Gospel's message of Light and Life.

Meeting FAS

I've posted this story before, but I felt it was an apt redeux for today:

I remember only too well the first time I met Francis Schaeffer. I was puttering around in one of my favorite used bookstores--on Locust Street, just a couple of blocks from the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. The cathedral's magnificent altarpiece and Caen-carved reredos--soaring nearly forty feet above the choir and stretching across the entire breadth of the nave--draws me like a magnet whenever I am in the city. The matching narthex and bell tower has always inspired me--a vivid reminder to me of the remarkable flowering of creativity and beauty that the Gospel has always provoked through the ages.

Just out of sight of the great Easter pinnacle is a little row of quirky stores and businesses. There are a couple of musty antique dealers, a disreputable-looking chili restaurant, a jaunty coffee shop, a bizarre boutique specializing in platform shoes from the seventies, and of course, the bookstore--stocking a rather eccentric jumble of old magazines, cheap paperbacks, and fine first editions arranged in no apparent order.

I had just discovered a good hardback copy of Scott's Ivanhoe and a wonderful turn-of-the-century pocket edition of Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture--both for less than the cost of a new paperback copy--when I rounded a corner and bumped into Dr. Schaeffer. Literally.

I had been reading his books since the late sixties and looked to him as my spiritual and intellectual mentor. Not only did he express his orthodox Reformed faith in a clear and thoughtful fashion, his appreciation for the great heritage of Christendom's art, music, and ideas and his commitment to practical justice and true spirituality made him beacon light of hope to me.

I'd like to say that at that moment, as I stood face to face with my hero, I was able to articulate my appreciation for all that he had done for my faith and my walk with Christ. I'd like to say that I was able to express my gratitude and then perhaps strike up a stimulating conversation about, say, epistemological self-consciousness. I'd like to say that as the opportunity that providence had afforded dawned on me I was able to think of all the questions that I'd always wanted answered. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Instead, the first thought that sprang into my mind was: "Oh my, he's short!"

My second thought was: "What a haircut!"

My third thought was: "And what's the deal with the knickers?"

In shock, I realized that I couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to say. I had fallen epistemologically unconscious. Evidently, Dr. Schaeffer could read the awkward consternation in my eyes. He just chuckled, introduced himself to me, and struck up a conversation. Amidst my embarrassed bumfuddlement he was cheerfully gracious and kind. He commended me on my selections and then showed me a couple of other books he thought I might like--a fine paperback copy of Van Til's The Calvinistic Concept of Culture and a rare edition of Schaff's The Principle of Protestantism.

Here was one of the brightest minds of our generation giving of his time and attentions to a gawky young Christian who couldn't even string together a coherent sentence. I later discovered that this was typical of him. Though he was often passionate, stubborn, and irascible, his life was suffused with a clear sense of calling--a calling to serve others. He demonstrated that calling on a daily basis--not just through heroic feats of sacrifice but through the quiet virtue of ordinary kindness. He believed that the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was best portrayed in the beauty of caring human relationships. And so he listened. He cared. He gave. He put into motion Christ's tender mercies through the simplest acts of humble service.

I came away from that first brief encounter with Dr. Schaeffer with an entirely new understanding of Biblical mercy. With a servant's heart, he treated me as if I mattered. He treated me the way we are all to treat one another.

Saturday, January 28

Reluctant Revolutionaries

Perhaps the most notable aspect of America's revolutionary period was that its chief protagonists were not particularly revolutionary. If anything, they were anti-revolutionary. From Samuel Adams and John Hancock to Richard Henry Lee and George Washington, from James Iredell and Patrick Henry to Samuel Chase and John Dickinson the leaders of the American cause were profoundly conservative. They were loath to indulge in any kind of radicalism that might erupt into violence--rhetorical, political, or martial. For the most part they were the faithful sons of colonial gentry. They were devoted to conventional Whig principles: the rule of law, noblesse oblige, unswerving honor, squirey superintendence, and the maintenance of corporate order. They believed in a tranquil and settled society free of the raucous upsets and tumults of agitation, activism, and unrest.

Their reticence to squabble with the crown was obvious to even the most casual observer. The colonials exhausted every recourse to law before they even thought to resort to armed resistance. For more than a decade they sent innumerable appeals, suits, and petitions to both parliament and king. Even after American blood had been spilled, they refrained from impulsive insurrection.

It took more than the Boston Massacre, more than Lexington and Concord, more than Bunker Hill, more than Falmouth, and more than Ticonderoga to provoke the patriots to commit themselves to forceful secession. Even as late as the first week of July 1776, there was no solid consensus among the members of the Continental Congress that "such an extreme as full-scale revolt," as John Dickinson dubbed it, was necessary.

That week, the "Declaration of Independence" drafted by a committee composed of Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, John Adams, and the young Thomas Jefferson, was defeated twice before it was diffidently adopted--and even then the cautious delegates managed to keep its pronouncements secret for four more days.

The patriots were, at best, reluctant revolutionaries. Why then did they rebel? What could possibly have so overcome their native conservatism? It was their traditionalism--their commitment to those lasting things that transcend the ever-shifting tides of situation and circumstance--that finally drove them to arms. They fought against king and motherland in order to preserve that which king and motherland represented.

According to John Adams, in his manifesto The Rule of Law and the Rule of Men, it is the "duty of all men" to "protect the integrity of liberty" whenever the "laws of God," the "laws of the land," and the "laws of the common inheritance" are "profligately violated." Justice demands, he argued, "a defense of the gracious endowments of Providence to mankind," including "life, liberty, and property." To deny this duty is to insure the reduction of "the whole of society" to the "bonds of servility."

Patrick Henry agreed asserting that it was only a "grave responsibility" which the leaders held to "God and countrymen" that could possibly compel the peace-loving people of America to fight. The combined tyranny of economic mercantilism--the politicalization of matters of commerce--and legislative despotism--the politicalization of matters of conscience--had insured that "an appeal to arms and the God of Hosts" was "all that was left" to the patriots.

According to John Hancock, the Americans had been "denied representation" in either "the taxing authorities of parliament or of the trade boards." In addition, their colonial charters had been "subverted or even abrogated," their "citizenship rights" according to English common law had been "violated," and their "freedom of religious practice" and "moral witness" had been "curtailed." Thus, rule of the colonies had become "arbitrary and capricious;" it had become "supra-legal;" it had become "intolerable." Under such circumstances "a holy duty" demanded "a holy response."

The emerging consensus among American patriots--that ideological and political encroachments upon the whole of society could not be any longer ignored--was confirmed in American pulpits. The very conservative colonial pastors certainly did not set out to "stir up strife or political tumult at the cost of the proclamation of the Gospel" as Charles Lane of Savannah put it. On the other hand, "The Gospel naturally mitigates against lawless tyranny, in whatever form it may take," said Ebenezer Smith of Lowell. Indeed, as Charles Turner of Duxbury asserted, "The Scriptures cannot be rightfully expounded without explaining them in a manner friendly to the cause of freedom."

Thus, "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" was a favorite pastoral text--as were "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" and "Take away your exactions from my people, saith the Lord God."

The churches of America were generally agreed that "Where political tyranny begins true government ends" as Samuel West of Dartmouth declared, "and the good Christian must needs be certain to oppose such lawless encroachments, however bland or bold."

It was not the Enlightenment rhetoric of firebrands like Thomas Paine or Benjamin Rush that drove men from hearth and home to battlefield. It was the certainty that God had called them to an inescapable accountability. It was the conviction that they were covenantally honor-bound to uphold the standard of impartial justice and broadcast the blessings of liberty afar. It was the firm conviction that politics was not to consume the whole of their lives.

In the end, the reluctant revolutionaries were forced to arms by a recognition of the fact that "resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."

Thus was America's great experiment in liberty begun. "Is life so dear," asked Patrick Henry, "or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me: give me liberty or give me death."

Thursday, January 26

The Charter of Hamas

The militant Islamic terror faction, Hamas, won a surprisingly decisive victory in yesterday’s Palestinian parliamentary elections. Preliminary results gave Hamas 76 of the 132 seats in the legislative chamber. Meanwhile, the ruling Fatah party was humiliated at the polls, winning just 43 seats. This landslide victory is a very sobering turn of events given the fact that the organization, which is officially called the Islamic Resistance Movement, is constitutionally committed to the destruction of Israel by any and every violent means.

This becomes immediately obvious for anyone who reads even a excerpted few lines of the organization's official charter. Indeed, the radical creed practically has ring of a modern day Mein Kampf:

The Islamic Resistance Movement strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine... Therefore our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious...The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, killing the Jews. When the Jews hide behind stones and trees, they will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him...’ Resisting and quelling the enemy is the individual duty of every Muslim, male or female. A woman can go out to fight the enemy without her husband's permission, and so does the slave: without his master's permission...”

Thus, there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Ji’had. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with...

The Zionist invasion is a vicious invasion... It relies greatly in its infiltration and espionage operations on the secret organizations it gave rise to, such as the Freemasons, the Rotary, and Lions clubs, and other sabotage groups. All these organizations, whether secret or open, work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions...

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Muslim people. May the cowards never sleep.

Very frightening. Very frightening, indeed.

Luther and Calvin on Islam

John Calvin in a sermon on Deuteronomy 18:15 maintained that Muhammad was one of “the two horns of antichrist.” In his commentaries on Daniel (7: 7-18), Calvin put forward the theory that the Muslim Turks were the little horn that sprang up from the beast. As the Turks had conquered much of the old Roman Empire, much of the prophecies concerning Rome could apply to the Muslim world. He believed that Islam was one of the two legs of the later Roman Empire described in Daniel 2.

In expounding Daniel 9, Martin Luther noted that among others, the prophet Daniel was talking about the Muslim Turks, who at the time were invading Europe, “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue will arise. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation... He will cause deceit to prosper and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.” Of Daniel 9: 23-25, Luther wrote that the “two regimes, that of the Pope and that of the Turk, are... antichrist.”

Commenting on Daniel 11:37, Calvin wrote that Muhammad “allowed to men the brutal liberty of chastising their wives and thus he corrupted that conjugal love and fidelity which binds the husband to the wife... Mohammad allowed full scope to various lusts--by permitting a man to have a number of wives... Mohammad invented a new form of false religion.”

Luther noted that Christ warned about false prophets coming from the desert (Matthew 24: 24-26) and this certainly included Muhammad. Commenting on 2 Thessalonians 2: 3-12, Calvin wrote, “the sect of Mohammad was like a raging overflow, which in its violence tore away about half of the church.” In his commentary on 1 John 2: 18-23, Calvin states that the Turks “have a mere idol in place of God.”

In a sermon on 2 Timothy 1:3, Calvin explained, ”The Turks at this day, can allege and say for themselves: ‘We serve God from our ancestors!’ ... It is a good while ago since Mahomet gave them the cup of his devilish dreams to drink, and they got drunk with them. It is about a thousand years since those cursed hellhounds were made drunk with their follies... Let us be wise and discreet! For otherwise, we shall be like the Turks and Heathen!”

Luther observed from 1 John 2: 18-22 and 4: 1-3, “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist--he denies the Father and the Son.” Of 1 John 2: 22 he wrote that Muslims “deny both the Fatherhood of God and the Deity of Christ--hence they are liars. They testify against the truth of God’s Word.” On 1 John 4: 3-6, he wrote “but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus, is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist... this is how we recognize the spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” He observed that the Muslims ultimately want “to eradicate the Christians.”

Not much ambivalence there--not that Luther or Calvin were ever really ambivalent about anything!

Monday, January 23

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

He was a prize catch. Henry Laurens was just off the coast of Newfoundland when the British cruiser Vestal chased and intercepted his lone rebel packet, the Mercury. Fearing the worst, he emptied all the diplomatic papers from his trunk, stuffed them into a leather bag weighted with shot, and threw the heavy bundle overboard. Unfortunately, he failed to deflate the air within the bag--so it floated, was sighted by an alert sailor on the Vestal, and subsequently was hooked on board.

On thus discovering both the identity of the Mercury's prominent passenger and his intended mission, the commander of the Vestal had the small packet boarded and Laurens was arrested.

It was September 3, 1780. The rebellion of England's American colonies was now in its fourth year. And the war was not going particularly well for the mother country. Although the rebels could boast precious few actual field victories, they were a stubborn and elusive lot. They were poorly equipped, under-financed, and lacked even a modicum of formal military training, yet they continued to harass supply lines, out-maneuver troop placements, and evade naval blockades.

The morale of His Majesty's troops was at an all-time low. The distance from home combined with the constant frustration at arms had taken a bitter toll. The war, never particularly popular before, was now stirring a near mutinous restlessness among the conscripts.

The commander of the Vestal was hopeful that the capture of Laurens might actually afford the royal cause the advantage it now so sorely needed. He was, after all, one of the most important leaders of the revolution and its fledgling government.

A wealthy merchant from South Carolina, he was a member of the first provincial convention in Charleston in 1775. The next year he was elected vice-president of the sovereign state under its new constitution and was chosen to serve as a representative in the continental congress in Philadelphia. He was so highly regarded by his fellow delegates there that when John Hancock resigned his position as president, they unanimously elected Laurens to succeed him on November 1, 1777.

His tenure as the fourth president of the newly independent United States was predictably tumultuous. Besides all the difficulties of trying to mobilize the tiny confederated nation for war against impossible odds, supply the widely dispersed continental army, hold together the fractious congress, and secure international recognition for the rebel cause, he also had to deal with the acrimonious conflict between his commander-in-chief, George Washington, and the temperamental General Thomas Conway. But somehow he was able to do it all--with amazing success. Furiously outspoken, unflaggingly ambitious, and decisively brilliant, his obvious leadership abilities won him the admiration of the American patriots--and the enmity of the court at Westminster.

At the end of his distinguished term he was appointed to supervene John Adams as the legate to the Dutch government at the Hague. And it was to that assignment that he was traveling when he was captured.

The commander of the Vestal delivered Laurens to his superiors at home amidst a flurry of publicity and fanfare. The London papers trumpeted the news with all the gaudy gossip of a palace coup. They displayed the worst qualities of journalism: all its paralysis of thought, all its monotony of chatter, all its sham culture and shoddy jingoism, all its perpetual readiness to cover any vulgarity of the present with any sentimentalism of the past. One of the papers declared that the rebel cause had at last been "dealt its death blow." Another predicted that American resistance would likely "collapse within the month." More prudent press observers, while admitting the vital significance of the former president to the colonial cause, cautioned that his captivity might only serve to "stiffen their resistance."

Whatever the American reaction might prove to be, it was clear that the English reaction was profound. Though he has been "thoughtfully neglected" in our own day--as the esteemed Southern man-of-letters M.E. Bradford was wont to say--his greatness was certainly recognized in his own day.

Laurens was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Steeped in English history and in the blood of many of its leading participants, the infamous fortress on the Thames had dominated the London skyline ever since William the Conqueror built it to repress his unwilling Saxon subjects. It had thus served for centuries as the scene of state and private violence, of torture, murder, and execution.

Although he had been a life-long churchman, Laurens was not particularly known for his piety--quite unlike his close friends Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams. But cut off from the noisy forgetfulness of public life, he resolved his faith into what he called a "God-fearing, Bible-reading, hymn-singing passion for permanent things." Each day he was allowed to attend private service's in the St. Peter-ad-Vincula chapel. Within the precincts of the vast Tower compound, to the northwest, the little sanctuary was built by Henry VIII on the site of a previous chapel in 1519. In it were buried his second wife, Anne Boleyn, and his fifth, Catherine Howard, both of whom he had beheaded on the Tower Green a few yards away. Also killed there, and buried ignominiously below the chapel floor paving, were the old Countess of Salisbury, Lady Jane Grey, the Elizabethan Earl of Essex, the rebel Duke of Monmouth, and a host of others. The associations of the place make it rather oppressive, even today; old terrors and miseries seem to hang in the air. But Laurens found "an unspeakable comfort" there. Although he would be released at the end of the war--exchanged for Lord Cornwallis following the surrender at Yorktown as a part of the negotiated cease-fire arrangement--he maintained to the end of his life that it was in that "dismal, haunting chapel" that he found "genuine release."

Though he was no less irascible in his resistance to English rule, no less belligerent in his revolutionary insurgency, and no less antithetic in his sedition against tyranny, he was far more pensive, far more judicious, and far more principled. Years later he would summarize his new "Christian vision" for "social involvement" as the "natural outworking of covenantal responsibility."

Laurens had come to believe that good government is essentially a matter of character apart from merely external, mechanical, legal, or political stratagem. Knowing what is right and what is wrong is not nearly so difficult as doing what is right and not doing what is wrong. Orthodoxy is a far simpler matter than orthopraxy. Mathing word and deed is a vital, but terribly difficult proposition.

Thus, Laurens asserted that the solution to grave societal problems, the antidote to endemic cultural pathogens, and the counter-weight to brazen political tyrannies, is to be found first and foremost in the hearts and minds of men, not in the promises and plans of programs. In other words, he was anything but a radical revolutionary. Amazingly, his time in the Tower had only reinforced his resilient conservatism. It was fact that became all the more evident in the years afterward when he became a leader in the Anti-Federalist movement--and still a model for us amidst the present cultural morass.

Wednesday, January 18

The Darkness of the Enlightenment

The remarkable explosion of wealth, knowledge, and technology that occurred during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment completely reshaped human society. No institution was left untouched. Local communities were shaken from their sleepy timidity and thrust into the hustle bustle of mercantilism and urbanization. The church was rocked by the convulsions of the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, Anabaptism, Deism, and Neo-Paganism. Kingdoms, fiefs, baronies, and principalities began to take the torturous path toward becoming modern nation states. Such revolutionary changes are not without cost. Ultimately, the cost to Western civilization was devastating. Immorality and corruption ran rampant. Disparity between rich and poor became endemic. Ruthless and petty wars multiplied beyond number. Even the old horrors of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure began to recur in the urban and industrialized centers.

Vincent De Paul was born on this day in 1581 for just such a time as this—to tackle just such problems as these. Raised the son of a peasant farmer in Gascony, he surrendered to the ministry at the age of twenty. Spurred on by a passionate concern for the poor and neglected, he quickly developed a thriving outreach to the decayed gentry, deprived peasantry, galley-slaves, unwanted children, and convicts of France. Over the ensuing years, he mobilized hundreds of Christians for charitable work and established innumerable institutions—hospitals, shelters, foundling centers, orphanages, and almshouses throughout all of Europe. He, and those who followed his lead, brought much needed light into the darkness of the Enlightenment.

Despite its many advances in art, music, medicine, science, and technology, the Renaissance and Enlightenment were essentially nostalgic revivals of ancient pagan ideals and values. The dominating ideas of the times were classical humanism, pregnable naturalism, and antinomian individualism—or in other words: godlessness, materialism, and hedonism. Taking their cues primarily from ancient Greece and Rome, the leaders of the epoch were not so much interested in the Christian notion of progress as they were in the heathen ideal of innocence. Reacting to the artificialities and contrivances of the late Medieval period, they dispatched the Christian consensus it had wrought with enervating aplomb--and in short order, the very foundations of Christendom had begun to erode.

Vincent made it clear to his fellow-laborers that merciful service in such at time is not an option for the believer—it is mandatory. By the time he died in 1660, the charitable relief movement he had sparked was alive and well—alert to the threat against the innocents that inevitably comes when men turn their hearts away from Christian truth and toward the delusions of this world. To this day all around the globe, members of the Society of Vincent De Paul continue the momentum that he began by modeling a life of obedience to the truth.

Monday, January 16

Memento Mori

Our loss is Heaven's gain. On Friday, January 13, George Walter Harris, Jr., age 71, of Bartow, Florida, went home to be with the Lord.

Born in Tampa, Florida, George grew up in Americus, Georgia, and was CEO & Chairman of the Board of Citrus & Chemical Bank of Polk County. A graduate, of Georgia Tech University with a B.S in Industrial Management in 1956, he was Student Council President and a member of the SAE Fraternity. He graduated from Louisana State University School of Banking. He also served as a U.S. Naval Officer in Key West from 1956-1958.

George was devoted to his wife, Harriett and dedicated to his children, Katherine, Walt and Fran. To his brother, he was a best friend. To his bank and community, he was an inspirational leader. To his friends, he was always loyal and encouraging. To his church, he was a servant.

He was known for his kindness and generosity. His joy was contagious and his humility, authentic. His energy was unending, as was his love for all athletics, especially tennis. From his corporate charitable giving to the scores of anonymous individuals in need, George Harris gave from his heart.

He was recipient of the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame Award, the First State-Wide Recipient of the Community Bankers of Florida 'Emblem' Award, the Polk County Opportunity Council "Humanitarian of the Year" Award, the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce "2003 George Jenkins Award", the Bartow Lions Club "Outstanding Citizen of the Year", the Bartow Rotary Club "Outstanding Citizen Medal of Merit", the Polk County Public Schools "Lifetime Achievement Award", the Women's Resource Center "Corporate Leadership for Women" Award. He was a member of First Presbyterian Church of Bartow.

In the crowded hours of his life, George served on the Board of Trustees for the Florida Chamber Foundation and the University of Tampa. He was the Past President and Director of the Florida Bankers Association; the Past Florida State Chairman of the Conference of State Banks Supervisors. Mr. Harris was Chairman of the Polk County Industrial Development Authority; the Board of Governors of the Polk Museum of Art; the Council of Past Chairmen of the Central Florida Development Council; the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Polk Community College; as well as the Board of Directors for the following organizations: Lakeland Economic Development Council; Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland and the Community Foundation of Greater Winter Haven. He was a member of the Past Board of Trustees, Past Board of Directors for the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce; Member of the American Bankers Association Council, and a member of the Society of International Business Fellows.

He is survived by his wife Harriett G. Harris of Bartow; son, George W. "Walt" Harris III of Aspen, CO; daughters, U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris and husband Anders Ebbeson of Sarasota, FL; Fran Harris King and husband Wes of Franklin, TN; Brother, William S. "Bill" Harris and wife Ann of Americus, Ga.; as well as five beautiful grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 2:00 PM Wednesday, January 18, 2006, at the First Presbyterian Church and memorials may be made to the George W. Harris, Jr. Foundation, 114 N. Tennessee Avenue, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Friday, January 13

Gracious Friends

There is no greater solace in times of trouble than the comfort of a friend. Somehow they can console us without the easy resort to clich├ęs, maxims, bromides, or hackneyed stereotypes. Often they can comfort even without words. That is because they really know us. They understand us. They care for us. All too often the great men and women through the ages were able to achieve what they did only because they had the recourse of gracious friendship in times of adversity--as their words give vivid testimony:

“Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.” Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)

“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” King Solomon (Proverbs 17:17)

“In prosperity our friends know us truly; in adversity we know our true friends.” Christopher Columbus (1451-1506)

“Life is but short; no time can be afforded but for the indulgence of real sorrow, or contests upon questions seriously momentous. Let us not throw away any of our days upon useless resentment, or contend who shall hold out longest in stubborn malignity. It is best not to be angry; and best, in the next place, to be quickly reconciled. Thusly will friendship’s solace and comfort make amends.” Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

“Distraught of a consuming grief, an acquaintance sought to assuage my tears with the confident words of eternal verity. Knowing all he adjured to be truth, and yet unmoved, I wished but that he would leave me. Another, a friend, came next and uttered nary a peep. Instead, with a light touch and a sympathetic ear he consoled me, and I was sorry to see him go. Both had intentions of setting me aright, yet only the friend brought me comfort. Without words he spoke the truth in love.” John Watson (1838-1907)

“Misfortune tests the sincerity of friends. Grief is the proving ground of an authentic affection.” Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)

Monday, January 9

Brother Bryan: Religion in Shoes

Birmingham, Alabama was a wild and untamed mining town in the heart of the reconstructed South when James Alexander Bryan came to pastor the Third Presbyterian Church there on this day in 1888. When he died in 1941, Birmingham had become a vibrant industrial center. In the years between, Brother Bryan—as he was affectionately called—won the hearts of generation after generation of her citizens.

He was an unlikely hero for the bustling town though. For one thing, he was noticeably inept as a pulpiteer. His sermons were often halting, rambling, and inarticulate. Though entirely committed to the authority of the Scriptures and the centrality of preaching, he simply was not a skilled orator.

He was also a poor administrator. Though perpetually busy, he was easily distracted and rarely kept up with his workload. He didn't even maintain a particularly winsome appearance. He was more often than not disheveled, shabbily dressed, and hastily groomed. In a day when manliness and imposing presence was especially esteemed, he was shy, soft-spoken, and had a slight stutter.

Nevertheless, he was practically a cultural icon in the city. Near the end of his life, he was honored by local dignitaries in a city-wide celebration. The president of the City Commission said: "No man in Birmingham is better known or better loved than Brother Bryan. There is one man in this city about whom we are all agreed, and he is Brother Bryan." The editor of the city newspaper agreed: "Brother Bryan is the only man, whom we have ever known, whose motives have never been questioned. He is the one man for whom we are all unanimous." The city erected a statue of the humble pastor at one of her busiest intersections near downtown (not far from the fabulous Dreamland Barbecue). It portrays him in a posture of prayer and proclaims him "the patron saint of Birmingham."

How had this seemingly inept pastor won over an entire city so completely? How had this painfully ordinary man accomplished a feat so extraordinary as this? Very simply, Brother Bryan was a common man who proved to be an uncommon example of the Christian mandate of loving his neighbor.

He made it a habit to make a circuit every morning just before dawn to all the factories, shops, fire and police stations, schools, and offices downtown to pray with as many common working men and women as he could. He would simply announce himself, drop to his knees wherever he was, and begin to intercede for each of them. The words most often on his lips were, "Let us pray."

He also distinguished himself with his selfless service to the poor, the needy, the brokenhearted, and the sick. His indefatigable efforts to encourage the distressed, led him to establish several city outreaches to the homeless, to orphans and widows, and to the victims of war and pestilence overseas. More than any rich philanthropist, he demonstrated the power and effect of merciful service on the fabric of a community.

Though he violated all the rules of success, he seemed to incarnate the essence of the Christian faith. He was, as many called him, "religion in shoes."

Saturday, January 7

Ji'had's Next Front

Frustrated by its inability to follow up the 9/11 attacks on American soil, global intelligence experts are noting that al-Qaeda and it’s global ji’had splinter cells are now focused on acquiring operational footholds throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, Al-Qaeda operations in Jordan, Turkey, Palestine, and Egypt are becoming more prominent with every passing day.

On November 9 “al-Qaeda Mesopotamia,” the organization led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, attacked three Jordanian hotels in Amman. In August, an al-Qaeda rocket strike at the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba also reached the Israeli resort town of Eilat. Just to the south, a growing al-Qaeda presence in the Egyptian Sinai led to attacks on tourists in Taba and other coastal resorts in October 2004, followed by a major bombing at a hotel in Sharm al-Sheikh last July.

The Egyptian Sinai has also served as a rear base for the beginning of an al-Qaeda presence in the Gaza Strip. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the deputy head of al-Qaeda, has encouraged Zarqawi to extend the ji’had in Iraq to neighboring states such as Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria.

It appears from all this that Zarqawi's branch of al-Qaeda is determined first and foremost, to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In the last year there have been increasing concerns that Jordanian public opinion has been radicalized by the American-led war against the Sunni insurgency in western Iraq.

This radicalization does not just involve the Palestinians living in Jordan. Indeed, Zarqawi himself, as well as many of the Jordanian mujahi’din, come from Transjordanian Bedouin tribes known for their loyalty to the Hashemite throne. As a result, in December, Jordan’s prime minister called for a “preemptive strike” against ji’hadism in Jordan. In the meantime, a state of emergency has been called in Jordan because of persistent warnings of new attacks.

Many Western sources are convinced that Zarqawi was training his recruits in the use of toxins, including poisons and chemical weapons, at the Herat training camp in Afghanistan. In 2004, a Zarqawi associate named Azmi al-Jailusi confessed to trying to set off a chemical explosion in central Amman, near the headquarters of Jordanian intelligence, which had the potential to kill 80,000 people. In April 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that recurrent U.S. intelligence reports indicated that Zarqawi was seeking to obtain a “radiological explosive,” also known as a “dirty bomb.”

It is clear that the threat of orthodox Islam’s ideological aspirations for global domination is becoming more and more ominous--but especially for those Muslim states who wish to somehow moderate Koranic teachings by their friendly relations with the West. They are surely ji'had's next front.

Truthy and Facty

Living languages constantly evolve and develop. New words appear to describe new conditions, new events, or new trends. Inevitably therefore, a study of these neologisms or logomorphs will not only provide a sense of what is going on linguistically but culturally.

This past week the American Dialect Society--a group of linguists, editors and academics dedicated to studying these things--decided the word that best reflects 2005 is "truthiness," defined as the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts. The organization’s panel of language experts chose the word Friday after a runoff with a host of terms related to Hurricane Katrina, such as "Katrinagate." Gee, how creative is that?

Michael Adams, a professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in lexicology, said "truthiness" means "truthy, not facty." OK. Well, that really clears things up, doesn't it?

The experts agreed the most useful newly minted word was "podcast, "a digital MP3 feed containing audio or video files for downloading to an iPod or an iPod clone. In a runoff for the most creative new word, "whale tail," the appearance of a thong above the waistband, beat out "muffin top," the bulge of flesh hanging over the top of low-riding jeans.

So, "podcast" is pretty good. But then, what Apple product isn't? The others? I'm thinking that maybe somebody needs to work on these a little more!

The irascible and indomitable American humorist Mark Twain once asserted that, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightening and the lightening bug.” Given these new logomorphs, that's self-evidently truthy and facty.

Friday, January 6

Normal Prayer

Prayer is the most common Christian expression of authentic faith; but it may be among the least practiced Christian disciplines. It is said that prayer is the universal language of the soul; but it is actually the solitary province of the supplicating saint. Prayer, as the unconscious heart-cry in times of distress, is the currency of all humanity; but prayer, as the deep and committed soul-bond in communion with Almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

Certainly, regular seasons of prayer are essential to spiritual maturity--which is why spiritual maturity seems to be so terribly scarce. We take our time with God in snatches. We throw out petitions rapid-fire on the run. At best, we rush through our laundry lists of wants and needs. Even in the corporate life of the church prayer gets short shrift—only briefly imposed like talismans at predictable intervals in worship services, business meetings, and meals.

Thus, the great romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge sadly observed, “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable; praying that is, with the total concentration of the faculties on God. The great mass of worldly men, learned men, and yea, even religious men are absolutely incapable of prayer.”

In contrast, the heroes of the faith through the ages have always been diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves before God with prayers, petitions, and supplications always acknowledging their utter dependency upon His mercy and grace. Historical anecdotes abound. Athanasius, for instance, prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside eighteen months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four till eight in the morning to God. John Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer--beginning well before dawn. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?”

Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Francis Asbury rose each morning at four in order to spend two hours in prayer. Samuel Rutherford began praying at three. If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?”

John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer. John Welch thought the day ill-spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer. The extraordinary thing is that such fervent praying was not considered to be particularly extraordinary. Indeed, as Homer W. Hodge argued, “Prayer should always be the breath of our breathing, the thought of our thinking, the soul of our feeling, the life of our living, the sound of our hearing, and the growth of our growing. Prayer is length without end, width without bounds, height without top, and depth without bottom; illimitable in its breadth, exhaustless in height, fathomless in depths, and infinite in extension. Oh, for determined men and women who will rise early and really burn for God. Oh for a faith that will sweep into heaven with the early dawning of morning and have ships from a shoreless sea loaded in the soul's harbor ere the ordinary laborer has knocked the dew from the scythe or the lackluster has turned from his pallet of straw to spread nature's treasures of fruit before the early buyers.”

Thus, according to E.M. Bounds, a life of constant, persistent, and fervent prayer ought to be the ordinary Christian life. “There ought to be no adjustment of life or spirit for the closet hours,” he asserted. “Without intermission, incessantly, assiduously; that ought to describe the opulence, and energy, and unabated ceaseless strength and fullness of effort in prayer; like the full and exhaustless and spontaneous flow of an artesian stream.”

The life of Bounds, was itself a testimony to the normalcy of diligent prayerfulness. He was born in 1835 along the rugged Missouri frontier. He died in 1913 in the heart of the Deep South. During the seventy-eight years in between, he panned for gold in California, worked as a lawyer in St. Louis, pastored churches in Tennessee, Alabama, and Missouri, served as a chaplain during the bitter Civil War sieges of Vicksburg, Franklin, Atlanta, and Nashville, and was a renowned journalist and publisher. But it was as the author of a number of remarkable books on prayer--including Power Through Prayer, The Preacher and Prayer, The Weapon of Prayer, The Necessity of Prayer, and The Possibilities of Prayer--that he made his mark on the world. It was in those books that he told the stories of the extraordinary ordinariness of praying men and movements. It was in those books that he underscored the Biblical verities of the life of prayer. It was in those books that he recovered for a whole new generation--and for several generations afterward--the mandate for an unremitting commitment to prayer. Indeed, he was a veritable living, breathing encyclopedia of prayer.

Though he suffered persistent failure--as well as imprisonment, persecution, impoverishment, isolation, and humiliation at nearly every turn during the long course of his faithful labors--he never wavered in his commitment to a life of prayer. He was fond of quoting the great Puritan divine, Samuel Chadwick, who wrote, “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Activities are multiplied that prayer may be ousted, and organizations are increased that prayer may have no chance. The one concern of the devil is to keep the saints from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”

Across the distance of a century, the testimony of Bounds is that both the testimony of the Church’s heroes and the testimony of the Scripture’s mandates are sure and true. Ours are to be lives marked by prayer, suffused in prayer, and enlivened for prayer. Normal prayer is to be our normal life.

Wednesday, January 4


In-Vince-Able! Hook 'em Horns!

Sunday, January 1

New Year Celebrations

The celebration of the New Year did not occur on the first day of January until after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar system 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).

Regardless of when the beginning of the year was marked however, the day has traditionally been celebrated as a day of renewal throughout Christendom--for vows, vision, and vocation. It was on the first day of the new year, for instance, that Medieval 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.

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.