Monday, November 26

St. Jude Marathon

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

Saturday, November 24

The Highest Things

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

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

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

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

Constant Assiduities

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

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

Tuesday, November 20

Religion Externalized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or as the poet F.W. Faber wrote:

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

Shocking Survey

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that makes all the difference.

Faith in Faith and Faith in God

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

Parish Model

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

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

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

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

Vegas Cant

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

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

Thursday, November 15

Bow Ties

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

Saturday, November 10

Jonathan Beach (1960-2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7

Bow Tie Trend

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

Apocalypse Now

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

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

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

How to Tie a Bow Tie

King's Meadow Endurance Team

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

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

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