Friday, July 29

The Wisdom of John R.W. Stott

"Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it."

"Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us."

"Good conduct arises out of good doctrine."

"We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior."

"Apathy is the acceptance of the unacceptable."

"We should not ask, 'What is wrong with the world?' for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, 'Where is the salt and light? Where is the Church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing our society?'"

"To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence."

"The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So, the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a Eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival."

"His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice."

"Christian giving, like Christian living, is to be marked by self-sacrifice and self-forgetfulness, not by self-congratulation."

"The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion."

"The chief occupational hazard of leadership is pride."

"It is impossible to pray for someone without loving him, and impossible to go on praying for him without discovering that our love for him grows and matures."

"The Gospel is good news of mercy to the undeserving. The symbol of the religion of Jesus is the cross, not the scales."

"These are the marks of the ideal Church: love, suffering, holiness, sound doctrine, genuineness, evangelism and humility. This is what Christ desires to find."

"The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice--and so the pain--of the cross."

Friday, July 22

Cameron the Covenanter

On this day in 1680 a company of English dragoons surprised and surrounded a Scottish preacher and a small band of armed men. Deciding to fight to the death, their leader, Richard Cameron, prayed "Lord, spare the green and take the ripe." The skirmish took place at Ayrsmoss and sprang out of the complicated web of religious and political relations which strained English and Scottish relations at the time.

England had unilaterally imposed Episcopalian worship on most of Scotland. Cameron was a member of the historic but now-outlawed Covenanter movement--men and women who continued to worship in accordance with their Presbyterian convictions. Because of his natural gift of oratory, Covenanter leaders felt Cameron was called to preach the Gospel. And so, though not yet ordained, he became an outdoor preacher. He embraced the most steadfast position of the Scottish reformers and proclaimed the doctrines of grace with great fervor.

No doubt his patriotic Scots fervor for freedom from the despised English helped to shape his fierce recalcitrance, nonetheless, there was little doubt about the authenticity of his message. Thousands hung on his sermons, weeping when his eloquent appeals for repentance and submission to Christ touched their hearts. After receiving ordination in the Netherlands, Cameron returned to Scotland to plant churches.

In his absence, Charles II had offered a broad indulgence for the Scots--if only the Covenanters would recant. Cameron attacked the royal decree savagely. With a number of other leaders he drew up the revolutionary Sanquhar Declaration which disowned Charles II's authority and went so far as to boldly declare war on him. Cameron even prophesied the overthrow of the Stuart line for, among other things, "usurping the royal prerogatives of King Jesus." As a result, he was aptly nicknamed the "Lion of the Covenant."

A reward of 5,000 pounds was immediately placed on his head. A small band of guards had to accompany him wherever he went to preach. But their swords proved insufficient on the day of disaster. The dragoons charged and hacked the Scots to death--though they offered fierce resistance. Cameron was slain and his body was desecrated--his head and hands were cut off to be displayed on an Edinburgh gate.

Even so, Cameron's prophecy was fulfilled in short order. Charles II was succeeded by his brother, James II who was driven into exile. The English Parliament then ended the Stuart royal line by summoning William III of Orange to the throne in a bloodless revolution.

Thursday, July 14

Birken’ead Drill

On this day in 1852, one of the worst naval disasters in modern history occurred in the shark infested waters of the South Atlantic. The British troopship Birkenhead struck a rock shelf just off the coast of South Africa. The decrepit wood-hulled vessel carried the famed regiment of the 78th Highlanders--Scottish warriors who had distinguished themselves in every imperial scrap from the Napoleonic Wars to the Crimean Conflict. Also aboard were their wives and children—and of course, the ship’s crew.

It was almost immediately evident that the foundering ship was going to sink. Unfortunately, there were very few lifeboats aboard. Nevertheless, calm prevailed. Orders were given to remove the women and children first by placing them into the few precious lifeboat seats—there was just enough room for them. Within twenty minutes later the boat sank.

Not one woman or child was lost; not one man was saved. To make matters worse, the Highlanders and the crew of the Birkenhead had to endure grisly deaths--the sharks began circling even as the ship began to list. Their wives and children were forced to watch helplessly from the safety of the lifeboats.

Amazingly, in the last few moments before the boat dipped beneath the waves these brave and self-sacrificing men lined up in perfect military formation. Their piper band played the national air as the ship went down. Like the men of the Titanic a half a century later, the Scottish stalwarts aboard the Birkenhead willingly exercised that age-old Christian virtue of Chivalry—that in times of crisis men must give their lives that women and children may live.

The Birkenhead incident inspired poet Rudyard Kipling, one of the 20th century’s most accomplished defenders of bold manhood, to pen his famous memorial verse, “So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill; Soldier and sailor too.” And thus, the phrase Birken’ead Drill came to be synonymous with courage, valor, and self-sacrificing chivalry.

Monday, July 4

Jeffersonian Complexities

On June 9, 1776, the Continental Congress accepted a resolution made two days earlier by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee to appoint a committee to draft a declaration of secession from the dominions of the English King and Parliament. On June 29, the committee—composed of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston--presented their draft for debate and a vote. Finally, on July 4, an amended version of that draft was accepted. The war that had been raging for more than a year had finally driven the reluctant revolutionaries to sever all ties with their motherland.

The original draft of that Declaration of Independence had been penned by the youngest member of the committee, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), but they hardly bore the mark of immaturity, “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

That day would not be the last time Jefferson’s words would launch significant reform. A quarter century later, his election to the presidency marked a profound but peaceful change in the administration of the young nation. Indeed, it was called by many the “Bloodless Revolution of 1800.” The reformer who boldly wrote religious and ethical beliefs into the Declaration of Independence brought to the office a philosophy of government firmly rooted in those same beliefs, a philosophy that concerned itself, above all, with the rights and liberties of the individual. It was Jefferson’s democratic views, with his enduring faith in the individual, that, more than anything else, turned the country away from the class rule of the Federalists.

Few men have been better equipped to become President--a graduate of William and Mary College and an able lawyer, Jefferson helped shape the destiny of the struggling nation from the beginning. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, in the Continental Congress--writing the final draft of the Declaration, as a minister in the French court, as Governor of Virginia, as Secretary of State under Washington, and as Vice-president under Adams. But as President, Jefferson proved that philosophical ability and practical experience in office were no replacements for political leadership. He was a remarkable inventor, a scientist, a writer, an artist, a planter, an architect, a musician, and an educator--but he proved to be a rather poor politician and administrator.

He was able however to restore a profound sense of democracy to the nation’s highest office, an accomplishment that ranks with the celebrated purchase of the Louisiana Territory as the outstanding achievement of his administration. Interestingly, it was during his time in the White House that the noted skeptic and independent thinker became, for the first time in his life, a serious Bible student and regular church-goer (at the Capital Hill presbyterian congregation that met in the Supreme Court chambers on Sunday mornings).

A complex man, Jefferson was one of the most accomplished of our Presidents. He was talented as are few men in any age--the living example of his own belief in the capacity of men to learn and to grow under freedom.

Friday, July 1

The Charge Up San Juan Hill

It was on this day in 1898 that Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment secured a stunning American victory over the Imperial Spanish forces in the Battle of Santiago by storming San Juan Hill in Cuba. To avoid capture, Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera tried to retreated from Santiago harbor two days later. The Spanish ships were attacked by the American fleet, burned and sunk. Two weeks later, the Spanish crown surrendered her remaining colonies in the West. And thus ended the short-lived Spanish-American War.