Wednesday, December 29
Monday, December 27
The difficulty is simply that the word "holiday" is just an alternate spelling for "Holy Day." According to Samuel Johnson's authoritative English Dictionary, the definitions of "holiday or Holy Day" include:
1. The day of some ecclesiastical festival within Christendom;
2. An anniversary feast day on the Christian liturgical calendar;
3. A day of gaiety and joy in light of Gospel truth;
4. A rare occurence of God's grace.
Replete with example quotations and epigrams from Shakespeare, Milton, Ainsworth, Walker, Dryden, and Pope, Johnson's definitions highlight the great irony of modern disputes about language, culture, history, and worldview: we are so ignorant of language, culture, history, and worldview that it is all too common for both sides of an argument to actually miss the point of the argument.
The next time Target, the ACLU, Macy's, and the public schools decide to play the role of Grinch to sweep into Whoville in an effort to steal away every vestige of Christian civilization, they probably ought to do their homework a little more thoroughly. And the next time some well-intentioned Christian decides to defend us all from such cultural conspiracies, perhaps they ought to do their homework as well.
The whole flap rather smacks of one of Johnson's illustrative epigrams from Dryden, "Courage, like intelligence, is but a holiday kind of virtue, only seldomly exercised."
Ho ho ho! Happy Holy Days, indeed.
Sunday, December 26
I am equally convinced that Nehemiah's example in this regard ought to wrest our attentions from all other distractions if we are to have any hope of undertaking such culture-restoring work in our own time.
By all accounts, prayer is the universal language of the soul. There is hardly a Christian who does not know of prayer’s importance, prayer’s power, and prayer’s solace. The irony of course is that there also is hardly a Christian who does not struggle to actually make prayer a priority in their daily lives. Prayer may be our unconscious heart-cry in times of distress; it may be the currency of our spiritual vitality; but prayer, as a hallmark of our deep and committed soul-bond, our communion with Almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.
We tend to 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 charms at predictable intervals in worship services, business meetings, and meals. 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 is absolutely incapable of such prayer.”
In contrast, the heroes of the faith through the ages have always been, like Nehemiah, 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. Athanasius 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. 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. On and on and on we could go. “The story of prayer,” E.M. Bounds once said, “is the story of great achievements.”
We know too that the Scriptures are brimming over with exhortations to likewise be constant in prayer: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord! Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore” (1 Chronicles 16:8-11). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Clearly, we are to be men and women of prayer. We are to pray with whole-heartedness (Jeremiah 29:13). We are to pray with contrition (2 Chronicles 7:14). We are to pray with all faith (Mark 11:24). We are to pray with righteous fervor (James 5:16). We are to pray out of obedience (1 John 3:22) and with full confidence (John 15:7). We are to pray in the morning (Mark 1:35), in the evening (Mark 6:46), and during the night watch (Luke 6:12). This is because in accord with the good providence of God, prayer is a dynamic means of grace. It binds and it looses (Matthew 18:18). It casts down and it raises up (Mark 11:23-24). It ushers in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2), forgiveness (Mark 11:25), healing (James 5:14-15), liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17), wisdom (1 Kings 3:3-14), and protection (Psalm 41:2). Clearly, “the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).
Samuel Chadwick, a Puritan of great renown, once wrote, “Satan dreads nothing but prayer. Alas, 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.” Thus, Homer W. Hodge could say, “Prayer should 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. Oh, for such.”
The question of course, is how? How in the world are we ever to recover this extraordinary Biblical perspective of the priority of prayer? In the midst of our 24/7/365 rush, how do we actually find the time, establish the discipline, and attain the focus necessary for genuine intimacy with the Lord? When our lives seem inescapably governed by the business of busyness and the tyranny of the urgent, how do we do what we know we ought to do, what we know we need to do, what we know we really must do? How are we to “really burn for God” like the saints of yore?
Surely guilt-tripping won’t work—most of us have tried that at one time or another. If you’re anything like me, sheer discipline works for a few days at best. Then my resolve starts to lessen, my mind starts to wander, and my body gets fidgety. Most of us would readily confess that we would like nothing better than to have prayer 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.” But we’ve tried and tried, to little or no avail. Our hearts and minds and lives are cluttered with a thousand distractions. Our time and effort and energy are claimed by a million other demands. So, what to do? How should we then pray?
There is a very simple and practical answer. According to Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish pastor, reformer, and educator, what is needed for the total reordering of our hearts and minds for prayer is “the expulsive power of a new affection.” In other words, it is a greater love that pushes aside all other competing affections, all other insistent concerns, and all other noisome bothers. It is not a consuming discipline that will make us more constant in prayer; it is a consuming love. It is a love that pushes aside—with expulsive power—every other lesser love.
When a man or a woman falls in love. Chalmers reminds us, no one needs to tell them to “think continually on the object of their affection.” No one needs to remind lovers to spend their every waking moment pondering the beauties, the excellencies, and the delights of their beloved. No one needs to prod them into spending time conversing into the wee hours of the night. No one needs to help them develop the discipline of shutting out other distractions. The smitten can think of little else. There is nothing more exciting for them. They want nothing more than to spend time with, to nurture intimacy with, and to commune with their new affection.
All throughout the Scriptures we see this principle at work in the lives of the faithful. The priority place of prayer in their lives was the result of the expulsive power of a new affection. Abraham was a man of prayer. He was “the friend of God” and thus, enjoyed close and intimate relations with Him (Genesis 15:1-21). Moses too, was constant in his fellowship with God. He delighted in His presence not out of duty but out of sheer love (Numbers 14:11-38). David, a man after God’s own heart, prayed as he arose in the dawning of the day, yielding the very meditations of his heart to the scrutiny of his beloved Lord (Psalm 5:1-3). Though naked, beaten, imprisoned, and shackled, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God in the inner prison of Phillipi (Acts 16:25). They marvelously exemplified the “expulsive power of the new affection.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples about this sort of consuming prayer—prayer that was dramatically different from anything they had ever seen before (Matthew 6:5-8). Then, Jesus drove home the idea with a warning, a command, and a promise in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). First, He reminds them that prayer is not a means for self-promotion--either before men or before God. The throne room of the Most High is not some kind of cosmic vending machine for our every want, whim, or worry any more than it is a showcase for our eloquence or our reverence. It is instead the dwelling place of our beloved father. Others make a spectacle of themselves when they pray selfishly, brazenly, and introspectively. “Do not be like them,” Jesus warns.
Second, prayer is to be habitual. It is the expression of our day-to-day relationship with God. It is to be intimate. It is to be personal. It is to be as practical as our daily bread. It is to be as lofty as the outworking of providence in heaven and on earth. It is to be as pointed as our trespasses and our trespassers. But above all, it is to be regular. “When you pray,” Jesus said. Not “if you pray,” but “when.” This is His mandate, His command. “In this manner, therefore, pray.”
Third, prayer is objectively hedged by God’s perfect, protective, and providential will. As the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession says “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will.” We are not to pray simply in order to get something. We are to pray in order to be something (James 4:3). We pray in order to be conformed to God's will. And “He who sees in secret will reward openly,” for He “knows the things we have need of before we ask Him.” That is His promise. And, oh what a promise! In the presence of our Beloved, we are transformed. The new affection makes all things right, good, and true!
Thus, prayer is not a job to be done. It is not a duty to be fulfilled. It is not a task to be undertaken. It is the marvelous outworking of a love that displaces ever other love. It is the blessed overflow of the smitten heart. It is the happy result of the expulsive power of a new affection.
E.M. Bounds once said, “There ought to be no adjustment of life or spirit for the closet hours. 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.”
Those stalwart heroes times gone by who practiced that sort of free flowing, natural prayerfulness were not super saints. They did not have unique constitutions that peculiarly equipped them for prayer. They simply drank deeply from the well of grace. They embraced the “expulsive power of a new affection.” And thus freed from monkish discipline, they reveled in the love of their Savior. So it ought to be with you—and with me.
Wednesday, December 22
Interestingly, all of the gifts in that folk song represent some unique aspect of the blessing of Christ’s first Advent in anticipation of His second. 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 community and accountability. Thus, the song was a clever sort of catechism tool for oppressed religious dissenters, written during the tumultuous conclusion of the Tudor period in England—though it is not altogether clear from the historical record if the song was intended for Puritan dissenters during the reign of Bloody Mary or for the Catholic dissenters during the reign of her half-sister, Elizabeth.
What is clear is that festive song praised the feasting and good will of the Yuletide season by detailing the gifts of Gospel. So for instance, instead of referring to a suitor, the "true love" mentioned in the song refers to the wooing suitor of Heaven: God Himself. The "me" receiving the gifts is symbolic of every covenant believer. The partridge in the pear tree is Jesus Christ, and in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge who feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings. The pear tree itself is often portrayed in Medieval literature (as is the apple tree) of the means of grace by which the gifts of God are bestowed upon men and nations.
And so it goes throughout the whole song: the two turtle doves represent the Old and New Testaments; the three French hens are faith, hope and charity; the four calling birds are the four Gospels; the five gold rings are the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses in the Old Testament; the six geese a-laying are the six days of creation; the seven swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; the eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount; the nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Spirit; the ten lords a-leaping are the freedoms of the Ten Commandments; the eleven pipers piping are the eleven faithful disciples; the twelve drummers drumming are the twelve cardinal doctrines of the Apostles' Creed.
All in all, the song is a joyous reminder of all we celebrate this Christmas—from the crèche to the cross.
Tuesday, December 21
"The technologies of deception are developing more rapidly than the technologies of verification. Which means we can use a television camera, plus special effects, plus computers, etc. to falsify reality so perfectly that nobody can tell the difference. And the consequences of that eventually could be a society in which nobody believes, everybody knows that seeing is not believing, and nobody believes anything. With the exception of a small minority that decides to believe one thing fanatically. And that's a dangerous social/cultural situation."
"One of the consequences of living through a period like this, which is in fact a revolutionary period, is that the entire structure of society and the processes of change become nonlinear. And nonlinearity I think is defined almost by the statement that 'small inputs can have large consequences while large inputs can sometimes have very small consequences.' That also means in a political sense that very small groups can, under a given set of circumstances, achieve power. And that is a very threatening idea for anything remotely resembling what we believe to be democracy. So we're going into a period, I think, of high turbulence and considerable danger, along with enormous possibilities."
If he is right, and I think he is at least partly so, we've got a good deal of work to do.
Monday, December 20
Some have argued that this sort of thing was little more than an accomodation to the world. They deride Christmas celebrations as rank worldliness. In fact, they are beautiful pictures of the Great Commission in action. Christianity did not compromise with Paganism; it subsumed the old mores of the world into the new mores of the Church; it transformed the old barbarian rites and rituals into the new godly patterns of work and worship. In other words, Christmas converted cultures and calendars--demonstrating with particular practicality the fact that Jesus is Lord over the totality of life. Glad tidings of great joy, indeed.
Wednesday, December 15
I stumble at the thought of God sleeping on hay,
With scent of cow manure and cud-chewing blank stares;
Or of God twisting a tiny finger around the young mother’s hand,
As he nurses and drifts to sleep to her weary psalm.
I stumble to see the slow afternoon, the rhythm of planing wood,
Halting to fetch Joseph a saw.
Or figuring accounts of his father’s business
As God plans to change his career.
I stumble to believe that he fluffed and propped a pillow,
Then fell into sleep too deep for storm to waken;
Or to see God, dust covered, with tired feet resting;
Longing for a drink and talking to a cheap woman.
To be found wandering Roman territory without papers—
No letter from Heaven certifying his claim.
To be lumped with every radical with blazing eyes
And visions who portrayed the certainty of society’s fall.
A wine making, mud dabbing, temple brawler God,
Broke, homeless, surrounded by weak and foolish men.
God can be myth and metaphor and image;
A rock, a mountain, sun, light, or sea;
But the sweating flesh of a middle age man—
A descent that would often be heresied away.
I stumble at the thought of God incarnated—
But not drunken night stumbling down an empty road;
I stumble at the thought of God incarnated—
Intensely light blinded, fearfully secured, irresistibly drawn.
Monday, December 13
Being new to this whole grandparenting thing, I somehow failed to grasp the supreme importance of figuring out what I ought to be called by my new grandson. Never mind that we are double-digit months away from actually hearing anything like words come out of his mouth--regardless of how stunningly advanced he might turn out to be. It seems that I must name myself right away. Actually, it is probably a sign of moral turpitude that I have yet to give the subject a good deal of anxious thought.
I tried to put a righteous spin on the whole affair: "I'll be content with whatever he decides to call me." Hmm. Nobody bought that one.
Karen and little David's other grandmother have not been so neglectful. They came up with creative names well-ahead of his blessed arrival. I, on the other hand, remain recalcitrant, much to their dismay!
Apparently though, I am not alone. It seems that most new grandfathers are equally focused on other things--like figuring out when the little tyke is ready for his first football, Titans jersey, and season tickets package. The evidence? Well, Karen googled (yes, it is a verb, and a useful verb at that) "grandmother names" the other day just to make absolutely certain that she had chosen her new moniker well. Dozens of sites showed up. Dozens and dozens. This granny naming business is quite a cottage industry. Practically a specialized hobby. Not so for gramps. When she googled "grandfather names" no sites showed up. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Pretty much tells you everything you need to know, doesn't it?
Faith and Freedom
By 1774, American colonial leaders determined that the violations of their liberties necessitated severing ties with their mother country, Great Britain. Thus, orators like Patrick Henry began to effectively stir the populace and rally the grassroots to the cause of independence. But, they knew that a good deal more than rhetorical bravado was needed; the colonies would have to find experienced military leaders.
Fortunately, there were such men available. Arthur St. Clair of Pennsylvania, for instance, was one of the many experienced military men transplanted from Scotland. He was responsible for organizing the militias in for his own colony, as well as for the colonies of New Jersey and Delaware. His family was forced out of their ancestral Highland homeland after the defeat of the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. He, however, enrolled in the British army to learn the military arts and strategy of his enemy. Coming to America while serving as a Redcoat in the Seven Years War, he chose to stay after the war and settle in one of the Pennsylvania communities established by Scottish immigrants. Detesting the English, he was delighted to be able to assist the colonial militias in establishing an effective defense against his hated British foes.
We must never underestimate the contribution that men like St. Clair made to the successful war effort. But surprisingly, it was the churches of America that provided the most effective field leaders and the strongest recruitment program for the expanding war effort.
In New England, ministers regularly delivered sermons on various occasions that addressed the political affairs of the day. The most common type was the Election Day sermon, which was preached every year in the presence of the governor and the newly elected members of the legislature reminding them of their duties as civil magistrates and the requirement that they act both virtuously and justly in their public office. These sermons were printed and widely distributed amongst the colonies, and had been delivered in Massachusetts and Connecticut since the founding of the colonies. The sermons preached on Election Day were accompanied by several other types of sermons for other events: the Artillery Sermon, which was preached when new militia officers were selected; Thanksgiving Day Sermons, which were delivered on special occasions marking an occasion of particular demonstration of God’s providence in national or international affairs, such as the repeal of the Stamp Act ; the Fast Day Sermon preached in times of calamity and were accompanied by public calls for repentance; and sermons preached annually to commemorate the execution of Charles I in 1649 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
In the years leading up to the War for Independence, the Election Day sermons were the primary vehicle used by the pastors in New England to articulate their political ideals and justify resistance to British oppression. The most famous of these, A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, was delivered by the Boston pastor, Jonathan Mayhew, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I by the Puritan Parliament for treason. This address laid out the common themes of the Election Day sermons: rulers were to govern for the benefit of all the people, not to themselves; officials were bound by the same laws as other citizens and the requirement to obey God’s laws in the administration of justice; the rights of subjects to appeal to lower magistrates to retrain unlawful activity by government officers were affirmed; and the undeniable right to take up arms when life and liberty were threatened.
In the tumultuous days of 1775, Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard College, delivered a sermon that chastised the British government for trying to force the colonists to submit to their tyrannical rule. “Our King,” Langdon said, “as if impelled by some strange fatality, is resolved to reason with us only by the roar of his cannon, and the printed arguments of muskets and bayonets. Because we refuse submission to the despotic power of a ministerial Parliament, our own sovereign…has given us up to the rage of his ministers.”
The effect of these sermons did not go unnoticed by the British authorities. In 1774, the Governor of Massachusetts denied a request by the colonial assembly to convene a fast day, because he said it would only afford an opportunity for “sedition to flow from the pulpits.”
But religious motive for taking up arms was not limited to New England. In Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas, both the Presbyterians and the Baptists were taking up the cause of freedom. Angered by the Quebec Act, which gave the Roman Catholics in Canada the religious freedoms that they were denied in their own colonies, the dissenting clergy had been active since the Great Awakening in developing political principles that were now being used to propel the colonies to prepare for war.
It isn’t hard to understand how these pastors grew as influential as they did. In New England, the Congregationalist clergy were from the most well respected families in the area. The Presbyterian ministers further south were generally the most educated men in their communities. The prominent Lutheran pastor of Pennsylvania, Henry Muhlenburg, wrote in his journal about the reasons for the Presbyterians success: “This progress is due to the fact that they have established seminaries in various places, educate their own ministers, keep strict discipline, and tolerate no ministers except those who have good moral character and the ability to speak, and who are content with small salaries and able to endure hard work. Those denominations here which do not have these characteristics, but just the opposite, are consequently decreasing and making room for the Presbyterians.”
The massive waves of Scotch-Irish immigration up until 1775 flooded all of the colonies with adherents of the Presbyterian faith. Representing one of the largest people groups in America, they had built numerous communities in virtually every colony and developed extensive networks to keep in contact with one another, but their presence was particularly felt in Virginia. Here Presbyterian churches sprung up like wildflowers, with fiery pastors, many of whom fled from their homeland because of religious and political persecution by the English. It was in one of these churches that the young Patrick Henry would listen to the fervent sermons of Samuel Davies to learn and develop his own passionate rhetorical style.
By the time Davies left Virginia there were many younger Presbyterian pastors to take his place. Having graduated from the Log College and the College of New Jersey, these men were instructed not only in religious studies, but in civil matters as well. There they learned about the natural law established by God that governed the universe and the affairs of men, but also the political theories of the leaders of the Reformation. Traveling up and down the backwoods of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas and Georgia, these itinerants preached against the Parliamentary claims of absolute power and the rights of citizens to punish government officials that violated both the written law and the law of God. Reminded of their Scottish Covenanter ancestors that had paid with their lives in defense of their liberties, Presbyterian ministers, like Alexander Craighead, John and Samuel Blair, Samuel Finley, John Rodgers and Alexander McWhorter, encouraged their congregations to take up arms for the sake of their freedoms that were under attack once again by the British government.
As hostilities increased and preparations were being made for war, the Baptists became important allies for the leaders of the resistance. It was no wonder, for up until 1775 the Baptists were actively persecuted in the colonies. Patrick Henry had to defend many of their ministers against Virginia authorities. Their services were frequently disrupted by angry mobs and their clergy were regularly horsewhipped or had their tongues nailed to posts for preaching without government licenses. They rejected the dancing, drinking and gambling that were commonplace in gentry society, and they believed in the equality of all their members. Their entire lifestyle was a rejection of British culture.
Their growth was explosive: in 1769, there were just seven Baptists churches in Virginia; by 1775, there were 54. As the opening shots of the War for Independence were fired, the Baptist leader, Isaac Backus, would appeal to his congregation to take up arms to defend their freedoms, noting that nothing less than their fundamental freedom to worship as their consciences dictated was at stake.
By April 1775, the clergy of America were not only solidly behind the defensive efforts of the colonial leaders, but they were leading the charge against British oppression. In their sermons, they called for their congregations to take action and encouraging them to “obey God rather than men.” Many pastors would leave their pulpits and take up arms themselves and lead the men of their congregations into battle. In the opening days of the conflict, the motto “disobedience to tyrants is obedience to God” seemed to be uttered by every American speaker and writer without the slightest hint of embarrassment that colonial religion was shaping their politics. Everyone of all religious beliefs knew that faith in the Judge of all Nations was necessary now that the colonies were poised on a dark and deadly threshold with nothing less than their life and liberties on the line.
When the news of the battles at Lexington and Bunker Hill arrived in the surrounding communities, Alice Baldwin writes in her New England Clergy and the American Revolution, that parson after parson left his parish and marched hastily toward Boston. “Before daylight on the morning of April 30, 1775, Stephen Farrar, of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, left with ninety-seven of his parishioners. Joseph Willard, of Beverly, marched with two companies from his own town, raised in no small part through his own exertion. David Avery, of Windsor, Vermont, after hearing the news of Lexington, preached a farewell sermon, then, outside the meeting-house door, called his people to arms, and marched with twenty men. On his way he served as captain, preached, and collected more troops. David Grosvenor, of Grafton, left his pulpit and, musket in hand, joined the minute-men who marched to Cambridge. Phillips Payson, of Chelsea, was given credit for leading a group of his parishioners to attack a band of English soldiers that nineteenth day of April. Benjamin Balch, of Danvers, Lieutenant of the third-alarm list of his town, was present at Lexington and later, as chaplain in army and navy, won the title of ‘fighting parson.’ Jonathan French, of Andover, Massachusetts, left his pulpit on the Sabbath morning, when the news of Bunker Hill arrived, and with surgical case in one hand and musket in the other started for Boston.”
Thus it was that the great experiment in liberty we know as America, was birthed in the churches of our great land.
Wednesday, December 8
Monday, December 6
Though this run is over, it is still possible to give to the remarkable work of St. Jude Children's Hospital. You can even pledge online!
Thursday, December 2
Wednesday, December 1
C. S. Lewis was born on this date (November 29) in 1898, and forty-one years after his death, one thing has become startlingly clear: This Oxford don was not only a keen apologist but also a true prophet for our postmodern age.
For example, Lewis’s 1947 book, Miracles, was penned before most Christians were aware of the emerging philosophy of naturalism. This is the belief that there is a naturalistic explanation for everything in the universe.
Naturalism undercuts any objective morality, opening the door to tyranny. In his book The Abolition of Man, Lewis warned that naturalism turns humans into objects to be controlled. It turns values into “mere natural phenomena”—which can be selected and inculcated into a passive population by powerful Conditioners. Lewis predicted a time when those who want to remold human nature “will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique.” Sounds like the biotech debate today, doesn’t it?
Why was Lewis so uncannily prophetic? At first glance he seems an unlikely candidate. He was not a theologian; he was an English professor. What was it that made him such a keen observer of cultural and intellectual trends?
The answer may be somewhat discomfiting to modern evangelicals: One reason is precisely that Lewis was not an evangelical. He was a professor in the academy, with a specialty in medieval literature, which gave him a mental framework shaped by the whole scope of intellectual history and Christian thought. As a result, he was liberated from the narrow confines of the religious views of the day—which meant he was able to analyze and critique them.
Lewis once wrote than any new book “has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages.” Because he himself was steeped in that “great body of Christian thought,” he quickly discerned trends that ran counter to it.
But how many of us are familiar with that same panorama of Christian ideas “down the ages”? How many of us know the work of more than a few contemporary writers? How, then, can we stand against the destructive intellectual trends multiplying in our own day?
The problem is not that modern evangelicals are less intelligent than Lewis. As Mark Noll explains in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the problem is that our sharpest intellects have been channeled into biblical scholarship, exegesis, and hermeneutics. While that is a vital enterprise, we rarely give the same scholarly attention to history, literature, politics, philosophy, economics, or the arts. As a result, we are less aware of the culture than we should be, less equipped to defend a biblical worldview, and less capable of being a redemptive force in our postmodern society—less aware, as well, of the threats headed our way from cultural elites.
You and I need to follow Lewis’s lead. We must liberate ourselves from the prison of our own narrow perspective and immerse ourselves in Christian ideas “down the ages.” Only then can we critique our culture and trace the trends.
The best way to celebrate Lewis’s birthday is to be at our posts, as he liked to say—with renewed spirits and with probing and informed minds.
Manhattanville College in New York has launched a wonderful new program designed to connect citizens at home with soldiers deployed in Iraq and other hotspots around the globe. The boilerplate correspondence and support structure is easy and free. If you have desired to somehow put feet to your prayers, this might be a perfect program for you or your church or your Sunday School class or your small group to get involved in--so, check it out at the Manhattanville web site.
Thursday, November 25
March 16, 1776
President John Hancock
In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by the secret machinations and open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration, it becomes the indispensable duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publickly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.
The Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and priviledges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and ignominious bondage: Desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprizes, on his aid and direction, Do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next, be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies; and by inclining their hearts to justice and benevolence, prevent the further effusion of kindred blood.
But if, continuing deaf to the voice of reason and humanity, and inflexibly bent, on desolation and war, they constrain us to repel their hostile invasions by open resistance, that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown the continental arms, by sea and land, with victory and success: Earnestly beseeching him to bless our civil rulers, and the representatives of the people, in their several assemblies and conventions; to preserve and strengthen their union, to inspire them with an ardent, disinterested love of their country; to give wisdom and stability to their counsels; and direct them to the most efficacious measures for establishing the rights of America on the most honourable and permanent basis; That he would be graciously pleased to bless all his people in these colonies with health and plenty, and grant that a spirit of incorruptible patriotism, and of pure undefiled religion, may universally prevail; and this continent be speedily restored to the blessings of peace and liberty, and enabled to transmit them inviolate to the latest posterity. And it is recommended to Christians of all denominations, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from servile labour on the said day.
December 18, 1777
President Henry Laurens
Forasmuch as it is the indispensable duty of all men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with gratitude their obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such farther blessings as they stand in need of; and it having pleased him in his abundant mercy not only to continue to us the innumerable bounties of his common providence, but also to smile upon us in the prosecution of a just and necessary war, for the defence and establishment of our unalienable rights and liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased in so great a measure to prosper the means used for the support of our troops and to crown our arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive powers of these United States, to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise; that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgments and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favour, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please him graciously to afford his blessing on the governments of these states respectively, and prosper the public council of the whole; to inspire our commanders both by land and sea, and all under them, with that wisdom and fortitude which may render them fit instruments, under the providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States the greatest of all human blessings, independence and peace; that it may please him to prosper the trade and manufactures of the people and the labour of the husbandman, that our land may yet yield its increase; to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety, under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth "in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.
March 20, 1779
President John Jay
Whereas, in just punishment of our manifold transgressions, it hath pleased the Supreme Disposer of all events to visit these United States with a destructive calamitous war, through which His divine Providence hath, hitherto, in a wonderful manner, conducted us, so that we might acknowledge that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong: and whereas, there is but too much Reason to fear that notwithstanding the chastisements received and benefits bestowed, too few have been sufficiently awakened to a sense of their guilt, or warmed our Bosoms with gratitude, or taught to amend their lives and turn from their sins, that so He might turn from His wrath. And whereas, from a consciousness of what we have merited at His hands, and an apprehension that the malevolence of our disappointed enemies, like the incredulity of Pharaoh, may be used as the scourge of Omnipotence to vindicate his slighted Majesty, there is reason to fear that he may permit much of our land to become the prey of the spoiler, and the Blood of the innocent be poured out that our borders to be ravaged, and our habitations destroyed:
Resolved, That it be recommended to the several states to appoint the first Thursday in May next, to be a day of fasting, Thanksgiving humiliation and prayer to Almighty God, that he will be pleased to avert those impending calamities which we have but too well deserved: that he will grant us his grace to repent of our sins, and amend our lives, according to his holy word: that he will continue that wonderful protection which hath led us through the paths of danger and distress: that he will be a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless children, who weep over the barbarities of a savage enemy: that he will grant us patience in suffering, and fortitude in adversity: that he will inspire us with humility and moderation, and gratitude in prosperous circumstances: that he will give wisdom to our councils, firmness to our resolutions, and victory to our arms That he will have Mercy on our Foes, and graciously forgive them, and turn their Hearts from Enmity to Love.
That he will bless the labours of the husbandman, and pour forth abundance, so that we may enjoy the fruits of the earth in due season.
That he will cause union, harmony, and mutual confidence to prevail throughout these states: that he will bestow on our great ally all those blessings which may enable him to be gloriously instrumental in protecting the rights of mankind, and promoting the happiness of his subjects and advancing the Peace and Liberty of Nations. That he will give to both Parties to this Alliance, Grace to perform with Honor and Fidelity their National Engagements.
That he will bountifully continue his paternal care to the commander in chief, and the officers and soldiers of the United States: that he will grant the blessings of peace to all contending nations, freedom to those who are in bondage, and comfort to the afflicted: that he will diffuse useful knowledge, extend the influence of true religion, and give us that peace of mind, which the world cannot give: that he will be our shield in the day of battle, our comforter in the hour of death, and our kind parent and merciful judge through time and through eternity.
March 20, 1781
President Samuel Huntington
In times of calamity and impending danger when a vindictive enemy pursues with unrelenting fury a war of rapine and devastation to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness and our own domestics to the most abject and ignominious bondage; it becomes the indespensible duty of the citizens of these United States with true penitence of heart publicly to acknowledge the over ruling Providence of God, to confess our offences against him, and to supplicate his gracious interposition for averting the threatened danger and preparing our efforts in the defence and preservation of our injured country.
At all times it is our duty to acknowledge the over-ruling providence of the great Governor of the universe, and devoutly to implore his divine favour and protection. But in the hour of calamity and impending danger, when by fire and the sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and by our own domestics, a vindictive enemy pursues a war of rapine and devastation, with unrelenting fury, we are peculiarly excited, with true penitence of heart, to prostrate ourselves before our great Creator, and fervently to supplicate his gracious interposition for our deliverance.
The United States in Congress assembled, therefore do earnestly recommend, that Thursday the third day of May next, may be observed as a day of humiliation, fasting and prayer, that we may, with united hearts, confess and bewail our manifold sins and transgressions, and by sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and through the merits of our blessed Saviour, obtain pardon and forgiveness: that it may please him to inspire our rulers with wisdom and uncorruptible integrity, and to direct and prosper their councils: to inspire all our citizens with a fervent and disinterested love of their country, and to preserve and strengthen their union: to turn the hearts of the disaffected, or to frustrate their devices: to regard with divine compassion our friends in captivity, affliction and distress, to comfort and relieve them under their sufferings, and to change their mourning into grateful songs of triumph: that it may please him to bless our ally, and to render the connection formed between these United States and his kingdoms a mutual and lasting benefit to both nations: to animate our officers and forces by sea and land with invincible fortitude, and to guard and protect them in the day of battle, and to crown our joint endeavours for terminating the calamities of war with victory and success: that the blessings of peace and liberty may be established on an honourable and permanent basis, and transmitted inviolate to the latest posterity: that it may please him to prosper our husbandry and commerce, and to bless us with health and plenty: that it may please him to bless all schools and seminaries of learning, and to grant that truth, justice and benevolence, and pure and undefiled religion, may universally prevail. And it is recommended to all the people of these states, to assemble for public worship, and abstain from labour on the said day.
October 26, 1781
President Thomas McKean
Whereas, it hath pleased Almighty God, the supreme Disposer of all Events father of mercies, remarkably to assist and support the United States of America in their important struggle for liberty, against the long continued efforts of a powerful nation: it is the duty of all ranks to observe and thankfully acknowledge the interpositions of his Providence in their behalf. Through the whole of the contest, from its first rise to this time, the influence of divine Providence may be clearly perceived in many signal instances, of which we mention but a few.
In revealing the councils of our enemies, when the discoveries were seasonable and important, and the means seemingly inadequate or fortuitous; in preserving and even improving the union of the several states, on the breach of which our enemies placed their greatest dependence; in increasing the number, and adding to the zeal and attachment of the friends of Liberty; in granting remarkable deliverances, and blessing us with the most signal success, when affairs seemed to have the most discouraging appearance; in raising up for us a powerful and generous ally, in one of the first of the European powers; in confounding the councils of our enemies, and suffering them to pursue such measures as have most directly contributed to frustrate their own desires and expectations; above all, in making their extreme cruelty of their officers and soldiers to the inhabitants of these states, when in their power, and their savage devastation of property, the very means of cementing our union, and adding vigor to every effort in opposition to them.
And as we cannot help leading the good people of these states to a retrospect on the events which have taken place since the beginning of the war, so we beg recommend in a particular manner that they may observe and acknowledge to their observation, the goodness of God in the year now drawing to a conclusion: in which a mutiny in the American Army was not only happily appeased but became in its issue a pleasing and undeniable proof of the unalterable attachment of the people in general to the cause of liberty since great and real grievances only made them tumultuously seek redress while the abhorred the thoughts of going over to the enemy, in which the Confederation of the United States has been completed by the accession of all without exception in which there have been so many instances of prowess and success in our armies; particularly in the southern states, where, notwithstanding the difficulties with which they had to struggle, they have recovered the whole country which the enemy had overrun, leaving them only a post or two upon on or near the sea: in which we have been so powerfully and effectually assisted by our allies, while in all the conjunct operations the most perfect union and harmony has subsisted in the allied army: in which there has been so plentiful a harvest, and so great abundance of the fruits of the earth of every kind, as not only enables us easily to supply the wants of the army, but gives comfort and happiness to the whole people: and in which, after the success of our allies by sea, a General of the first Rank, with his whole army, has been captured by the allied forces under the direction of our illustrious Commander in Chief.
It is therefore recommended to the several states to set apart the 13th day of December next, to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer; that all the people may assemble on that day, with grateful hearts, to celebrate the praises of our gracious Benefactor; to confess our manifold sins; to offer up our most fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that it may please Him to pardon our offences, and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws; to comfort and relieve all our brethren who are in distress or captivity; to prosper our husbandmen, and give success to all engaged in lawful commerce; to impart wisdom and integrity to our counsellors, judgment and fortitude to our officers and soldiers; to protect and prosper our illustrious ally, and favor our united exertions for the speedy establishment of a safe, honorable and lasting peace; to bless all seminaries of learning; and cause the knowledge of God to cover the earth, as the waters cover the seas.
By Order of the United States in Congress Assembled; Thomas McKean, President
March 19, 1782
President John Hanson
The goodness of the Supreme Being to all his rational creatures, demands their acknowledgments of gratitude and love; his absolute government of this world dictates, that it is the interest of every nation and people ardently to supplicate his mercy favor and implore his protection.
When the lust of dominion or lawless ambition excites arbitrary power to invade the rights, or endeavor to wrench wrest from a people their sacred and unalienable invaluable privileges, and compels them, in defence of the same, to encounter all the horrors and calamities of a bloody and vindictive war; then is that people loudly called upon to fly unto that God for protection, who hears the eries of the distressed, and will not turn a deaf ear to the supplication of the oppressed.
Great Britain, hitherto left to infatuated councils, and to pursue measures repugnant to their her own interest, and distressing to this country, still persists in the chimerical idea design of subjugating these United States; which will compel us into another active and perhaps bloody campaign.
The United States in Congress assembled, therefore, taking into consideration our present situation, our multiplied transgressions of the holy laws of our God, and his past acts of kindness and goodness exercised towards us, which we would ought to record with the liveliest gratitude, think it their indispensable duty to call upon the different several states, to set apart the last Thursday in April next, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer, that our joint supplications may then ascend to the throne of the Ruler of the Universe, beseeching Him that he would to diffuse a spirit of universal reformation among all ranks and degrees of our citizens; and make us a holy, that so we may be an happy people; that it would please Him to impart wisdom, integrity and unanimity to our counsellors; to bless and prosper the reign of our illustrious ally, and give success to his arms employed in the defence of the rights of human nature; that He would smile upon our military arrangements by land and sea; administer comfort and consolation to our prisoners in a cruel captivity; that he would protect the health and life of our Commander in Chief; give grant us victory over our enemies; establish peace in all our borders, and give happiness to all our inhabitants; that he would prosper the labor of the husbandman, making the earth yield its increase in abundance, and give a proper season for the in gathering of the fruits thereof; that He would grant success to all engaged in lawful trade and commerce, and take under his guardianship all schools and seminaries of learning, and make them nurseries of virtue and piety; that He would incline the hearts of all men to peace, and fill them with universal charity and benevolence, and that the religion of our Divine Redeemer, with all its benign influences, may cover the earth as the waters cover the seas.
October 11, 1782
President John Hanson
It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God, the giver of all good, for his gracious assistance in the a time of public distress, but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his Providence in their behalf; therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, taking into their consideration the many instances of divine goodness to these states, in the course of the important conflict in which they have been so long engaged; and the present happy and promising state of public affairs; and the events of the war in the course of the last year now drawing to a close, particularly the harmony of the public councils, which is so necessary to the success of the public cause; the perfect union and good understanding which has hitherto subsisted between them and their allies, notwithstanding the artful and unwearied attempts of the common enemy to sow dissension between them divide them; the success of the arms of the United States and those of their allies, and the acknowledgment of their independence by another European power, whose friendship and commerce must be of great and lasting advantage to these states; and the success of their arms and those of their allies in different parts do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these states in general, to observe, and recommend it to the executives of request the several states to interpose their authority in appointing and requiring commanding the observation of the last Thursday, in the 28 day of November next, as a day of solemn thanksgiving to God for all his mercies: and they do further recommend to all ranks, to testify their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.
October 18, 1783
President Elias Boudinot
Whereas in the progress of an arduous and difficult war, the armies of the United States of America have eminently displayed every military and patriotic virtue, and are not less to be applauded for their invincible fortitude and magnanimity in the most trying scenes of adversity and distress, than for a series of heroic and illustrious achievements, which exalt them to a high rank among the most zealous and successful defenders of the rights and liberties of mankind. And whereas by the blessing of Divine Providence on our cause and our arms, the glorious period is arrived when our national independence and sovereignty are established, and we enjoy the prospect of a permanent and honorable peace: We therefore, the United States in Congress assembled, thus impressed with a lively sense of the distinguished merit and good conduct of the said armies, do give them the thanks of their country, for their long, eminent and faithful services.
And it is our will and pleasure, that such part of the federal armies as stands engaged to serve during the war, and as by our Acts of the 26 day of May, the 11 day of June, the 9 day August, and the 26 day of September last, were furloughed, shall, from and after the tenth third day of October November next, be absolutely discharged by virtue of this our proclamation, from the said service: and we do also declare, that the further services in the field, of the officers who are deranged and on furlough, in consequence of our aforesaid Acts, can now be dispensed with, and they have our full permission to retire from service, without being longer liable from their present engagements, to be called into command. And of such discharge and permission to retire from service respectively, all our officers, civil and military, and all others whom it may concern, are required to take notice, and to govern themselves accordingly.
Given under the seal of the United States in Congress assembled, witness his Excellency Elias Boudinot, our President in Congress, this eighteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, and of the sovereignty and independence of the United States of America, the eighth.
Thursday, November 18
I do love the holidays. I love the food. I love the decorations. I love the nip in the air. I love the special musical presentations--once again this year, Greg Wilbur will be leading our church with a Lessons in Carols service. I just love it all.
But one of the things I look forward to the most every year is holiday reading. I always try to set aside all my "work" and "important" reading for those books that I've just not been able to get to because of the hectic schedule of everyday life. So, over the Thanksgiving break I plan to read Tom Wolfe's new novel, the new biography of Martin Bucer by Martin Greschat, a couple of Chestertons, and lots and lots and lots of poetry. I can hardly wait.
My training is pretty much on track and my knee is actually cooperating a bit more than usual, so I think I can safely announce this publicly: I am running in the St. Jude Marathon on December 4 in Memphis. I've wanted to do this race for years--but one difficulty or another has always interfered before. But, I am determined this time to actually get to Memphis and then to the finish line. Want to be one of my sponsors? All donations go to the remarkable work of St. Jude's Children's Hospital. You can even pledge online!
One of the basic demands of Christian discipleship, of following Jesus Christ, is to change our way of thinking. We are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are “not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). In other words, we are commanded to have a Biblical worldview. All our thinking, our perspective on life, and our understanding of the world around us, is to be comprehensively informed by Scripture.
God's condemnation of Israel came because “their ways were not His ways and their thoughts were not His thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). They did not have a Biblical worldview. When we begin to think about law or biomedical ethics or art or business or love or history or welfare or anything else apart from God's Revelation, we too have made ourselves vulnerable to condemnation. A Biblical worldview is not optional. It is mandatory.
So, how do we develop a Biblical worldview? How do we go about replacing our old ways of thinking with God's way of thinking? How do we go about helping others develop such a Scriptural outlook on all of life?
Obviously, the place to start is with the Bible itself. We need to read the Bible with new eyes of awareness, with a new hunger for comprehensive Truth. We need to familiarize ourselves with its full contents, with its whole counsel. Then we need to teach others the new insights we have discovered.
The great pioneers of Western Christendom thus not only took the Bible to be their blueprint for living, but they passed it on to their children in blueprint form. They believed that the revelation of God to men in the Bible was the authoritative starting point and the final court of intellectual appeal on earth. They would have wholeheartedly concurred with Cornelius Van Til when he asserted, “The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything.” Thus, they taught every educational discipline to their children on the assumption that all forms of secular knowledge had been constructed on foundations of philosophical, moral, and spiritual sand. This meant that children learned to read straight from God's Precepts. They began to hammer out principles of economics in terms of God's Word. They began to develop political perspectives based upon God's Commands. They pioneered art, music, and ideas that were Scripturally grounded. Everything, in every field, on every front, was built on a fundamental rejection of the notion that there might be areas of moral, intellectual, or cultural neutrality. They understood that every realm of human endeavor must flow from Biblical principles: mathematics, biology, literature, sociology, law, music, physics, and welfare. Because God has ordained that the Bible govern them all. This is the essence of the Biblical worldview.
For all our talk in the contemporary Evangelical arena of world and life views, it has been so terribly long since Christians have maintained that kind of stand, that kind of educational program. It is little wonder then that Western culture has lost, or is losing, all its Biblical distinctives. And all its Biblically wrought blessings to boot.
Friday, November 12
The answer of course, is that he looted his own impoverished people, the Palestinians. Now American and European government investigators want access to Arafat's secret bank accounts to see if he looted them as well.
Speculation over Arafat's secret bank accounts is nothing new. Last year the International Monetary Fund attempted to give an accounting of the magnitude of Arafat's shadowy assets--estimating that they probably topped $300 million. But now, suspicious State Department and European Union officials are wondering whether they may have inadvertently contributed to the Palestinian leader's private piggy bank. It is altogether unclear if or to what degree international aid was abused by Arafat and his terrorist cronies in Hammas and Fatah. But the money trails from the public coffers to the back pockets seem to abound. There are grave concerns for instance over $900 million that disappeared from Palestinian Authority accounts, trickling out through a murky system of bank accounts and bogus firms.
Between 2002 and 2003, the European Union paid over $10 million monthly to the Palestinian authority without any controls, according to Armin Laschet, a Christian Democratic Union member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the oversight committee responsible for Palestinian aid. Last year, he and other EU officials stated that they "would be surprised" if any allegations of fraud could actually ever be proven.
Of course, all this leads to a difficult bureaucratic dilemma. The foreign aid officials in the US and the EU who decide the allocation of funds to the troubled Middle East are going to have to make some really tough decisions. They all now reluctantly acknowledge that corruption and nepotism have very likely long been rampant in the Palestinian territories. But no one wants to worsen the poverty or political crisis in the region by suddenly cutting off aid--as if things could actually be much worse than they are. The US and the EU have together given about $3 billion to the Palestinian Authority over the past 10 years. It now appears likely that a goodly proportion of that money never made it to the poor people for which it was intended. What to do? Oh dear, what to do?
Meanwhile, French investigators have their sights on Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat, for money laundering. French officials said they have proof that more than $1 million has been diverted during the last few weeks to her personal Swiss bank accounts. But the source of the money remains unclear. European officials suspect the money is flowing in from European Union accounts but have no proof.
In August, Palestinians held in Israeli prisons accused Arafat and other senior Palestinian officials of diverting foreign aid dollars to terrorists groups like Hammas. Those allegations followed the emergence of several damning documents in July showing that Arafat wired over $5 million--possibly from international aid funds--to a personal bank account in Cairo just before September 11, 2001.
The big question is: why is any of this horrendous mess a surprise? Did the bureaucrats in charge of dispensing these foreign aid extravaganzas really expect a hardened ideological terrorist to act honorably with the millions, even billions tossed into his lap? I mean, really? Please!
Tuesday, November 9
Vision Forum Ministries will host a press conference on November 12 at 11:30am CST to discuss the groundbreaking vision of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and Jubilee Awards. The press conference will be held in Room 103 of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, during the film festival’s inaugural event, which will take place on November 11-13 in the Alamo City. "Our concerns with Hollywood transcend genre and category. They point to a systemic disrespect for Christianity and the values Christianity teaches," explained Doug Phillips, President of Vision Forum Ministries. "Hollywood needs more than incremental improvement. It needs a heart transplant."
"Our goal, however, is not to 'clean-up' Hollywood or to 'curse the darkness,'" continued Phillips. "Our mission in founding the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival is to cultivate an independent film market that is a reflection of the beauty, hope, and encouragement only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our goal is to promote films that root and branch encourage the family and honor the Lord."
Dr. George Grant of the King’s Meadow Study Center and Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr. of the Highlands Study Center will join Phillips at Friday’s press conference. The three of them together will outline a plan that challenges the prevailing paradigm of the film industry.
"Our vision is a vision of hope, and we hope that those who share our faith and who value innovation and enterprise in the arts will join us," noted Phillips. "The festival will fuse a Christian worldview with the independent spirit of San Antonio for what we believe will make for a memorable cultural event."
The San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival will host independent Christian film shorts produced by a new generation of enterprising and creative Christian filmmakers. More than 30 separate films will be shown on three separate screens over the course of the event. Vision Forum Ministries will give away a number of awards, including a $10,000 Grand Prize to the film short entry that wins "Best of Festival," as part of the Jubilee Awards presentation.
Festival passes are $125 for adults, $100 for students. Passes allow access to all the festival events. Space is limited. For more information on the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and Jubilee Awards, please visit the festival website.
Saturday, November 6
Friday, November 5
The mainstream media and the pollsters blew it. They drastically underestimated the American electorate and they drastically misunderestimated the President who won them over. In winning his second term, George W. Bush, became the first incumbent president to increase his majority in both the Senate and the House and to increase his own constituency (by over 3.5 million) since FDR in 1936. He accomplished what Bill Clinton could never do: win more than fifty percent of the popular vote. And his nearly sixty million votes broke Ronald Reagan’s old record by more than million. Stunning!
On the day after, the red-faced newspapermen across the nation were forced to conjure up some really clever, self-depreciating headlines. My favorites: Media SteersWrong, America Veers Right; Pollsters Blue, Map Red. There were also the inevitable coy word-plays: W2 4U; Re-Dubya; Deja Vote All Over Again; Kerried Away; Left Out; Golly GOP; Red Alert; Dubya Drubbedya; W Gets the W; The Hunt for Red November; America Sees Red; None Too Blue; It Really Is One Nation Under God; Simply Red; Red, White, and You! But as fun as it is to imagine the news jockeys and barking heads coming up with such puns, it is even more fun imagining Jacques Chirac reading them!
OK. The cat is out of the bag. The whole world knows. People of faith, people of values, and people of principle can step up and change the course of an election. Now, it remains to be seen if they can step up and change the course of a culture.
Nearly a fourth of the American electorate identified moral values as the number one issue informing their vote this past Tuesday. More than those who cited terrorism or war or the economy. And of those voters, more than eighty percent threw their support behind the president. Evangelicals turned out in droves and voted overwhelmingly for Bush. So did married women. Hispanics and Latinos, African Americans, and Jews crossed over the traditional political divide in record numbers as well.
But a single election does not a substantial victory make. At best, the Values-First Coalition got a brief reprieve from the culture wars. Now begins the hard work of translating the mandate at the polls into a mandate at home and abroad.
The Chicago Tribune columnist who opined that he “went to bed a proud citizen of a free, secular, democratic republic and woke up an outcast in a fundamentalist theocracy” was wildly hyperbolic and as far from right as wrong can be. But, at the very least, he underscored the fact that the nation remains divided—if not evenly, then substantially. And he underscored the heavy responsibility the new majority coalition has in pressing forward a vision of conservative clarity and consistent compassion.
How’s this for congrats? The tenured Republican expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee bluntly warned newly re-elected President Bush against putting forth pro-life Supreme Court nominees or those who are otherwise “too conservative to win confirmation.”
“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,” Specter said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision to overturn the murder and infanticide laws in all fifty states thus legalizing child-killing procedures through all nine months of pregnancy.
“The president is well aware of what happened, when a bunch of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,” Specter added, referring to Senate Democrats’ determination to block the confirmation of many of Bush’s judicial picks.” Thus, it appears that the Republican Specter has every intention to pick up where the now defeated Dems left off.
With at least three Supreme Court justices rumored to be eyeing retirement, including ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Specter, 74, would have broad authority to reshape the nation's highest court. Indeed. he would have wide latitude to schedule hearings, call for votes and make the process as easy or as hard as he wants. A self-proclaimed “moderate” (a politically-correct pseudonym for a "pro-abort liberal") he helped kill President Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and of Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. Specter called both nominees “too extreme on civil rights issues.” Sessions later became a Republican senator from Alabama and now sits on the Judiciary Committee with Specter.
Already, supporters of the president—those who gave him a sweeping mandate to push forward his progressive agenda to put values back at the center of public life--are calling for Specter to get a taste of his own medicine: it’s time to “bork” Specter.
Tuesday, November 2
"The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all the peoples see His glory. All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship Him, all you gods! Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of Your judgments, O LORD. For You, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods. O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to His Holy Name." Psalm 97
"When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws." G.K. Chesterton
"There is something about a Republican that you can only stand him for just so long. And on the other hand, there is something about a Democrat that you can’t stand him for quite that long. Democrats are the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected to prove it. But then, no party is as bad as its leaders." Will Rogers
"Goodness without wisdom always accomplishes evil." Robert Heinlein
"If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog." Harry Truman
"You can’t even trust the dogs in this town." Clarence Thomas
"The most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'" Ronald Reagan
Monday, November 1
As you might expect, when Paul Johnson speaks, I listen. His take on tomorrow's historic election particularly piqued my interest--as I trust it will yours:
The great issue in the 2004 election—it seems to me as an Englishman—is, How seriously does the United States take its role as a world leader, and how far will it make sacrifices, and risk unpopularity, to discharge this duty with success and honor? In short, this is an election of the greatest significance, for Americans and all the rest of us. It will redefine what kind of a country the United States is, and how far the rest of the world can rely upon her to preserve the general safety and protect our civilization. When George W. Bush was first elected, he stirred none of these feelings, at home or abroad. He seems to have sought the presidency more for dynastic than for any other reasons. September 11 changed all that dramatically. It gave his presidency a purpose and a theme, and imposed on him a mission. Now, we can all criticize the way he has pursued that mission. He has certainly made mistakes in detail, notably in underestimating the problems that have inevitably followed the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, and overestimating the ability of U.S. forces to tackle them. On the other hand, he has been absolutely right in estimating the seriousness of the threat international terrorism poses to the entire world and on the need for the United States to meet this threat with all the means at its disposal and for as long as may be necessary. Equally, he has placed these considerations right at the center of his policies and continued to do so with total consistency, adamantine determination, and remarkable courage, despite sneers and jeers, ridicule and venomous opposition, and much unpopularity.
There is something grimly admirable about his stoicism in the face of reverses, which reminds me of other moments in history: the dark winter Washington faced in 1777-78, a time to “try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine put it, and the long succession of military failures Lincoln had to bear and explain before he found a commander who could take the cause to victory. There is nothing glamorous about the Bush presidency and nothing exhilarating. It is all hard pounding, as Wellington said of Waterloo, adding: “Let us see who can pound the hardest.” Mastering terrorism fired by a religious fanaticism straight from the Dark Ages requires hard pounding of the dullest, most repetitious kind, in which spectacular victories are not to be looked for, and all we can expect are “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” However, something persuades me that Bush— with his grimness and doggedness, his lack of sparkle but his enviable concentration on the central issue—is the president America needs at this difficult time.
He has, it seems to me, the moral right to ask American voters to give him the mandate to finish the job he has started.
This impression is abundantly confirmed, indeed made overwhelming, when we look at the alternative. Senator Kerry has not made much of an impression in Europe, or indeed, I gather, in America. Many on the Continent support him, because they hate Bush, not because of any positive qualities Kerry possesses. Indeed we know of none, and there are six good reasons that he should be mistrusted. First, and perhaps most important, he seems to have no strong convictions about what he would do if given office and power. The content and emphasis of his campaign on terrorism, Iraq, and related issues have varied from week to week. But they seem always to be determined by what his advisers, analyzing the polls and other evidence, recommend, rather than by his own judgment and convictions. In other words, he is saying, in effect: “I do not know what to do but I will do what you, the voters, want.” This may be an acceptable strategy, on some issues and at certain times. It is one way you can interpret democracy.
But in a time of crisis, and on an issue involving the security of the world, what is needed is leadership. Kerry is abdicating that duty and proposing, instead, that the voters should lead and he will follow. Second, Kerry’s personal character has, so far, appeared in a bad light. He has always presented himself, for the purpose of Massachusetts vote-getting, as a Boston Catholic of presumably Irish origins. This side of Kerry is fundamentally dishonest. He does not follow Catholic teachings, certainly in his views on such issues as abortion—especially when he feels additional votes are to be won by rejecting Catholic doctrine. This is bad enough. But since the campaign began it has emerged that Kerry’s origins are not in the Boston-Irish community but in Germanic Judaism. Kerry knew this all along, and deliberately concealed it for political purposes. If a man will mislead about such matters, he will mislead about anything.
There is, thirdly, Kerry’s long record of contradictions and uncertainties as a senator and his apparent inability to pursue a consistent policy on major issues.
Fourth is his posturing over his military record, highlighted by his embarrassing pseudo-military salute when accepting the nomination. Fifth is his disturbing lifestyle, combining liberal—even radical—politics with being the husband, in succession, of two heiresses, one worth $300 million and the other $1 billion. The Kerrys have five palatial homes and a personal jet, wealth buttressed by the usual team of lawyers and financial advisers to provide the best methods of tax-avoidance. Sixth and last is the Kerry team: who seem to combine considerable skills in electioneering with a variety of opinions on all key issues. Indeed, it is when one looks at Kerry’s closest associates that one’s doubts about his suitability become certainties. Kerry may dislike his running-mate, and those feelings may be reciprocated—but that does not mean a great deal. More important is that the man Kerry would have as his vice president is an ambulance-chasing lawyer of precisely the kind the American system has spawned in recent decades, to its great loss and peril, and that is already establishing a foothold in Britain and other European countries. This aggressive legalism—what in England we call “vexatious litigation”— is surely a characteristic America does not want at the top of its constitutional system.
Of Kerry’s backers, maybe the most prominent is George Soros, a man who made his billions through the kind of unscrupulous manipulations that (in Marxist folklore) characterize “finance capitalism.” This is the man who did everything in his power to wreck the currency of Britain, America’s principal ally, during the EU exchange-rate crisis—not out of conviction but simply to make vast sums of money. He has also used his immense resources to interfere in the domestic affairs of half a dozen other countries, some of them small enough for serious meddling to be hard to resist. One has to ask: Why is a man like Soros so eager to see Kerry in the White House? The question is especially pertinent since he is not alone among the superrich wishing to see Bush beaten. There are several other huge fortunes backing Kerry.
Among the wide spectrum of prominent Bush-haters there is the normal clutter of Hollywood performers and showbiz self-advertisers. That is to be expected. More noticeable, this time, are the large numbers of novelists, playwrights, and moviemakers who have lined up to discharge venomous salvos at the incumbent.
I don’t recall any occasion, certainly not since the age of FDR, when so much partisan election material has been produced by intellectuals of the Left, not only in the United States but in Europe, especially in Britain, France, and Germany. These intellectuals—many of them with long and lugubrious records of supporting lost left-wing causes, from the Soviet empire to Castro’s aggressive adventures in Africa, and who have in their time backed Mengistu in Ethiopia, Qaddafi in Libya, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua—seem to have a personal hatred of Bush that defies rational analysis.
Behind this front line of articulate Bushicides (one left-wing columnist in Britain actually offered a large sum of money to anyone who would assassinate the president) there is the usual cast of Continental suspects, led by Chirac in France and the superbureaucrats of Brussels. As one who regularly reads Le Monde, I find it hard to convey the intensity of the desire of official France to replace Bush with Kerry. Anti-Americanism has seldom been stronger in Continental Europe, and Bush seems to personify in his simple, uncomplicated self all the things these people most hate about America—precisely because he is so American. Anti-Americanism, like anti-Semitism, is not, of course, a rational reflex. It is, rather, a mental disease, and the Continentals are currently suffering from a virulent spasm of the infection, as always happens when America exerts strong and unbending leadership.
Behind this second line of adversaries there is a far more sinister third. All the elements of anarchy and unrest in the Middle East and Muslim Asia and Africa are clamoring and praying for a Kerry victory. The mullahs and the imams, the gunmen and their arms suppliers and paymasters, all those who stand to profit—politically, financially, and emotionally—from the total breakdown of order, the eclipse of democracy, and the defeat of the rule of law, want to see Bush replaced. His defeat on November 2 will be greeted, in Arab capitals, by shouts of triumph from fundamentalist mobs of exactly the kind that greeted the news that the Twin Towers had collapsed and their occupants been exterminated.
I cannot recall any election when the enemies of America all over the world have been so unanimous in hoping for the victory of one candidate. That is the overwhelming reason that John Kerry must be defeated, heavily and comprehensively.