Friday, March 31

The Difference: Simply Put

"Wherever you find the infidels, kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection. Know that paradise is under the shade of the swords." Muhammad of Mecca (c. 570-632 AD)

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Jesus of Nazareth (c. 4 BC-30 AD)

Tuesday, March 28

Not of this World

On Thursday, I will lecture on the life and legacy of Jan Comenius (1592-1670). But, today is his birthday, so I couldn't help but do a bit of reflecting ahead of time. Here is a little piece I wrote last year for R.C. Sproul's Table Talk magazine.

By almost any modern definition, Comenius was anything but a success. Though Herman Bavink called him “the greatest figure of the second generation of reformers” he is practically forgotten today. Though Andrew Bonar said he was “the truest heir of Hus, the chief inspiration of Chalmers, and the first model for Carey,” he is rarely mentioned alongside such men. Though J. Hudson Taylor said he was “the single greatest innovator of missions, education, and literature during the Protestant Reformation,” his is hardly remembered. And though Abraham Kuyper said that he was “the father of modern Christian education,” his vision of substantive and systematic discipleship is only infrequently practiced.

He was astonishingly diverse in both his interests and his endeavors. Comenius helped to shape the educational systems of Holland, Sweden, Prussia, Scotland and Puritan New England. He launched missionary outreaches to Jews and Turks, Gypsies and Eastern Orthodox, Catholics and Liberals. He initiated projects to create a comprehensive Christian encyclopedia, a translation of the Scriptures into the Turkish language. He wrote and published a veritable library of books of inspiration, educational theory, cultural criticism, history, practical devotion, exposition, and theology. He was asked to lead both King’s College in Cambridge and Harvard College in America. He served the Swedish king as a chaplain. He developed innovative plans for a Christian university program. And he was able to do all this despite suffering a series of personal tragedies and living most of his life in uncertain exile. As his contemporary Cotton Mather argued, he was a man of “extraordinary accomplishments amidst inordinate adversity.” It is a marvel then that he is not remembered as such.

Jan Comenius was born on this day in 1592. His Eastern Moravian legacy made him the heir of a rich Czech Protestant legacy that traced its roots to the reforming work of Jan Milic (1313-1374), Jan Hus (1371-1415), and Jerome of Prague (1365-1416). He was catechized and educated in the rich Reformed tradition of the day by godly parents. Alas, the first of many tragedies struck his happy home when Comenius was just twelve. Both of his parents died in a virulent outbreak of the plague. Nevertheless, shortly afterward he went to Heidelberg to study theology. In 1616, having completed his studies, he returned home to teach in the little parish school where he had once been a student. Less than eighteen months later, he was ordained into the Hussite Reformed church and served a small congregation in Falnek—where he married his childhood sweetheart and began his family.

The second great tragedy of his life struck just two years later. The first decisive battle of the Thirty Years War was fought at White Mountain, near Prague. The Hapsburg Catholics overwhelmed the Protestant Czech forces and a fierce new persecution was imposed on the Reformed community throughout the land. Comenius, like most of the other pastors, was forced into hiding. The next month, another outbreak of the plague took the lives of his beloved wife and their two young children.

It was just the beginning of a life marked by suffering, sadness, and exile.

Shortly thereafter, Comenius led a large contingent of displaced Protestant refugees across the mountains into southern Poland in order to begin to rebuild their lives, their families, and their churches. It was then that Comenius began writing such classics as The Labyrinth of this World, (a beautiful allegory of the Christian life written more than half a century before Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress) and Man of Sorrows, (a classic meditation on the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross). He also began to travel to other Protestant lands to advocate the cause of his Moravian brethren, uprooted from their homeland, impoverished, and harried.

The genius of Comenius was soon recognized—not only by the grateful community of Reformed exiles huddled together in the mountain villages of southern Poland, but also by the wider church. In the years that followed, he entertained invitations to teach and live in the cities of London, Boston, Stockholm, Paris, Amsterdam, Wittenberg, and Geneva. He was called on to devise universal Christian curricula, to reform educational systems, to administer colleges, to oversee theological projects, and to supervise publishing efforts. He corresponded with the infamous Cardinal Richelieu as well as with the philosopher Rene Descartes, Cotton Mather, Oliver Cromwell, Charles X of Sweden, and the industrialist Louis de Geer. He was among the most influential and sought after men of his day.

But the pastoral responsibility for his little, beleaguered flock always remained his first and foremost concern. He attempted to utilize every opportunity, every contact for their sake. Meanwhile, despite the insecurity of living in exile on very limited resources, his vast vision for missionary outreach and educational reform was never dimmed. Always the optimist, he continued to devise new plans, to hammer out new strategies, and to formulate new projects.

In 1656, after a lifetime of hardship and opportunities deferred, tragedy struck Comenius again. Polish troops burned and looted the Moravian villages harrying the survivors across the border. They had lost everything. Again.

Comenius and the other refugees were scattered across Europe, on estates throughout the German and Dutch provinces. There, they would live out their remaining days as strangers in yet another strange land.

Comenius, energetic as always, set his hand to a host of new projects. Though he had lost a dozen unpublished manuscripts, his printing press, and all of his worldly goods, he was unshaken in his confidence in the Gospel to change the course of both men and nations. He had set his ultimate hope on the day that Christ would make manifest His New Heavens and Earth. But he was also steadfast in the certainty that a deposit of that future glory would be made in the tired domains of the old heavens and earth. To his dying day he lived in accordance with that notion, planning for the evangelization of the Muslims and Gypsies, undertaking the first complete translation of the Bible into the Turkish language, and refining his vision for a “Pansophic College.”

When he died at the age of seventy-eight, he left behind a glorious legacy, not of this world, that would inspire the likes of Whitefield, Wesley, Zinzendorf, Chalmers, and Kuyper as well as providing a powerful reminder that success in the Kingdom rarely looks like success in the world.

Saturday, March 25

Strategic Ministry Planning

“A church will either multiply or divide.” Thomas Chalmers

“Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“Regardless of how large, your vision is too small.” Thomas Chalmers

“The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction—leaving little room for genuine change.” Richard Weaver

“With visions of redemption I walk against the crowd.” Arthur Quiller-Couch

“Knowledge is knowing; understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it. The three together are what we call repentance.” Tristan Gylberd

“Gargantuanism and the care of souls cannot coexist.” Thomas Chalmers

“Religion hath brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother—there is a danger, lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand into the wilderness: to build a city on a hill, an illumination for all the world.” Cotton Mather

“Now, in our large towns, we have the ministerial service without the pastoral; and we all know what a loose and precarious connection between ministers and people this has given rise to.” Thomas Chalmers

“Mercy has converted more souls than zeal, or eloquence, or learning, or all of them together.” Soren Kierkegaard

Thursday, March 23


The monstrous nineteenth century “nationalistic amalgams” continue to unravel across Europe and Asia as countries like Yugoslavia, the Soviet Russia, and Iraq fall apart at the seams. Now, Catalonia has won the right to call itself a “nation” for the first time in a deal intended to keep Spain together somehow or another.

Amid bitter wrangling, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, reached a deal to satisfy the region’s politicians and placate the fears of those who oppose its bid for more autonomy.

A parliamentary congressional committee voted 22-17 in support of the statute last year. And now, the Spanish Constitution has finally been changed to recognize “Catalonia’s national reality as a nationality” at the start of a document which also grants the region more tax-raising powers.

As you might imagine, joyous celebrations have erupted all over the new/old nation's capital, Barcelona.

Could this be a harbinger of things to come? Could it be the beginning of the end of a host of other artificially and unhistorically cobbled-together hodge-podge states? Is Modernity’s madness finally collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity?

In the Midst of Sorrow

He was the first governor of the state of Virginia and a member of the First Continental Congress. But it was for his extraordinary power as an orator that Patrick Henry is best remembered. His "Give Me Liberty" speech, delivered at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church in the year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, remains one of the most passionate and eloquent enunciations of the American ideal ever delivered. It was a fiery call to arms that caused an immediate and rousing reaction.

What historians in studying the period have generally neglected is the fact that Henry was in the throes of an aching grief at the time he issued that famous clarion call. Less than thirty days prior to the assembly on this day in 1775, Henry’s beloved wife, Sarah, died after a short illness. Henry’s grief was so deep that he confided to his family physician that he was "a distraught old man."

His bereavement was smothering. Indeed, many of his fellow delegates to the Virginia Convention, including President Peyton Randolph, questioned whether he was fit to attend the deliberations of government. No doubt they were all stunned by the power and suasion of his words.

Despite his personal anguish—or perhaps because of it—Patrick Henry stirred himself to sound for the theme of that which is right and good and true.

Standing Up

On this day in 1743 at t the London premiere of Handel's oratorio Messiah, the entire audience at the Covent Garden theater rose to their feet with King George II at the beginning of the "Hallelujah Chorus." Thus began the tradition of always standing during the singing of this glorious chorus.

Tuesday, March 21

Amazing Grace

The bitter old slave-trader John Newton and his crew were caught in a violent storm on the Atlantic Ocean on this day in 1747. Their ship was in a sad state of disrepair and its sails and rigging were worn. Wakened by a crushing wave smashing against the vessel, Newton barely escaped as water filled his cabin. He hurried above where he found that timbers had been ripped away. Men pumped desperately. Clothes and bedding were stuffed into holes and boards nailed over them.

Exhausted after battling for more than an hour, Newton was lashed to the wheel to try to steer the ship. The storm raged on and on. In this desperate moment Newton cried out to the God he had been taught to worship as a child. Eventually, the ship was delivered from distress. And, of course, so was Newton.

Dramatically converted that day, he became a faithful pastor--and in the height of irony, eventually steered one of his young parishoners, William Wilberforce, to the cause of abolitionism.

Reflecting on his hard life--and the remarkable providence of God's saving mercies--he later wrote one of the world's most beloved hymns, Amazing Grace:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.

T'was grace that taught
My heart to fear,
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear,
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

When we've been here ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we’ve first begun.

ESV Bible

I have been using the English Standard Version almost exclusively for the past three years now—for teaching and preaching as well as for personal study and devotions. The more I use it, the more I appreciate it. Besides the extraordinarily clear and accurate text, the helpful cross reference system and the wide range of sizes and bindings make this one of the most usable, accessible, and fruitful Bible products in decades. It is as literal as the NASV, but without the wooden syntax and archaic grammatical constraints. It is as readable as the NIV, but without all of the egregious errors and insipid political correctness.

But, that is not all. The software and online tools provided by the publishers are unmatched. And now, those wise folks at Crossway have added an internet blogsite where issues of serious Bible study, translation, and exposition are discussed.

If you’ve not gotten acquainted yet with the ESV, by all means do so. It may very well be the Bible you’ve been looking for all your life.

Friday, March 17

RU-486 Death Toll

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the world’s leading provider of abortifacient services and procedures, has insisted it will continue to dispense the controversial "morning after" abortion drug, RU-486, despite a recent spate of deaths in women who used the drug after visiting its affiliated clinics. Though the infamous organization said it will immediately adjust the application of the final course of treatments in the procedure, two new deaths "do not offer sufficient warrant" to suspend prescribing the drug--also known as Mifeprex or Mifepristone.

According to U.S. health regulators, the newest victims of Planned Parenthood’s medical machinations bring the RU-486 death toll to seven adult patients since 2001.

Thursday, March 16

Springtime Blessings

Spring has sprung. The trees are budding and the bulbs are beginning to poke up through the ground. It is just about the best time of year—yielding up long-dormant, nearly-forgotten blessings:

1. Coffee on the porch at sunrise.
2. Breaking down March Madness bracketology with my sons.
3. Long runs in the quiet of the dawn and at the dimming of the day.
4. Lententide liturgical Vespers services.
5. Stacks of seed catalogs arriving in the mail.
6. Sugar maples, crab apples, and dogwoods offering hints and glimpses of their coming glory.
7. Saturday afternoon barbecues.
8. Fresh cilantro and basil in salads.
9. Uninterrupted hours of reading in the sunshine.
10. The spring marathon schedule.

For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.

Thursday, March 9

Greenville Seminary Conference

I will be speaking at the Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary spring conference this week. I am thrilled by the opportunity to once again tell the story of Thomas Chalmers and his missional vision--a message that I believe is more relevant today than ever.

For more information about the conference schedule, topics, and a list of speakers visit the seminary website.

Monday, March 6

Random Wonderfulness

Reasons to over-use exclamation points abound:

#1: Den of Iniquity Destroyed. Driving near Vanderbilt University in Nashville this past weekend I noticed that the building Planned Parenthood occupied for years is now being torn down. Good riddance!

#2: Homeschooling Joke: Twenty years ago if you mentioned you were going to home school your child, you would be asked two questions: “The government lets you do that?” and “But, what about socialization?” Now the tide has turned so that if you mention sending your child to public school, you may be asked these two questions instead: “God lets you do that?” and “But, what about socialization?”

#3: I'm Not Alone. Amerigo was voted Nashville's "Best Italian Restaurant" by the readers of the Nashville Scene urban tabloid!

#4: Properly Shelved. I noticed that the big Borders store near the Vandy campus has shelved the new Al Franken political diatribe, Truth, in the Recent Fiction section!

#5: Also Properly Shelved. I also noticed the Left Behind series--and all of its sundry spin-offs--was shelved in the Juvenile/Humor section!

#6: Bradford Pears. OK. So, they only last for a few years and can't handle even the mildest of winds but, man oh man, they sure are beautiful when they start to bloom this time of year!

#7: Irrelevant Oscars. I'd love to be able to say that nobody cared and nobody watched--but, that would be stretching it. Not by much though!

Friday, March 3

Moody Radio and the Creeds

The Moody Radio Network will be featuring a series of programs this next week on the creeds of the church. The programs, hosted by my friend Wayne Shepherd, will examine the history, importance, and current relevance of those great declarations of faith. I will be on the air with Wayne on Wednesday and Thursday discussing the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds--we recorded both of the nine-minute segments last night. Check the Moody Radio website for air times and stations in your listening area--or for podcasts and net streaming of the programs right from your computer.

Interestingly, today is the anniversary of one of the events in history that highlights the vital importance of those creeds--even the nearly forgotten and obscure creeds such as the Chalcedonian.

By the middle of the fifth century, the forces of disintegration had almost destroyed the western half of the Roman Empire. Various Germanic barbarian warlords—from the Vandal, Visigoth, Frankish, and Herulian tribes—had replaced the old imperial power with their own. For several decades they had placed puppet emperors on the throne and had taken control of the once-great military.

The eastern half of the venerable empire was struggling with troubles of its own. A usurper drove the emperor, the young Zeno, from his throne. Needing a strong base of support, this usurper placed a large number of Monophysite heretics in key positions.

Monophysitism had actually begun as a response to another heresy known as Nestorianism. A bishop, Nestorius, had refused to call Mary the "Mother of God" or "Theotokos," because, said he, the child in her womb was thoroughly human. In contradistinction to this, the Monophysites taught that Christ's human nature was dissolved in his divine nature as a drop of honey dissolves in the ocean. Each faction was attempting to preserve a part of the truth about Christ's incarnation—but each had gone to one extreme or another. Eventually the church restored a sense of Biblical balance at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, declaring that Christ was both truly God and truly man—thus denouncing the Monophysite and Nestorian polar opposites.

Instead of resolving the issue though, the Council's ruling only incited further fighting. The Monophysites refused to accept defeat. The imperial usurper ordered the acts of Chalcedon burnt and nearly 500 bishops complied. In Alexandria, the controversy was particularly fierce. Rivals tortured and killed each other. A Monophysite monk, known as Timothy the Cat, had the patriarch of Alexandria butchered three days before Easter and triumphantly seized his place, consigning his corpse to flames.

Thus, when Simplicius became bishop of Rome on this day in 468, he inherited a roiling mess. Immediately, he used his influence to help Emperor Zeno regain his throne and oust the Monophysite bishops. But when Zeno—out of fear of the powerful Monophysite faction—determined to arrange a compromise, Simplicius threatened to topple him once again. Compromise was not possible, he argued. Unless Christ is fully God, he cannot redeem us. Unless he is fully man, he cannot stand in our place.

Eventually the unflinching defense of Simplicius for the principles laid down at the Council of Chalcedon saved the Church from a fatal compromise during one of the most volatile epochs in history. With Athanasius, he stood contra mundum, and as a result, not only preserved Biblical orthodoxy but the vitality and integrity of the church as well.