Thursday, December 29

New Year Celebrations

The celebration of the New Year did not occur on the first day of January until after the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582—and even then only in France, the northern Italian city states, Portugal, and in the Spanish nations of Castile and Aragon.  The new calendar was not accepted until 1600 in Scotland and 1752 in England and America.  

From the earliest days of the Roman imperial calendar the New Year was celebrated on March 25—which is why September, October, November, and December are derived from the Latin words septem (seven), octo (eight), novem (nine), and decem (ten).  

Throughout Christendom, January 1 was instead celebrated as a day of renewal midway through the Yuletide season—it was thus a day for vows, vision, and vocation.  It was on this day that guild members took their annual pledge, that husbands and wives renewed their marriage promises, and that young believers reasserted their resolution to walk in the grace of the Lord’s great Epiphany.  

In Edinburgh beginning in the seventeenth century, revelers would gather at the Tron Church to watch the great clock tower mark the last hours of Christmastide—which was the inspiration behind the much more recent Times Square ceremony in New York.  In Edinburgh, of course, the purpose was not merely to have a grand excuse for a public party, but was a way for the whole covenant community to celebrate the grace of Epiphany newness.

Wednesday, December 28

Thinking About Sanctity of Life Sunday

“The Modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad.  The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.  Thus some scientists care for truth; but their truth is pitiless.  And thus some humanitarians care only for pity; but their pity--I am sorry to say--is often untruthful.” G. K. Chesterton

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter most.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” C.S. Lewis

“Do unto others as if you were the others.”  Leonardo da Vinci


Often called Childermas, this day on the Christian calendar has traditionally been celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  It is a day that solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod the Great following the birth of Christ.

It has always been the focus of the Christian’s commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of human life—thus serving as a prophetic warning against the practitioners of abandonment and infanticide in the age of antiquity, oblacy and pessiary in the medieval epoch, and abortion and euthanasia in these modern times.  Generally set aside as a day of prayer, it culminates with a declaration of the covenant community’s unflinching commitment to the innocents who are unable to protect themselves.

Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children.  Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts.  Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients.  Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures.  Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness.  Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical pessaries--abortifacients that were pushed or pumped directly into the womb through the birth canal.  Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech.  Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous torture--their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies.  Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disemboweling and dismembering them shortly after birth--their collagen was then harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams.

Abortion, infanticide, exposure, and abandonment were so much a part of human societies that they provided the primary literary liet motif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables, and legends.  The founding of Rome was, for instance, presumed to be the happy result of the abandonment of children.  According to the story, a vestal virgin who had been raped bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus.  The harsh Etruscan Amulius ordered them exposed on the Tiber River.  Left in a basket which floated ashore, they were found by a she wolf and suckled by her.  Romulus and Remus would later establish the city of Rome on the seven hills near the place of their rescue.  Likewise, the stories of Oedipus, Jupiter, Poseidon, and Hephaistos, were are victims of failed infanticides.

Because they had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as instinctive as the autumn harvest for them to summarily sabotage their own heritage.  They saw nothing particularly cruel about despoiling the fruit of their wombs.  It was woven into the very fabric of their culture.  They believed that it was completely justifiable.  They believed that it was just and good and right.

The Gospel therefore came into the world as a stern rebuke. God, who is the giver of life (Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), and the defender of life (Psalm 27:1), not only sent us the message of life (Acts 5:20) and the words of life (John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (John 8:12).  He sent us His only begotten Son—the life of the world (John 6:51)--to break the bonds of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).  For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Sunday, December 25

The Spirit of the Age and Christmas

This day,
In sadness borne,
We must confess:
The Spirit of the Age
Has crushed
The infant in the cradle.

And yet:
O glorious yet,
One day, in gladness shown,
We must profess:
The infant from the manger
Has crushed
The Spirit of the Age.

--Tristan Gylberd

Friday, December 23

The Conversion of the World

Christians have celebrated the incarnation and nativity of the Lord Jesus on December 25 since at least the early part of the third century—just a few generations removed the days of the Apostles.  By 336, when the Philocalian Calendar—one of the earliest documents of the Patriarchal church—was first utilized, Christmas Day was already a venerable and tenured tradition.  Though there is no historical evidence that Christ was actually born on that day—indeed, whatever evidence there is points to altogether different occasions—the conversion of the old Pagan tribes of Europe left a gaping void where the ancient winter cult festivals were once held.  It was both culturally convenient and evangelically expedient to exchange the one for the other.  And so joy replaced desperation.  Celebration replaced propitiation.  Christmas Feasts replaced new Moon sacrifices.  Christ replaced Baal, Molech, Apollo, and Thor.  The Gospel conversion brought transformation to cultures and kingdoms as well as hearts and souls.  His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.  Glad tidings of great joy, indeed.

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

I love Advent.  I love Christmas.  I love Epiphany.  I love all the holiday holy days.  And I love everything that goes with them.  I love mistletoe, plum pudding, Stir-Up-Sunday, holly and ivy, Advent wreaths, nativity scenes, caroling, sleigh rides, Christmas trees, jingle bells, pecan pie, Martinmas, Little Pascha, wassailing, Twelfth Night, reindeer sweaters, fruit cake, twinkling lights, egg nog, gift giving, card exchanging, red plaid vests, Lessons in Carols, mantle decorations, Boxing Day, and Saint Nick.  I love all the beautiful sights, the wonderful sounds, the cherished recollections, the delectable tastes, the pungent aromas, the brisk winds, the early nightfalls, the sentimental old movies, the Chesterton poems, the big family reunions, the snug evensongs, and the chestnuts roasting on open fires.  I love the salutations of “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Noel,” “Joy to the World,” and even the occasional, odd “Season’s Greetings.”

I love it all—well, almost all.  I confess I’m not a shopper and I just about never go to malls, so I have a hard time reconciling the more commercial aspects of the season with my love of Yuletide.  So, no Black Friday, Blue Light special, Groupon, or Sweet Jack sales for me.  But, I love pretty much all the rest of it.

The fact that I love Christmas hardly makes me unique, of course.  Christmas is nearly everyone’s favorite time of year because it is adorned with so many special celebrations, happy memories, delightful stories, wonderful songs, and rich recipes.  It is a season of selfless giving, expressive love, and poetic joy.  It is a time for family togetherness, for snuggling up to the hearthside, for recalling legends and fables, and for celebrating the things that matter most. 

Of course, while many of the richest and most satisfying aspects of the season have passed into common practice, their meaning and significance have often been shrouded in forgetfulness, neglect, ignorance, superstition, or misunderstanding.  Alas, this has meant that their greatest pungency, power, and purpose has been lost to us.  But, this too has led to something I love: explaining all the whys and wherefores of our most cherished holiday traditions, observances, and rituals to others.  I love the surprise, delight, and insight that always comes with teaching and learning—especially at Christmastime.  I love the fact that at Christmas, the wonder and the promise of the Gospel is so easy to talk about, so easy to express, so delightful to exclaim.

So, from all of us here in beautiful Franklin, “Gloria in excelsis deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntaries. Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivities." Blessed Yuletide!

Thursday, December 22

Chesterton and Christmas

Gilbert Keith Chesterton was surely among the brightest minds of the twentieth century—a prolific journalist, best-selling novelist, insightful poet, popular debater, astute literary critic, grassroots reformer, and profound humorist.  Recognized by friend and foe alike as one of the most perspicacious, epigrammatic, and jocose prose stylists in the entire literary canon, he is today the most quoted writer in the English language besides William Shakespeare. 

His remarkable output of books—more than a hundred published in his lifetime and half again that many afterward—covered an astonishing array of subjects from economics, art, history, biography, and social criticism to poetry, detective stories, philosophy, travel, and religion.  His most amazing feat was not merely his vast output or wide range but the consistency and clarity of his thought, his uncanny ability to tie everything together.  In the heart of nearly every paragraph he wrote was a jaw-dropping aphorism or a mind-boggling paradox that left readers shaking their heads in bemusement and wonder.

But Chesterton was not only a prodigious creator of characters; he was also a prodigious character in his own right.  At over six feet and three hundred pounds his romantically rumpled appearance—often enhanced with the flourish of a cape and a swordstick—made him appear as nearly enigmatic, anachronistic, and convivial as he actually was.  Perhaps that was a part of the reason why he was one of the most beloved men of his time—even his ideological opponents regarded him with great affection.  His humility, his wonder at existence, his graciousness and his sheer sense of joy set him apart not only from most of the artists and celebrities during the first half of the twentieth century, but from most anyone and everyone.

He was amazingly prescient—predicting such things as the mindless faddism of pop culture, the rampant materialism permeating society, the moral relativism subsuming age-old ethical standards, disdain of religion, the unfettered censorship by the press (as opposed to censorship of the press), the grotesque uglification of the arts, and the rise of the twin evils of monolithic business and messianic government.  It seems that his words ring truer today than when they were first written nearly a century ago.

But perhaps the most remarkable thing about Chesterton was not his prodigious literary output, his enormous popularity, or his cultural sagacity.  Instead, it was his enormous capacity to love—to love people, to love the world around him, and to love life.  His all-encompassing love was especially evident at Christmastime.

Maisie Ward, Chesterton’s authoritative biographer and friend asserted, “Some men, it may be, are best moved to reform by hate, but Chesterton was best moved by love and nowhere does that love shine more clearly than in all he wrote about Christmas.”  Indeed, he wrote a great deal about Christmas throughout his life—and as a result his love shines abroad even now, nearly three-quarters of a century after his death. 

He wrote scintillating Christmas essays, poignant Christmas verse, and adventurous Christmas stories.  He wrote Christmas reviews, editorials, satires, and expositions.  He wrote of Christmas recipes and Christmas presents and Christmas sermons.  They all bespeak the stalwart faith, the abiding hope, and the infectious joy he drew from the celebration of Christ’s incarnation.

Wednesday, December 21

St. Thomas’ Day

Though he was doubter at first, the Apostle Thomas (c. 10-60) came to believe that Christ was not only risen from the dead, but proclaimed Him “my Lord and my God.”  

His anticipation of the full revelation of the Kingdom has been celebrated on December 21 since at least the fifth century.  Traditionally this has been a day for well-wishing—friends, neighbors, and loved ones going out of their way to remember other and to bless one another.  Though Christmas cards were a Victorian innovation, they were originally conceived as a kind of St. Thomas’ Day gesture of kindness, encouragement, and graciousness.

Sunday, December 18

Comfort, Comfort

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning 'neath their sorrow's load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald's voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.

Johann G. Olearius, 1671; trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863

Schaeffer and Worldview

On this day in 1979, Francis Schaeffer gave an historic speech which would form the basis of  his landmark book A Christian Manifesto.  He asserted that "the basic problem with Christians in this country" over the last two generations or more has been that "they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”  The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to the dire dilemmas of our day: “They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion.  But they have not seen this as a totality--each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.”

He said that part of the reason for this was: “They failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview--that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think a view the world and life as a whole.”

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy.  We think of intellectual niggling.  We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes.  It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress.  It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent.  It is instead as down to earth as tilling the soil for a bed of zinnias.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung.  It literally means a life perspective or a way of seeing.  It is simply the way we look at the world.

You have a worldview.  I have a worldview.  Everyone does.  It is our perspective.  It is our frame of reference.  It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us.  It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock said: “Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality.”

This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet.  It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us.  It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think.  Our mind is not as Pelagius, Locke, Voltaire, or Rousseau would have had us suppose—a tabla rasa, a blank and impartial slate.  None of us are completely open-minded or genuinely objective.  “When we think,” said economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher, “we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think.”  These more or less fixed notions make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions--in other words, our worldview.

Thus, a worldview is simply a way of viewing the world.  Nothing could be simpler.  But by raising the issue when he did and how he did, Francis Schaeffer altogether altered the terms of the theological debate in America and ushered in a new wave of reform.

Wednesday, December 14

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Every day, from December 25 to January 6, has traditionally been a part of the Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion--in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion--each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany was to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many cultures, gift giving is not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, spread out through the entire season.

In that delightful old folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, each of the gifts represent some aspect of the blessing of Christ’s appearing. 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 Christian community and accountability--but perhaps not as specifically as you may have been led to believe. Though theories vary on the origin of the song (it first appears sometime during the advent of Protestantism in Tudor England) it is likely an urban legend that it was intended to be a secret catechism song during those difficult times of persecution.

That rather fanciful interpretation of the song has attached very specific and very dubious meanings to the symbols: the partridge in a pear tree, for instance, is taken to be Christ, Himself. It is supposed that in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge feigning injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings--an expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so." The two turtledoves are taken to represent the Old and New Testaments. The three French Hens supposedly symbolize faith, hope, and love. The four calling birds are said to portray either the four Gospels or the four evangelists. The five golden rings are supposed to be the first five books of the Old Testament the "Pentateuch." The six geese a-laying are said to be the six days of creation while the seven swans a-swimming are taken to be the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking are supposed to be the eight beatitudes while the nine ladies dancing supposedly represent the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The ten lords a-leaping are naturally taken to mean the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping are supposed to be the eleven faithful apostles and the twelve drummers drumming are either the tribes of Israel, the elders of Revelation, or the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

Most of these well-intended interpretations are likely just wishful thinking. For one thing, all of the first seven gifts actually refer to birds of varying types. The fourth day's gift, for instance, is four "colly birds," not four "calling birds" (the word "colly" literally means "black as coal," and thus "colly birds" would be blackbirds). The "five golden rings" on the fifth day refers not to five pieces of jewelry, but to five ring-necked birds (such as pheasants).

But, even though symbolic maximalism likely goes too far, it is equally excessive to assume that the song is "strictly secular," as one debunking web site dubbed it. Indeed, secularism in sixteenth century England was about as credible then as an Elvis sighting is today. The answer to overly-anxious allegorical apocryphalism is not the equal and opposite error of overly-anxious rational reductionism. Symbols don't have to mean everything in order to mean something--nor do they have to mean nothing.

Very likely, this delightful folk song was just intended to generally and joyously portray throughout the Yuletide season the abundant Christian life, the riches of the Church's covenantal inheritance, and the Gospel's ultimate promise of heaven. Sing, therefore, with new gusto and zeal. For, "every good and perfect gift comes from above." Even partridges, pear trees, and leaping lords!

Wednesday, December 7

Pearl's Infamy

 On this day in 1941, "a day that will live in infamy," a surprise attack by Japanese forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thrust the United States into the conflagration of the Second World War.  

At anchor in the harbor was nearly the entire United States Pacific fleet.  In the attack that lasted for just over one hour, several ships were sunk, two hundred airplanes were destroyed on the ground, and almost 3,000 people lost their lives.  

Seventy years later, Americans still remember--with solemn resolve, gratitude, and hope.

Wednesday, November 30

St. Andrew's Day

Numbered among the Apostles, the brother of Simon Peter eventually became the revered patron of both Greece and Scotland where his feast day, November 30, remains a kind of national holiday.

Andrew (c. 10-60) may well have been, as tradition asserts, the founder of the church at the site of Constantinople, but he was most assuredly the great reconciler, as Scripture asserts.  As a result, his memory is celebrated by a day of forgiveness.  Services of reconciliation are often followed by a great feast of roasted or smoked beef, the telling of heroic tales, the reciting epic poetry, and the singing of great ballads.  King David of Scotland, son of Malcolm Canmore and Queen. Margaret, codified the day a national holiday in 1125—and so it has been ever since.

Monday, November 28

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or as it were, fondle them—peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are.  Let them be your friends; let them be your acquaintances." Winston S. Churchill 

Wednesday, November 23

The First Proclamation

The Mayflower was not the first ship of colonists to arrive in the New World.  It was not even the first in the English domains.  Yet it retains a place of first importance in the lore and legend of this land.  

In this romantic verse by Margaret Preston, we catch a glimpse of the faith, resolve, and bold sense of providence that the passengers of that little ship brought with them from across the Atlantic—and that they then endowed upon all those who would follow them:

"Ho, Rose! "quoth the stout Miles Standish,
            As he stood on the Mayflower's deck,
And gazed on the sandy coast-line
            That loomed as a misty speck.

On the edge of the distant offing;
            See!  yonder we have in view
Bartholomew Gosnold's headlands.'
            'Twas in sixteen hundred and two

"That the Concord of Dartmouth anchored
            Just there where the beach is broad,
And the merry old captain named it
            (Half swamped by the fish)—Cape Cod.

"And so as his mighty 'headlands'
            are scarcely a league away,
What say you to landing, sweetheart,
            And having a washing-day?"

"Dear heart"—and the sweet Rose Standish
            Looked up with a tear in her eye;
She was back in the flag-stoned kitchen
            Where she watched, in the days gone by:

Her mother among her maidens
            (She should watch them no more, alas!),
And saw as they stretched the linen
            To bleach on the Suffolk grass.

In a moment her brow was cloudless,
            As she leaned on the vessel's rail,
And thought of the sea-stained garments,
            Of coif and farthingale;

And the doublets of fine Welsh flannel,
            The tuckers and homespun gowns,
And the piles of the hose knitted
            From the wool of the Devon downs.

So the matrons aboard the Mayflower
            Made ready with eager hand
To drop from the deck their baskets
            As soon as the prow touched land.

And there did the Pilgrim Mothers,
            "On a Monday," the record says,
Ordain for their new-found England
            The first of her washing-days.

And there did the Pilgrim Fathers,
            With matchlock and axe well slung,
Keep guard o'er the smoking kettles
            That propt on the crotches hung.

For the trail of the startle savage
            Was over the marshy grass,
And the glint of his eyes kept peering
            Through cedar and sassafras.

And the children were mad with pleasure
            As they gathered the twigs in sheaves,
And piled on the fire the fagots,
            And heaped up the autumn leaves.

"Do the thing that is next," saith the proverb,
            And a nobler shall yet succeed:
'Tis the motive exalts the action;
            'Tis the doing, and not the deed;

For the earliest act of the heroes
            Whose fame has a world-wide sway
Was--to fashion a crane for a kettle,
            And order a washing-day!

Tuesday, November 22

A Literary Life

Long before the bane of cable television and the internet invaded our every waking moment C.S. Lewis commented that while most people in modern industrial cultures are at least marginally able to read, they just don't.  In his wise and wonderful book An Experiment in Criticism he said, “The majority, though they are sometimes frequent readers, do not set much store by reading.  They turn to it as a last resource.  They abandon it with alacrity as soon as any alternative pastime turns up.  It is kept for railway journeys, illnesses, odd moments of enforced solitude, or for the process called reading oneself to sleep.  They sometimes combine it with desultory conversation; often, with listening to the radio.  But literary people are always looking for leisure and silence in which to read and do so with their whole attention.  When they are denied such attentive and undisturbed reading even for a few days they feel impoverished.”

Lewis went further admitting that there is a profound puzzlement on the part of the mass of the citizenry over the tastes and habits of the literate.  “It is pretty clear that the majority,” he wrote, “if they spoke without passion and were fully articulate, would not accuse us of liking the wrong books, but of making such a fuss about any books at all.  We treat as a main ingredient in our well-being something which to them is marginal.  Hence to say simply that they like one thing and we another is to leave out nearly the whole of the facts.”

C.S. Lewis was the happy heir of a great tradition of books and the literary life.  His brilliant writing—in his novels like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters, and Perelandra, as well as in his nonfiction like The Four Loves, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, and A Grief Observed—evidence voracious reading.  He was born in 1898 and died on this day in 1963, just seven days shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  In the years in-between he became renowned as a popular best-selling author, a brilliant English literary scholar and stylist, and one of the foremost apologists for the Christian faith.  Recalling his formative childhood years, he wrote, “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles.  Also, of endless books.”

Throughout his life, Lewis celebrated everything that is good and right and true about the literary life.  The result was that he was larger than life in virtually every respect.  Though he knew that this was little more than a peculiarity in the eyes of most, he did not chafe against it.  Instead, he fully embraced it.  He explained, “Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.  We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend.  He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world.  In it, we should be suffocated.  The man who is contented to be only himself, is in a prison.  My own eyes are not enough for me.  I will see through those of others.”  This is because, he argued, “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

Saturday, November 19

The Battle of Lutzen

In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Lutzen—one of the most crucial engagements in the bloody Thirty Years War—it was announced to the world that King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden had died.  During the course of the battle on this day in 1632, the king had been surrounded by enemy soldiers. Before taking his life, they demanded his name. Gustavus replied, "I am the King of Sweden! And this day I seal with my blood the liberties and religion of the German nation."

Throughout the horrific conflict, during which Gustavus defended the cause of the Protestants against Emperor Ferdinand II, a staunch Roman Catholic, the people of Europe suffered terribly.  Out of a German population of sixteen million people, only about four million survived. The town of Augsburg had a population of 80,000 people at the beginning of the conflict but only l8,000 survived to the end. Indeed, before the awful war had concluded an estimated 30,000 villages were destroyed. It was one of the saddest chapters in the long history of man—and the loss of Gustavus was a bitter loss for all the advocates of freedom.

Friday, November 11

Martin Bucer

Martin Bucer was born on this day, Martinmas, in 1491 in the Alsace-Lorraine borderland between France and Germany.  He would eventually become one of the most influential men in the Great Reformation.

He served as a mediator between Luther, Zwingli, and Melancthon at the Marburg Colloquy.  He was a theological sounding board for Kopfel, Zell, and Cop at Heidelberg.  He served as a mentor to Calvin, Beza, and Knox at Strasburg and Geneva.  And he helped Cranmer compile the first Anglican Book of Common Prayer in Canterbury.

No other Reformer had such an impact on so many spheres, men, or nations.

According to historian Philip Schaff, “Martin Bucer is simultaneously the most neglected and the most influential of all the first generation Reformers.  His impact was felt in virtually every sphere and every arena of the age.”

The Prevailing Power of Prayer

"Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work." Oswald Chambers

“Prayer can never be in excess.” C.H. Spurgeon

"Prayer is not learned in a classroom but in the closet."  E.M. Bounds

"There is no power like that of prevailing prayer, of Abraham pleading for Sodom, Jacob wrestling in the stillness of the night, Moses standing in the breach, Hannah intoxicated with sorrow, David heartbroken with remorse and grief, Jesus in sweat of blood. Such prayer prevails.  It turns ordinary mortals into men of power.  It brings power.  It brings fire.  It brings rain.  It brings life.  It brings God."  Samuel Chadwick

"We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power." J. Hudson Taylor

"It is in the field of prayer that life's critical battles are lost or won.”  J.H. Jowett

"Prayer is the first thing, the second thing, the third thing necessary to a minister. Pray, then my dear brother; pray, pray, pray." Edward Payson

"Let this be your chief object in prayer, to realize the presence of your heavenly Father." Andrew Murray

"Praying men are the vice-regents of God; they do His work and carry out His plans." E.M. Bounds

"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.” Homer W. Hodge

"No learning can make up for the failure to pray. No earnestness, no diligence, no study, no gifts will supply its lack." E.M. Bounds

"Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers." J. Sidlow Baxter

"Satan does not care how many people read about prayer if only he can keep them from praying.” Paul Billheimer

"0h brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friends than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper--and sleep too--than not pray. And we must not talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest. The Lord is near. He comes softly while the virgins slumber." Andrew Bonar

"Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A man is powerful on his knees." Corrie ten Boom

"Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still." E.M. Bounds

"Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees." William Cowper

"You may as soon find a living man that does not breath, as a living Christian that does not pray." Matthew Henry

"Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer." John Bunyan

"He who has learned to pray has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life." William Law

"Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness." Martin Luther

“The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying.  He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray.” Samuel Chadwick

 “I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.”  C.H. Spurgeon

 “The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”  Andrew Murray

 “To make intercession for men is the most powerful and practical way in which we can express our love for them." John Calvin

“Prayer is the root, the fountain, the mother of a thousand blessings." John Chrysostom

Prayer should not be regarded "as a duty which must be performed, but rather as a privilege to be enjoyed, a rare delight that is always revealing some new beauty." E.M. Bounds

"Our praying must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own." John Calvin

"We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties." Oswald Chambers

"Prayer breaks all bars, dissolves all chains, opens all prisons, and widens all straits by which God's saints have been held." E.M. Bounds

"Four things let us ever keep in mind: God hears prayer, God heeds prayer, God answers prayer, and God delivers by prayer." E.M. Bounds

"Prayer is the acid test of devotion."  Samuel Chadwick

"As is the business of tailors to make clothes and cobblers to make shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray." Martin Luther

"True prayer is measured by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length." C.H. Spurgeon

“What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer" E.M. Bounds

"If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ." C.H. Spurgeon

"The word of God is the food by which prayer is nourished and made strong." E.M. Bounds 


Martin of Tours was a faithful pastor in Gaul who was martyred on this day in 397.  Also on this day in 655, Martin of Umbria was martyred during the great Monothelite controversy.  Both men demonstrated perseverance in the face of political persecution, personal humiliation, torture, starvation, and eventually, death, made them models of faith during the early medieval period. 

According to legend, Martin of Tours once cut his own coat in half to share it with a beggar.  Part of the cloak was saved and considered a holy relic in France, with monarchs going so far as to carry it into battle.  The cloak was kept in a small cask called the “chapelle,” from the French word “chape,” meaning “cape,” and its overseer was the “chapelain,” from which, of course, we get our words “chapel” and “chaplain.” 

The spell of warmer weather often falling around this time is called Saint Martin's Summer, especially in England. During his final imprisonment, Martin of Umbria diligently kept the fasts of the Little Pascha, as Advent was then called, though he was already dying of hunger. 

Traditionally, Christians have recalled the faithfulness of both saints on November 11 by enjoying the last great feast of the season—in England a sumptuous dinner of beef is consumed while in Germany a grand banquet featuring roast goose is served.  The new wine is uncasked.  Good children receive gifts of fruit and nuts—while naughty children receive little more than sticks, stones, and ashes.

Thursday, November 10

A Most Zealous and Efficient Evangelist

According to tradition, on this day in the year 432, a young British monk—formerly held captive as a slave by the very people he now sought to serve—arrived in Ireland to begin his ministry.

Patrick was said to have been born at one of the little Christian towns near present day Glasglow—either of Bonavern or Belhaven. Although his mother taught him the Christian faith, he preferred the passing pleasures of sin. One day while playing by the sea, Irish pirates captured Patrick and sold him into slavery on a farm in Ireland. Alone in the fields, caring for sheep, Patrick began to remember the Word of God his mother had taught him. Regretting his past life of selfish pleasure-seeking, he turned to Christ as his Savior.

Writing of his conversion, Patrick later wrote, I was sixteen years old and knew not the true God and was carried away captive; but in that strange land the Lord opened my unbelieving eyes, and although late I called my sins to mind, and was converted with my whole heart to the Lord my God, who regarded my low estate, had pity on my youth and ignorance, and consoled me as a father consoles his children. Every day I used to look after sheep and I used to pray often during the day, the love of God and fear of him increased more and more in me and my faith began to grow and my spirit stirred up, so that in one day I would pray as many as a hundred times and nearly as many at night. Even when I was staying out in the woods or on the mountain, I used to rise before dawn for prayer, in snow and frost and rain, and I felt no ill effect and there was no slackness in me. As I now realize, it was because the Spirit was glowing in me.”

Eventually rescued through a remarkable turn of events, Patrick returned to his family in Britain.  But his heart increasingly longed to return to his Irish captors and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.  He sought theological training on the continent and gained a warrant to evangelize his former captors in Ireland.

When he finally did return, Patrick preached to the pagan tribes in the Irish language he had learned as a slave. Many accepted Christ, and soon heathen songs were replaced with hymns praising Jesus Christ as Lord. Patrick once wrote that God's grace had so blessed his efforts that thousands were "born again to God" through his ministry. Killen, a prominent historian of Ireland wrote, "There can be no reasonable doubt that Patrick preached the Gospel, that he was a most zealous and efficient evangelist, and that he is entitled to be called the Apostle of Ireland."

Patrick ministered to the Irish more than 50 years until he died in 493. Tradition asserts that he reached and baptized in excess of a hundred thousand people.

Tuesday, November 1

All Saint’s Day

In the earliest years of the church, so many martyrs died for their faith, Christians set aside special days to honor them.  For example, in 607 Emperor Phocas presented the beautiful Roman Pantheon to the church. Boniface IV, the Bishop of Rome, quickly removed the statues of Jupiter and the other pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to the memory of all the martyrs who had suffered during the Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ--that great cloud of witnesses to the Christian faith.  Originally celebrated on May 1, a festival in commemoration of those faithful saints was eventually moved to November 1 by Pope Gregory IV.  Ever since this day has been set aside as a time of remembrance of all those who have suffered persecution for their faith.  And, given the fact that more Christians have been martyred in the last century than in all the other centuries combined, this is a particularly relevant remembrance.

Monday, October 31

Hallowmas or Halloween

Christians have celebrated All-Hallows-Eve or Hallowmas since about the 8th century as a night of prayerful preparation before All Saints Day.  But, the pagan associations of Halloween with the day are actually much older—and perhaps more deeply entrenched.
Many of the ancient peoples of Europe marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter by celebrating a holiday in late autumn. The most important of these holidays to influence later customs was Samhain, observed by the ancient Celts. Samhain marked the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  According to their tradition, the spirits of those who had died in the preceding year roamed the earth on Samhain evening. The Celts sought to ward off these spirits with offerings of food and drink. They also built bonfires at sacred hilltop sites and performed rituals, often involving human and animal sacrifices, to honor Druid deities.

When the Celts were eventually absorbed into the Roman empire, many of their traditions were adapted by the conquerors as a part of their own celebrations. In Britain, Romans blended local Samhain customs with their own pagan harvest festival honoring Pomona, goddess of fruit trees—from which the game of bobbing for apples was derived. In many places such as Scotland and Ireland, Samhain was abandoned only when the local people converted to Christianity during early Medievalism. But even then, pagan folk observances were linked to a number of Christian holidays.

Thus, many of the old Samhain traditions thought to be incompatible with Christianity often became linked with Christian folk beliefs about evil spirits in the celebration of Halloween. Although such superstitions varied a great deal from place to place, many of the supernatural beings now associated with the holiday became fixed in the popular imagination during the Renaissance. In British folklore, small magical beings known as fairies became associated with Halloween mischief. The jack-o’-lantern, originally carved from a large turnip rather than a pumpkin, originated in Medieval Scotland.

As belief in many of the old superstitions waned during the late 19th century, Halloween was increasingly regarded as a children’s holiday. Beginning in the 20th century, Halloween mischief gradually transformed into the modern ritual of trick-or-treating. Eventually, Halloween treats were plentiful while tricks became rare.

Alas, the idea of the day being a prayerful preparation for All Saints Day is even more rare.

Sunday, October 30

Luther's Gospel Cry

From depths of woe I raise to Thee

The voice of lamentation;

Lord, turn a gracious ear to me

And hear my supplication;

If Thou iniquities dost mark,

Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,

O who shall stand before Thee?

To wash away the crimson stain,

Grace, grace alone availeth;

Our works, alas! are all in vain;

In much the best life faileth:

No man can glory in Thy sight,

All must alike confess Thy might,

And live alone by mercy.

Therefore my trust is in the Lord,

And not in mine own merit;

On Him my soul shall rest, His Word

Upholds my fainting spirit:

His promised mercy is my fort,

My comfort, and my sweet support;

I wait for it with patience.

What though I wait the livelong night,

And till the dawn appeareth,

My heart still trusteth in His might;

It doubteth not nor feareth:

Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,

Ye of the Spirit born indeed;

And wait till God appeareth.

Though great our sins and sore our woes,

His grace much more aboundeth;

His helping love no limit knows,

Our utmost need it soundeth.

Our Shepherd good and true is He,

Who will at last His Israel free.
From all their sin and sorrow.