Monday, January 31

Alice Meynell's "In February"

Rich meanings of the prophet-Spring adorn,

Unseen, this colorless sky of folded showers,

And folded winds; no blossom in the bowers;

A poet's face asleep in this grey morn.

Now in the midst of the old world forlorn

A mystic child is set in these still hours.

I keep this time, even before the flowers,

Sacred to all the young and the unborn.

W.C. Bryant's "A Winter Piece"

Come when the rains

Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,

While the slant sun of February pours

Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!

The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps

And the broad arching portals of the grove

Welcome thy entering.

Sunday, January 30

Schaeffer at 99

Variously called the "Guru of the Fundamentalists," "Missionary to the Intellectuals," and "Godfather of Evangelicalism," Francis A. Schaeffer was undoubtedly one of the most influential thinkers, theologians, authors, and apologists of the past generation. His books, tapes, and films gave new credibility to Evangelicals interested in the arts, culture, politics, and society.

He was born 99 years ago on this day in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Upon graduation from Hampden-Sydney College he studied at Westminster Theological Seminary under Cornelius Van Til and J. Gresham Machen and at Faith Theological Seminary under Allan MacRae.

After serving for a short time in Presbyterian congregations in the United States, he moved to Switzerland in 1948 to begin a unique missionary outreach—to whoever God would send to his door. Over the years literally thousands of students, skeptics, and searchers found their way to the door of the small mountain chalet that he shared with his wife and four children. Calling his work L'Abri, the French word for “shelter,” he set up a study center and simply attempted to provide “honest answers to honest questions.”

Asserting the Lordship of Christ over the totality of life, he wrote a series of intellectually stimulating books documenting the drift of Western art, music, ideas, and law from their Christian moorings. Though he had a wide following among academically minded Evangelicals beginning in the mid-sixties, it was not until the release of his book and film series How Should We Then Live? that he gained national and international notoriety. He followed that with another book and film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? which brought new prominence to the struggle against abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. But it was his book, A Christian Manifesto, that catalyzed the burgeoning Evangelical consensus in the culture.

Despite a difficult and protracted battle against cancer, over the last five years of his life, he gave the lion's share of his time, energies, and efforts to promoting the authority of Christ over every aspect of life and society. In both word and deed, Schaeffer confirmed the Gospel's message of light and life.

When I First Met Schaeffer

I remember only too well the first time I met Francis Schaeffer.

I was puttering around in one of my favorite used bookstores--on Locust Street, just a couple of blocks from the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis. The cathedral's magnificent altarpiece and Caen-carved reredos--soaring nearly forty feet above the choir and stretching across the entire breadth of the nave--draws me like a magnet whenever I am in the city. The matching narthex and bell tower have always inspired me--a vivid reminder to me of the remarkable flowering of creativity and beauty that the Gospel has always provoked through the ages.

Just out of sight of the great Easter pinnacle there was a little row of quirky stores and businesses. There were a couple of musty antique dealers, a disreputable-looking chili restaurant, a jaunty coffee shop, a bizarre boutique specializing in platform shoes from the seventies, and of course, the bookstore--stocking a rather eccentric jumble of old magazines, cheap paperbacks, and fine first editions arranged in no apparent order.

I had just discovered a good hardback copy of Scott's Ivanhoe and a wonderful turn-of-the-century pocket edition of Ruskin's Seven Lamps of Architecture--both for less than the cost of a new paperback copy--when I rounded a corner and bumped into Dr. Schaeffer. Literally.

I had been reading his books since the late sixties and looked to him as my spiritual and intellectual mentor. Not only did he express his orthodox Reformed faith in a clear and thoughtful fashion, his appreciation for the great heritage of Christendom's art, music, and ideas and his commitment to practical justice and true spirituality made him beacon light of hope to me. In 1948, he had gone to live in the Swiss Alps just below Villars. There in a little mountain chalet, he established a unique missionary outreach to whoever might find their way to his door.

Over the years, literally thousands of students, skeptics, and searchers found their way to that door. He named the ministry L'Abri, a French word meaning “shelter,” an apt description for the function it served to the rootless generation of the Cold War era. It had always seemed to me that L'Abri was precisely the kind of witness that the church at the end of the twentieth century desperately needed.

I'd like to say that at that moment, as I stood face to face with my hero, I was able to articulate my appreciation for all that he had done for my faith and my walk with Christ. I'd like to say that I was able to express my gratitude and then perhaps strike up a stimulating conversation about, say, epistemological self-consciousness or contemporary latitudinarianism. I'd like to say that as the opportunity that providence had afforded dawned on me I was able to think of all the questions that I'd always wanted answered. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

Instead, the first thought that sprang into my mind was: "Oh my, he's short!"

My second thought was: "What a haircut!"

My third thought was: "And what's the deal with the knickers?"

In shock, I realized that I couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to say. I had fallen epistemologically unconscious.

Evidently, Dr. Schaeffer could read the awkward consternation in my eyes. He just chuckled, introduced himself to me, and struck up a conversation. Amidst my embarrassed bumfuddlement he was cheerfully gracious and kind. He commended me on my selections and then showed me a couple of other books he thought I might like--a fine paperback copy of Van Til's The Calvinistic Concept of Culture and a rare edition of Schaff's The Principle of Protestantism.

Here was one of the brightest minds of our generation giving of his time and attentions to a gawky young Christian who couldn't even string together a coherent sentence. I later discovered that this was typical of him. Though he was often passionate, stubborn, and irascible, his life was suffused with a clear sense of calling--a calling to serve others. He demonstrated that calling on a daily basis--not just through heroic feats of sacrifice, but through the quiet virtue of ordinary kindness. He believed that the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was best portrayed in the beauty of caring human relationships. And so he listened. He cared. He gave. He put into motion Christ's tender mercies through the simplest acts of humble service.

I came away from that first brief encounter with Dr. Schaeffer with an entirely new understanding of Biblical mercy. With a servant's heart, he treated me as if I mattered. He treated me the way we are all to treat one another.

Tuesday, January 25

Selkirk grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
Robert Burns

Burns Night

The birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) has become an occasion for Scotsmen, their descendents, and their romantic wannabes, to gather together wherever they may be to the lilt of bagpipers and the strains of Burns’ poetry. Celebrants traditionally enter the rooms with the shout, “Hail Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-Race.” While the drinking of Scotch (and the requisite carousing that often attends it) typically marks such festivities, the traditional celebration is a grand dinner. The bill of faire generally includes roast lamb, haggis (a Scots sausage of mutton, offal, and grain), boiled potatoes, and shortbread for dessert.

Saturday, January 22

38 Years of Roe

In perhaps its most divisive and controversial decision since Dred Scott, the Supreme Court overturned the infanticide and homicide laws in abortion cases in all fifty states by legalizing child-killing procedures from the moment of conception until just before the moment of birth. Delivered on January 22, 1973 the Roe v. Wade decision sent shock waves throughout the nation--the effects of which are still felt. In a remarkably argued majority opinion, Associate Justice Blackmun introduced several creative constitutional innovations--including a heretofore unrecognized “right to privacy.” Like the infamous Dred Scott slavery decision before it, this case actually only exacerbated the debate the court set out to resolve.

Interestingly, in 1996 Norma McCorvey, the woman named as “Jane Roe” in the case, asked the Supreme Court to reverse their ruling in light of the fact that the case was based on fraudulent evidence. The court declined.

38 years, 52 million lives, and culture in tatters: this is the sad legacy of Roe v. Wade.

Friday, January 21

Dr. Sproul's Must-Read Book

In the two decades since this landmark book was first published, four different presidents have occupied the White House, seven justices have come and gone on the Supreme Court, and eleven sessions of Congress have held sway in the Capitol.

These federal magistrates have faced economic booms and busts. They have weathered terror attacks and foreign wars. They have witnessed the collapse of the Soviet empire and the rise of the al Qaeda menace. They have wrangled over corporate bailouts and health-care reforms. They have endured Tea Party protests, campaign scandals, personal embarrassments, and policy failures. They have been plagued on every side by mounting demands, frustrated expectations, declining resources, and diminished prestige.

Through it all, the divisiveness of the abortion issue has remained constant. The many and varied political turns of events during the past twenty years have done nothing to ameliorate it—much less, to resolve it. If anything, the divide over abortion has become more pronounced, more acrimonious, and more entrenched. While political gridlock on nearly any and every other issue ultimately has been overcome, no rapprochement on the issue of abortion is anywhere in sight.

Of course, matters have not exactly been helped by the fact that the politically protected international abortion business has grown into a multibillion–dollar industrial complex. Utilizing its considerable wealth, manpower, and influence, the abortion industry has proven itself adept at muscling its way into virtually every facet of modern life. It now plays a strategic role in the health and social-services community. It exerts a major influence on education, providing the majority of sex-education curricula and programs in both public and private schools. It carries considerable political clout through lobbying, campaigning, advocacy, and litigation. It is involved in publishing, broadcast media production, judicial activism, public relations, foreign aid, psychological research counseling, environmental policy-making, sociological planning, demographic investigation, pharmacological development, contraceptive distribution and sales, mass advertising, and public legal service provision.

As if that were not enough, the current Democratic administration in Washington—aided and abetted by the Democrat-controlled Senate—is the most ardently pro-abortion in American history. With a bevy of executive orders, appointments, and administrative policy changes—to say nothing of its 2,407-page monolithic, partisan “health–care reform” legislation, which removed the longstanding ban on federal funding of abortions in favor of a much more easily overturned executive order—the abortion industry has logged more gains during this administration’s short tenure than in the rest of its history combined.

Yet the great divide persists. Despite its obvious cultural clout, its cavernously deep corporate pockets, and its carefully crafted public relations efforts, the abortion industry has yet to prevail in the battle for the hearts and minds of most Americans. Public opinion polls conducted during the first year of the Obama administration found that 51 percent of Americans now call themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion, while only 42 percent call themselves “pro-choice.” In addition, the number of Americans who favor making it more difficult to obtain an abortion is up six percentage points in just five years. In 2005, 59 percent of respondents agreed it would be good to reduce abortions. Today, 65 percent take this view. One poll also found that fewer Americans, and fewer pro-life advocates, are willing to compromise on abortion by finding some “middle ground.” Indeed, support for finding a middle ground on the abortion issue is down twelve percentage points among conservatives and six points among all Americans. Yet another poll found that 58 percent of Americans say abortion is morally wrong most of the time. Just 25 percent disagree, and the rest have no opinion. The poll found women are more strongly pro-life than men, with 64 percent of women asserting that most abortions are morally wrong, a view shared by just 51 percent of men. Meanwhile, still another survey found a majority of Americans, 52 percent, think it is too easy to get an abortion in America. That's up seven percentage points from two years ago, when 45 percent thought it was too easy.

As a result, Dr. Sproul’s incisive analysis in Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue is as relevant and necessary today as it was in the last decade of the twentieth century. Indeed, he points the way to the only possible resolution of this deeply emotional issue.

This is has always been an enormously helpful book. Now it has been brought completely up to date and is more useful than ever. It is my prayer that God may be pleased to use this book as a means to provoke the church to boldly stand for truth, justice, and mercy in the midst of this poor, fallen world.

Tuesday, January 18

Pooh Day

A. A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six, was born in 1882 at St. John’s Wood, London. Of his chosen profession he quipped, “Almost anyone can be an author; the difficult business is to actually collect money from this state of being.”

Monday, January 17

On the Nightstand

Feast of Saint Anthony

The traditional festival of Saint Anthony is celebrated on this day with baking and feasting throughout the Slavic lands of Central Europe as well as the old Christian communities of the Middle East. It commemorates the life and work of the Egyptian hermit, pioneer missionary, and mentor to Athanasius, who died in 365

The Franklin Dialogue: "The Great Omission"

Sunday, January 16

An Epiphany Hymn

Incarnational hope hastens hence
on bud, breeze, and blossom
grieving rynds banished in lilac scents.

Hark, an Epiphany Hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

A lavish breach of winter's curt hard sword
an ardent repudiation of death's dark pall
the out-veining sun of the Christus Lord.

Hark, an Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

At the refectory of your loving-care
the transfiguration clarion sounds a call
that didactae could ne're convey nor spare.

Hark, an Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

Thus, Gospel comes ensconced in Word and Deed
and the evidence is your shimmering touch:
Christus Victor, shown in a life's sown seed.

Hark, an Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place.

Saturday, January 15

The Father of Modern Spain

Thomas of Villanueva (1488-1535) grew up in the region of Don Quixote's La Mancha in a devout Christian home where virtuous living and gracious charity were constantly modeled for him by his parents. It was no surprise then when he committed himself to a life of Christian service after graduating from the new university at Alcala.

On this day in 1518, at the age of thirty, he was ordained and began a brilliant career as an anointed and effective preacher. His ministry was most distinguished not by his very evident pulpit skills however, but rather by his care and concern for the poor and needy. He was especially involved in providing relief for abused children and orphans--securing new homes for them as well as meeting their immediate material needs.

He was involved in other merciful activities as well--once, when he discovered an abortion cabal operating illicitly in a nearby city, he flew into a frenzy of righteous indignation. He used his influence to provoke a criminal investigation. He lobbied for stronger laws for the protection of children. And he worked with authorities to ensure local enforcement of the new laws.

At the time the Iberian peninsula contained no less than eleven separate kingdoms--besides Portugal--including Aragon, Castile, Leon, Catalonia, Valencia, Andalusia, Granada, Galicia, Asturias, Navarre, and Murcia. Relying on neither legalism or lawlessness, recidivism or revolution, he raised the standard of Biblical justice in these diverse lands--ultimately laying the ground work for a unified Spanish legal code once the various kingdoms were united under the Hapsburg descendents of Ferdinand and Isabella. In a very real sense then, he was the "Father of Modern Spain"--and that great nation was birthed out of a concern for the needy and helpless.

Thursday, January 13


“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.” C.S. Lewis

Mary Slessor

On this day in 1915, the government-run Gazette of Nigeria printed a front-page, black-bordered notice:

"It is with the deepest regret that His Excellency the Governor-General has to announce the death at Itu, on this day, of Miss Mary Mitchell Slessor. For thirty-nine years, with brief and infrequent visits to England, Miss Slessor has laboured among the Eastern Provinces in the south of Nigeria. By her enthusiasm, self-sacrifice, and greatness of character she has earned the devotion of thousands of the natives among whom she worked, and the love and esteem of all Europeans, irrespective of class or creed, with whom she came in contact. She has died, as she herself wished, on the scene of her labours, but her memory will live long in the hearts of her friends, Native and Europeans, in Nigeria."

Thus passed one of Africa’s greatest missionaries.

Monday, January 10

Thomas Mifflin

By an ironic sort of providence, Thomas Mifflin (1744-1800) served as George Washington’s first aide-de-camp at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and, when the war was over, he was the man, as President of the United States, who accepted Washington’s resignation of his commission. In the years between, Mifflin greatly served the cause of freedom while serving as the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army. He obtained desperately needed supplies for the new army. Although experienced in business and successful in obtaining supplies for the war, Mifflin preferred the front lines, and he distinguished himself in military actions on Long Island and near Philadelphia.

Born on this day in 1744, he was reared in a strict Quaker home. As a young man, much to his dismay, he was excluded from Quaker meetings for his military activities. Nevertheless, he maintained throughout his life a pattern of devotion to his family and their traditions. Somehow though, that did not protect him from public controversy. Mifflin lost favor with Washington, for instance, and was part of the Conway Cabal—a rather notorious plan to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates. And Mifflin narrowly missed court-martial action over his handling of funds by resigning his commission in 1778.

In spite of all these problems and of repeated charges that he was a drunkard, Mifflin continued to be elected to positions of responsibility—as President and Governor of Pennsylvania, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, as well as the highest office in the land, where he served from November 3, 1783 to November 29, 1784. In addition, he was heralded by friends and supporters as a pious and gracious man who cared for nothing more than the sacred honor of his God and his nation.

Most of Mifflin’s significant contributions occurred in his earlier years—in the First and Second Continental Congresses he was firm in his stand for independence and for fighting for it, and he helped obtain both men and supplies for Washington’s army in the early critical period. In 1784, as President, he signed the treaty with Great Britain which ended the war. Although a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he did not make a significant contribution—beyond signing the document.

As Governor of Pennsylvania, although he was accused of negligence, he supported improvements of roads, and reformed the State penal and judicial systems. He had gradually become sympathetic to Jefferson’s principles regarding states' rights, even so, he directed the Pennsylvania militia to support the Federal tax collectors in the Whiskey Rebellion. In spite of charges of corruption, the affable Mifflin remained a popular figure. A magnetic personality and an effective speaker, he managed to hold a variety of elective offices for almost thirty years and make an indelible mark on the critical Revolutionary period.

Friday, January 7

The Canon

On this day in 367, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, published for his congregants the first authoritative list of the canon of the Old and New Testaments. He included the list as a devotional aid in the pastoral letter he sent out every year on the day after Epiphany.

St. Distaff's Day

This was the day in Medieval England that women returned to their spinning after the holiday season of Christmas and Epiphany. The staff was used to wind wool or flax to aid in the spinning process. On this first day of renewed labor, men would playfully set the women's flax or wool on fire, while the spinners retaliated by drenching the men with pails of water. Gee, sounds like loads of fun!

English poet Robert Herrick famously mentions these activities of Distaff Day his best known ditty:

Partly work and partly play; Ye must on St. Distaff's Day.
From the plow soone free the teame; Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a-spinning goe; Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring the pailes of water then; Let the maides bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right; Then bid Christmas sport good night;
And next morrow, every one, to his owne vocation.

Tuesday, January 4

Defining "Conservative" and "Conservatory"

Henry Peacham (1576-1643) was an English poet and writer, best known for his guide to Renaissance arts and manners, The Compleat Gentleman (1622). In it he defines the word “conservative” as “that power of promoting care, stewardship, learning, and healthfulness whilst opposing diminution, detriment, ignorance, and injury.”

In one magnificent example of his Elizabethan and Jacobite prose he describes, "That spherical figure, as to all heavenly bodies, so it agreeth to light, as the most perfect and conservative of all others."

According to Samuel Johnson, in his incomparable Dictionary (1755), it is from this term and its incumbent meaning that the word “conservatory” is derived. Thus, he defines it as “A place where anything is kept in a manner proper to its peculiar nature, as fish in a pond, corn in a grainary, or culture in the heart of a student.”