Thursday, December 24

December 25

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.

Laudetur Jesus Christus

O Lord, You are our Savior and Redeemer, our Hope, and the Captain of our Salvation.
You are called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
You are our Advocate, the Almighty God, the Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, and the Great Amen.

You are the Only Begotten of the Father, the Beloved Son of God, the Bright and Morning Star. You are the Chief Cornerstone, the Chosen of God, the Consolation of Israel, and the Creator of All Things.  
You are Emmanuel, God with us, the Christ. 

You are the End of the Law, the Eternal Judge of Quick and Dead, the Faithful and True, the Firstborn of the Dead.  
You are Good Shepherd and the Great I AM.
You are the Head of the Body and the Heir of All Things. 

Of You the angels exult, Holy, Holy, Holy. You are the very Image of God. 
You are Jehovah, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Lord of Hosts, the Light of the World, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.  
You are our Mediator and our Messiah.  

You are our Passover the Propitiation for Sins of Whole World.
You are the Resurrection and the Life, the Root of Jesse, the Stone of Offense, Rock of Refuge, the Seed of Abraham, the Once and for All Sacrifice.
You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

You are the Rose of Sharon, the Balm of Gilead, the True Vine, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Word of Life. 
You are Jesus. 
And you are worthy of all praise and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, October 30

The Ninety-Five Theses

On this day in 1517, German theologian Martin Luther carefully recopied the scroll of his soon to be revealed Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences—a document that would be popularly called the Ninety-Five Theses. The next day he would post the scroll, consisting of a series of propositions that established a theological basis for opposing the sale of indulgences.

Though written in Latin and designed to provoke only a limited academic discussion, Luther’s manifesto would almost immediately be translated into the vernacular and then widely distributed, causing a great public controversy leading to the Reformation. Who would have ever dreamed that in the little town of Wittenberg, Germany, all of Europe would be shaken by the simple act of provoking a series of questions? Certainly not Luther. But in fact, his little academic exercise would lead to a dramatic realignment of men and nations--indeed, he would eventually be excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church and become the founder of Protestantism.

But as he prepared the scroll, he certainly had none of that in mind. Indeed, the tone of the document was clearly a moderate call for little more than a bit of dialog and some serious theological investigation. He wrote, “A disputation on the power and efficacy of indulgences: out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg, under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and of Sacred Theology, and Lecturer in Ordinary on the same at that place. Wherefore he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us, may do so by letter.”

The theses themselves were not any more incendiary. Instead, they discussed the character and nature of true repentance, the core values of the Gospel, and the essence of the justice and mercy of God. Hardly the sort of material one might expect to cause a furor.

Nevertheless, the faithful Augustinian monk’s attempt to open a dialog was, in the good providence of God, the catalyst for a movement which would ultimately reshape the whole of Western Civilizaton.

Thursday, October 29

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920)

On this day in 1907, the entire nation of the Netherlands celebrated the seventieth birthday of Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). A national proclamation acknowledged, "The history of the Netherlands, in Church, in State, in Society, in Press, in School, and in the Sciences the last forty years, cannot be written without the mention of his name on almost every page, for during this period the biography of Dr. Kuyper is to a considerable extent the history of the Netherlands."

The boy who was born in 1837 was at first thought to be dull, but by the time he was twelve he had entered the Gymnasium. Years later he would graduate with highest possible honors from Leyden University. In short order he earned his masters and doctoral degrees in theology before serving as minister at Breesd and Utrecht.

The brilliant and articulate champion of Biblical faithfulness was called to serve in the city of Amsterdam in 1870. At the time, the religious life of the nation had dramatically declined. The church was cold and formal. There was no Bible curriculum in the schools and the Bible had no real influence in the life of the nation. Kuyper set out to change all of this in a flurry of activity.

In 1872, Kuyper founded the daily newspaper, De Standard. Shortly afterward he also founded De Heraut, a weekly devotional magazine. He continued as editor of both newspapers for over forty-five years—and both became very influential in spreading the winsome message of a consistent Christian worldview.

Two years later, in 1874, Kuyper was elected to the lower house of Parliament as the leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party—and he served there until 1877. Three years later he founded the Free University of Amsterdam, which asserted that the Bible was the foundation of every area of knowledge.

Following a stunning victory at the polls, Kuyper was summoned by Queen Wilhelmena to form a cabinet and become Prime Minister of the nation in 1902—a position he held for three years. A number of politicians were dissatisfied with Kuyper’s leadership because he refused to keep his theological and political views separate. To him, they were identical interests since Christ was king in every arena of human life. He believed that Christ rules not merely by the tradition of what He once was, spoke, did, and endured, but by a living power which even now, seated as He is at the right hand of God, He exercises over lands, nations, generations, families, and individuals. As he famously declared at the Free University's inaugural convocation, "There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence, over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not say 'Mine!'"

Kuyper was undoubtedly a man of tremendous versatility—he was a noted linguist, theologian, university professor, politician, statesman, philosopher, scientist, publisher, author, journalist, and philanthropist. But amazingly, in spite of his many accomplishments and his tremendous urgency to redeem the time, Kuyper was also a man of the people.

In 1897, at the 25th anniversary of his establishment of De Standaard, Kuyper described the ruling passion of his life, "That in spite of all worldly opposition, God's holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school, and in the state for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God."

Tuesday, September 8

Antediluvian Man

"A sharp antithesis cuts a wide swath,
Across the whole fabric of space and time,
It’s divide sets kith and kin on separate paths, 
It’s jagged serrated edge altogether divides,
With Cain to one side, and Seth to yet another,
‘Tis the tale of two cities, two destinies, two ways,
Enoch and Enosh twin sons of different mothers, 
Till mighty Rephaim impose a paler shade of gray,
Hoping to forget such bitter, tragic, noxious climes,
We skulk in caves, and graves, and bones, 
Heedless of the hope invested in archon-lines
As told in musty, dusty, glorious tomes." Tristan Gylberd

Thursday, July 23

The Song of Jenny Geddes by J.S. Blackie

‘Twas the twenty-third of July, in the sixteen thirty-seven,
On the Sabbath morn from high St. Giles the solemn peal was given;
King Charles had sworn that Scottish men should pray by printed rule;
He sent a book, but never dreamt of danger from a stool.

The Council and the Judges, with ermined pomp elate,
The Provost and the Bailies in gold and crimson state,
Fair silken-vested ladies, grave doctors of the school,
Were there to please the King, and learn the virtues of a stool.

The Bishop and the Dean came in wi’ muckle gravity,
Right smooth and sleek, but lordly pride was lurking in their e’e;
Their full lawn sleeves were blown and big, like seals in briny pool;
They bore a book, but little thought they soon should feel a stool.

The Dean he to the alter went, and, with a solemn look,
He cast his eyes to heaven, and read the curious-printed book:
In Jenny’s heart the blood upwelled with bitter anguish full;
Sudden she started to her legs, and stoutly grasped the stool!

As when a mountain wildcat springs upon a rabbit small,
So Jenny on the Dean springs, with gush of holy gall;
Wilt thou say mass at my lugs, thou popish-puling fool?
No! No! She said, and at his head she flung the three-legged stool.

A bump, a thump! A smash, a crash! Now gentle folks beware!
Stool after stool, like rattling hail, came twirling through the air,
With, well done, Jenny! Bravo, Jenny! That’s the proper tool!
When the Devil will out, and shows his snout, just meet him with a stool!

The Council and the Judges were smitten with strange fear,
The ladies and the Bailies their seats did deftly clear,
The Bishop and the Dean went in sorrow and in dool,
And all the Popish flummery fled when Jenny showed the stool!

And thus a mighty deed was done by Jenny’s valiant hand,
Black Prelacy and Popery she drove from Scottish land;
King Charles he was a shuffling knave, priest Laud a meddling fool,
But Jenny was a woman wise, who beat them with a stool!

Saturday, June 27

The New Barbarism

"We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles." Hilaire Belloc

Friday, June 26

Supremely Wrongheaded

The Supreme Court has a long history of brazen, wicked, deadly injustice: Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, Buck v. Bell in 1927, and Roe v. Wade in 1973 immediately come to mind.

The Biblical Worldview

A shorthand summation of the Biblical worldview in just four verses:

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all those who live in it. (Psalm 24:1)

Every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

The kingdom of this world is the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)

Monday, June 8

"How Far Is It to Bethlehem?" A Hymn by Frances Chesterton

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable-room
Lit by a star?

Can we see the little Child?
Is He within?
If we lift the wooden latch,
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there —
Ox, ass, or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?

If we touch His tiny hand,
Will He awake?
Will He know we've come so far
Just for His sake?

Great kings have precious gifts,
And we have naught;
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we brought.

For all weary children
Mary must weep;
Here, on His bed of straw,
Sleep, children, sleep.

God, in His mother's arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart's desire.

Saturday, April 18

The Great Escape: Every Advantage for Every Need

By 1941, two years into WWII, large numbers of British and Allied Airmen had been downed and captured behind enemy lines, held in Nazi POW camps. The Crown began casting about for ways to facilitate their escape.

Now obviously, one of the most helpful aids to that end would be accurate maps. But, paper maps had any number of drawbacks: they can be cumbersome; they make a lot of noise when you fold and unfold them; they wear out rapidly; and if they get wet, they become unreadable. So, MI-5 proposed the idea of printing maps on silk--durable, compressible, and silent.

At the time, the only British manufacturer that had perfected the technology of printing on silk was John Waddington, in Leeds. It just so happened that Waddington was also the UK Licensee for the popular board game, Monopoly. And, board games qualified for insertion into packages dispatched by the International Red Cross to prisoners of war.

In a securely guarded old workshop on the grounds of Waddington's, a group of employees, sworn-to-secrecy, began mass-producing the escape maps. They were then folded and inserted into hollowed-out Monopoly playing tokens.

While they were at it, the clever workmen at Waddington's added: a token, containing a small compass, others with screw-together parts for a metal file, and useful amounts of genuine high-denomination German and French currency, hidden in the piles of Monopoly money.

Before taking off on their missions, Allied air crews were taught how to identify the rigged Monopoly sets--by means of a tiny red dot, having the appearance of an ordinary printing glitch, located in the corner of the get-out-of-jail-free square. Of the estimated 35,000 Allied POWs who successfully escaped from Nazi captivity, more than a third succeeded with the aid of the rigged Monopoly sets.

RAF Commander Colin Alexander who led 31 fellow prisoners to freedom in 1943, said the Monopoly sets proved to be, “the Swiss army knives of the war.” Indeed, he said, “In the most unlikely of ways, they had afforded us every advantage for our every need.”

Monday, April 13

Design Trend: Snappy Campaign Logos

With so much at stake and so much money invested, is any wonder that fledgling presidential campaigns give so much attention to their imaging? 2016 is likely to be a social media/new media extravaganza--and thus, the design of logos and imaging will be more important than ever before. And that is already in evidence at this early stage--as these new marks demonstrate.

Wednesday, March 18

Morning Light in the Library

“A quiet library in the early morning--there's just nothing quite as wonderful. All possible words and ideas are there, resting peacefully.” Haruki Murakami

Tuesday, March 17

Thomas Chalmers (March 17, 1780 - May 31, 1847)

“There is not, of course, any difficulty in explaining the indifference of the modern secular mind to Chalmers, neither is it surprising that churchmen of liberal persuasion should lack enthusiasm for his memory. What is more problematical is the question why evangelical Christianity itself should have made so little of him these many years.” Iain Murray

“To know Chalmers is to love him, and to wish to be like him. Those to whom the cause of Christ is dear can but seek that a double portion of his spirit should be upon them.” Adam Philip

“What I thirst to read is Chalmers’ life….I cannot conceive of a wiser, greater or better man. Every part of his character was colossal; he had the heart of twenty men; the head of twenty men; the energy of a hundred. He has not left his equal in the world.” John Mackintosh

“He had the greatest concern for the nation, as well as well as for the Church, and it is an immense gain to a Churchman when he has such an interest in the State as keeps his ethics from becoming ecclesiastically narrow in range.” Principal R.G. Denney

“He answered all one’s young notions, and more, of what ‘greatness’ might be….Scotland was but a platform to and fro on which there walked a Chalmers.” Professor L.T. Masson

“You ask me to tell you about Dr. Chalmers. I must tell you first, then, that of all men he is the most modest and speaks with undissembled gentleness and liberality of those who differ from him in opinion. Every word he says has the stamp of genius; yet the calmness, ease and simplicity of his conversation is such that to ordinary minds he might appear and ordinary man.” Mrs. A.G Grant

“Truly I consider him as raised up by God for a great and peculiar work. His depth of thought, origionality in illustrating and strength in stating are unrivalled in the present day. In other respects he is too sanguine. He does not sufficiently see that a Chalmers is necessary to carry into effect the plans of a Chalmers." Charles Simeon

“It was his contagious ‘enthusiasm for humanity’ that invested him in the eyes of students, as well as congregations, broad Scotland over, classes and masses alike, with an admiring reverence assigned to one of the old Prophets of Israel.” J.R. Macduff

“During his life of sixty-seven years, Chalmers gave forty-four years of public service. Twenty of these he spent as a minister in three parishes—twenty-four he spent as a professor in three different chairs.” Adam Philip

Patrick: Missionary to Ireland

Several years ago, I wrote this little piece for Ligonier Ministry's very fine Table Talk magazine. Here it is again on this St. Patrick's Day:

Patrick of Ireland was a younger contemporary of Augustine of Hippo and Martin of Tours—the fifth century heroes of the faith who laid the foundations for the great civilization of Christendom. He was apparently born into a patrician Roman family in one of the little Christian towns near present day Glasgow—either Bonavern or Belhaven. Although his pious parents, Calphurnius and Conchessa, nurtured him in the Christian faith, he later confessed that he much preferred the passing pleasures of sin. One day while playing by the sea as a teen, marauding pirates captured Patrick and sold him into slavery to a petty Celtic tribal king, named Milchu. During the next six years of captivity he suffered great adversity, hunger, nakedness, loneliness, and sorrow while tending his master’s flocks in the valley of the Braid and on the slopes of the Slemish.

It was amidst such dire straits that 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. Of his conversion he 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 a holy fear of Him increased more and more in me. My faith began to grow and my spirit was ardently stirred. Often, I would pray as many as a hundred times in a single day—and nearly as many at night. Even when I was staying out in the woods or on the mountain, I would rise before dawn for prayer, in snow and frost and rain. I felt no ill effect and there was no slackness in me. As I now realize, it was because the Spirit was maturing and preparing me for a work yet to come.”

Amazingly, Patrick came to love the very people who humiliated him, abused him, and taunted him. He yearned for them to know the blessed peace he had found in the Gospel of Christ. Eventually rescued through a remarkable turn of events, Patrick returned to his family in Britain. But his heart increasingly dwelt upon the fierce Celtic peoples he had come to know so well. He was stunned to realize that he actually longed to return to Ireland and share the Gospel with them.

Though his parents were grieved to see him leave home once again, they reluctantly supported his efforts to gain theological training on the continent. His classical education had been interrupted by his captivity, so he was far behind his peers academically. But what he lacked in knowledge, he made up for in zeal. Before long he had secured a warrant to evangelize his former captors.

Thus, Patrick returned to Ireland. He preached to the pagan tribes in the Irish language he had learned as a slave. His willingness to take the Gospel to the least likely and the least lovely people imaginable was met with extraordinary success. And that success would continue for over the course of nearly half a century of evangelization, church planting, and social reform. He would later write that God’s grace had so blessed his efforts that “many thousands were born again unto God.” Indeed, according to the early-church chronicler W. D. Killen: “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” (Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, London, 1875).

We know that the kingdom of heaven belongs to “those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matt. 5:10) and that great “blessings” and “rewards” eventually await those who have been “insulted,” “slandered,” and “sore vexed” who nevertheless persevere in their high callings (Matt. 5:12–13). We know that often it is in “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness, and hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4–5) that our real mettle is proven. Nevertheless, we often forget that these things are not simply to be endured. They actually frame our greatest calling. They lay the foundations for our most effective ministries. It is when, like Patrick, we come to love God’s enemies and ours that we are set free for great effectiveness.

Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44); and again, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” (Luke 6:27). Therein is the missionary impulse. Patrick’s life provides us with a stunning reminder of that remarkable Gospel paradox.

Wednesday, March 4

Just Start

“One of the most powerful strategies for changing behavior, changing the way we think and use time was this: Just Start.” Brigid Schulte

“Sometimes it’s easier to act ourselves into a new way of thinking, than it is to think ourselves into a new way of acting.” Udaya Patnaik

Wednesday, February 18

Muhammad and Jesus

"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

"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

Saturday, February 14

Umberto Eco: My Favorite Quotes

With the news that Umberto Eco's newest novel is at last being prepared for publication in the US, I thought I'd assemble a few of my favorite quotes from his earlier books:

“We live for books.”

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

“When men stop believing in God, it isn't that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”

“I love the smell of book ink in the morning.”

“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else.”

“Absence is to love as wind is to fire: it extinguishes the little flame, it fans the big.”

“Books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”

"Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do.”

“All poets write bad poetry. Bad poets publish them, good poets burn them.”

“To survive, you must tell stories.”

“Love is wiser than wisdom.”

“For every complex problem there’s a simple solution, and it’s wrong.”

“Any fact becomes important when it's connected to another.”

Friday, February 13

Petty Tyrannies

There are two wonderful quotes about the omnipresent governmental busybodies that have become the bane of modern living. Alas, these epigrams are often conflated or misattributed or misquoted. For the record, here they are as originally composed, one from Ronald Reagan and the other from C.S. Lewis.

The one from Lewis in his anthology of essays, God in the Dock: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

The one from Reagan in his Collected Speeches: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.”

And, There They Go Again

“The electoral victory of the Neo-Communist Syriza Party in Greece, led by Alexis Tsipras, has been described in the mainstream media of Britain and America as a ‘sweep to power.’ However, Syriza’s victory, though perfectly legitimate in the constitutional sense, was far from triumphant or overwhelming. It received votes from only 23 per cent of registered Greek voters--hardly an overwhelming victory. So, while the media reports have not exactly been outright lies, they have hardly represented the facts of the matter: rather they have offered only partial truths, as are so many truths in the field of politics. As the old proverb avers: A change of rulers is the joy of fools; in other words the next lot will be as bad as the last.” Theodore Dalrymple

Tuesday, January 13

Lord of Creation Reign

Hymn #443 in the 1875 Wesley Hymnal (or #431 in the Collected Works of John and Charles Wesley) is a remarkable call for faithful evangelism and intercession in the Muslim world:

1. Sun of unclouded righteousness,
With healing in Thy wings arise
A sad, benighted world to bless,
Which now in sin and error lies,
Wrapped in Egyptian night profound,
With chains of hellish darkness bound.

2. The smoke of the infernal cave,
Which half the Christian world o'erspread,
Disperse, Thou heavenly Light, and save
The souls by that impostor led,
That Arab-thief, as Satan bold,
Who quite destroyed Thy Asian fold.

3. O might the blood of sprinkling cry
For those who spurn the sprinkled blood!
Assert Thy glorious Deity,
Stretch out Thine arm, Thou triune God,
The Unitarian fiend expel,
And chase his doctrine back to Hell!

4. Come, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Thou Three in One, and One in Three,
Resume Thine own for ages lost,
Finish the dire apostasy;
Thine universal claim maintain,
And Lord of the creation reign.