Friday, December 26, 2014

Childermas, Kindermord, or the Feast of the Innocents

Often called Childermas, Kindermord, or the Feast of the Innocents, the 28th of December (or more often, the Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany), traditionally solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod. It provides focus for the Christian Community’s calling and commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of all human life.

Immediately after the birth of Jesus, after the shepherds heard the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” after the Wise Men presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, horror descended on the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem.

On Childermas we remember—as the faithful Church has remembered in the years since—that we might humbly offer a prophetic warning against our culture’s callous disregard for the innocents, for the children, for the least and last, for the despised and rejected.
But, on Childermas we also resolve—as the faithful Church has always resolved—that we might graciously offer our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to stand with, to speak for, to protect, and to rescue the perishing wherever they might be found.

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:10-12)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Story of Pastor Tom Clark

My dear friend, Tom Clark, was not only the pastor of a small church in New Hampshire, he was the pastor of an entire town. To his dying day he was the embodiment of the Gospel and of the Incarnate Shepherd's heart. This film interview, taken just weeks before he went home to be with Christ, captures powerfully his life, his ministry, his message, and his legacy.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why Not the Apocrypha?

It is often asked (usually by Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox friends) why we Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha as Scripture.  The answer is fairly simple and straightforward:

Indeed, there are several reasons why Protestants, like Jews, do not accept the Apocrypha as inspired Scripture. 1st is simply a matter of historicity: the Apocrypha was not even officially accepted by the Roman Catholic Church until 1546 at the Council of Trent (after the Reformation)—and even then, only a small portion of the extant apocrypha literature was authorized: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch. The Trent commissioners undertook several measures to "counter" the Reformation (which is why Trent began what we now call the Counter-Reformation). The grafting in of apocryphal literature was just one among those several reactive decisions in the West.  The literature took a different path to canonical status in the Eastern and Byzantine churches.  But there too, acceptance came late and in reaction to several of the many fractious and schismatic movements that broke away from the Orthodox communions.

2nd, The apocryphal books are largely written in Greek--not Hebrew (except for portions of Ecclesiasticus, 1 Maccabees, Judith, and Tobit). So, they were never actually a part of the Old Testament. That is why the books are not accepted in any of the Jewish traditions.

3rd, the books are never quoted in the New Testament. There are over 260 quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament and not one of them is from these books. Of course, a Roman Catholic might respond by saying that there are actually several other Old Testament books that are not quoted in the New Testament, such as Joshua, Judges, and Esther. But of course, all these books had already been accepted into the canon by the Jews--where the Apocrypha had not. The Jews recognized the Old Testament canon, and they did not include the Apocrypha in it. This is significant because of what Paul says: "Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. For, they were entrusted with the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:1-2). In addition, it can be argued that Jesus referenced the Jewish Old Testament canon from the beginning to the end and did not include the Apocrypha. "From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation" (Luke 11:51).

4th, Roman Catholics often appeal to church history, but we don't find anywhere in the past anything like a consensus on the Apocrypha. The authoritative 5th century Bible translator, Jerome, (who gave us the Latin Vulgate which is used by the Roman church), completely rejected the Apocrypha. Also, the Jewish historian Josephus never mentions the Apocrypha as a part of the canon either. In addition, early church fathers like Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Athanasius roundly condemned the use of the Apocrypha.

As a result of all of this, the question never really arose for the Reformers.  And so for us, like them, we can look at the apocryphal books as good supplemental material--historical, cultural, and perhaps even inspirational--but, we cannot, indeed must not, place them side-by-side with Scripture.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Very Great and Precious Promises

You say: "All this seems impossible."
God’s Word says: “All things are possible.” (Luke 18:27)

You say: "I am just too tired."
God’s Word says: “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

You say: "I cannot go on."
God’s Word says: “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:9; Psalm 91:15)

You say: "I do not know where to turn."
God’s Word says: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5- 6)

You say: "I cannot do it."
God’s Word says: “You can do all things in Christ.” (Philippians 4:13)

You say: "I know I am not able."
God’s Word says: “But I am able.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

You say: "I cannot see the purpose in all this.”
God’s Word says: “All things work together for good.” (Roman 8:28)

You say: "I simply cannot manage"
God’s Word says: “I will supply all your needs” (Philippians 4:19)

You say: "I am fretful, fearful, and unsettled."
God’s Word says: “I have not given you a spirit of fear.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

You say: "I am worried and frustrated."
God’s Word says: “Cast all your cares on me.” (1 Peter 5:7)

You say: "I cannot figure all this out."
God’s Word says: “I will give you wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

You say: "I feel that I am all alone."
God’s Word says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Now When (Not If) You Pray

Does the irony strike you as powerfully as it does me? In teaching His disciples, the Lord Jesus says, “Now, when you pray…” (Matthew 6:5). Note, the premise of His instruction is that we “will,” not that we “ought;” it is “when,” not “if.”

Jesus is reminding us that prayer is the most common Christian expression of authentic faith; but it may be among the least practiced Christian disciplines. It is said that prayer is the universal language of the soul; but it is actually the solitary province of the supplicating saint. Prayer, as the unconscious heart-cry in times of distress, is the currency of all humanity; but prayer, as the deep and committed soul-bond in communion with Almighty God, is an exceptionally rare and precious jewel.

Certainly, regular seasons of prayer are essential to spiritual maturity--which is why spiritual maturity seems to be so terribly scarce. We take our time with God in snatches. We throw out petitions rapid-fire on the run. At best, we rush through our laundry lists of wants and needs. Even in the corporate life of the church prayer gets short shrift—only briefly imposed like talismans at predictable intervals in worship services, business meetings, and meals.

Thus, the great romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge sadly observed, “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable; praying that is, with the total concentration of the faculties on God. The great mass of worldly men, learned men, and yea, even religious men are absolutely incapable of prayer.”

In contrast, the heroes of the faith through the ages have always been diligent, vigilant, and constant in prayer. They humbled themselves before God with prayers, petitions, and supplications always acknowledging their utter dependency upon His mercy and grace. Historical anecdotes abound. Athanasius, for instance, prayed five hours each day. Augustine once set aside eighteen months to do nothing but pray. Bernard of Clairveaux would not begin his daily activities until he had spent at least three hours in prayer. Charles Simeon devoted the hours from four till eight in the morning to God. John Wesley spent two hours daily in prayer--beginning well before dawn. John Fletcher regularly spent all night in prayer. His greeting to friends was always, “Do I meet you praying?”

Martin Luther often commented, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer.” Francis Asbury rose each morning at four in order to spend two hours in prayer. Samuel Rutherford began praying at three. If ever Joseph Alleine heard other craftsmen plying their business before he was up, he would exclaim, “Oh how this shames me. Doth not my master deserve more than theirs?”

John Calvin, John Knox, and Theodore Beza vowed to one another to devote two hours daily to prayer. John Welch thought the day ill-spent if he did not spend eight or ten hours in prayer. The extraordinary thing is that such fervent praying was not considered to be particularly extraordinary. Indeed, as Homer W. Hodge argued, “Prayer should always 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.”

For them, prayer was a matter of “when,” and not “if.” And, so it should be with us. May God allow us to hear the Master’s voice say, without even a touch of irony, “Now, when you pray…”

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parish Life: A Thomas Chalmers Reader

“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.” Iaian 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 of the nation in his as well as well as that of 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 mot 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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Vital, Essential Truth

This morning, in preparation for a day of writing, I reread the journal I kept during a trip to Iraq in 2003.  It was quite the adventure--in every conceivable sense of that word.

I was struck by my last entry in the journal, written as our team was safely headed home:

"According to Hebrews, faith is assurance and conviction. But faithfulness is endurance and enlightenment with an empathy for all those who are exposed.  Thus, the Christian life affords tremendous personal and individual benefits, but cannot be lived out on a merely personal or individual level.  I pray I never forget this vital, essential truth."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Authentic Record

"There is no subject on which people are readier to form rash opinions than religion.  The Bible is the best corrective to these.  A man should sit down to it with the determination of taking his lesson just as he finds it--of founding his creed upon the sole principle of 'Thus Saieth the Lord,' and deriving his every idea and his every impression of truth from the authentic record of God's will." Thomas Chalmers

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Divorcing God: Secularism and the Republic

In 1965, Billy Graham was working on his book "World Aflame." He had just finished a chapter vividly describing the sinful conditions in America, and gave it to his wife to read. Ruth was sobered by the writing and returned the document to the study where he was writing and laid it on his desk, saying, "Billy, if God doesn't come soon and bring judgment upon the United States, He's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!" 

The story of that encounter was later recalled as an illustration in a sermon by Dr. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The message entitled "Prayer and the World Crisis," was delivered in 1976 at the National Prayer Congress in Dallas, Texas.

Lots of water has passed under the bridge since then--and yet the statement is truer than ever as this video clip so powerfully reminds us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Parish Lententide Series

During the Christmas holidays in 1841, Thomas Chalmers, then perhaps the most prominent man in all of Scotland, paid a visit to the tiny Borders town of Skirling in Peebleshire. During his stay, he consented to stop by the local village school and give a lecture on Mathematics.

The great man was always inclined to leave a moral philosophy lesson for his students, even when he was teaching natural philosophy. And so it was that at the conclusion of his talk, he drew a large circle on the slate board and declaimed:

"The wider a man's knowledge becomes, the deeper should be his humility; for the more he knows the more he sees of what remains unknown. The wider the diameter of light, the larger the circumference of darkness. And so, with every footstep of growing knowledge there ought to be a growing humility--that is the best guarantee both for a sound philosophy and a sound faith."

The importance of this vital lesson was not soon lost on his awestruck students. Nor has it been lost on me. The phrase, "A Wider Diameter of Light," and all it seems to say about Chalmers, about his vision of the Christian life, and about his ongoing legacy has become emblematic to me of the vibrant Christian life. Not surprisingly then, it is the working title of the big biography of Chalmers that I am working on (well, working off and on). And, it is the title I have given to a series of stories I will be telling all through this upcoming Lententide season on Wednesday evenings at Parish Pres.

Won't you join us as we explore "A Wider Diameter of Light"? Dinner starts at 6 PM. A vespers of story and song begins at 6:30. Then, choir and prayer begin at 7 PM. RSVP with the church office.

Oh, and just a side note about the image: It was painted by John Henry Lorimer (1856-1936) was a renowned Scots portrait painter. Born in Edinburgh and trained at the Royal Scottish Academy. He was a student of George Paul Chalmers, grand-nephew of the great Thomas Chalmers. Perhaps his best known work (and my own personal favorite) is “The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk,” which hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland.  I think it really captures the very heart of "parish life" and the Chalmers ideal.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Drake's Prayer

Sir Francis Drake was a daring Elizabethan sailor, explorer, and warrior. On his greatest adventure, he departed Portsmouth in 1577 aboard his ship, the Golden Hind.  His aim was to raid the stockpiles of Hapsburg Spanish gold on the west coast of South America. At the conclusion of his raids, he ventured far to the north, claiming Coastal California and Oregon for England--what he had dubbed, "New Albion." He eventually returned home after circumnavigating the globe with booty worth more than a half million pounds sterling (a vast fortune in that day).

This is the prayer he wrote as he set out from Portsmouth:

"Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ. Amen."