I have been an Audible subscriber for sometime now and have found it very useful for listening to books. This is the way I keep up with many of the books I read with my boys for school, and it is a great way to make good use of time travelling alone. You can get a free 30 day trial and get two free audio books. It’s quite a deal.
I have been eagerly anticipating the opportunity to finally announce that this book is now available: Soaring Higher: Itinerary of a Fifty Year Flight of Faith. The “blurb” I wrote for the book is pasted in below. Not only have I enjoyed- been challenged, helped, and encouraged by- this book, but I have read significant portions to my children, humorous stories to laugh at and stirring stories of faith and perseverance which I pray will help fortify their souls.
This is a great book which I heartily commend to you.
I am absolutely delighted to see this book come into existence. I have long hoped for others to have the opportunity to hear these stories which I have seen and heard. Whether huddled up against the cold in Nepal, or resting in the shade in Ghana, or sitting in my own living room in the United States I have listened with laughter, joy and conviction to many of these stories over the years. You have a real privilege in getting to read them yourself now.
It has been my privilege to know Phil for over 20 years and to see him in action on four different continents. He embodies for me two terms which are so often abused- “evangelist” and “living by faith.” So often I saw “living by faith” used to cover foolish presumption, but Phil has given me an example truly and faithfully depending on God which has deeply encouraged and challenged me. Then, too often supposed evangelists were interested only in counting responses, relying on shallow messages and having no concern for discipleship or the life of the local church. Phil is the healthy example of evangelist to which I point my students, a man gifted in gospel proclamation as well as teaching with a heart for the local church. We need many more of his type today. I pray many will read this book and be challenged to pursue the sort of ministry modelled here.
I still remember Phil arriving at our house- just in from evangelizing in a remote, unreached area having also with him a Hebrew psalter, his Greek New Testament, and an unabridged copy of Les Miserables. He also typically had with him several DVD’s of deep theological lectures, the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and BBC productions of Dickens or Jane Austen. Conversation would range easily from movies to travel gear to world history, literature, politics, theological controversies and mission strategy. This is an interesting man with fascinating stories which will entertain, instruct and convict. Take up, read, ponder and pass this book along to others. You, and they, will be glad you did.
The most recent issue of Touchstone magazine contains a powerful, timely editorial by Robert George titled, “Ashamed of the Gospel?: The End of Comfortable Christianity.” Here are the first two paragraphs:
The days of socially acceptable Christianity in the West are surely over. The days of comfortable Christian orthodoxy are past. It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic Evangelical witness to the truths of the gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid. There are costs of discipleship—costs that are burdensome and painful to bear.
Of course, one can still safely identify oneself as a “Christian,” and even be seen going to worship services at church. That is because the guardians of those norms of cultural orthodoxy that we have come to call “political correctness” do not assume that identifying as “Christian” or going to church necessarily means that one actually believes what the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.
The whole thing is well worth reading.
I’m continuing to glean from the reading of George Herbert’s The Temple, an amazing collection of poems describing the Christian life. His poem, “Aaron,” is a compelling, honest portrayal of the challenge of pastoral ministry. Herbert poses the problem of the reality of the preacher’s sinfulness and the holiness of God. How can a sinful man lead people to God? The Old Testament picture of priestly service emphasizes the need for holiness. The answer is found only by being clothed in Christ. Any pastor who, deeply aware of his own sinfulness, has struggled with this adequacy should find this poem deeply moving. The culminating line is amazingly beautiful to me, representing Christ-robed confidence.
May this encourage faithful pastors on this Monday.
Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.
Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest, thus am I drest.
Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.
Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.
So, holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come people; Aaron’s drest.
I have enjoyed reading through the poems of George Herbert with my sons the last week or so. They are rich, full of the struggles of life and conscience and full of hope. I was struck by how often the word “mirth” appeared.
My poem of the week this week has been his poem titled, “Perseverance.” I love the determination of faith shown here, particularly in the last stanza.
My God, the poor expressions of my Love
Which warm these lines, and serve them up to thee
Are so, as for the present I did move,
Or rather as thou movedst me.
But what shall issue, whether these my words
Shall help another, but my judgement be;
As a burst fowling-piece doth save the birds
But kill the man, is sealed with thee.
For who can tell, though thou hast died to win
And wed my soul in glorious paradise;
Whether my many crimes and use of sin
May yet forbid the banes and bliss.
Only my soul hangs on thy promises
With face and hands clinging unto thy breast,
Clinging and crying, crying without cease,
Thou art my rock, thou art my rest.
One key point I have sought to make here and elsewhere is that Paul models a pattern of ministry which is attuned to each individual in the church and not just to a corporate mass. He conceives of ministry as serving particular people not simply people in the abstract. I think his language bears this out, though this is new to some people and they are uncertain.
A student of mine, Caleb valentine, is writing a fine honors thesis on Paul’s pattern of ministry as found in 1 Thessalonians. In his work he pointed out to me the following great quote from Paul Beasley-Murray.
“Paul was concerned not just for the corporate health of the churches in his care, but also for the well-being of individuals. People mattered to Paul… In 1 Thessalonians 2:11 Paul declared: “We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children,” implying that he had concerned himself with his converts on an individual basis. Similarly, Paul emphasized the personal character of his work in Colossians 1:28: he sought to promote individual maturity by “warning and teaching everyone in all wisdom.” All this is in line with Luke’s account of Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders, which suggests that his normal practice was to combine preaching to the church at large together with the visiting of individual church members (Acts 20:20).”
[Beasley-Murray, P. “Paul as Pastor.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1993.]
Amen. Let us do likewise.
Next to my enjoyment of puns themselves is the delight in finding so many worthies of the past extolling the virtue of puns. I should have been collecting these statements along the way, but here is one recently sent to me by Greg Wills. John Broadus, whom Spurgeon deemed the “greatest of living preachers,” second president of Southern Seminary, said of puns:
A pun now is regarded almost with contempt, but it was not so in ancient times. Punning was very common and indulged in by the best writers and speakers. Really, the Bible is full of puns. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Thou art a rock (petros) and on this rock (petra), etc.’ Other examples are Luke xxi, 11; Heb. v, 8; Rom. i, 29 and 30; 2 Cor. ix, 8; x, 12; Matt. xxi, 41; Gal. v, 7; Rom. i, 20; Phil. iii, 2; 2 Thes. iii, 11; Acts viii, 30; Rom. xii, 3.”
(Seminary Magazine, April 1, 1891, p.157)
My friend, Greg Thornbury, mentioned this poem recently, and it grabbed me as a fitting poetic prayer for our time. So, this poem from Chesterton is on my door as the poem of the week.
“O God of Earth and Altar”
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honour and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith, and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
Home Again: A Civil War Novel, Michael Kenneth Smith
(Create Space, 2015), pb., 251 pp.
List $13.95 paperback
I was attracted to this book because it is primarily set in Tennessee and deals with the Battle of Shiloh. So, when I was offered a review copy I took it.
The story centers on two boys who live in Tennessee and meet each other once just before the outbreak of the War Between the States. One boy ends up fighting of the North and one for the South, and the story follows the adventures of each. This is a good narrative set up as you anticipate how the two might meet one another again. The author also strives for historical accuracy, and in places the story is compelling. However, in the end it was disappointing. The two boys do encounter one another towards the end of the story but never know it. And the story ends suddenly with too many loose ends still hanging. This made it less than satisfying to me as a story, though the author does well in communicating the horror of war.
It also needs more proofreading for typos.
A lesser known contribution from Augustus Toplady is my poem of the week this week. It is a wonderful reflection on the comfort and assurance of the fact that in Christ the Almighty is our Protector.
The bedrock truth of God’s sovereign care over his people rooted in his covenant love is ever the foundation of true perseverance. Any sensible person is too aware of his own frailty and faults to bear up long if all he has to depend on is himself. The awareness of God’s presence, throughout the Scriptures, motivates believers to stand fast. If God is for us who can be against us.
A Sov’reign Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.
Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.
Kind Author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!