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“Father, why did so many good men die?”

I have previously commented on my family’s deep appreciation of Douglas Bond’s historical novel, Duncan’s War. Just recently I have had the privilege of rereading the book, this time with my two younger children. I reaffirm all the positive things I said about the book last time. This time it was fun and very encouraging for my younger ones to recognize many of the Psalms sung in the book as we now sing the very same arrangements.

In my previous review I said this story provides a compelling portrait of a father leading his family and in particular discipling his son. I have pasted in below a portion of two pages with the dialogue between father and son, after they and their persecuted neighbors have failed in their attempt to obtain justice and many good men had been executed. This is an example of the profound and pastoral theology contained in this exciting story.
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This is such a great book for parents and children alike. Give it a try.

“Dream not, tyrants, ye have conquered”

One of our favorite sites in Scotland is Dunnottar Castle. The area is stunningly beautiful and it’s history is rich. One aspect of its history is the fact that Covenanters were imprisoned here because of their allegiance to Christ (see photo below). Shep Shepherd recently pointed out to me this wonderful poem which reflects on the suffering of the Covenanters here.

THE SONG OF THE PRISONERS
GEORGE PAULIN.

BY the walls of old Dunnottar
Booms the breaking billow’s roar,
O’er the whitening crest of surges
Sounds the ocean dirge of yore;
As they, rushing, burst in thunder
On Dunnottar’s stormy shore.

Oft the music of the billows
Mingled with the covenant psalm,
When the dungeons of Dunnottar
Held the followers of the Lambs
Men who now in heaven are wearing
Round their brows the victor’s palm.

For the westland wild and moorland,
Hunted by the fierce Dundee,
Bound and bleeding, now they listened,
As the surging of the sea
Shoreward broke, and breaking, mingled
With their westland melody.

Deem not, tyrants, ye have conquered,
Though our sires and sons are dead,
And our limbs are bound and bleeding,
We have triumphed in our Head!
For the bridge and braes of Bothwell
With the blood of Christ are red.

But a time the time is coming,
When the mosses of the West,
And the dungeons of Dunnottar,
And the Bass’s rocky breast,
Shall, upheaving, gladly usher
Forth, an army of the blest.

Sing, then sing, ye solemn surges!
Shout thy thunders, mighty main!
Ours is but a light affliction,
Fitting us for glory’s strain,
When we meet our slaughter’d kindred,
With the Lamb who once was slain!

We shall rise above Dunnottar,
Rise above the sounding sea;
Rise above the western moorlands,
Glorious, beautiful, and free;
Meet in cloud of light the Bridegroom
None so beautiful as He!

He shall say, “Arise, my fair one!”
And the shades shall flee away,
And the sleep of death be broken,
And the grave be light as day.
And the sunshine of the “ages
Never ending,” round us play.

 

 

 

Audible Free Trial, a Great Choice for Audio Books

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.

Stirring Stories of Mission Work

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 End of Comfortable Christianity”

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.

Herbert’s Poetic Portrayal of Pastoral Ministry

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.

 “Aaron”

                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.

Perseverance, by George Herbert

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.

Paul, the Pastor of Particular People

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.

Broadus on Puns

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)

 

Nice!

Chesterton, “O God of Earth and Altar”

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”

by G.K. CHESTERTON

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.