Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Photo of the Week

Now let our souls, on wings sublime, rise from the vanities of time:
Draw back the parting veil and see the glories of eternity.
Shall aught beguile us on the road, when we are walking back to God?
For strangers into life we come, and dying is but going home.

- from a hymn by Thomas Gibbons

Monday, November 30, 2020

Quote of the Week

"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."

- Francis of Assisi

Monday, November 23, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking a week off from the blog for the holiday, so new posts will resume on Monday, Nov. 30. If you'd like to follow along with my family and our church in the meantime, you can check out our calls to prayer (short, encouraging videos posted each evening) at facebook.com/calaisbaptist. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Our Helper, God, we bless Thy name,
Whose love forever is the same:
Amid ten thousand snares we stand,
Supported by Thy guardian hand;
And see, when we review our ways,
Ten thousand monuments of praise.
Let us not murmur or complain
At what Thy wisdom shall ordain;
Accept our thanks for mercies past,
And be our guide while life shall last.
Preserve us by Thy favor still,
And fit us for Thy sacred will.

- lines derived from No. 536 & 539 of the Augustine Hymn Book, 19th century

Friday, November 20, 2020

A Selection from My Poetry-Prayer Journal


Bless, O Lord, the work I must do this week.

It feels too much for me.

But it is not too much for you.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: the Early Baptists

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  – Matthew 28:19

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  – Matthew 22:21b

The Early Baptists: Basic Facts

- The Baptists emerged out of the Puritan movement in England in the early 1600s (and from its offshoot, Congregationalism), with a bit of influence from the Anabaptists of Holland.

- The story of Baptists is not a story of any individual “heroes,” but the story of whole congregations. The first Baptist church was a congregation from England who, because of religious pressure, fled to Holland and adopted believers’ baptism.

From Protestant to Baptist

John Smyth
- Most early Protestant traditions, including
Anglicanism, continued to hold to infant baptism, participation in sacraments as the mark of a true Christian (rather than individual piety), a parish church system (in which everybody in a geographic area was considered to be part of the local church), and authority invested in a church hierarchy. 

- Puritans emerged from mainstream Anglicanism partly by saying that individual piety, not simply participation in the sacraments, is the mark of a true Christian.

- Congregationalists emerged from Puritanism by rejecting the principle of a church hierarchy, instead investing authority in the local church.

- Baptists distinguished themselves from Congregationalists by rejecting the parish system in favor of having a church membership composed only of people who demonstrate the marks of a true Christian life, and also by rejecting infant baptism and arguing for the separation of church and state.

Prominent Early Baptists

- John Smyth, ordained as an Anglican minister, helped lead his Puritan-leaning congregation toward a Baptist position through rigorous study of the Bible. Facing religious pressure in England, they fled to Holland, where they met some Anabaptists and became convinced that infant baptism was improper. Smyth baptized himself, then his whole congregation, in 1609.

- Roger Williams was a minister who emigrated to New England and, in the 1630s, protested against the Congregationalist associations with the state in Massachusetts Bay Colony. He founded the city of Providence, Rhode Island, and built the first Baptist church in North America there. He was also an early advocate for the rights of Native Americans and African slaves.

Roger Williams
Baptist Distinctives

- The Freedom of the Believer – Baptists believe that each individual person is free to choose for themselves what they believe, and that they alone are accountable for that decision. Thus no one else can make the decision for you to be a Christian; only you can do that—hence infants are not to be baptized, only believers mature enough to make the decision for themselves. Believers are also competent to read and interpret Scripture for themselves, and they are not compelled to obey any outside authority on religious matters beyond their own conscience (as informed by the life and practice of their local church).

- The Freedom of the Local Church – Every local church is a full representation of the whole Church, with all the spiritual gifts and authority designated to the whole. Thus the local church has authority to read and interpret Scripture, to manage its own property and ministries, and to organize its own practice of faith. It is not beholden to any church hierarchy above it, though it should maintain voluntary associations with other churches for the purpose of mutual edification and for the pursuit of wider ministries. The church is also free from any interference from the state in its organization, practice, and doctrine.

The Early Baptist Movement in Maine: Isaac Case

- Rev. Isaac Case (1761-1852) was a Baptist preacher from Massachusetts who felt called by God to minister in the frontier towns of Maine. He served both as pastor and missionary throughout his career, and his preaching-tours took him all over the coast of Maine. Almost all of his travels were done solely on foot. It is said that more than 300 Baptist churches in Maine can trace their roots to his influence (including many in our own association, such as Brooklin, North Sedgwick, and Blue Hill), and that he personally baptized more than a thousand people. Although mainly concerned with evangelism, he would also try to impress the truth of Baptist doctrine on any Congregationalists he came across; on one occasion he caused an entire Congregational church to switch its affiliation and become Baptist. By the time of his death, he had spent 72 years in active ministry.

“He appeared to enjoy religion. Progress, praise, and love to Christ, and defense of the Gospel, seemed to be the happy elements of his everyday life…His general bearing bespoke the reign of peace within…When he came to Maine, he was a young man, only twenty years old. He gave his time and all his energies to the work of the ministry, without any salary from any quarter. Everywhere, among our churches, his memory is blessed.” – Adam Wilson, writing about Rev. Case

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The Evangeliad (18:39-43)

Section 18:39-43 (corresponding to Mk. 6:41-44; Mt. 14:19-21; Lk. 9:15-17; Jn. 6:11-13)

After the multitude settled in place,
Christ stood before them and in his arms raised
The bread and the fish, and looking to heaven,
He blessed the food he was going to give them.

This he divided, and gave some to each
Of his disciples, so that they could feed
The whole multitude; and as they went giving,
The food Christ gave remained undiminishing.

So they gave and they gave, food for each hand,
Enough for each child and woman and man.
When all had eaten and were satisfied,
Christ called his disciples back to his side.

"Now go and collect up all that remains,
So nothing is lost that's done in my name."
They gathered up fragments of fish and of bread,
And filled twelve baskets with what had been left.

That surplus remained after five thousand men,
With women and children, all had been fed,
And it had all come from the smallest of gifts,
Just five barley loaves and two little fish!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Photo of the Week

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me...
Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.

- Micah 7:7-8

Monday, November 16, 2020

Quote of the Week

"If we would exercise a true fortitude, we must do all in the spirit of devotion, be valiant against the corruptions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, and the temptations of the devil. For to be daring and courageous against these enemies is the noblest bravery that a human mind is capable of."

- William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Great God, as seasons disappear,
And changes mark the rolling year;
As time with rapid pinions flies,
May every season make us wise.

- from #547 of the Augustine Hymn Book, 19th century

Friday, November 13, 2020

Africa Memoir: A Top-Secret Dictionary Project

I was sitting in a meeting in a high-ceilinged room, with six expatriate workers gathered around me. Three agencies were represented in that room, and out of the three, only one—the Catholic Language Institute—was operating completely in the open, with the full knowledge of the Islamist government. Another was the one I worked for—an organization which had to hold its secrets tightly, and which I had been forbidden to name aloud in conversations, not even with the use of code words. The third agency was one that I knew well—one of the highest-profile linguistics organizations in the world. I knew that its partner agency, which did Bible translation work, was not a name I could mention there. But I received a bit of a shock, a reminder of just how sensitive my work was, when I dropped the name of the linguistics organization into our conversation, as I spoke of my gratitude for being able to work with them. As soon as its name slipped out of my mouth, the Catholic leader, Father Pierre, stood up and shuffled quickly over to the doors of the room, which had been standing open to the hallway outside. He swung them shut and locked them. I doubt that there were any government spies lingering about the hall, but it was a stark reminder of the risks involved in what we were doing.

~ ~ ~ 

Over my first few days in Sudan, Ernest and Aaron introduced me to the project I would be working on. As it turned out, I was going to be more independent than I had envisioned. Ernest and Aaron were hard at work setting up their medical aid and development agency, and Anne was involved with teaching English in a nearby school, but I would be on my own, doing a project for which I only felt marginally qualified. I was going to put together a bilingual dictionary that English-speakers could use to learn Sudanese Arabic. The only trouble was that I did not know Sudanese Arabic, and yet here I was being asked to write a dictionary for the language. (It’s a dialect different enough from modern standard Arabic to require some extra resources, and the only existing dictionary was an antiquated British one from the colonial days.)

But I did have a few skills I could bring to bear. The focus of my undergraduate degree was in linguistics, and I had been trained by members of the linguistics organization mentioned above—a group which pioneered the production of dictionaries, grammars, literacy resources, and Bible translations all around the world. In terms of practical, on-the-field ethnographic-linguistic research, this organization outpaces all other academic or evangelistic linguistic efforts in the world, and by a wide margin. Much of my work in Sudan would also be done in contact with the small handful of their workers based in Khartoum, all of whom were excited about the prospect of a much-needed Sudanese Arabic dictionary. I was proud to be working alongside them, since my own parents’ missionary work in Brazil had been done with the same organization.

I was given the use of two computers—the old office computer at the Catholic Language Institute, and a used desktop unit that Ernest was able to procure for me to use at home. With these, my job was to plug in a computer program that I had brought with me into the country—a basic dictionary-maker called Shoebox, which had been used by linguists and ethnographers all over the world. Then I had to figure out how to make the program run, learning Unicode computing along the way so I could manage the input of Arabic characters. Beyond the computer tasks, I was to compile wordlists from a broad circle of Sudanese contacts and expatriate workers, and then input the data, careful keystroke by careful keystroke, into the growing dictionary database.

The main characters in this work, beyond my own team, included two British Bible translators, who had spent many years in the southern parts of the country, and two workers at the Catholic Language Institute—Father Pierre, a stooped, graying old priest who exuded a sense of patient pleasure everywhere he went, and Lucia, a Dutch woman who taught Arabic classes to other expats. Most of my work revolved around the Catholic Language Institute of Khartoum, a maroon building just a stone’s throw from the Saudi embassy in Amarat, across the main road from my home area of Diems. I got used to walking back and forth between the two suburbs, making my commute by foot every day (about half an hour’s walk). It involved crossing the wildly-weaving traffic of the main thoroughfare, which was sometimes a hair-raising experience (I only almost died once), but on the whole it was a pleasant stroll. Dressed in the normal clothes of daily life—sandals, slacks, and a button-up shirt with the cuffs rolled back—I walked back and forth across the sandy streets, stopping every now and then to practice my greetings with the fuul merchants along the way.

It was there at the institute—affectionately called CLIK—that our meeting to launch the dictionary project took place. Ernest and Aaron were there, as were the two British missionaries, along with Father Pierre and Lucia. We talked a bit about word lists (they had some 2000 pieces of linguistics data already assembled for me to input), about whether to use American or British English in parallel with Sudanese Arabic, and about who else I should contact for more information. And as I was talking in that meeting, I happened to mention the name of the linguistics organization, unaware that saying it out loud would be a problem. But I felt chastened when Father Pierre popped up, rushed over, and locked the doors.

In one sense, the work I was going to do looked kind of boring—manually inputting thousands of items of linguistic data into a computer program. There certainly wasn’t anything illegal in producing this dictionary, which would likely end up being as much use to the Sudanese government as to missionaries. But in another sense, it suddenly took on shades of excitement and intrigue. I was going to spend the next few months conducting meetings with workers whose affiliations were closely-guarded, and whose patient, stalwart work for the good of Sudan was something that had to be done in the shadows. I might be walking in the bright sunlight from Diems to Amarat every day, but the work that I did was something that could not yet be spoken in the open air.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: William Bradford & the Pilgrims

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”  – John 15:14-17

William Bradford & the Pilgrims: Basic Facts

- William Bradford (1590-1657) was one of the original settlers of Plymouth Plantation, having crossed from England in 1620 on the Mayflower, and he became the colony’s governor for over thirty years. His record of the colony’s early years, Of Plymouth Plantation, has become a classic of early American literature. It was under his leadership that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, and he regularly declared additional “days of thanksgiving” throughout the life of the colony. 

- Bradford, like the rest of the Mayflower pilgrims, was a “separatist”—a small branch of the Puritan movement which thought it was better to separate completely from the Church of England than to try to purify it from within. They were thus viewed as more radical than the later Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay Colony.

- In drafting the Mayflower Compact before leaving ship, this small church family became the first group of European settlers in America to declare themselves a self-governing body.


1602 – Young William Bradford, 12 years old, starts to attend the church meetings of a strict Puritan group near his home. He is befriended by William Brewster, one of the congregants.

1603 – King James I takes the throne of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Contrary to the Puritans’ hopes, not only does he refuse to push through any new reforms of the Church of England, he declares that he will deal harshly with its radical critics. This could mean fines, imprisonment, or even death for dissenters.

1607 – Under the threat of government persecution, the little church begins to meet secretly in Scrooby Manor, the home of William Brewster, led by Pastor John Robinson. After being caught, fined, and imprisoned, they decide to look for a way to leave England.

1608 – After several mishaps, including having an English sea captain betray them to the authorities, they finally manage to book passage to Holland. 18-year-old Bradford goes along.

1609 – The Scrooby congregation settles in the Dutch town of Leiden, though most are forced to do menial jobs in poor conditions. Bradford has to live in an area known as “Stink Alley.”

1613 – Bradford, now having gained an inheritance from his family, marries Dorothy May in a civil ceremony (not in a religious ceremony, because “church weddings” aren’t in the Bible).

1617 – The Bradfords have their first child, John. But the Scrooby congregation is now considering leaving Holland, distressed that their young people are growing up Dutch instead of English, and surrounded by the worldly temptations of the tolerant 17th-century Dutch society.

1620 – They make arrangements to settle the northern part of Virginia Colony, and hire two ships to take them. One, the Speedwell, has to turn back, so all 130 passengers have to cram together in the 100-foot Mayflower for a two-month journey over rough seas. The Bradfords have to leave their three-year-old son behind in Holland. They make landfall in November, but don’t come to their final spot at Plymouth until December of 1620. Realizing that they were well north of their chartered location, they drafted their own Mayflower Compact as a political constitution. Dorothy Bradford dies while William is away on an exploratory scouting mission.

– About half of the group does not survive the winter, including the first governor. Bradford, now thirty-one, is elected to replace him. It is only after making a treaty with the nearby Wampanoag tribe, and gaining their assistance in planting and fishing, that the colony begins to thrive. This partnership leads to the first Thanksgiving, though the actual event was a good deal different from romanticized later notions of the feast.

1620s and beyond – The Plymouth colony faces a number of ongoing challenges: violence from tribes opposed to the Wampanoags, disrespect from the new Puritan settlers at Massachusetts Bay, the settlement of non-religious Englishmen in their midst, and a growing rebellion among the younger generation against the values of their parents.

Quotes from William Bradford

“All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

“But though this had been a night of much hardship and danger, God gave them a morning of comfort and refreshment, as He usually doth to His children.”

“It was to the astonishment of many and almost to the wonder of the world, that from so small a beginning such great things should ensue - as in due time was manifested; and that there should be resting place for so many of the Lord's people here, when so sharp a scourge had come upon their own nation. But it was the Lord's doing, and it ought to be marvelous in our eyes.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Evangeliad (18:26-38)

Section 18:26-38 (corresponding to Mk. 6:35-40; Mt. 14:15-19; Lk. 9:12-14; Jn. 6:5-10)

So he spoke of the kingdom, healed the sick;
And when evening came, his friends came to him.
They said, "It is late; there's nothing around,
And the people are all growing hungry now.

Let's send them away so they can buy bread."
"No," Jesus said, "you feed them instead.
Give unto them from what you yourselves have."
"But we don't have enough!" they protested back.

"Indeed," Philip said, "more than half a year's wage
Would barely even begin to assuage
The hunger-pangs of a crowd that's so vast!"
"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.

And Andrew replied, "That boy over there,
He has five loaves he'd be willing to share,
And two fish besides; but it can't be much good
When what's needed is a whole multitude's food!"

"Bring them to me," Jesus said, "then go ask
The crowd, as they sit out there in the grass,
To order themselves into grouped companies
All over the field, of about fifty each."

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Photo of the Week


Hear what God the Lord hath spoken,
"O my people, faint and few,
Comfortless, afflicted, broken,
Fair abodes I build for you.
Thorns of heartfelt tribulation
Shall no more perplex your ways:
You shall name your walls 'Salvation,'
And your gates shall all be 'Praise.'
Ye no more your suns descending,
Waning moons no more shall see;
But your griefs forever ending,
Find eternal noon in me:
God shall rise, and shining o'er ye,
Change to day the gloom of night;
He, the Lord, shall be your glory,
God your everlasting light."

- William Cowper, "The Future Peace and Glory of the Church," (vv.1, 3), Olney Hymns

Monday, November 09, 2020

Quote of the Week

Some wisdom from the ancient Stoic philosophers, on how to deal with unfair criticism:

"Does another do me wrong? Let him look to it. The disposition was his and the activity was his."      - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5:25

"If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don't try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, 'Yes, and he doesn't know the half of it, because he could have said much more!'"     - Epictetus, Enchiridion 33:9

"Remember from now on whenever something tends to make you unhappy, draw on this principle: 'This is no misfortune; but bearing with it bravely is a blessing.'"     - Epictetus, Fragment 28b

Monday, October 26, 2020

A Two-Week Break from Blogging

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I'm taking a couple weeks off my normal blog-posting schedule. I'll try to resume normal posts on Monday, Nov. 9. In the meantime, you can check out my church's Facebook feed at facebook.com/calaisbaptist, which includes a daily inspirational video post from me and my family.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Dear God, give us peaceful hearts and a right courage in the confusion and strife... And so may we not only endure and finally triumph, but also have peace in the midst of the struggle. May we praise and thank you and not complain or become impatient against your divine will. Let peace win the victory in our hearts, that we may never through impatience initiate anything against you, our God, or our neighbors. May we remain quiet and peaceable toward God and toward other people, both inwardly and outwardly, until the final and eternal peace shall come. Amen.

- Martin Luther

Friday, October 23, 2020

Africa Memoir: Perhaps You Would Like a Sudanese Wife? (Or Possibly Two?)

Blue Nile, Sudan  (Photo by Bertramz, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)

My first few days in Sudan were a whirlwind of new experiences. I got to meet my team, which at that point consisted of just two small families, both from Europe and both still fairly young (though a few years older than me). Ernest was our team leader, and he lived with his wife Eve a few blocks away from Aaron and Anne, in the vast, mud-brick suburb of Diems. I was staying with Aaron and Anne until I could get settled into my work and find a place of my own. Even though no one else in the team was a native English-speaker, they had all adopted English as their team language before I arrived, since they did not speak one another’s first languages. They were smart, pleasant, and passionately devoted to their calling, which was to reach some of the people groups in western Sudan (the Darfur region) who had never before had access to the Gospel. They were still in the early years of their team project, so everyone was busy trying to learn Sudanese Arabic, make contacts in the community, and set up the development agency that would provide basic medical necessities to the communities in which they ministered. All of them had left behind other careers and other dreams in order to be of service to the Kingdom of God—in Aaron’s case, he had actually been a professional athlete, a rising star in his sport, but he walked away from it to follow God’s call. 

Aaron and Anne’s house was of a traditional Sudanese design—brown walls, looking rather like adobe from the American southwest, arranged around a small open courtyard. On one side stood my room, connected to the living room (the “saloon” in Arabic); on another side, the tiny kitchen and my hosts’ room; and, in another corner, the bathroom, complete with a hole in the cement floor which served as the toilet. There was a new construction project starting to rise beside their house, and it wasn’t uncommon for curious Sudanese workers to pause and gaze down into the yard to see what the white people were up to that day. (Aaron and Anne said they didn’t mind, except when they, who missed climbing mountains in the Alps, were practicing climbing skills on the sides of their home that faced the tiny courtyard—but, now that I think about it, it seems obvious that Sudanese workers would enjoy watching white people do something as odd-looking as that.) 

That first morning we met with the whole team at Ernest’s house after a short, dusty walk along Sharia Waahid-wa-arobayeen—Street 41. Our neighborhood, Diems (pronounced “Dame”), was a residential part of Khartoum, but to call it a “suburb” is perhaps too generous: to Western eyes, it would look more like a vast, sprawling slum of mud-brick, one-story homes crammed together. There was a local joke there (a pun on the sound of “Diems” in Arabic, which resembles their word for firewood), that the residents of Diems were nothing but fuel for hellfire. On the whole, though, I found the place quite pleasant—the people were friendly, there were a few shops around at which to buy necessities, and the streets were run largely by a fleet of efficient motorized rickshaw-taxis (efficient, that is, until they all disregarded the signals at the traffic light and ended tied up in a Gordian knot of hundreds of vehicles). Ernest’s house was marginally nicer than most homes in Diems (though still very small by American standards), and it had its own sun-warmed water tank on the roof and a generator for when the power failed. We met there every morning of the week to sing a few praise choruses, to pray, and to plan the work for the day. 

One of our first outings was to a “forest preserve” on the banks of the Blue Nile (looking nothing, of course, like any forest I was used to—it amounted to a smattering of scrubby bushes and one or two gnarled old trees, but in the Sahara, that’s probably as close to a forest as it gets). The Blue Nile runs into Sudan from the Ethiopian highlands to the east, and meets the White Nile in Khartoum, so it is there that the famous river takes on its final shape, as it winds its long journey through the desert, up toward Egypt. We gathered there by the river, trying to find shade under one of the only trees in the place, and it was there that we met a few Muslim-background believers (MBBs) in Jesus. These were new Christians, being discipled by our team, and they had to meet in out-of-the-way locations for fear of being discovered. It was technically against the law for a Muslim to convert to the Christian faith, and they could face imprisonment or death if it were discovered. But there was no one else around that day, so we sat in the sparse shade from the blazing sun, and talked a bit. 

A couple of the men knew a little bit of English, but not much. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a smattering of English in Khartoum, since there had been some British influence in the country in the first half of the twentieth century, but most of the time I had to rely on my teammates to translate. The MBB families were kind and friendly, and told winsome stories about their lives. They greeted me with the effusive warmth for guests that you can find anywhere in Sudan—hospitality so forward as to be shocking. “We are so happy to have you here! You should live in Sudan your whole life! We hope you stay with us forever!” (This is a far cry from how my home society in Maine greets anyone “from away”). 

One of the men took it even further. He had his two grown daughters with him, both looking to be about my age. They were lovely young ladies, robed as was customary in Muslim society, with only their faces showing. When Ernest introduced me, the man shook my hand with vigor and asked, “Are you married?” 

“No,” I said. 

“Ah, then perhaps you would like a Sudanese wife! Look at my daughter here! She would make a wonderful wife!” Then he dropped his voice a little, as if he knew that the Sudanese custom he was proposing might not fly in his new Christian circle: “Or perhaps you would even like two wives? Both of my daughters are very fine young women!” 

I smiled and thanked him for the very generous offer, but declined. It was a flattering suggestion, of course, but marrying two Sudanese women on my first week there would have been a little hard to explain in my letters to supporters back home.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: The Puritans

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”  – Titus 2:11-14

The Puritans: Basic Facts

- The Puritans were a group of Reformed Christians in England who wanted to purify the existing Church of England. Their movement ultimately ended up forming several separate, “nonconformist” churches (including the Baptists) in opposition to the Anglicans. As a result, they suffered much persecution. Some groups, known as Separatists, emigrated to Holland; others remained in England; still others founded the Puritan colony of Massachusetts Bay. 

- Richard Baxter (1615-1691, pictured above) was one of the leading Puritan pastors in England. He reformed the practice of ministry in and around his parish of Kidderminster. His most famous book, The Reformed Pastor, describes this process. He gained tremendous influence during the English Civil War but largely failed to bring unity among the divided Christians of England. He spent much of his career suffering intermittent persecution and imprisonment.

- John Bunyan (1628-1688, pictured right) was a member of the Puritan nonconformist movement that would come to be known as “Baptists.” As a young man, he was tortured by an uneasy conscience and became convinced of his wretchedness as a sinner. It was this feeling of spiritual desperation that led him to a group of Baptists led by the pastor John Gifford. Bunyan took over the pastorate from Gifford, and became famous as a pastor and writer. He is the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most widely-published books in history, and several other important works, including his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.

- A Puritan church service usually lasted 3 hours —an hour for prayer and two hours for a sermon. In Massachusetts Bay Colony, those who failed to attend church were subjected to some form of public discipline, like being put in the stocks.

- The King James Bible, though it later became beloved, was originally composed, at least in part, as an anti-Baptist Bible (Baptists, and some other Puritans of the time, preferred the Geneva Bible).

- The Puritan colony at Massachusetts Bay was one of the most highly-educated, literate societies in the world. Within a few years of its establishment, they founded Harvard College.

- The early Puritans in Massachusetts, in contrast to many other settlers, wanted to evangelize and do good to the Native Americans. They considered their colony a “city on a hill,” an experiment in holiness which the whole world was watching.


“It is the most high and noble part of holiness to search after, behold, admire, and love the great Creator in all his works.” - Richard Baxter

“I preached as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“Men would sooner believe that the gospel is from heaven if they saw more such effects of it upon the hearts and lives of those who profess it. The world is better able to read the nature of religion in a man’s life than in the Bible.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“There are no virtues wherein your example will do more, at least to abate men’s prejudice, than humility and meekness and self-denial.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“Unity in things necessary; liberty in things unnecessary; and charity in all.” 
 - Richard Baxter

“One leak will sink a ship: and one sin will destroy a sinner.” – John Bunyan

“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without heart.” – John Bunyan

“Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and careless spirit, will cost no great difficulties; but to set yourself before the Lord, and to tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him: this will cost you something.” – John Flavel

Pilgrim's Progress

- This book is a classic work of Protestant devotion, describing in allegory the journey of a Christian from a sinful state all the way, ultimately, to heaven. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and remains popular to this day. In evangelical Christianity, it is the second most influential book after only the Bible itself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Evangeliad (18:19-25)

Section 18:19-25 (corresponding to Mt. 14:12-14; Mk. 6:32-34)

When John's disciples heard of his death,
They took his body and laid it to rest;
Then went and told Jesus what had been done
To their friend and Jesus' kinsman, John.

When Jesus heard this, he wanted to be
On his own for a while, so he put out to sea
Along with disciples, all in their boat,
To a hillside where he could be alone.

But the crowds saw them going, knew where they'd land,
And hastened by foot to the place beforehand.
So there on the hillside Jesus sat down,
With friends and multitudes seated around.

Christ lifted his eyes, looked out at them all,
Drawn by the power and grace of his call;
And though he was mourning, his spirit was struck
With great compassion for the shepherdless flock.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Photo of the Week

In the harvest feast or the fallow ground,
My certain hope is in Jesus found:
My lot, my cup, my portion sure;
Whatever comes, we shall endure.

- from the hymn "In Feast or Fallow," by Sandra McCracken

Monday, October 19, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Why are good people afflicted with hard times and calamities?... So that the human spirit may be proved, and that the strength of faithful trust and selfless love with which it cleaves to God may be shown."

- Augustine, from his book City of God (I.9)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord, if judgments now are waking,
Let not Thy compassions sleep,
But, while earthly thrones are shaking,
Firm and free Thy kingdom keep.
Jesus, hear us; be Thou near us,
When the storm shall o'er us sweep.

- William Henry Havergal

Friday, October 16, 2020

An Exciting Announcement

In lieu of my Africa memoir this week, I thought I'd give you a quick update on some exciting developments in my writing ministry. We all dealt with our pandemic anxieties in different ways during the shutdown; I tried to alleviate the pressure with the unadvisable practice of creating multiple book proposals and sending them all out to publishers at the same time. Well, my chickens have come home to roost--in recent weeks, I've received contract offers for two different books! (And now I just have to find the time to complete my work on them, on top of everything else I'm doing.)

The first one will be a reworked version of a project that I initially presented here on this blog. My pilgrimage book, Wings over the Wall, is going to be released by North Wind Publishing, based right here in Maine. It's a part-devotional, part-memoir account of my trip to Israel (with a fair bit of birding thrown in), which invites readers to join me on a reflective journey through the life of Jesus. 

The second one is still in the works, and I don't feel comfortable sharing too much until all the details are in place, but I'm very excited about it. It will be a theology book, my first work to be accepted by a major, internationally-recognized academic publisher, and it will expand on some of the material that I've been working through during my "royal priesthood" series of midweek Bible studies.

I don't yet know the timetables for when these books will be available (for the second one it will likely be more than a year away, and perhaps two). But I'll keep you all updated. Thanks for reading along!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Lancelot Andrewes and the KJV

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  – Ps. 50:1-2

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  – Hebrews 4:12

Lancelot Andrewes: Basic Facts

- Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) was a prominent bishop in the Anglican church, renowned as the greatest preacher of his day, a scholar of international standing, and a man of intense personal devotion. He helped guide the English church during a divisive period where fights were ranging back and forth between Puritans and Anglo-Catholics about how the church should be constituted. 

- Lancelot Andrewes’ main impact in his own day was through his sermons and his advocacy for a church polity that supported the rule of monarchical law in England. Today, he is largely appreciated for his “Private Devotions,” which were published and which have come to be regarded as a spiritual classic.

- His greatest legacy, however, is as one of the “directors” of the translation team that produced the King James Version.
(The KJV Bible presented to King James)

Scholarship – Andrewes was recognized as a linguistic genius early in his life. By the time of the KJV translation, he could speak fifteen modern languages and six ancient ones. He is regarded by some as the best writer of the English language in terms of understanding the power of its vocabulary and the harmonies and rhythms of its syntax. In addition to being a bishop, he was also the founder and dean of several prestigious colleges throughout his career.

Ministry – Andrewes took his ministry quite seriously. He refused to give in to the corruption so common in clergy of his time, turning down prestigious new positions if they came with strings attached. He preached courageous sermons against corruption at the royal courts. Despite his busyness, he always took time to counsel his parishioners, even at a moment’s notice.

Devotion – Andrewes began every day by spending five hours in prayer, nearly as much time as he gave to his scholarship and to the administration of his ministerial duties. His “Personal Devotions” continue to inspire many today. The private chapel where he prayed became so widely known as a place of remarkable holiness that many people asked to be buried there.

A Selection from Lancelot Andrewes' "Private Devotions"

“Two things I recognize, O Lord, in myself: nature, which Thou has made; sin, which I have added…Take away from me that which I have made; let that which Thou hast made remain in me…O Lord my God, if I have destroyed my innocence, have I at all thence destroyed Thy mercy? If I have committed that for which Thou mightest condemn me, hast Thou at all lost that by which Thou are wont to save? Truth, Lord: my conscience meriteth damnation, but no offense equals Thy compassion. Spare me therefore; because it is not unbefitting Thy justice, nor unwonted to thy mercy, nor difficult to Thy power, to spare the penitent…However unclean, Thou canst cleanse me; however blind, enlighten me; however weak, restore me; yea, though dead, raise me. Of what kind soever I am, be it good or bad, I am ever Thine…More canst Thou remit, than I commit; more canst Thou spare, than I offend…Infirm I come to the Almighty, wounded I hasten to the Physician: reserve for me the gentleness of Thy compassion.”

The King James Version

- The KJV was conceived of as a way to bring some healing and unity to a Christian nation that was deeply divided—it was intended to be an “irenicon” that made peace between the Puritans and the high-church advocates in England. 

- As such, it was invested with a majestic tone and terminology which avoided thorny theological issues.

- The KJV was produced by a network of scholars (some of them good and saintly Christians, but some of them more politically-minded and a few even dissolute) operating in different translation teams over a period of almost a decade. It used a highly bureaucratic method of correspondence about every line of text until an agreement could be reached on terminology and phrasing. The translators began by consulting the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available to them at the time in an attempt to make the new translation faithful to the original, inspired documents. (However, they did not have access to the best and earliest manuscripts, which we are now able to consult, and many of the translators were better acquainted with classical Greek than with the koine Greek of the New Testament.) They also consulted previous English translations, hoping to make the KJV acceptable to both the Puritans (who preferred the “Geneva Bible” translation) and the high-church advocates (who used the official “Bishop’s Bible” translation). The KJV translators ended up borrowing heavily from the phraseology of William Tyndale’s earlier translation.

- Interestingly, the KJV did not win immediate acceptance or popularity. Even some of its own translators continued to use their preferred versions (Andrewes, for example, continued to preach from the Geneva Bible). It was only after the English Civil War, after people moved on from the messy political and religious squabbles from which the KJV was born, that it was widely taken up. It became especially valued as a formative text in the new American colonies. Though many new translations can now be more faithful to the original Greek and Hebrew texts because of more widely available resources, new translations have struggled to match the compelling power of the majesty and beauty of the KJV’s prose.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Evangeliad (18:11-18)

Section 18:11-18 (corresponding to Mark 6:21-29)

But that changed at King Herod's birthday feast,
With official guests he was eager to please.
Herodias had a daughter most fair,
Who danced for Herod and his guests in there.

The daughter delighted the crowd with her dance,
And King Herod himself, fully entranced,
Vowed to give her anything she might ask,
Of his kingdom's value, up to even half.

So she went out to where her mother sat,
And gave her the question: "What should I ask?"
This answered, she went back inside and said,
"I want, on a platter, John the Baptist's head."

Then the king regretted his hasty vow,
But Herod could not go back on it now--
He had sworn an oath, and his guests had heard,
So reluctantly, the king gave the word.

Then John was beheaded there in his cell,
And his severed head was brought in the hall,
Set on a platter, which the girl received,
Then brought it out for her mother to see.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Photo of the Week


The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders...
The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness...
They shout for joy and sing.

- Psalm 65:8a, 12, 13b

Monday, October 12, 2020

Quote of the Week

"There is no power like that of prevailing prayer... It turns ordinary mortals into men and women of power. It brings power. It brings fire. It brings rain. It brings life."

- Samuel Chadwick, author and pastor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord of all power and might,
You who are the Author,
You who are the Giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name;
Increase in us true faith,
Nourish us in all goodness,
And by your great mercy,
Keep us ever in your grace;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Africa Memoir: It's All Who You Know

So there I was, sitting in the vacant Khartoum airport as midnight slipped by toward one o’clock, with a gun-wielding soldier at my side to make sure I didn’t move. I’ve called myself an illegal immigrant at that particular moment, but it should hopefully be clear that I didn’t ever intend to try to enter Sudan without the proper papers: all the arrangements had been made in advance, but somebody dropped the ball. I soon found out who that somebody was.

Oddly enough, as I sat there with the threat of deportation or imprisonment looming over me, I didn’t feel worried at all. There was a deep sense of peace that had rested on me from the moment I was waved over into the official’s office; I can only attribute it to the many prayers that were said in my behalf from friends back home.

It was about half an hour later that a tall, big-bellied man with a broad smile sauntered into the airport, papers in hand. He was gregarious and self-possessed, and the customs officials all seemed to know him and to be on quite friendly terms with him. He grinned at me, waved, and then came up to shake my hand.

“Good evening and welcome to Sudan!” he beamed. “My name is Ali, and I am your travel agent here in Khartoum. I must apologize for not being here sooner, but I was stuck in traffic.”

This was a ridiculous excuse, and we both knew it—there are no midnight traffic jams in Khartoum—but it was clearly a polite cultural way to save face and pass smoothly over any disagreements. No doubt he had forgotten about my arrival, had gone to bed, only to be roused by a desperate phone call from my team leader Ernest.

But I didn’t mind; I was happy to have him there. He had documents in hand, and we went back into the corner office and breezed through the applications. Ali was cracking jokes in Arabic the whole way through, and whenever he told me to get out some cash to pay this or that entry fee, I did exactly as he said. Within just a few minutes, my passport was festooned with brightly-colored Arabic stickers, and they waved me through without even the compulsory check of my one piece of luggage. The customs agents just grinned and shook their heads at Ali’s jokes, slapped some yellow stickers on my suitcase to show (falsely) that it had passed inspection, and handed it over to me.

This was one of my first introductions to dealing with bureaucracy in Africa, as done by its expert practitioners—have money ready, keep smiling, and, above all, know the right people. So, with many prayers answered, I stepped out as a legal foreign worker into the hot, dry midnight air of Khartoum.

Ernest was outside the airport, waiting for me beside his car. He was a tall European fellow with blond hair. Looking back on it now, he was young to be a team leader in a place like that—in his late twenties, or thirty at most—but to me at twenty-one, he was enough my senior that I never gave it a second thought. The tenor of his voice in welcoming me betrayed the fact that he had experienced more than a bit of worry while pacing around his car. It was only when I met him, shook his hand and noticed the nervous quaver in his voice, that I truly realized what a dangerous situation I might have just been in a few minutes before.

He drove me through the dark, empty streets into a suburb called Diems, where our team made its home, and left me to sleep the remainder of the night in the house of Aaron and Anne, two young missionaries who were also from Europe. I was really too tired at that point to form much of an impression of them—I was grateful to be done with my journey, and to be in a safe place where I could sleep. Their house was built around a small inner courtyard, as many Sudanese homes are, and they led me to a little room just to one side, where I found a cot, crawled under its dusty mosquito net, and went to sleep.

I awoke a few hours later to the sight of sunlight streaming through the barred window of the room, and the wild, careening cry of “Allahu akhbar!” sounding from the loudspeakers of the mosque next door.