Feb 23

Blood, Sweat & Jesus, by Kerry Stillman ★★★★★

In the year 2009, my wife Betsy and I did several medical mission trips, one to Bangladesh, and the other to Cameroon. While both trips were to remote villages that were of Muslim orientation, there were great differences that we noted in how the hospitals operated as well as the style of the missionaries. The Cameroon experience was in the Sahal, or Extrem Nord of Cameroon, in a small town called Meskine just outside of Maroua. It was a hot, semi-desert environment, and many of the patients lived a nomadic lifestyle. While many languages were spoken, including French, Fulani, Arabic, German, and Hausa, one of the languages was not English. Thus, my communication was mostly in French to patients, and German to the surgeon from Leipzig that I was working with. It was in this setting that we met Kerry Stillman, who was a physiotherapist from England who was working at the hospital. The hospital in Meskine was built in the early 1990s by a trio of families that came out from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were able to construct a mission hospital that has had a tremendous influence on the surrounding villages, and many Muslims came under the influence of hearing the gospel. The most peculiar aspect of this hospital mission that Betsy and I appreciated was that everybody seemed to get along quite well with each other. I say this because it is unusual to see the friendly spirit among co-workers as was seen at Meskine. Scott and Lee Pyles, as well as Danny and Frances Kennison, ran an enjoyable operation that kept peace with the hospital workers as well as patients. Dave and Patsy Alfors (from deepest darkest Africa!), the Kretschmar family from Leipzig, Kerry Stillman, Dr. Jacqueline from the Netherlands, and many others were all a great joy to be around. It was truly a great honor to have worked with them.

Kerry chronicles the events that led up to the founding of the MCWA hospital in Cameroon, based on the inspiration of a surgeon named Bert Oubre. Kerry details the original vision, the Pyles’, Kennison’s, and Oubre’s first trip to Meskine, and how the hospital slowly took shape, including how she was eventually recruited from England. Much of the book that follows are multiple anecdotes on how the hospital touched the lives of so many people in northern Cameroon as well as Chad and Nigeria. Each story was a moving experience of how the faithfulness of a few missionaries was able to bring the gospel and salvation to many people lost to the darkness of Islam. The challenges of becoming a Christian in a Muslim country were emphasized. Finally, events of terrorism from Boko Haram affected the hospital community, ultimately leading to the foreign missionaries pulling out of the hospital, though leaving it operational with native doctors and nurses. Kerry included descriptions of the challenges of life during Ramadan. She describes the process of a Muslim held funeral, and how it differs from a Christian funeral. She also had a chapter that described the many ways in which the hospital had positively affected the village of Meskine. Kerry is a master story-teller, and it was difficult to put the book down. She was artful at painting the lives of so many people whose lives she and the hospital community affected and led to Christ.

There were a number of details missing from the book that I would have appreciated. Photos were the most important, which would have greatly enhanced the text. I would have liked to hear about the native hospital employees, who also made the stay for us in Meskine quite enjoyable. Sadly, I don’t exactly remember their names and so won’t list them. There were a few lacunae in the hospital story. What happened to Dr. Baigent? When and why did Dr. Bert Oubre leave? How did Scott transition the hospital from a primarily mission-run hospital to one run by the natives? What were the challenges with workers from this community? What were the seasons like in North Cameroon? What about the red, blowing dust storms that would occur every year? What other trials afflicted the missionaries in their service? It would have been nice to have a fuller biography of the main workers who spent time at Meskine over the years, including that of Kerry, the Alfors, the Kretschmars (who has a very fascinating story to tell of growing up as a Christian in East Germany under Communist rule), and the starting trio. Now that the hospital is taken over by others, where did everybody go, including Kerry? I dearly hope that Kerry writes volume two of this wonderful story that includes these details.

I enjoyed this book tremendously since Betsy and I were there in Meskine, worked in the hospital, and saw much of what Kerry wrote about. It brought back precious memories. For those who have never been to Cameroon or this mission, the book is still worth reading. It is a wonderful story of how many lives have been affected and blessed by the gospel and a few missionaries faithful to God’s call in their life. Perhaps someone will be motivated to even spend some time on the mission field?

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Feb 19

The Church in Babylon: Heeding the Call to Be a Light in the Darkness, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

This book is the last of three books by Erwin Lutzer that I have been reading, all three having been written recently, and addressing contemporary events. Lutzer, in this book, offers a Christian approach to the many challenges against our faith that we now face as individuals and as a society. The challenges are many. The city has become God’s enemy. Our work environment is hostile to the Christian faith. The state is increasingly mandating laws in direct opposition to faithful Christian living. Technology creates a giant sucking sound on our souls. Confused sexuality is a lie that directly opposes God’s word and destroys individuals and families. Islam and immigration are presenting false gods into our communities, yet offer a mission field for us. The church is being torn apart by false gospels and false beliefs. To all of this, Lutzer offers the challenge of Christians being faithful in loving their God, sharing their faith, and living true to God’s word. Reform must happen both in individuals, as well as in the church itself. Persecution is guaranteed to be increasingly prevalent, and we must greet it as the price of being faithful Christians.

Lutzer is skilled at not only opening up the problems that we face as Christians but also at offering Scriptural solutions to these problems. Lutzer shines his best as a pastor in this book, probably one of his best at addressing contemporary issues that are destroying the church. His call to faithfulness should be both acknowledged and heeded.

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Feb 18

Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund ★★★★★

This book was sent to me by Dr. Don Wood, an old professor of mine whom I worked under at Cook County Hospital and at the University of Illinois in the Department of Surgical Oncology. It was a delightful read. The book is short, consisting of 23 chapters, each of which averages 8.53 pages long. Technically, the book might be read in 2-4 evenings, but it would not really have been read under such circumstances. The book is not intended to be a tome that is consumed in a single setting. It is not a devotional, and definitely not styled like a devotional. Though the chapters are short, one would not read the book in the way one would read something like The Daily Bread. Neither is the book an exposition in theological terms on the heart of Christ. One cannot read the book as though they were reading out of Berkhof or Bavinck.

The heart of Christ is an often-neglected topic. There are several approaches offered regarding Christ’s love toward us. Many sermons today skim briefly over the love of Christ for us as sinful people and then challenge us to clean up our act and behave appropriately as good Christian folk. These preachers fear that we will adapt an antinomian theology if “law” is not emphasized. Many others, in touching on the heart of Christ, turn Christ into a limp, unopinionated, all-accepting being. This fictional world of the preacher has no need of a savior averting us from the wrath of an eternal omnipotent God. Both opposites are equally perilous. A diet of nothing but this book would also be highly imbalanced, yet, without this book, the normal American Christian “diet” is also unbalanced. Ortlund does a necessary service to the reader elaborating on an often unspoken topic of Christ’s love toward us, of his care for us, of his gentleness toward those he calls his own. To help Ortlund in this task, Ortlund draws on the wealth of a number of Puritan Divines, including Thomas Goodwin, John Bunyan, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, and others. Ortlund sets us straight in seeing that while our proclivity is toward being angry and not loving God and others, it is God’s natural inclination to love us, and will be angry only when persistently provoked. I know of many people who thought of the God of the Old (and New) Testament as a wrathful, angry, unloving God, until they read Scripture, only to have unveiled the wealth of mercy and love of God as displayed again and again throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, Jesus (though he is God) is often pitted against God the Father, Jesus manifesting the gentleness and compassion of the Godhead and God the father manifesting the stern judgemental wrath of the Godhead. Ortlund sets one straight in this regard, as such thinking could not be further from the truth, as plainly demonstrated in Scripture.

I highly recommend this book. It is real food for the soul. It is accurate to Scripture. It is a treasure chest of statements attesting to a neglected aspect of Christ’s character, Christ’s love for us sinners. The Existence and Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock is a more comprehensive wide-angle lens approach to God’s character. This present book is a microscopic description of a single one of God’s attributes, a chapter out of Charnock’s tome. Christ spoke of himself, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)) This attribute of Christ must be near and dear to the heart of every Christian. Ortlund gently draws you into this heart of Christ.

There is another often overlooked aspect of this book worth mentioning. The typography and quality of printing are often overlooked. It is quite noticeable that this volume stands out above most books one would get on the market. The choice of typestyles, spacing, margin size, references, and printing are all far above the normal quality that one would expect. Thankfully, there are also no distracting call-outs. Does it really matter? Absolutely! The quality of typography determines the readability of a text and is often neglected. Crossway is to be commended.

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Feb 09

I don’t like to get political on this blog site. Politics are of low interest to me, even though the politicians of all parties are constantly in your face. I find this to be truly annoying. I tend to vote conservatively, and thus lean Republican, even though I have many deep misgivings with the Republican Party. I received a recent request for funds from the Washington State Republican Party, and something just triggered me something fierce. I wrote the state Party a letter of complaint pointing out their hypocrisy, which I’m sure they’ll ignore, or promptly trash. Here it is…

RepublicanPartyLetter

Here is the letter to Ronna McDaniel of the National Republican Party, similar, but with some content adjustment…

RNCLetter09FEB21

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Jan 28

It’s been over 2 years since I last did cross country skiing. The John Wayne Trail (Cascade to Palouse Trail) at Hyak is a simple trail with minimal elevation gain and groomed, that allows one to get back into shape. The drive from Puyallup is about 1.5 hours. The weather was overcast with a few breaks, but not too cold. Since it was a Thursday, there were not too many skiers on the trail, and that, mostly skate skiers. My course was as follows…

I didn’t expect to get in quite as much distance as I did. My goal to ski to the lower end of Keechelus Lake was not met, meaning I will need to return another day for that. Sore muscles resulted from today’s endeavor, but not too bad. I will return perhaps next week, and then begin to venture into serious X-country country. My ski poles are 45 years old, my skis 30 years old, and they are definitely NOT the style currently being used, though they worked just fine for me. I was a tad bit clumsy, falling 3 times, which one remembers, because it’s not the easiest to get back up onto the skis.  I probably won’t post further ski adventures, unless they entail something memorable.

Keechelus Lake, looking north toward Hyak.

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Jan 27

I’m just announcing that I will be continuing my hike up the PCT this year. As many of you may have recalled, I commenced an attempt of a thru-hike of the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in 2019. The PCT is a 2652+ mile long trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. I was doing this in part because it was a life-long dream of mine, and in part to raise funds for the Huguenot Heritage Foundation as a Walk-A-Thon. What I didn’t realize was that the year 2019 was a horrific snow year, and much of the trail remained under snow well into late summer. After that, family issues, higher than normal mosquito counts, and a few orthopedic ailments led to me bailing and playing trail angel at Hart’s Pass for a week with EZ, and then with a wonderful church group from Grand Coulee. I accomplished 1000 miles of the trail and a thirst to return. I now intend to commence where I first bailed, at Walker Pass, and go north from there. In 2020, I had a permit, but the Chinese virus struck. I used the summer to spend extra time practicing my trumpet, but also in having the opportunity of taking my grandkids out on their first or second, or third backpack trips, teaching them the new style of ultra-light packing, and getting in a few bucket list hikes.
It’s now another year. Thinking a bit more realistic, I am placing several restraints on my endeavors. I don’t want to waste the entire summer on the trail alone. (The surest way to create mortal enemies is to invite your best friends to hike the PCT with you!). Hopefully, I might trail angel a bit, if I can connect with EZ or the Grand Coulee folk. I’d also like to spend some time in a cabin in the woods or at the beach with Betsy (my dear wife) and with friends.
Here is my plan. On 28JUN I hop Amtrak down to Bakersfield, CA from Tacoma, WA. Using Kern County Transit, this will put me on the trail at roughly 6:15 am on 30JUN2021. I will resupply (mail myself packages) at Kennedy Meadows South, enter the high Sierra, resupply at Muir Trail Ranch, Reds Meadow (Devil’s Posthole, Mammoth Mountain CA area), Tuolomne Meadows, Kennedy Meadows North, hitchhike into South Lake Tahoe to resupply, resupply at Sierra City, Belden, and then end at Old Station just pass Mt. Lassen (where I started hiking a section 2 years ago), hitch or Uber a ride to Redding, CA, take Amtrak up to Dunsmuir, CA, and then hike the trail from Castella/I-5 to I-5/Callahans (Ashland, OR) before taking the bus to Klamath Falls, and Amtrak back home to Tacoma. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. This will leave me with only the segment from Crater Lake to White Pass, WA and the segment from Snoqualmie, WA to the border to complete, which will be done in a future year.
This particular segment of the trail will have its own difficulties. The high Sierra from Kennedy Meadows South to Muir Trail Ranch is a 158-mile stretch that goes over 5 mountain passes, one 13,100 feet high, and takes about 9-10 days to do. That means carrying 10-11 days’ worth of food. One also needs to carry crampons (spikes for the shoes) and an ice ax in this segment, as well as a heavy bear-proof container. It is also one of the most spectacular segments of the trail, made famous by John Muir.
Just as in 2019, I will be leaving updates and photos on this blogsite. Remember that these posts are written late at night when I am tired, and not totally coherent, in my sleeping bag in my tent, and won’t be corrected until the end of the season. These posts will come a bit more infrequent than in 2019, in that I will not have a means of connecting to the internet for long periods of time.  I no longer use Facebook, so you won’t find me there. I will be carrying a PLB (personal locator beacon), and that will send out satellite notifications every 1/2 hour of my walk as to my location, should you wish to follow my progress. If you wish to have daily notifications of my satellite signals, drop me an e-mail requesting the same, and I’ll try to accommodate you.
The initial challenge of doing this hike is in obtaining a permit with a start time that is personally desirable. About 14,000 people sought permits, and I was able to get into the queue at #1273, leaving me my choice as I wished. The permit is below.
Please feel free to contact me. I will be updating my plans as time goes on. Many of you I have not heard from in years, so please get back to me! I’d love to hear from you again. My trail name is “Pilgrim” or “Puyallup Pilgrim”, just in case you wondered. That is what I go by on the trail and do not use my birth name.
Pilgrim
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Jan 16

Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest, by John G. West ★★★★★

It’s been a while since I’ve read much about the various evolution/creation debates. I am solidly an intelligent design adherent, as I feel that it is most consistent with the text of Scripture, while not mandating the precise conditions and methods by which God formed the universe and all that is within it. Being a Ph.D. cell biologist myself, I find it incomprehensible that simple unguided random mutations could possibly generate the complex biological systems that we see. That is exactly the point of the intelligent design movement, which has a think tank out the Discovery Institute in Seattle. John West is one of the senior fellows of this institution. In this text, he tackles the issue of how certain political conservative commentators, like George Will or Charles Krauthammer, can claim that their defense of conservative morality and conservative principles could be consistent with a strict Darwinian evolutionary belief system. John West argues consistently otherwise. The chapters in turn cover arguments for traditional morality, the traditional family, free will/personal responsibility, limited non-utopian government, and religion, while also offering a chapter on the further defense of intelligent design when under attack by evolutionists. Dr. West mentions but doesn’t thoroughly develop the argument from the theistic evolutionists, but then, that is mostly another subject.

Darwin’s conservatives show that matters such as traditional morality have improved the survivability of the human species. Yet, as West argues, they are speaking contrary to the majority of evolution scientists, in that their stance suggests that morality would probably not have developed as we see it if morality had emerged from a totally random world. In all the topics that West deals with, it is quite clear that our conservative belief structures would very unlikely not have occurred. I’ll not reiterate the whole of West’s arguments, save to note that they are exceptionally well researched, well thought out, well-referenced, and well expressed in this small tome.

The book is structured well. Later chapters actually read easier than earlier chapters, drawing one into the book to its final conclusions. For any person that addresses the issue of evolution while in the public square, this book is quite helpful at helping one guide their arguments. The book not only refutes the Darwinian conservatives, but also leaves the question open to Darwinian liberals, as to how morality, religion, family, and a western form of government could have ever happened in a world formed by unguided random events. It is interesting to see that arguments against evolution address not only complex biological systems, but also the complexity of the sociological world of morality, religion, politics, economics, law, and family, which cannot be explained as simply random events occurring to products of the primordial slime. The book is very thought-provoking which deserves my highest recommendation.

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Jan 11

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters: What Is God Saying to Us? by Erwin W. Lutzer ★★★★

This is a short text, easily read in 1-2 evenings, and addresses the issue of suffering from infectious or physical disasters as a Christian. Lutzer wisely doesn’t specifically delve into why we must experience so much suffering, but as a pastor, offers solace that our suffering is in God’s hands and for our best. He quotes frequently from Christians of the past and present that have commented on suffering, as well as offering comfort to the afflicted. It is a good book, and offers a wonderful example of the pastoral manner in which misfortune and grief might be dealt with on this side of glory.

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Jan 09

We Will Not Be Silenced, by Erwin Lutzer ★★★★★

We sat under the pulpit of Erwin Lutzer for 7 years, between the years 1983 and 1990. Those years were wonderful years for us, with great preaching. Though Lutzer is dispensationalist in origin, rarely does he preach in a manner that demands a dispensational context. Lutzer is now retired, and as emeritus pastor, has continued to produce book after book with contemporary cultural relevance. The joy of reading his books is that he writes exactly as he preaches, and one is able to hear his voice as his books are being read. During our time at Moody Church with pastor Lutzer, not only did we hear great expository preaching, but noted that Lutzer was exceptionally skilled at taking critical contemporary issues and placing them in the lens of Scripture. This book is yet another example of that. The book references events that have happened within the last 6-12 months, and is relevant at trying to gain an interpretation to the insanity that is occurring in our government and society. The cover appeals that this book should be read by all Christians in America, and to that I heartily agree.

The book is only 263 pages long of large print type, meaning that it may be easily read in the space of 2-3 evenings for those who do not have television-trained short attention spans. At worst, a chapter an evening for 10 evenings should have the book easily finished off. Each chapter has the same format, with starting introductions to the topic, a full discussion, and then an analysis of a proper Christian response. Lutzer then ends each chapter with a suggested prayer that we should be offering. The chapter topics are, in order, 1) How did we get here?, i.e, what is the problem that this book needs to address? 2) How do we deal with the modern attempt to erase our historical past? 3) How do we approach the contemporary attempt to use diversity to divide and destroy the church. 4) The aggressive removal of freedom of speech, especially if it calls on Christian moral issues is addressed as well as our response. 5) How the propaganda of the left attempts to replace Christian values and morality by stating an even higher noble cause. 6) The attempt of progressives to destroy the youth through a highly sexualized environment. 7) The attempt of the radicals to condemn capitalism and provide socialism as its cure, all in the context of suggesting that it is Biblical to do so. 8) The movement of radical Islam in trying to destroy America. 9) Disagreements are no longer discussable issues, but the radical left uses shaming and ad hominem personal destruction to win an argument. 10) The church in Scripture is being warned to repent and clean up its own act as a best response to an increasingly decedent society.

Pastor Lutzer is most skilled at not only touching the reader’s mind, but also his heart in the issues discussed. This book draws the reader in, and is difficult to put down. Lutzer demonstrates his perceptive insights into what is going on in our society, as well as sensitive, Biblical advice as to how to lovingly challenge and confront the society that wishes to destroy Christianity. After reading the book, I can heartily advise others to read it, as well as to take it to heart.

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Jan 06

Jazz: A film by Ken Burns ★★★

Betsy and I have just finished watching the Ken Burns series on Jazz. I had listened to a Teaching Company series on the history of Jazz, but that was a few years ago. I have only recently developed an affection for the Jazz genre. I remember my first exposure to jazz was in 1st grade Clinton School in South Elgin, Illinois. Our class was moved to the school gymnasium, along with other classes, for a special event. They were introducing the school to jazz, and had some jazz music playing over loud speakers. As a six year old kid, it seemed like rather unstructured, chaotic music to me. I wasn’t used to it. I never heard anything like it before. Then, many of the students were jumping and wiggling around in a very unusual manner; which didn’t make sense to me. Growing up in an Amish-Mennonite community, dancing was unheard of to me. In high school, I listened to easy-to-grasp classical music and the newly emerging rock and roll. The Beatles were ok, but the Rolling Stones really seemed to say more to the soul. Louis Armstrong always stood out to me as music that I had a strong attraction to; I remember well playing many times over his St. James Infirmary, and being spell-bound by his trumpet playing. Since then, my main interest drifted to more serious classical music, and Bach stood as first and foremost. Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, and many other 19th & 20th century composers left me spell-bound. I decided to take up trumpet lessons early this last Spring, and ended up with a teacher whose trumpet career oriented around jazz performance. Though I dearly love to listen to music, and enjoy performing it, I do not possess an intrinsic talent for music. Why my instructor is so patient with me is a total mystery. I am sure he gets a good laugh with his family and friends whenever my pitiful lesson performance is brought up. Still, I find working on lessons to be something of great value and joy to me, even though I may never perform in public. Jim, my teacher, is totally awesome. He is slowly introducing me to jazz, and I am loving every minute of it. Assignments include listening to great trumpet players, and my listening has expanded from Maurice Andre and other classical trumpet players to the jazz genre. I looked on Amazon and YouTube for anything that included trumpet, and I was most pleased with what I found and heard. Jazz, like more complex classical music, takes time to appreciate. This film on jazz finally helped bring things together.

The series on jazz starts with New Orleans musicians like King Oliver, quickly shifts to Louis Armstrong, and then marches through the history of jazz up to the present day. Focus was placed on Armstrong’s career, the evolution of jazz in Chicago and then New York, and later Hollywood. Early New Orleans and blues gave way to big bands and swing, to music of WWII, to later Louis Armstrong and new evolutions of jazz; be bop, then Avant Garde, then fusion jazz. Note was placed on periods of time when it seemed as though jazz would go extinct. Special emphasis in this series was placed on Louis Armstrong. It seemed as though they were claiming that jazz was born with Satchmo and died with Satchmo. Other emphasis was placed on Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday. Mentioned just in briefest passing were the host of other great bands of the pre-war era: Stan Kenton, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. What was disappointing was two things. First was the total absence of a real jazz history. One cannot talk of jazz history without mentioning ragtime, tin-pan alley, minstrel singers, and other precursors to New Orleans jazz. In this series, Wynton Marsalis and his associates become the last dying hope of jazz. Contrary to the series, I don’t believe that jazz is on its dying breath. It is not as “experimental” as 20-40 years ago. It is more colorblind, including not only black performers, but white, hispanic and other races. There is virtually no mention of Mexicans, such as Raphael Mendez, or Cuban, such as Arturio Sandoval, or the Canadian Maynard Ferguson or the Oregonian Doc Severinson. Or Al Hirt. Or Allen Vizzutti. Or Bobby Shew. If one takes a serious look at the jazz scene today, it is more acceptable to the general public than ever, it is technically masterful, and it has been able to draw in many other influences, such as classical, to the jazz genre. I am surprised that Wynton Marsalis, “the last great hope to jazz”, was never mentioned in this film as having spent a number of years of his life playing mostly in the classical genre before migrating solely to jazz. Surely he has also brought a classical influence with him? Is it that jazz by necessity must come from the NY night club scene with primarily African-American performers?

Deficits aside, I learned much through the series, and would hope that others watch this series. It is hard to dislike any of the Ken Burns series. This is no exception to that rule.

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