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.

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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