Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cedric at the Children's Center, working with special-needs kids

I just watched this youtube clip of Cedric working with special-needs kids in Oklahoma City. I miss him so much and wish he were here, but God is using him there. So I should stop feeling that way, right? Right.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

INKBLOTS welcome to two new men who joined us!

INKBLOTS – July 25, 2011
Gray summer evening, after a day of rain (it’s Western Washington), John opened an 11-year-old chardonnay from France.  Two new fellows joined us tonight, Graham writes for, so joins us as a paid writer. Andrew interested in writing both fiction and technical writing (he’s a software engineer).

We talked about Bonhoeffer’s theology for a bit and Metaxas’s biography of him. Then John leads off with a quick (I’m hoping :-) summary of his contemporary fiction. Reads new chapter on Andy, the cop, breaking up a small-town hardware store break-in. Cop sets up high school son to help with the case; he thinks it might be kids, based on the kinds of things stolen, sporting goods, gps, walkie-talkies. John is shifting into the head of another character, the son, now wondering what it would be like to get shot, if it was discovered that he was helping the police with this case. I feel like there’s a disconnect because of this point of view shift. In my opinion, your story will be stronger if you let the story unfold from the dominant character, the protagonist’s view of the world. We talked about the importance of sticking with a dominant point of view, how much we gain from staying riveted on Andy’s character and what he thinks about his son and what makes his son tick, instead of entering into his son’s head. We actually don’t gain from doing that, in my opinion, we lose the opportunity to go deeper on Andy the father’s character. And make sure you give us more sensory description of people and place, body language, unique qualities, quirks of person and of place. Develop the uniqueness of the old-school hardware store, Lincoln Hardware, or the old Tillicum Hardware store that looms large in my memory from my childhood—where I stole an eyebolt when I was six, and my father made me take it back—life changing experience. Graham noticed that the girl was 5’6” in one place and 5’8” in another. Oops. How authentic is it for the father to end his words with “son”? Good point from Andrew.

Graham shares with us about his non-fiction writing for Live Strong. He gets edited and some times he finds that frustrating. He does 6-8 per day at about 500 words per article. Over 700 published articles! Two technical writers in one night. Good for us. Then we talked about submarines and rescues robotics—how did we get there? Interesting though.

Dougie reads from his latest historical fiction: WW II, Texas Division, Italian Campaign in 1943, the Gustav Line, Monte Cassino. Theme of the unity of Christians from diverse denomination and ethnic backgrounds. So he brings together many nationalities together in this campaign to recover a rare relic, work together to do this, even when not Roman Catholics. Allies landed on Sept 9 at Salerno, near Vesuvius and Pompey. Germans have withdrawn. Main character is John Owen, and historical characters he’s trying to work in, written about by Ernie Pile, killed by Japanese sniper on Okanawa. Immediately D gives us tactile experiential material. There is verve and authenticity to D’s writing—I’m there within a few lines as he reads, no kidding. “Increases with the coming hot day,” is problematic chronologically; your protagonist is thinking in present tense, but here is projecting forward. Does that work? Good critique of differences in prayer life, deficiencies of lacking immediacy in praying, preferring scripted praying, which doesn’t work as well in the immediate, does it. “A variety of animals”—always better to be specific.
I’m up with my Anglo-Saxon 8th century crime fiction tale. Doug commented that—if I understood him correctly—I use inflection when I’m reading that seem to flow well with the dialogue, but would a reader who was not the author read it that way? Good question. I think he was actually ripping on me here, but it’s Inkblots, so I forgive him (notice the present tense). Seriously, he makes a good point. The only way for me to find out is to have another reader read it and see. Then we had a discussion about having wives read what we’ve been writing. Things can get a bit dicey when we have our wives read us. I think we imagine that they will swoon and gush about what wonderful authors we are, and be super impressed that their hubby is capable of doing such grand and glorious things with a mere pen (computer keyboard). I advised the men only to have their wife read if they genuinely want her honest critique. I find it more helpful to discuss what I’m working on and ask her for specific perspective that she as a woman has and I don’t. But forcing her to sit down and read a manuscript as I look on, poised for her lavish praises—just doesn’t work so well. Among my wife’s virtues is frank honesty, so I steer clear and don’t put her in the position of inflicting that honesty on me anymore. All is well.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interview today with KNOWING THE TRUTH talk radio 660, Greenvile, SC

Just finished an interview with Kevin Boling on Knowing the Truth radio in South Carolina this morning (our time). We talked about THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX, and especially about how Knox was a man empowered not by his or personality, or methods, or technology, or erudition, or status--he had none of these. Knox was a nobody in his world, a timorous and fearful nobody. Of the Reformation in Scotland, Knox wrote, "God raised up simple men in great abundance." And he considered himself one of those simple men. "I quake, I fear, I tremble," he said of going into the pulpit to preach Jesus and his free grace in the gospel.

For any who would like to listen in on the interview, here's the direct link to KNOWING THE TRUTH RADIO.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ligonier interview on my new Knox biography

At Newcastle where Knox preached
Here's the text of an interview with the folks at Ligonier on THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX, my newest book released just a couple of weeks ago.

1)   What does the title—The Mighty Weakness of John Knox—mean? We tend to think of Knox as the bold, thundering, charge-into-the-fray, no-holds-barred Reformer. Sort of a giant who walks into the room and says "Everybody move!" and they do. But the more research I did, the more formidable the problems with this stereotype emerged. The title (Greg's idea, by the way) reflects the character of Knox that developed from my research. The thundering might of Knox's ministry was not the result of DNA. He was not giant who just switched loyalties. Knox was a meek, reluctant personality, a weak man in the flesh, made mighty by the grace and power of God's sovereign call on his life in the gospel.

2)   Why is it important for Christians today to read about John Knox? We who live in the 21st century are such self-satisfied individuals, and this has its effect on the Church, in a big way. We're so impressed with our progress, our technology, our innovations, our scholarship. We tend to look down on the past. Now, there are things to distance ourselves from in the past, to be sure. But sitting down and feasting on the rich legacy that we have from those God has raised up and equipped to confront the challenges to the gospel that litter history--learning of these challenges and how God raised up men like Knox to contend for the faith through them is essential for Christians surrounded by a world that scorns the past and worships ourselves and the work of our hands in the present. I don't think learning from Church history and men like Knox is take-it-or-leave-it optional for Christians who know they must have the perspective of the ages on the moment they are living in in the present.

3)   You argue that the typical understanding of Knox as a giant of men thundering against queens is somewhat inaccurate. How so? A guy who when first called on to preach God's Word, breaks into tears in public and flees the room doesn't sound to me like a man who thundered simply because he was inherently a thundering sort of guy. Another feature of Knox's life--and I include an entire chapter on it, so central is it to understanding the man--is his life of prayer. Men who know they're weak and needy tend to be better prayers; men who know their frailty, who abandon all hope in themselves, these are the men who fall on their knees and cry out to their all powerful God. That was Knox. Tyrants didn't fear sickly, timorous Knox. Tyrants feared Knox's praying--more than the cannons of 10,000 soldiers.

4)   Is it necessary for the contemporary Christian to study Christians who lived so long ago? How could they be relevant for the milieu in which we live? There really is nothing new under the sun. What goes around does, indeed, come around. All the greats of Church history were great precisely because they contended for the gospel in the particular way in which the gospel was under attack in their day. The gospel is under attack in our day, and anyone who thinks otherwise needs to spend more time studying church history (and Paul's epistles and the whole canon of Scripture). The thing that so impressed me with Knox was how unflinching he was about getting the gospel right. Anything that intrudes between the sinner and Christ our righteous Redeemer was idolatry to Knox, and idols had to be torn down. We need this today, in a big way. 

5)   In the preface of the book you write: Knox is a model for the ordinary Christian. What makes him relevant to all Christians? If we're honest with ourselves, in the trembling loneliness of our own hearts, we're all weak, insecure, frail and dying individuals. Some attempt to compensate by shouting this down and being arrogant, proud, and noisy. But many simply fear they have nothing to contribute, that God can't use someone so ordinary, or weak, or unskilled, or simple as they know them self to be. In Knox as he really was there is great encouragement for the saint who feels they have nothing to contribute. I was thrilled to discover this dimension about Knox's life. It seems so eminently practical for so many dear saints, the elderly, the untried youth, the sick, the handicapped, the many for whom life has been a succession of disappointments--God has a purpose and a use and role for each one of his children in his family in every age--yes, the broken reeds and the smoking flax. This is what I so much want to convey in this little volume. Readers may forget details about the convoluted history in Knox's world, but my hope is that they will not forget the mystery of God's providence in forgiving the adulteress, in calling smelly fishermen, in choosing the younger brother, in raising the dead. 

6)   What is a Christ-subdued life? A question right from a chapter title in the book. Simply put, it is dying that we might live. It is a life--like Knox's--where I must decrease and he must increase. It is knowing that without Christ we are nothing, but with Christ as our righteousness, as our Redeemer, as our Lord, and as our friend, weak, frail, and timorous sinners can do all things.

7)   What was the source of Knox’s strength in his own weakness? Christ, Christ alone, solus Christus!

8)   How is weakness an “essential prerequisite to being used of Christ”? Without knowing who we really are, we can never be made good by Christ himself. Therefore, right self knowledge--as in the order of Calvin's Institutes--goes hand-in-hand with right knowledge of God. If we think we can worship, serve, obey, be faithful to even the tiniest degree without the grace of God in Christ alone, we haven't gotten the gospel right and we'll never be used of Christ if we think we are clever, or well-educated, or sophisticated, or inherently gifted. Christ takes the empty and fills them. He came to seek and to save those who knew that they were in desperate need, that they were lost.

9)   What are some of the ways in which we see Knox’s strength in weakness? It is remarkable to see a man who feared preaching before friends, stand and deliver fearlessly before tyrants who had the power to lop his head off--and he knew they had this temporal power. Yet he preached anyway, and what preaching it was! He called a spade a spade, and a fig a fig, as he put it. No mincing of words with Christ-empowered Knox.

10) What have you personally learned from John Knox’s life? So much, it is hard to begin. God does not call all of us--myself included, of course--to be the instruments of reformation in an entire nation. But he does by his grace alone raise me from my weakness and insecurities to find strength in Christ alone, period, plus nothing.

11) What was your favorite chapter to write in this book? I found writing the first draft of the final chapter while sitting in Knox's house (for skeptics who don't think it was his house, I just could not find evidence to sufficiently discredit the long tradition of the house at Trunk Close being, in fact, a house that Knox did live in, and die in) on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in April of 2010 a favorite chapter. I read from it just a few weeks ago with a tour group my wife and I led, and that was also a meaningful part of that chapter, sort of a completion of it in the final book form. It recounts his dying hours, the comfort he found in God's Word read by his young wife, and his final words.

12) Who do you hope will read the book? I hope our coach driver on this most recent tour will read the copy I gave him and everyone on the tour signed with a note of appreciation to him; the gospel is on every page. But I do hope all Christians--yes, especially the non-Presbyterian ones--will read it. All Christians who have ever felt inadequate to the challenges they face.

13) If readers take only one lesson from this book, what do you hope that will be?
My hope is that this little book will help little Christians to look away from themselves and to the splendor and might of Jesus himself.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scotland Tour Group Shots with audio from archeologist at Vindolanda

I really enjoy setting up group shots of the families on the tour with the various sites we visit. It's lots of fun later to see the whole (some of these images are of smaller sub-groups) tour group to see themselves (I'm rarely in these, being the one behind the camera). Hope you all enjoy this montage of all of you.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Enjoy a virtual Crown & Covenant Tour 2011 in pictures

This video is made up mostly of images that I took while leading the tour with my wife Cheryl (who actually does all the hard important work that makes these tours so much fun--good food, good accommodations,good fellowship--the real experience). The audio is from our first day at Glasgow HighKirk. 

And here's another angle on the tour, this video made up of pictures taken by various participants who decided for good of for ill to turn their lens toward me while I was yawping away at various sites on the tour.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Podcast interview while I was in Scotland

Scotland Tour 2011 at Loudoun Keep--Rebel's Keep
Redeemed Reader arranged ahead to connect on skype for an on-location interview while we were in Scotland these last 2 1/2 weeks. We chatted about Mr Pipes and about Crown & Covenant Trilogy books and about THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX. As we talked, I was sitting a stone's throw from Loudoun Keep, Drumclog battle field, and Barr Castle where both Wishart and Knox preached over 450 years ago. You can listen to the podcast at

At Horatius Bonar's grave, Edinburgh

Recent interviews with Redeemed Reader, Janie Cheaney and Emily Whitton's great blog

Redeemed Reader, the excellent blog of Janie Cheaney (columnist for WORLD magazine) and Emily Whitton asked me if they could do some interviews. The first one focused mostly on my FATHERS & SONS series; the podcast was a featured post for Fathers' Day. Here's the link:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final day--a flurry of wonderful sites

Stirling Castle
Duke of Argyll's Lodging
Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn
We headed off from St Andrews for our final day of the Crown & Covenant Trilogy Scotland Tour, 2011. Rain stopped and sun breaks as we de-coached in Stirling (God's gracious pattern for the weather on this tour, praise Him!). The castle, the Argyll lodging, and of special interest was The Church of the Holy Rude, where Knox crowned James VI (the I) in 1567, when he was just a year old, and where James Guthrie preached and upheld the Crown Rights of the Redeemer in His Kirk. A wonderful unplanned lunch with a retired Dutch couple, he a law professor and she an English and history teacher. What a delight. Cheryl told them one of my books was published now in Dutch (The Betrayal), but they speak such good English, it seemed to me they did not need a translation! Then off to Bannockburn, and Glasgow. The Grand Central Hotel is the most impressive hotel in the UK, in my opinion. We had a delightful last dinner in the Wellington dining room, good fellowship and reflection on God's providence and grace to us on this tour. More fellowship, bed, breakfast, and a shuffle of cabs in three waves to the airport. Then Cheryl and I collapsed and are having such a peaceful and quiet time in Ayr and environs. I like taking naps and just relaxing.

Henderson, M'Cheyne, Knox... Leuchars, Dundee, Perth

Alexander Henderson's church in Leuchars
We began our day trip from St Andrews in some pretty serious Scottish rain squalls, the first real need for umbrellas while off the coach--amazing for this northern land. Alexander Henderson a colleague of Rutherford and author of the National Covenant, 1638, and of the Solemn League and Covenant, 1643. Then Dundee and a wonderful time with Hugh, a deacon at David Robertson's church, St Peter's, better known to history as Robert Murray M'Cheyne's pulpit. He was the Mark Driscoll of Scotland in the 19th century, and Robertson may be so for today. We sang psalm 23 with Hugh to a new Celtic tune. Perth and St Johns of great importance in Knox's ministry, he preached a firebrand sermon against idolatry here in may of 1559, iconoclasm to follow. We talked about when it is essential to tear down idols.

St Peter's Dundee, M'Cheyne's pulpit
St John's Perth

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hear Scots preacher, Phillip Hair at Holyrood Abbey Church

Unexpected blessings in St Andrews

Today we toured St. Andrews, beginning with San Salvator's College, and the site on which Patrick Hamilton was martyred for his bold proclamation of Christ and his gospel of free grace, February 28, 1527. Hamilton was only 24 years old. Here's an excerpt from THE MIGHTY WEAKNESS OF JOHN KNOX:

 Finally, Christians bewildered by those who preach that we keep or forfeit justification by our obedience or disobedience to the law will find in Knox’s teaching refreshing clarity on faith and good works, “on which men so readily and so fatally go astray.”[i] The first Scottish Reformation martyr Patrick Hamilton laid a firm foundation for Knox here. From Luther, Hamilton had made the greatest of all discoveries, that men and women do not earn or keep salvation by the works of the law. Hamilton imaginatively put the adversaries, law and gospel, in the ring to contend with one another. 
"The law saith, “Where is thy righteousness, thy goodness, thy satisfaction?” The gospel saith, “Christ is thy righteousness, thy goodness, thy satisfaction.” The law saith, “Thou art bound and obliged to me, to the devil, and to hell.” The gospel saith, ‘Christ hath delivered thee from them all.”

After taking in the chapel and singing from the Scottish Psalter and from Scots hymn writer Horatius Bonar (we visited his grave and sang in Edinburgh), then we visited St. Mary's College where Rutherford taught theology and where he died. On a whim, I asked the custodian if we could go into the Hall where Rutherford taught. Nice chap. he let us in there where we reviewed the important role Rutherford was called to in the second Reformation and at St. Andrews. Next visited Holy Trinity and the Sharpe memorial inside, commemorating the murder of Sharpe, May 3, 1679 by over-zealous Covenanters. From there we went to the cathedral where Knox preached and then to Rutherford's grave. I did an impromptu writing workshop with some of the young writers on the tour, they sitting in worn, stone monk stalls in the cathedral ruin, while I blabbed, and blabbed, and blabbed. We dispersed to the castle, St. Rule's Tower, the pier walk, martyrs monument, and the old course where three of our travelers had won a tee time to play the classic old course at the Royal and Ancient Golf Course, one of the most famous in the world. Started raining, but then this is Scotland and we wouldn't want everyone to get the wrong idea about the weather, now would we?
Talked about Thomas Chalmers and how God used him to inspire young men at St Andrews to proclaim Christ throughout the world in the 19th century missionary movement. Then off to the Balaka Restaurant, East Indian food to keep before our minds that "Christ purchased for God men from every tribe and kindred and people and tongue." Good fellowship all around! And off to Leuchars, Dundee, Perth in the morning, M'Cheyne and his horse, Church Extension at Dundee, and more on missions. Now to bed.