In her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife, Rosalind Goforth recorded both struggles and victories from her forty-seven years of service with her husband Jonathan in China. One such matter she wrote about had to do with the challenge of more consistently living up to what she was teaching others. Many of us who face the same challenge can gain instruction and encouragement from her example in this regard.

Less than a year and a half after the Goforths arrived in China, their firstborn child, a daughter named Gertrude, died of dysentery on July 24, 1889. She had lived just eleven months. Jonathan left later that same day to take Gertrude’s little body to a town fifty miles away where there was a burying place for foreigners. Rosalind remained behind at the mission station where they were then serving.

The evening after Gertrude’s death, Rosalind lay on a couch “drinking to its dregs the cup of sorrow.”  She was lying beside a paper window through which every sound could be heard. Two Chinese women seated themselves outside the window, totally unaware of her near proximity. Rosalind later recorded their conversation which she could not help overhearing:

“At first they talked with much kindness and sympathy of the event that had just taken place. Then began a most amazing and searching dissection (no better word can express it) of my life and character. We had been told the Chinese were keen judges of character. But this was more. It revealed a surprisingly high conception of a Christian missionary! Incidents with the servants, which I had thought trivial, such as a stern rebuke, a hasty word or gesture, were all given their full value. During the process of dissection they did, however, find some good points. One said, ‘She speaks our language well and is a zealous preacher.’ The other admitted, ‘And she does love us. But it’s her impatience, her quick temper!’ Then came what struck me as a blow, ‘If she only would live more as she preaches!’

“At first I was so angered I could have gone out and given them a piece of my mind. But no, I could not, for it was all too true. It was this fact that cut so deeply. … As that last hard word was heard, ‘If only she would live more as she preaches,’ I fled to my room. I had heard enough. It was useless to stay in China and simply preach Christ and not live Christ even before our servants.

“Two days later my husband returned to find a doubly crushed and broken wife. Oh, what a comforter and help he was! For many days I walked softly, but the lesson had to be relearned many times.”

Jonathan & Rosalind Goforth

After more than twenty-five years of missionary service, the Goforths took an enforced furlough in 1916-1917 due to a serious health breakdown Jonathan had experienced. During that period Rosalind was mightily encouraged in her own spiritual life by maintaining a prolonged focus on the concept of Christ’s indwelling presence in the lives of Christians to enable them to consistently live as the Lord would have them to. Rosalind became much more aware of seeking to carry out her Christian living and service in Christ’s strength rather than in her own.

Rosalind revealed that during the Goforths’ journey back to China after their furlough: “I often talked with my dear husband of the future, wondering if the Lord would ever give me the joy of knowing I had in some measure retrieved that which I knew had followed me down through the years: ‘If she would only live more as she preaches.’ Oh, how I longed to live so that the Chinese could see Christ in me. My impatience and quickness of speech were my besetting sins.”

Many months after their return to China in 1917, one of the leading Chinese evangelists came to the Goforths’ home. It was clear he wished to speak privately with Jonathan so Rosalind excused herself from the room. After the evangelist left, Rosalind returned to find Jonathan standing by the table with a strange expression on his face. He seemed deeply moved, and she exclaimed, “Whatever is the matter?”

“Rose,” Jonathan responded, “you could never guess what he came for. He came as a deputation from the other evangelists and workers, yes and servants too, to ask what is the secret of the change in you. Before you went home, none of the servants wanted to serve you, but now they all want to be your servants.”  Concerning her own response to that revelation, Rosalind related, “Is it any wonder tears flowed for very joy?”

While we do have our own part to play in diligently putting forth effort to live and serve as Christ would have us to, Rosalind’s experience and example provide a helpful balancing perspective. We also do well to readily look to the Lord and to depend on Him to enable us to reflect a Christlike spirit and to carry out His will. Repeatedly being confronted by our own shortcomings in those regards has a way of driving us to more urgent dependence upon the Lord. As we continue to look to and lean upon Him, by God’s grace (and to His glory) over time we come to experience a considerable degree of progress and consistency in living and serving as He calls us to.

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Rosalind Goforth wrote several inspiring books, including her autobiography Climbing, Memories of a Missionary’s Wife. I believe that volume is no longer in print, but can easily be found online through various used book sources. It is well worth the effort to track down and read the work, in which Rosalind honestly and humbly relates her own beneficial (and oftentimes remarkable) experiences of growing in her relationship with and service of Christ. Reading that book may very well lead you to read several of her other works, as I have.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

For decades my wife Leeta and I have greatly enjoyed Manheim Steamroller Christmas music. Recently, for only the second time, we attended a Manheim Steamroller Christmas concert. In my limited experience, I’ve found those to be enjoyable, quality performances with delightful music and outstanding musicianship. Some dramatic lighting and limited use of attractive background visual images help add to the vitality and enjoyment of the concerts.

However, at the most recent concert it seemed to me that things went off the rails a bit in a more extensive (but less beneficial) use of background images. I came away from the experience not only with a concert-related conclusion but also with a significant life-related reminder.

At the beginning of the second half of the concert it was announced that, in honor of this special anniversary of Manheim Steamroller’s beloved Christmas music, the band and orchestra would next perform the entire first Christmas album that M.S. produced many years ago. “Oh, this should be a great treat,” I immediately thought to myself.

An extended portion of that second part of the concert featured familiar and pleasant medieval minstrel-style Christmas songs such as “I Saw Three Ships” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” As an intended special feature to accompany that portion of the program, as those songs were being played, a lively depiction of a holiday feast at a medieval nobleman’s castle was shown on the huge screens which towered behind and high above the entire platform. The video production showed a constantly-moving stream of activities in the banquet hall – feasting, dancing, entertainers and the like. It also depicted a beehive of activity taking place in the castle kitchen to keep the banquet supplied with all variety of food and drink. The staging, costuming, colors and activities in the video presentation were elaborate.

But a couple of songs into that portion of the concert it suddenly dawned on me: my attention was so monopolized by all that was being shown on the screens, I was no longer consciously listening to and appreciating the tremendous music that was being so skillfully performed by the band on the platform. Even after realizing that and determining to bring my focus back to the band’s skilled performance of wonderful music, my attention was repeatedly drawn away by all the larger-than-life images and activities being projected on the gigantic screens dwarfing the platform.

I perceived most of the concertgoers were being affected the same way by the video presentation. People were obviously engrossed in the images on the background screens while at the same time engaging much less with the music being performed on the stage. One telltale sign of that was the audience’s noticeably-diminished applause at the end of each song in that portion of the concert. After one song there was virtually no clapping at all, because people were so intent on watching what was happening on the screens rather than listening to the music.

I afterward thought to myself how crazy and unfortunate that aspect of the performance had been. Here thousands of people had paid a considerable amount of money to come and watch a well-known, highly-talented band present a live performance of its music which we (the concertgoers) have come to greatly enjoy and appreciate. But we became largely distracted away from that by all the activities on the background screens.  To put it bluntly, the background video presentation became the main event while the concert performance (the main intended event) became mere background music which was much less noticed or appreciated.

Here’s the important life-related reminder that occurred to me through all this: There are many strong, attention-grabbing focuses in life that are clearly of secondary importance (or even of very little importance) compared to our primary purposes. But if we’re not careful those powerful secondary focuses have a way of monopolizing our attention and largely distracting us from focusing on and fulfilling our more important objectives. Some examples of this include:

  • Family members (or friends) who are so constantly absorbed in the endless diversions and activities on their technology devices that they fail to interrelate well with each other or other people.
  • Christians who invest considerable amounts of time watching sports, movies or other video entertainment but who claim to have little or no time for Bible reading, prayer, church attendance or Christian service.
  • Believers who devote significant time and effort to physical fitness and appearance but who give little thought or effort to cultivating spiritual health and attractiveness.
  • Christians who are preoccupied and burdened down with all the latest political developments but who exhibit little interest or concern to help promote Christ’s spiritual kingdom in their community, country and the world.

These particular instances may or may not apply to us. But each of us have some such secondary focal points that tend to vie for too much of our attention and even to displace our far more important priorities in life. Let’s be careful to identify and resist such faulty tendencies. Let’s make sure we’re not allowing less important focuses to distract from or replace our primary purposes and pursuits.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Artist’s depiction of the Ashtabula train bridge disaster

This Sunday, December 29, marks the 143rd anniversary of the untimely death of Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876), a popular nineteenth century hymnwriter. Circumstances surrounding Bliss’s death provide a profound lesson concerning trusting God with our unknown future. May we all be encouraged and enabled to do that with all the unknowns of the New Year to come.

Vance & Leeta at Ashtabula bridge disaster memorial

This past autumn I had the privilege of ministering one Sunday at Tri-County Bible Church in Madison, Ohio. That Sunday afternoon Pastor Joe Tyrpak of TCBC treated my wife Leeta and me to a brief, spiritually-beneficial historic tour in nearby Ashtabula, Ohio, where Philip Bliss’s young, promising life and career unexpectedly came to an abrupt end.

Pastor Joe Tyrpak and daughters at Astabula bridge disaster memorial

Bliss was born on July 9, 1838, in Rome, Pennsylvania. He was born into a very poor Christian family that was characterized by a healthy blend of strictness, singing and smiling. He professed his personal faith in Jesus Christ at age twelve during a series of Baptist revival meetings. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, Bliss sporadically taught school while pursuing a teacher’s certification and further formal education. He received his first voice lessons at Susquehanna Collegiate Institute at nineteen years of age, and immediately showed signs of exceptional musical ability. At age twenty-one Bliss married Lucy Young, and the newlywed couple joined the Rome Presbyterian Church.

Philip Bliss
Lucy (Young) Bliss

Bliss eventually moved to Chicago where he taught and published music under a musical agent. At age thirty Bliss met Dwight Moody, a zealous young evangelist, who immediately invited him to help lead the Sunday evening singing at his church. For the next four years Bliss served as the choir director and evangelistic Sunday School administrator at First Congregational Church in Chicago. During those years he published what proved to be his two most popular hymns during his lifetime, “Hold the Fort and “Jesus Loves Even Me.”

At that time Bliss also produced what is widely regarded as his most famous hymn today, “Almost Persuaded.” He shared the song in a series of revival meetings in Waukegan, Illinois, where Bliss ministered with evangelist Daniel Whittle. After that set of meetings, and following years of encouragement from Moody to do so, Bliss and Whittle committed themselves to give up their present jobs in order to devote themselves to fulltime evangelistic ministry.

Of that decision, Bliss wrote in his journal: “Now I am full persuaded that God calls me to give my time and energies to writing and singing the Good News. I am constrained by what Christ is and has been to me, to offer all my powers directly to His sweet service. Major Whittle goes with me to preach the Gospel while I try to sing it.” Whittle and Bliss went on to become the second most prominent evangelistic team in America in that era, ranking only under Moody and his song leader Ira Sankey.

In his abbreviated lifetime Bliss wrote the words and/or music for over 300 sacred songs. Besides those already mentioned, his other best-known hymns included “Dare to Be a Daniel,” “Hallelujah, What a Savior,” “I Gave My Life for Thee” (lyrics by Frances Havergal), “It Is Well with My Soul” (words by Horatio Spafford), “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning,” “The Light of the World Is Jesus,” “Whosoever Will” and “Wonderful Words of Life.” For those of us who grew up singing Gospel hymns, all or most of these are familiar to us. For those of you who are not acquainted with these hymns, suffice it to say that for nearly a century they were among the most beloved songs sung by Evangelical Christians in America and some other English-speaking countries. Many modern hymnals of various denominations (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and others) still include several of Bliss’s hymns.

Bliss collaborated with Sankey in publishing a new hymnal in 1875 entitled Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs. Within a year the royalties for Bliss and Sankey exceeded $60,000 (equaling about $1.5 million today)! Moody encouraged the Blisses to use a portion of those royalties to build a house for themselves. The Blisses, instead, gave all the proceeds to support further Gospel outreach.

In December, 1876, just two and a half years after Bliss and Whittle began their fulltime evangelistic ministry, they were invited to come to Chicago to take over a series of revival meetings that Moody and Sankey were leading. Those services regularly had more than 10,000 people in attendance. Moody and Sankey were worn out and in need of some holiday time with their families. Whittle and Bliss were to assume leadership of the meetings on Sunday, December 31. After celebrating Christmas with their sons Phil (age 4) and George (age 2), Philip and Lucy Bliss bid the boys farewell and boarded a train in Waverly, New York, on Wednesday, December 27. They were headed for Chicago, where they were to meet Whittle.

Around 7:30 that Friday evening, December 29, the eleven-car train carrying the Blisses and about 150 other passengers was approaching Ashtabula. Just a few hundred yards from the train station, the train was slowly crossing an iron bridge when the entire structure collapsed. All but the lead engine of the train plummeted seventy feet into the icy river gorge below. The wreckage quickly caught fire and within moments the train cars were engulfed in flames.

Ninety-two of the passengers aboard the train perished, making this the worst train disaster in American history until the Great Train Wreck of 1918 claimed over 100 lives. Philip and Lucy Bliss both died in the Ashtabula tragedy. They were among those individuals whose remains were never positively identified after the wreck and ensuing fire.

Smoldering train wreckage from Ashtabula, Ohio, bridge disaster

When Whittle later opened Bliss’s suitcase, which arrived safely in Chicago, he found two hymns, “My Redeemer” and “He Knows.” The former was afterward set to music and given its more-familiar title “I Will Sing of My Redeemer.” “He Knows” was written by Mary Brainard, and Bliss had just set it to music. Because of the song’s obvious relevance to the Blisses tragic deaths, Whittle selected it to be sung as the closing hymn at their funeral on January 7, 1877. The hymn is rarely sung today, but its words are well worth pondering:

1. I know not what awaits me, God kindly veils my eyes, And o’er each step of my onward way He makes new scenes to rise; And every joy He sends me comes A sweet and glad surprise.

Chorus:

Where He may lead I’ll follow, My trust in Him repose; And every hour in perfect peace, I’ll sing, “He knows, He Knows”; And every hour in perfect peace, I’ll sing, “He knows, He knows.”

2. One step I see before me, ’Tis all I need to see, The light of heaven more brightly shines When earth’s illusions flee; And sweetly through the silence comes, His loving, “Trust in Me!”

3. Oh, blissful lack of wisdom, ’Tis blessed not to know; He holds me with His own right hand, And will not let me go, And lulls my troubled soul to rest in Him who loves me so.

4. So on I go not knowing; I would not if I might; I’d rather walk in the dark with God Than go alone in the light; I’d rather walk by faith with Him Than go alone by sight.

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Nearly all the information for this Perspective on Philip Bliss was gleaned from Joe Tyrpak’s excellent written summary of the hymnwriter’s life and death, with which Joe provided us as part of the above-mentioned historic tour. Joe’s account was based in part on information from Thomas Corts’ book Bliss and Tragedy: The Ashtabula Railway-Bridge Accident of 1876 and the Loss of P.P. Bliss (published 2003 by Samford University Press). Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

John Knox

While visiting Scotland this past August, my wife Leeta and I enjoyed learning more about John Knox, primary leader of the sixteenth-century Scottish Protestant Reformation. Here’s a bit of what we learned, along with some of the indicators we saw of the high honor in which Knox has been held in Scotland in the centuries since his ministry there. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with this outstanding Christian Reformer.

Knox was born about 1514 and ordained as a Roman Catholic priest around 1536, after studying at St. Andrews University. But a decade later (1546) he had become a supporter of the Reformation and was acting as a bodyguard for George Wishart who was spreading Protestant doctrines. After the archbishop of St. Andrews had Wishart burned at the stake, Knox became a preacher in St. Andrews before being taken prisoner and put to work on a French galley ship.

Following his release, he went to England where he served as chaplain to the young English king Edward VI. During Mary Tudor’s reign (1553-1558) Protestantism was suppressed in England, and Knox went into exile on the European continent, eventually settling in John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland. In 1855 Knox spent six months in southern Scotland where he had many supportive followers who repeatedly encouraged him to return to his homeland. But he was also condemned to death and burned in effigy by Scottish Catholic authorities.

When Knox did return permanently to Scotland in May 1559 he was promptly outlawed by royal decree. Nevertheless Knox and his supporters marched into St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, and he preached there for the first time. The following week he was elected as the congregation’s minister. The cathedral was stripped of its Catholic icons and the church became a Protestant congregation. The following year the Scottish Parliament abolished papal authority throughout Scotland.

St. Giles Cathedral aka The High Kirk of Edinburgh

Knox and five other Protestant leaders soon produced the Scottish Confession of Faith, which remained the doctrinal standard of the Church of Scotland until replaced by the Westminster Confession in 1647. He also helped produce the First Book of Discipline, which sought to promote uniformity in doctrine, sacraments, election, and support of ministers, equality of all before God, church discipline, the assistance of the poor and advancement of education.

Knox and his colleagues emphasized four primary positive principles, which were in marked contrast to Roman Catholic teaching and practices of the time: (1) Holy Scripture is the sole and sufficient rule of Christian faith and practice; (2) People are justified (declared righteous by God) through faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation; (3) The Christian minister is simply teacher of the Gospel, servant, and steward; (4) The people have a voice in electing pastors and church office-bearers.

John Knox statue in St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Knox and the Scottish Reformation had tremendous success despite strong opposition from the crown (Mary Queen of Scots was Catholic) and many of the top nobility, both of which had vested interests in getting their hands on considerable revenues that historically had belonged to Catholic churches (now become Protestant congregations). Knox’s life was often in danger. Ambushes were laid for him and he was repeatedly shot at. Despite those dangers, he uniformly spoke out courageously in promoting the Reformation. God preserved Knox through the many perils he faced, and he died of natural causes in Edinburgh on November 24, 1572.

Significantly, the most prominent memorial in the Glasgow Necropolis, a Victorian-era cemetery that honors thousands of Scotland’s outstanding citizens from past centuries, is an impressive statue of John Knox atop a towering sandstone Doric column and base. The memorial to Knox was erected in 1825, some two and a half centuries after his death.

Leeta at the base of the John Knox monument in the Glasgow Necropolis

All four sides of the monument’s base bear inscriptions, some of which read: “To testify Gratitude for inestimable Services in the Cause of Religion, Education, and Civil Liberty; To awaken Admiration of that Integrity, Disinterestedness, and Courage which stood unshaken in the midst of Trials, and in the Maintenance of the highest Objects; Finally, To Cherish unceasing Reverence for the Principles and Blessings of that Great Reformation, by the influence of which our Country, through the Midst of Difficulties, has arisen to Honour, Prosperity, and Happiness. This monument is Erected by Voluntary Contribution to the Memory of John Knox, the Chief Instrument under God of the Reformation in Scotland.

John Knox House and Museum, Edinburgh

“The Reformation produced a revolution in the sentiment of mankind, the greatest as well as the most beneficial that has happened since the publication of Christianity. John Knox became then a Minister of Edinburgh, where he continued to his death, the incorruptible guardian of our best interests. ‘I can take God to witness,’ he declared, ‘that I never preached in contempt of any man – and Wise men will consider that a true friend cannot flatter, especially in a case that involves the salvation of the bodies and souls, not only of a few persons but of a whole Realm.’ When laid in the grave, the Regent said, ‘There lieth he who never feared the face of man; who was often threatened with dag and dagger, yet hath ended his days in peace and honour.’ ” 

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Some of the information for this blog was gleaned from J.D. Douglas’ chapter on John Knox in John Woodbridge’s outstanding volume, Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Moody Press, 1988).

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

This past August my wife Leeta and I visited Edinburgh, Scotland for two days. We happened to be there during a month-long festival that takes place around that same time each year in Edinburgh. The festival used to feature classical dramatic productions – think Shakespeare. But in more recent years it has come to highlight modern, indie drama presentations. For that reason, the festival has been named Fringe.

The Fringe outside St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

After taking a bus to the center of Edingburgh’s famed tourist district, the Royal Mile, Leeta and I began making our way up the hill toward Edinburgh Castle. In many places the streets and sidewalks were quite literally wall-to-wall people. Along the way street entertainers drew crowds by performing music, magic, mime and the like. The large public square outside St. Giles Cathedral was dotted with canopies under which street merchants sold their wares. A sizeable pair of temporary columns supporting a wide beam stood on the square, advertising the Fringe festival.

Countless large posters advertised the seemingly-innumerable plays that were being offered during the festival. Scores of promoters of the various shows energetically offered tickets to passersby. From the poster-advertisements I saw, it seemed the large majority of the dramatic presentations were of a morally-degraded nature – not what I would recommend as good, moral entertainment viewing.

As we walked along the crowded thoroughfare near the cathedral I suddenly spotted a large white cross up ahead in the middle of the street. “Why?” was printed in large letters atop the cross, and an arrow pointed to the words of John 3:16 which were printed on the crossbar. Two brief parenthetical statements highlighted in red lettering were inserted in the verse by way of explanation and invitation: “For God so loved the world (that’s you) that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him (will you???) shall not perish but have eternal life.”

   A tall, pleasant-looking man stood quietly beside the cross with both his arms extended. In each hand he held out a Christian pamphlet entitled “Father’s Love Letter: An Intimate Message from God to You.” The pamphlet, which is saturated with more than fifty Bible references, very winsomely communicates God’s complete knowledge of us as well as His desire to have a personal relationship with us and to bless us abundantly in this life and throughout eternity. In definite but non-pushy fashion the tract invites people to enter God’s spiritual family through personal, saving faith in Jesus Christ.

My heart was moved by the sight of this faithful ambassador of Christ quietly holding out the Gospel (Good News) of salvation to anyone who would care to take the pamphlet or to stop and talk in order to learn more about it. I was especially struck by the contrast of this evangelist offering the message of God’s spiritual light and life in the public square where secularism and even plenty of godlessness were very much in evidence.

We stopped and introduced ourselves to this fellow Christian and thanked him for his commendable public witness. He introduced himself simply as Steve (sorry I didn’t get his last name). Steve was friendly and engaging. After visiting a few minutes, he suggested we pray together, which we did. Steve prayed God’s blessing on us in our ministry, thanked the Lord for the encouragement our brief visit had been to him, and asked God to make his outreach efforts there that day spiritually fruitful. Steve’s earnest prayerful dependence on the Lord in carrying out his evangelistic ministry was obvious.

Vance with Steve the faithful evangelist
Father’s Love gospel tract

I later visited the website of the ministry organization Steve is part of, Joy on the Streets. I would have a degree of reservation toward some of the perspectives I saw promoted there. But the foundational desire of that Christian ministry to passionately, publicly, joyfully and urgently share the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is spot-on. Their zeal in that regard is an encouragement (and something of a rebuke) to me to be more faithful and earnest in sharing the Gospel myself. Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

While visiting in Scotland a couple of months ago my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of meeting two faithful Scottish pastors (and one of their wives). As an evangelical pastor myself, I have a definite affinity and appreciation for fellow evangelical ministers who are faithfully serving the Lord and His people. Though my interaction with these two brother pastors was only brief, I wanted to share the blessing that meeting them was to us.

While visiting Glasgow Cathedral (also called the High Kirk of Glasgow) we met two very helpful tour guides, Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft. They answered our questions about the cathedral and a number of its features.

Vance with Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft
Vance with Rev. David Easton and Mr. Bill Lintoft

For some forty years, David Easton served as a minister in the Church of Scotland, serving two long pastorates in the Glasgow area. Recently, in his (partial) retirement, David served for two years as the interim minister at Glasgow Cathedral, until that congregation of about 300 people called its next full-time resident pastor.

Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral

The Church of Scotland has around 1,350 congregations. Like a number of church denominations in America, the Church of Scotland has embraced liberalism in various theological and social-moral issues in recent decades. Faithful evangelical ministers like David Easton are rightly grieved over that decline in their denomination and have been led of God to continue steadfastly promoting sound doctrinal and moral truth in the Church of Scotland. May the Lord encourage and strengthen them as they do so, and use them to have a positive leavening influence in the congregations and ministry circles in which they serve.

The one Sunday we were in Scotland we worshiped at the Fearn Free Church in Hilton, a small seaside town on the western edge of the Moray Firth in the Scottish Highlands. That congregation is part of the Free Church of Scotland, one of several smaller thoroughly-evangelical denominations that faithfully proclaim God’s inerrant Word and the Christian Gospel in Scotland.

Vance & Leeta at Fearn Free Church of Scotland
Vance & Leeta at Fearn Free Church of Scotland

 Our hearts were blessed by the beautiful Psalm-singing we heard and the welcoming individuals we met at that church. In addition, we appreciated the capable public ministry of Rev. Andrew MacLeod, the congregation’s young minister, who presented the Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, and sermon in the worship service. Andrew is in his second or third year of pastoral ministry.

Rev. Andrew MacLeod ministering at Fearn Free Church
Rev. Andrew MacLeod ministering at Fearn Free Church

After the morning worship service Andrew’s newlywed wife, Eilidh, invited us to their home for Sunday dinner. We requested, instead, the privilege of hosting them out to dinner at a restaurant. While Andrew finished up some further ministerial responsibilities at church, Eilidh invited us to join her at their home until he was available. As circumstances turned out, Andrew wasn’t able to join us for quite some time, during which period Eilidh went ahead and prepared a lovely dinner, which the four of us enjoyed together when Andrew returned home.

Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod ministering in their home
Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod ministering in their home

We felt somewhat bad about imposing on this young couple in the midst of the full weekend of ministry responsibilities they were carrying out. But, though we were complete strangers to them, they extended warm, gracious hospitality to us. We were further blessed to hear their Christian testimonies and to perceive their earnest desire to actively, appropriately serve Christ and His followers. Their youthful willingness and diligence in service reminded us of our own early years of ministry, and also how that we want to continue to serve with those commendable qualities throughout our ministry career.

Andrew and Eilidh MacLeod, along with David Easton, present attractive pictures of willing, active and faithful service of Jesus our Savior, both early in adulthood and clear through to the end of one’s ministerial career and life. They are positive examples for vocational and lay ministers alike. 

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Hundreds of consecrated Christian missionaries went out from Scotland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Most of them faithfully, capably served Christ Jesus in relative obscurity. Some of them gained a degree of eminence for their sacrificial, fruitful service.

Scotland’s preeminent missionary was David Livingstone (1813-1873). In addition to his consecrated missionary service, he explored a vast region of southcentral Africa which had been previously unknown to Europeans. He opened the way for Christianity (of first importance) and commerce (of secondary importance) to be introduced throughout that immense area. He also played a primary role in exposing the evils of and helping bring an end to the slave trade in that part of Africa.

I’m currently writing a comprehensive biography of Livingstone’s life and ministry. So when my wife Leeta and I recently visited Scotland, one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting was the David Livingstone Centre and Birthplace Museum in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire (a fourteen-mile drive from Glasgow). The museum has extensive displays and items relating to Livingstone’s upbringing and career. But unfortunately I had somehow overlooked the fact that the museum is currently closed for major renovations.

David Livingstone Centre & Museum in Blantyre, Scotland

We ended up investing the day which we had intended to spend at that museum, instead, in seeing some of the sights in Glasgow. While doing so we unexpectedly came across two significant indications of the high esteem in which Livingstone came to be held in Scotland. The first instance of this was at Glasgow’s Saint Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. There the one modest display we found concerning “Missions and Missionaries” prominently featured David Livingstone.

“Missions and Missionaries” display in St. Mungo Museum

Though I’m not at all a proponent of religious relics, it was a treat for me to see a copy of the Bible Livingstone used during his first decade of service in Africa, as well as the trademark consular cap with gold band which he characteristically wore throughout his exploring years.

David Livingstone’s Bible from early years of service in Africa.
David Livingstone’s Trademark Consular Cap

Looking out a second- or third-story window of Saint Mungo Museum, we took pictures of the nearby Glasgow Cathedral, which is also called the High Kirk of Glasgow.

Glasgow Cathedral

On the paved plaza leading to the front of the cathedral stands a magnificent monument with an impressive statue of David Livingstone atop it.

David Livingstone monument near Glasgow Cathedral

Three sides of the monument bear large metalwork plates depicting (1) Livingstone teaching the Africans, (2) Livingstone taking astrological observations to use in determining latitude and longitude, and (3) an Arab slave trader attacking an African mother and her child with a whip. [pixs of metalwork plates on DL monument]

Slave Trader Attacking African Mother
David Livingstone Taking Astronomical Measurements
David Livingstone teaching Africans

I was delighted but not surprised to discover these two outstanding tributes to Scotland’s premier missionary in Glasgow. Livingstone grew up near Glasgow then received his initial theological and medical training in that city. He later qualified as a medical doctor, receiving the license of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. He went on to gain tremendous acclaim in all of Britain, from Christians and non-Christians alike, for his career of missionary service, his wide-ranging explorations and geographical discoveries throughout southcentral Africa, and his steadfast determination to help end the African slave trade. All that was carried out with marked self-sacrifice, perseverance, courage and humility. He was not only admired but also lionized. Little wonder then that all of Scotland came to proudly esteem him as one of its most-honored sons.

Livingstone would have considered such honoring and lionizing of himself by others as tosh (to use a good British term). Livingstone’s goal in life was not self-promotion but faithful, humble service of his Savior Jesus, by helping to advance Christ’s spiritual kingdom and by bringing God’s love and blessings to others.  

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

John & Betty Stam

John and Betty Stam were a young American missionary couple who served a few short years in China before being executed by Communist rebels in 1934. Their martyrdom at ages 27 and 28 tragically ended their young lives and their short, consecrated missionary careers. Yet ever since then God has used their devout examples in life and death to help point not a few people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to inspire untold thousands of Christians to serve the Lord with greater fervor and dedication.

Several weeks ago my wife Leeta and I had the privilege of visiting Christian Focus Publications, my primary publisher located in the scenic Highlands of Ross-shire, Scotland. Here’s the short feature Christian Focus released from our interview about the John and Betty Stam biography I’ve published with CFP. In this brief interview, I highlight a few of the outstanding aspects of the Stams’ lives and ministries.

John and Betty Stam by Vance Christie

If you’ve not yet read John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs, I’d encourage you to do so. I think you’ll find it spiritually instructive, beneficial and encouraging. If you’ve already read the book and found it profitable, perhaps you would want to recommend it to someone else as worthwhile reading.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

While visiting Christian Focus Publications in the Highlands of Scotland last month, my wife Leeta and I were treated to “a wee ecclesiastical tour” by William and Carine Mackenzie. William is the General Director of Christian Focus while Carine is CFP’s best-selling author, with over 15 million copies (!) of her children’s books having been sold. They took us on an interesting and spiritually-inspiring half-day driving tour of several of the significant Church History sights in the area nearby CFP. Here are a few of the highlights of our time together, beginning with a couple personal pictures.

William, Carine and Vance in one of the warehouses where CFP books are stored and ready to be sent out around the world.

Vance-with-William-and-Carine-Mackenzie-in-the-CFP-warehouse
Vance with William and Carine Mackenzie in the CFP warehouse

William, Carine and Leeta in one of the Mackenzie family wheat fields. William reminded us of Jesus Christ’s words about Himself in John 12:24: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Leeta-with-William-and-Carine-Mackenzie-in-the-family-wheatfield
Leeta with William and Carine Mackenzie in the family wheat field

A seaside monument to Presbyterian missionary John Ross at the village of Balintore. The monument reads: “John Ross (1842-1914). A native of this place, minister, missionary in China and Korea, and the first to translate the New Testament into Korean.” CFP plans to publish Ross’s biography next year.

John-Ross-monument-at-Balintore-Scotland
John Ross Monument and Balintore, Scotland

Nigg Old Parish Church. An evangelical revival, which started at this parish church in 1739, spread and influenced the nature of religious life throughout the Highlands. The church also houses an ornate 8th century cross-slab stone (approximately six feet long by three feet wide) which used to stand in the churchyard cemetery.

Nigg Old Parish Church
Nigg Old Parish Church

Thomas Hog Gravestone at Kiltearn Old Parish Church. Thomas Hog (1628-1692) was Kiltearn’s most prominent minister. He was banished from his parish for many years for his promotion of the Protestant Reformation but was restored to minister there the last few years of his life. His gravestone, which lies just outside the church wall, was inscribed: “This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring any ungodly minister in here.” More will be said about Hog below.

Thomas Hog Gravestone

Covenanters Communion Memorial Stone near Alness. The Covenanters were 17th century Scottish Presbyterians who were persecuted for holding to their biblical beliefs. This memorial reads in part: “This stone marks the only place in Ross-shire in which the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is known to have been dispensed to the Covenanters during the days of persecution. Respecting the command of their Divine Redeemer more than they feared the fury of the oppressor, they met here on a Sabbath in September 1675. Soldiers were sent to apprehend them but they did not arrive till the communion service was over and the congregation had dispersed.” William shared the rest of the story: The soldiers stopped at an apple orchard a couple miles away to have their fill of delicious autumn fruit. By the time they got back to carrying out their mission, the Covenanters had finished their meeting and were gone.

Covenanters Communion Memorial Stone

Saint Duthac Memorial Church, Tain. The church was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. Tain became a prominent place of pilgrimage and attracted many members of the nobility and royalty, including King James IV who visited the church eighteen times in twenty years. By 1487 the church had gained full collegiate status, with the main purpose of collegiate churches being to sing masses for the souls of their founders – in this case the King, his family and heirs. The church became a Protestant parish church after the Scottish Reformation in 1560.

Saint Duthac Memorial Church

Patrick Hamilton and Thomas Hog Memorial Stones at Saint Duthac Memorial Church.  Prominent memorial stones for these two leading Scottish Reformers are placed under the beautiful stained glass window inside Saint Duthac Memorial Church. Thomas Hog was born at Tain in 1628. Hamilton’s memorial stone reads: “Patrick Hamilton, the youthful abbot of the monastery of Fearn near Tain. Of noble extraction and allied to royalty. Learned and full of faith. He was the first preacher of the Reformation in Scotland and the first to seal its doctrine by a martyr’s death, being burnt at the stake in St. Andrews 28th February 1528. ‘His reek’ it was said ‘infected as many as it did blow upon.’ His principles quickly spread over Scotland. Their influence was felt in the neighborhood of his monastery and was early and decidedly manifested within these walls where this tablet is erected to his memory.”

Patrick Hamilton and Thomas Hog Memorial Stones at Saint Duthac

Church of Scotland Fearn Abbey, nearby Fearn. This was originally an Augustinian abbey, founded around AD 1240. Patrick Hamilton ministered as abbot here before his martyrdom as Scotland’s first Reformation preacher. A Church of Scotland congregation still worships at Fearn Abbey today.

Leeta and I thoroughly enjoyed and deeply appreciated the wee ecclesiastical tour to which William and Carine graciously hosted us. Such significant ecclesiastical sights and history can be found throughout Scotland if one goes looking for them. If you’re ever in Scotland I’d encourage you to investigate some of its rich history relating to the Protestant Reformation, evangelical revivals and Christian missions. I believe you’ll find those aspects of Scotland’s history spiritually beneficial as we have.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

I’ve often likened my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul book series, only with stories centered on clear Christian themes. Timeless Stories is a collection of true stories from the lives of ten outstanding Christian couples or individuals who ministered in the last three centuries: Billy and Ruth Graham; Corrie ten Boom; George Whitefield; John Wesley; George Muller; William and Catherine Booth; Hudson Taylor; Charles Spurgeon; Dwight Moody; Amy Carmichael.

From their commendable examples I’ve gleaned this collection of some 200 interesting and instructive incidents, grouped around eight primary themes: Family; Service; Faith; Prayer; Witness; Forgiveness; Stewardship; Adversity.  These stories encourage us on in each of those vital aspects of Christian living.

While visiting Christian Focus Publications (my primary publisher located near Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland) last month, CFP invited me to share a sample story from Timeless Stories, as a way of introducing the book to people. Here’s that short feature on Timeless Stories which CFP recently released. 

Timeless Stories: God's Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians by Vance Christie

I hope this brief presentation will whet your appetite to read this valuable collection of Timeless Stories. I think you’ll find it very enjoyable and beneficial to read, as I certainly found the writing of this book to be. 

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie