My Writing Retreat Work Table

The church I have had the privilege of pastoring for over twenty-three years graciously grants me a two-week writing sabbatical each year. I recently returned from this year’s writing retreat and wanted to express some heartfelt thanks to the Lord and a number of people who have blessed me with this tremendous opportunity.

Some pastors are granted a sabbatical every several years by their churches to get away for a few months to rest, be refreshed and pursue some line of study to strengthen their future ministry. With my ongoing sidelight writing ministry (which is secondary to my primary pastoral ministry), a few years ago I proposed and our congregation kindly approved my taking a mini writing sabbatical annually, rather than being away for a more extended sabbatical all at one time.

This arrangement, it seems to me, works out advantageously for our church and myself. On the one hand, I’m not away from my pastoral responsibilities for a long period of time, a situation that can sometimes prove challenging for a smaller church like ours to manage. But on the other hand, each year I can get away and make a significant leap of progress on the writing project I’m pursuing at the time. I find that I can accomplish in an intensely-focused, two-week retreat what it normally takes me a quarter of a year to complete, while writing very part time in the midst of the normal responsibilities and activities of life and ministry back home.

I cannot adequately express my appreciation to our congregation for granting me this annual writing retreat (and advance! J). In doing so they are affirming and supporting an important sidelight ministry that God allows me to have to the larger Body of Christ that extends far beyond our local church and community. Without such support that broader ministry would be considerably curtailed.

Prairie School Retreat Guest Home
Prairie School Retreat Guest Home

In recent years my writing sabbatical has taken place at an attractive ministry retreat setting called Prairie School Retreat, located several miles out in the country from Sidney, Nebraska, in the state’s western panhandle region. You can check out that ministry’s website at for much fuller information about it. This retreat home used to be a two-classroom rural school building, and it retains that look from the outside. But the inside of the building has been entirely refurbished into an appealing, comfortable modern home, which looks and feels nothing like a schoolhouse.

Prairie School Retreat
Prairie School Retreat

The sizeable schoolyard, lined on two sides with bushy evergreens, has playground equipment for guest families with younger kids, and is home to an assortment of wildlife including rabbits, pheasants and several other types of birds. The landscape on all sides of the retreat home is surrounded by scenic sloping farm fields and an occasional farmstead. One can see for miles in almost every direction. About the only outdoor noises to be heard in this tranquil setting are birds, a few vehicles passing on a paved and a gravel road, and an occasional train in the distance.

Don and Nancy Cruise

Don and Nancy Cruise are the founders and operators of the Prairie School Retreat. They established the retreat several years ago as a secluded, peaceful place for individuals or families involved in vocational Christian ministry to come to rest, relax and be refreshed. The Cruises have a great interest in and heart for the welfare of people. I have always benefited from their kind, generous hospitality and service.

Prairie School Retreat Living Room
Prairie School Retreat Living Room

Another person to whom I owe a debt of gratitude when it comes to my annual writing retreat is my wife Leeta. She fully, willingly supports my getting away for this yearly time of focused writing, knowing how important it is to me. She always sends me off with more food than I can possibly eat during the two weeks away – including casseroles and other home-cooked meals which I just need to heat up in the oven or microwave. I have to be careful not to gain a pound or two while on my retreat as a result of enjoying all those nice meals a little too much!

David Livingstone at middle age

I’m currently in the process of revising an extensive biography I’ve written on the life and ministry of David Livingstone, the eminent pioneer missionary and explorer to Africa.  Revising a section of that work was the sole focus of this year’s writing retreat. The Lord greatly blessed my retreat with health and strength, travel safety, few distractions and many supportive individuals. For all those blessings I’m truly thankful.

I’d like to close this feature by sharing a special providential blessing that God granted during my recent retreat. This blessing occurred in the middle of the first week of the retreat. Here’s what I wrote about the blessing (which was clearly a “God thing”) in an email to our congregation the day after it happened:

Some David Livingstone resource books used during this retreat

“I tried to be careful to bring all the resource materials (research books) that I would need during this retreat. Yesterday just before noon I discovered to my chagrin that somehow I had left back in Aurora [the town where I live] one of the primary resource books which would be needed throughout the remainder of my retreat. That book is so important to this portion of the revision process I immediately concluded I would need to drive to Aurora then back here (spending nine hours of time and $40 of gas) in order to have it to use during the rest of my time here.

Prairie School Retreat Kitchen and Dining Room
Prairie School Retreat Kitchen and Dining Room

“The couple who own and operate this ministry retreat home had been away visiting relatives in recent weeks and were driving back home from Kansas yesterday. I phoned to let them know of my unexpected round-trip to Aurora and back, so they would know why I wasn’t here when they arrived at their home (otherwise I knew they would wonder and be concerned). This thought had not even crossed my mind, but they “just happened” to be about thirty miles from Aurora, so volunteered to pick up the book as they passed by Aurora and bring it to me. Leeta gave them the book, they dropped it off to me late yesterday afternoon, and I started using it last night.  I’m so grateful to the Lord, Don & Nancy Cruise and Leeta for working all that out, thus saving me considerable time and expense which would have otherwise been spent in making a trip to Aurora and back.  If I had discovered the missing book even an hour or two later than I did, this providential connection would have been missed and I would have needed to make the roundtrip.”

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Might you be growing weary or discouraged in some earnest prayer request you’ve been lifting up to the Lord for quite some time, perhaps even a very long time? If so, here’s some timely encouragement from the remarkable example of George Muller, a man mighty in faith and prayer.

George Muller

Muller is best known for the large faith-based orphan ministry he carried out in Bristol, England, in the nineteenth century. He was also a diligent, disciplined man of prayer. He kept an ongoing prayer notebook in which he recorded his requests on one page and the answer to each of those petitions on the facing page. By this means he persevered in praying till he received answers to thousands of specific requests.

Once while ministering in Dusseldorf, Germany, Muller was approached by a missionary to that city who was distressed because his six sons remained unconverted, though he had been praying for them many years.  To the father’s query about what he should do Muller responded, “Continue to pray for your sons, and expect an answer to your prayer, and you will have to praise God.”

Six years later, in August of 1882, Muller again returned to minister in Dusseldorf.  This time he was delighted to be greeted by the same missionary who testified that he had resolved to follow Muller’s advice and had given himself more earnestly to prayer for the spiritual well-being of his sons.  The happy results were that two months after Muller had left in 1876, five of the man’s sons had come to faith in Christ and the sixth was now also thinking seriously about making that commitment.

Muller himself interceded for more than half a century for the salvation of a small group of men. He once wrote: “In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on the land or on the sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be.  Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted.  I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted.  I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted.  I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.

“These two remain unconverted.  The man to whom God in the riches of His grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted.  But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.

Those two men, sons of a friend of Muller’s youth, were still unconverted when he died in 1897, after having prayed daily for their salvation for fifty-two years.  His prayers were answered, however, when both those men came to faith in Christ a few years after the great intercessor’s death.

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Timeless Stories by Vance Christie

You will find many other examples of George Muller’s outstanding faith and prayer in my book Timeless Stories: God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians (Christian Focus, 2010). Roger Steer has written an excellent full-length biography on Muller entitled George Muller: Delighted in God! (Christian Focus, 2015). Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

The present COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of Christians thinking and talking about the various ways in which God will bring significant good out of the situation. It is our confident expectation and prayer that through these threatening, stressful circumstances countless people will be drawn into a personal relationship with God or will have their Christian faith and commitment deepened.

A striking example of God using a life-threatening epidemic to play a key role in a person coming to spiritual faith and life is found in the conversion testimony of Fanny Crosby. She went on to become the world’s premiere Christian hymnwriter of the nineteenth century. 

New York Institute for the Blind

Fanny, who was blind from infancy, entered the New York Institution for the Blind (hereafter NYIB) as a student at age fifteen. There she excelled as an exceptional student, musician and poet, becoming the NYIB’s model pupil and preeminent success story. In 1843, when twenty-three years old, Fanny became an instructor at the institution, teaching rhetoric, grammar and Roman and American history.

Fanny Crosby as a young woman

Five years later, in the fall of 1848, cholera swept over Europe, leaving scores of thousands dead in its wake.  It broke out in New York in May of the following year.  The NYIB gave its students an early dismissal to summer vacation that month, thinking they would be safer away from the city.

But a number of students were unable to return home.  So Fanny and some other members of the faculty decided to remain, “being convinced that God would take care of us and that we could be of some help.” By mid-July over 2,200 New Yorkers had perished from the dread illness. In the end, twenty members of the NYIB contracted cholera and ten died from it.

Fanny assisted the institution’s physician, Dr. J.W.G. Clements, in making pills to try to fight the sickness.  A school just one block from the NYIB was turned into a cholera hospital.  The institution’s sick were taken there, and both Clements and Fanny served there.  Frequently as she sat by a patient’s bedside at night the stillness was shattered by the harsh cry of a city official outside the door of some bereaved home nearby, ‘Bring out your dead.’  Sometimes she was startled to bump against a casket as she moved around the hospital ward.

After several nights of almost no sleep near the end of July Fanny felt like she might be coming down with the sickness.  After a generous dosage of medication and a long night of sleep she felt fully restored.  But hearing of the close call, Chamberlain sent her to her mother’s home in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for the remainder of the summer. The students still at the institution were taken to another town that had not been visited by the deadly sickness.  After the first hard frosts of fall it was deemed safe for people to return to the city, and the institution reopened in early November.

Fanny’s experiences in the cholera epidemic certainly would have brought her face to face with her own mortality and doubtless played an important part in life-changing spiritual developments that took place in the year to follow.  Dating back to her first years at the institution, she had attended the class meetings at the Eighteenth Street Methodist Church. But by her own admission, through the years she had grown somewhat indifferent toward spiritual matters.

Now, in the autumn of 1850, revival meetings were held at the Methodist Broadway Tabernacle on Thirtieth Street.  Fanny and some others from the NYIB attended the meetings each night. Twice when a public invitation was given at the close of the service, she went forward, seeking peace from her inner spiritual struggles, but found none.

Finally on November 20 it seemed to her “that the light must indeed come then or never.”  That evening she went to the altar alone.  As she prayed the congregation began to sing Isaac Watts’ grand old hymn, “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?”  When they reached the great words of consecration contained in the last verse – “Here, Lord, I give myself away” – Fanny expressed that commitment as the desire of her heart, yielding her life to Christ.  Immediately her “very soul was flooded with a celestial light,” and she sprang to her feet, literally shouting, “Hallelujah!”

Through faith in Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, Fanny found the spiritual forgiveness, peace and life for which she had been searching. For the remainder of her life she was a devoted disciple and servant of Jesus. Eventually she was led into her primary ministry as a hymnwriter. She composed the lyrics for nearly 9,000 hymns, including a number that are still sung today. She also traveled widely, ministering fruitfully in churches, Bible conferences, rescue missions, YMCAs and various other settings.

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

You can find a concise six-chapter sketch of Fanny Crosby’s remarkable life and service for Christ in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). That volume also includes similar-length biographical sketches of Susanna Wesley, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor, and Corrie ten Boom.  The story of Fanny’s life is shared in her own words in Fanny J. Crosby, An Autobiography (Baker, 1995, and Hendrickson, 2015).

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

Good Friday

The Friday before Easter is traditionally called Good Friday. It’s the day when Christians intentionally remember and reflect on Christ Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.

“But why is it called Good Friday?” not a few have asked through the years. “Wasn’t that a truly awful day when God the Son was put to death?”

Indeed, for our precious Savior it was the most horrific day of His earthly ministry and, presumably, of His entire eternal existence. But what made that day good was the immeasurable benefit it brought about for the innumerable people who would believe and receive Christ as their Savior.

I’d invite you to read reflectively (rather than quickly) these representative Bible passages that describe the terrible Friday that Messiah Jesus willingly endured, followed  by other representative Scriptures that state a number of the tremendous blessings which resulted for all who would trust in Him.

Jesus Christ’s unspeakably bad Friday (involving incalculable physical, psychological and spiritual suffering):

Matthew 26:57-68 (select verses) – Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put Him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. The high priest said to Him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”

Matthew 27:1-2, 15-26 (select verses) – Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound Him, led Him away and handed Him over to Pilate, the governor. Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!”  “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.

Matthew 27:27-31 – Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand and knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on Him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.

Matthew 27:33-44 (select verses) – They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall. But after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. Above His head they placed the written charge against Him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if He wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’.” In the same way the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.”

Isaiah 53:4-12 (select verses from an Old Testament prophecy of Christ as the Lord’s suffering Servant) – Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was stricken. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

Matthew 27:45-46 – From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

John 19:28-30 and Luke 23:46 – Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” With that, he bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

The measureless good that resulted for Christ’s followers:

Matthew 26:27-28 (when Jesus instituted communion with the cup representing His blood shed on the cross) – Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

John 3:14-18 – Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [on the cross], that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Romans 3:21-25 – But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [declared righteous] freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.

Romans 5:1-10 (select verses) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!

2 Corinthians 5:20-21 – We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 1:7 – In Him [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”

Colossians 1:21-22 – Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Titus 2:13-14 – Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ … gave himself for us [on the cross] to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.

Hebrews 9:15, 26-28 – For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. But now Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Those of us who know Christ as our Savior have an infinite amount for which to humbly thank and highly praise Him this Good Friday, both in terms of all that He was willing to suffer for us, and for the untold spiritual and eternal blessings He has brought to us as a result. If you have not yet believed and received Jesus as your personal Savior, may God graciously draw you to saving faith in Christ, thus enabling you to share in the limitless blessings that flow from His self-sacrificial, substitutionary death.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

I’ve noticed through my years of pastoring that God regularly gives me opportunities to practice what I preach or write about. I’m sure He has many gracious purposes for doing so, such as: (1) to remind me that I definitely need the spiritual truths I’m sharing with others and that I haven’t “arrived” yet in automatically applying those truths in my own life; (2) to keep me dependent upon Him for His help in living by His Word; (3) to make me mindful of my own need for deeper sanctification and integrity; (4) to help me empathize with fellow believers who sometimes find it challenging to consistently live out their Christian beliefs; (5) to give me the opportunity to provide others with a decent example of “walking the talk” rather than just “talking a good game.”

Through the present coronavirus circumstances, the Lord is providing a lot of us as Christians with the opportunity to put into practice what we profess to believe. To follow is one significant way He has been doing that in my situation. Perhaps you’ll be able to relate quite closely to my particular circumstances and conclusions. Or perhaps God has been using the current situation to nudge you to apply your Christian beliefs in various other ways. However God is working in our lives through the present circumstances, let’s seek to be attuned and responsive to His promptings.

The last week of last year I posted a blog entitled “Trusting God with Our Unknown Future,” which relates the moving true story of how that particular principle was illustrated in the untimely death of Philip Bliss, a popular nineteenth-century hymn writer. In introducing that narrative I said: “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.”

Philip Bliss
Philip Bliss

Then two weeks ago, while my wife Leeta and I were visiting family in Washington State, we were informed that when we returned to Nebraska we would need to self-quarantine in our home for two weeks. When we traveled to Washington State we had no idea that such a restriction would be placed upon us, as such precautionary measures had not yet been put in place or even hinted at by officials. At first I was quite frustrated by that development as both of us were in good health, and the likelihood of our contracting coronavirus as we traveled (while using commonsense precautions) seemed to me very low. In addition, being quarantined would curtail our accustomed freedoms to be out and about and to actively carry out our normal public ministries and other social activities of life. We returned home the day U.S. Government and healthcare officials announced the more restrictive recommendations regarding social distancing and the size of social gatherings (ten or less) that have impacted our country, communities and individual lives in such dramatic ways.

The Lord soon reminded me that not many weeks ago I had written about trusting Him in such unforeseen, undesirable developments of life. Here was a chance for me to put into practice the very truth I had admired in the example of Philip Bliss and had recommended to others as being worthy of emulation.

God’s Spirit also rather quickly reminded me that to remain frustrated with God’s sovereign ordering of the present confining circumstances in my life would not honor or please Him. Just as He does not want me to dishonor Him by worrying about my present and future concerns, so He would not have me to dishonor Him by continuing to be upset about them.

I’m additionally mindful that countless thousands of people are facing much greater challenges and difficulties (some of them extremely serious or even grave) than I am from the coronavirus situation. And far beyond coronavirus, untold millions of people around the globe are experiencing all kinds of very difficult, even dire circumstances from a whole host of other trials and tribulations – war, persecution, disease, poverty, natural disasters, traumatic relationships, etc. Countless people will continue to live with unremitting and, in some cases, unspeakable hardships long after the current coronavirus situation has run its course. Remembering such facts definitely helps us keep in proper perspective our own (often lesser) inconveniences and hardships of life.

Artist's depiction of the Ashtabula, OH, train bridge disaster in which Philip and Lucy Bliss died
Artist’s depiction of the Ashtabula, OH, train bridge disaster in which Philip and Lucy Bliss died

As shared in my earlier blog concerning Philip Bliss, one of the hymns that was sung at the funeral of he and his wife Lucy after their premature deaths in a tragic train wreck was entitled “He Knows.” The lyrics were written by Mary Brainard, and Bliss had just set them to music. The truths of the song definitely relate to the circumstances many of us find ourselves in at this time: 

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.


     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.

Mike Strand, a worship pastor in Colorado, recently reset this hymn to new music. In the attachment to follow you can listen to Mike’s presentation of the song which was made at a recent conference. I think your heart will be blessed by the beautiful musical presentation of this significant hymn. 

Download it here: MP3 Link.

By the way, as of the day I’m writing this blog Leeta and I are halfway through our two-week home quarantine. So far we’ve not had any symptoms of illness, for which we praise the Lord. And we’re grateful we’ve been able to continue ministering and working from home. We’ve also enjoyed our extra time together. We realize that many have not been so fortunate.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

In our secularized society I don’t hear much public or even private admission about people feeling burdened by their sin. But God’s Spirit is still very much in the business of working in people’s hearts and drawing them to salvation. So we can safely assume the Holy Spirit is convicting not a few people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see John 16:18).

Amy Carmichael with orphan pix
Amy Carmichael with Orphan

Perhaps you know of an individual who is under such conviction. Or maybe you are convicted and burdened about your own sin. The solution for addressing such a spiritual concern is pointed out in the following true story.

Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was a Protestant Christian from Ireland who served faithfully as a missionary in India for fifty-six years. She and a group of fellow Christians once ministered in an Indian village where they met a young boy from a Hindu family.

Sometime earlier the boy had approached his own dad with a spiritual concern: “Father, I have a load. The burden of sin is heavy. What can I do to get rid of my sin?”

“Learn the Thousand Stanzas and your sin will melt away,” his father advised.

So the boy learned those supposedly holy writings. But his spiritual burden was still heavy. “Is there no other way?” he queried.

“You are young,” the father replied. “Wait for a year or two, then you may find the way.”

“But what if I should die first?” the boy responded with earnest concern.

Amy Carmichael
Amy Carmichael

His ongoing burden led to his coming to have an unquenched spiritual thirst. Finally, he heard a group of visiting Christians singing one of their hymns at a service in his village. The words of the chorus were: “Come home, come home. You who are weary, come home. Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling. Calling, ‘O sinner, come home’.”

The words of the hymn drew the boy like a magnet. At the Christian service, he heard the Gospel (Good News) message that God’s Son, Christ Jesus, had come into the world to save people from their sin. The boy learned that Jesus, at the end of His sinless life, had died on a cross to receive the judgment our sins deserve so we could instead be forgiven. The next day the boy trusted in Christ and His death for him on the cross to rescue him from his sin.

He afterward testified: “Where was my burden then? Where was my thirst? Gone – as the dew when it sees the sun!”

If you are weighed down with a sense of sin and guilt, I pray you’ll find relief by coming to believe in and receive Jesus as your personal Savior from sin. If I may be of any assistance to you in that matter, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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Timeless Stories by Vance Christie

This and many other spiritually-beneficial, real-life incidents are to be found in my book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians.

Copyright 2020 by Vance E. Christie

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.


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