Addresses and Contact

16 11 2009

We just wanted to write a short post tonight to simply let you know that we will no longer be able to receive post at our ‘Apartado’ address here in Tacna. Thank you so much for your faithfulness in posting so many wonderful letters and gifts to us – they have been a real blessing to us. If you have sent anything up until today’s date we will still receive it, but other items possibly won’t reach us if sent later than that.

We’ve also disabled the comments on our blog for the time being, but we’d still love to hear from you. There is an email address listed in the ‘Contact Us’ tab at the top of this page, or you can send us messages to our private email address if you have it.


Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

22 08 2009

I’ve always been attracted to Russian literature in translation, and have found that time spent with it is universally rewarding. A few years ago I read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and promised myself that one day I would give Dostoyevsky a go!

Living in Arequipa means that I have limited access to book buying. I purchased this edition of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in a local bookstore, and was enthralled from the first page. Many reviews of the novel carry comments on the worth of the translation. I don’t speak or read Russian and therefore am incapable of giving any verdict on the faithfulness of this book to original Russian – but it reads tremendously well. The pace, tone and dialogue of the book belie the fact that it is a translation, giving the text a winning feel, and compelling force.

The story itself is at once bleak, intriguing, suspenseful, meditative, and inspiring. The main character, Raskolnikov, is bewitched by new and atheistic teaching, the ultimate consequences of which lead him to murder an elderly and wretched pawnbroker lady in St. Petersburg. The remainder of the book extrapolates the consequences of this action, giving an insight into Raskolnikov’s fevered reaction to his own iniquity, and ultimately leading to a thought provoking treatment of redemption and renewal.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and read it in just seven days. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read something which combines a well paced storyline, realistic characterisation, psychological depth, and moral weight.

Words and Music Pt.1

13 07 2009

Later this week I hope to do my first post on what is currently on our iPod playlist, but I also want to supplement this every now and then with the words from great hymns from the past. Should we forget these pieces, or allow them to slip into disuse, we forfeit a tremendous Christian heritage.

The hymn below is ‘Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted‘ by the Irish Hymnwriter, Thomas Kelly (1769-1855). Every word is worth weighing in this great piece about our Saviour’s suffering, and how it ought to lead to sanctity:

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

A Useful Move

3 04 2009

There hasn’t been much movement around here for the past few months, chiefly owing to our move to Peru and all of the changes we have been facing. I’ve been in something of a dilemna about whether to maintain this blog alongside our ministry site. I think I’ve found a resolution that gives me the best of both worlds. As of today I’ve migrated a lot of the book review material from Double Usefulness over to our other site, with a tab at the top listed as ‘Double Usefulness’. I intend to add further book reviews to this in days to come, in the hope that it might serve as a kind of mini-site to our main blog about life in Peru.

So in some ways this marks the last post on Double Usefulness, and in another way I’d invite you to move house with me to The Road to Peru where more updates will be added in coming days.

Thanks for all of your support on this blog, and I look forward to seeing you at our new location soon.

Wellbeing Holidays

17 10 2008

Mysticism is mainstream, we all know that, but there are times when it really comes home with force. When I was in my teens there used to be an obscure little corner in the Belfast branch of Waterstones known as ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’. This backroom part of the bookshop hosted some scattered fragments of fuzzy thinking, reserved entirely for those who could be readily identified by their flowing skirts, long bead necklaces and braided hair (and that was just the male shoppers). Now Waterstones has a startling edifice of New Age literature spanning a long wall, with everything from the seemingly banal (10 Steps to Taking Your Next Ten Steps) to the brazenly dark and occultish. This is at least something of barometer of how popular such publications have become in a country not known for its open-mindedness.

The acceptability of New Age thinking was driven home for me with even greater force during this week as I listened to ‘Travellers Tree’ on Radio 4, hosted by Katie Derham. The focus this week was on ‘wellbeing holidays’, an increasing trend amongst British travellers to not merely read pulp fiction in Benidorm, but to truly get away from it all and refresh their bodies, minds and spirits in evocative locations.

The programme was exuberant in its approach to this phenomenon, with lively reports from listeners who had gone to discover themselves in retreat locations in the company of similarly disconnected strangers who wanted to find something higher than themselves. Such reports were punctuated by commentary from a ‘wellbeing holiday’ veteran, and cheesy soundbites from pundits and experts (‘behind every Thomas Cook brochure the spirit of pilgrimage is bubbling away’ one presumably sane man suggested).

A number of things struck me as I listened to the broadcast:

1. The practical truth of Paul’s teaching in Romans. ‘Claiming to be wise, they became fools’ is written all across the experiences of those reporting for the programme. Britain is a nation which speaks scornfully of all things Christian and biblical. Believers are routinely written off as naive dinosaurs at best, and brainwashed psychopaths at worst, with the standards of Scripture finding scant regard in popular discourse. What has replaced the Divine logic of belief in Christ is not a cold, hard-nosed intellectualism which will brook no sense of the transcendent or Divine, but a soft, saggy mysticism which makes a mockery of the dignity of being human. People are willing to spend considerable amounts of money to go on a retreat where ‘mentors’ invite them to wander into the woods and find a special tree, or allow their special tree to find them. Others spend their holidays seeking to relive the experiences of hunter-gatherers for a weekend, presumably without the routine bloodshed and uncouth sexual politics which such a lifestyle would have necessarily entailed (or perhaps not, who knows?!). Ask these same people to consider the claims of Jesus Christ, who verifiably lived, sacrificially died and undeniably rose from the dead and the response will be categorically negative.

2. The tragedy of modern materialism. People are ravenous for a higher reality, and will go to great lengths in their efforts to find it. This includes investing copious amounts of cash on seeking to elevate their souls using New Age methods. Such experiences, we are told, have a cleansing and clarifying effect, lifting the mundanity of modern urban existence for a least a limited period. How heartbreaking such sentiments are, how dislocated our communities have become, and how lonely and hopeless is our culture! Imagine Norma from Accounts sitting at her desk on Friday afternoon dreaming about getting away from the people with whom she shares relationless proximity in the office, so that she might enjoy intimacy with complete strangers on an island at tremendous financial cost. What a challenge to evangelicals to engage such people with a message which brings true joy, and communities of Christian who offer true warmth, friendship and acceptance.

3. The insufficiency of secular approaches to spreading the Gospel. The one sentiment which ‘Travellers Tree’ voiced repeatedly was the hunger within the hearts of people to experience the transcendent. How pathetic that in seeking to reach such people Christians have made mistake of downplaying the spiritual nature of coming to Christ, in favour of a lifestyle based marketing ethic which places becoming a Christian in the same intellectual/emotional category as joining a gym. Evangelicals serve a God who is utterly holy, utterly different, and yet imminently near through His Word preached plainly. In a world of famished souls we have all too often been found guilty of offering juice and biscuits while Satan furnishes the tables of unsaved men and women with a seemingly meaty menu.

We are living in a mystical world, among people who have become all too open to all that is ephemeral and hazy. We have the Truth, a message which comes with the power of the Holy Spirit, granting life, forgiveness and adoption. How we need to make Him known to a world which is glutting itself on the poisoned rations of New Age philosophy.

A Great Day in London

9 10 2008

Every October my brother and I make a bit of a pilgrimage to London for the day. The cause for our heading to England’s capital is the Evangelist’s Conference, organised by The Good Book Company, and hosted at All Souls Langham Place. Each year we have been impressed by the organisation and calibre of this conference, and have been left inspired by speakers such as Christopher Ash and Tim Keller.

We caught the 615am flight from Belfast to Stansted, and having caught the train to Liverpool Street, we grabbed a bite of breakfast in The Royal Exchange. This is a fascinating building, whose history can be found here. The food wasn’t as costly as the surroundings suggested and we felt well fueled for the morning ahead. One of the amazing features on the front of this great building was an inscription from Psalm 24. How many places of commerce built today would carry this text, even in the face of the humbling ‘credit crisis’ which is being faced right across the country?
We arrived in All Souls just in time for the beginning of the conference. Rico Tice spoke in his introduction of the sufficiency of God’s Word for God’s work, and then introduced the speaker, Ian Garrett of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. The theme was ‘Outrageous Grace’ and the speaker took Romans as a model for evangelism. Without getting into a detailed critique of the message or the messenger we were quite disappointed in the content of what was shared.
Feeling underwhelmed by what we had heard in the early stages of the conference, we made a joint decision to head into London and follow up another couple of interests which we had hoped to enjoy in the afternoon after the morning sessions. Having grabbed some refreshments we caught the Tube to Baker Street and went to the Evangelical Library in Chiltern Street. This is a location which I have wanted to visit for some time, and my interest had been further kindled over the past few months while reading the second volume of Iain H. Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (a review of which will appear here in the near future). The library is located on the top floor of a fairly old building, and the stairwell was populated by a mass of Australian painters who were engaged in what looked like an endless task of painting every square inch of wall. They were remarkably cheerful men who obligingly descended their ladders to let us pass. The library carried all of the dusty charm that I had hoped it would. Having deposited our bags and signed in on the visitors book we allowed more than an hour to slip by while we browsed the shelves of what seemed like an endless catalogue of Christian literature. Most moving of all were the volumes located in the reference sections, with titles dating back to the 17th century. We spent some time looking at a volume of farewell sermons preached by those caught up in the Great Ejection of 1662 – expository, personal, and steeped in pathos. As I walked through the library I thought of the humble beginnings of the library’s work, and the tremendous encouragement that it has proven to be to more than a generation of Gospel workers. I’m now pondering the workability of making use of the library while in Peru. Our overwhelming conviction on leaving the library was how great a spiritual heritage we possess within the Protestant tradition, and how untapped this largely is within modern evangelicalism.
Our journey through London then passed from the sublime to the ridiculous, as we made our way to the Sherlock Holmes Museum at (you guessed it) 221B Baker Street. Both my brother and I are huge fans of Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, and it was a really enjoyable experience to peruse the vast (and vastly overpriced) memorabilia for sale in the museum shop, followed by a tour of a faux Sherlock Holmes home.
Having enjoyed lunch we headed to Waterstones Picadilly and were astounded at the sheer range of books and quantity of stock. This was promptly followed by a quick Tube ride to Harrods, where we got some treats for our daughters. We then made a valiant attempt to find the Protestant Truth Society’s bookshop on Fleet Street (admittedly we even failed to find Fleet Street!), before making a death or glory run for our train (which we missed) and then for our flight (which we only just caught).

This was a special day, given the fact that this is the last time in a long time that my brother and I will make this pilgrimage. While the conference was a serious disappointment, everything else about the day was enriching and a blessing.

Wholehearted Holiness

14 07 2008

As stated in my recent review of Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit, the author’s treatment of personal holiness in the believer’s life is outstanding in its force and depth. What Packer writes has been of tremendous help to me personally, and is written with a sanity and gravity that one expects from his literary output. The following quote really blessed and challenged me:

Any idea of holiness as required refusal to do all that one most wants to do must be dismissed as the unregenerae mind’s misunderstanding. True holiness, springing as it does from what the Puritans called the ‘gospel mystery’ of the sanctifying work of God, is the Christian’s true fulfilment, for it is the doing of that which, deep down, he now most wants to do, according to the urging of his new, dominant instincts in Christ” – Keep in Step with the Spirit, p.89-90