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August 2009

August 26, 2009

A few years ago I wrote about Edwin Alden, a missionary and pastor who served in the United States in the nineteenth century. I have since updated the article and thought I’d share a little bit of what I found.

Edwin H. Alden, was born in Connecticut River Valley, on January 14, 1836, born into a line directly descended from the Pilgrims. He went to Dartmouth College and then to Bangor Seminary in Maine. After graduating, he married Anna Maria Whittemore, was ordained as a minister and enlisted in the service of the American Home Missionary Society, a ministry of the Congregational Church. A document on the website of Wheaton College provides a bit of detail about this organization:

A group of small missionary societies, the earliest of which was the Young Men’s Missionary Society of New York (formed in 1815) along with the New York Evangelical Missionary Society (formed in 1816) and other small agencies combined to make up the United Domestic Missionary Society in 1822. This group was supported by Reformed Churches and the Presbyterian Church. In May 1826, representatives from Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches met to form the American Missionary Society. During the convention, the United Domestic Missionary Society voted to merge with the American Home Missionary Society.

Its purpose was to assist congregations in the United States and its territories primarily until they could become financially self-supporting. Women’s groups within the society were recognized when a Women’s Department was formed in 1883. Operations of the Society were carried out through auxiliary societies, agents and agencies. In the 1890s the Society membership increased from 17 to 203. However, by 1893 the interdenominational character of the Society had been lost and it was renamed Congregational Home Missionary Society, which was still in existence in 1975.

Reverend Alden was pastor of a Congregational Church in Waseca, Minnesota, but as part of his missionary duties often traveled to other churches, many of which were congregations without pastors. In his travels he followed the railroad west, preaching at newly founded towns and villages such as New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Barnston, Walnut Grove, Saratoga and Marshall where the railroad ended abruptly at the wide prairie. Where the train stopped, he would stop, attempting to gather a crowd to hear the preaching of the good news of the gospel. Wherever possible he would encourage the construction of a church building and he was often responsible personally for much of the construction. Despite the hardships of his profession, he once wrote, “So far the Lord has prospered us though it has made me many a weary walk and journey, besides many a day’s toil with hammer and saw when nothing would induce anyone to help me—it was so cold—besides many a weary night of anxiety.” Little wonder that he was much respected.

Reverend Alden has been immortalized in the Little House books, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though unfortunately, more people remember him for his inaccurate role in the long-running television series loosely based on the books. Laura recalls the building of a church in their small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The church had been founded in 1874 and was meeting in the home of one of the members. Being founding members of the congregation and the first two people baptized into membership at the new congregation, Laura’s parents Charles and Caroline Ingalls were eager participants in the construction of this building. Laura records that her father donated three dollars for the purchase of a bell to complete the building. Three dollars was a sacrifice for so poor a family. Later records show, though, that her father had actually donated the handsome sum of twenty-six dollars and fifteen cents! Charles served as trustee and was active in the service of this church. The bell he helped purchase now hangs in the belfry of the English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove.

The church at Walnut Grove was not the only building constructed under the leadership of Reverend Alden. What follows is his account of attempting to build a church in Marshall during the winter of 1873. It provides just a glimpse into the hardship faced by such frontier missionaries.

The lumber was ordered in October from Winona, 250 miles off. We waited anxiously for the lumber, day after day, but it did not come. Then we heard that it is on a side track sixty miles away, will be here in the next train. Volunteers with teams hurry in from the county to unload it and haul it to the site. It does not come, and the men returned disappointed. After a few days comes—only one car; the other two not heard from. We are anxious. The beautiful October weather is almost gone. Winter is at hand. The road has more than it can do to haul material for the seventy miles yet to be built. Engines and men are taxed to their utmost. Ninety tons of iron for each mile of track must come from Chicago; bridge timber from Winona, 275 miles; ties and piling from the Big Woods, 150 miles.

Night and day they drag their immense loads, carrying back 35,000 bushels of wheat daily. What if they cannot bring our lumber at all! We go eastward eighty miles and find one car. “Can you ship the car for our church tonight?” “Very doubtful. We are obliged to leave here several carloads that have been waiting for days.” After dark, in the rain, with a lantern, we see our car coupled to the westward train and return with a light heart. How it poured, all the night, the next day and the next night, a steady torrent! But our lumber arrived.

Shortly it was framed, raised and partly sheathed. A day or two after came the first great snow-storm of the season, to be followed by others unprecedented for severity and numbers in the history of the state. The house, though held with extra braces, could not stand the fearful gale. It was prostrated soon—buried by the drifting snow. What can be done? The road is blockaded, all the trains but one snowed in, the engines dead. One conductor walks twenty-five miles and telegraphs to the Superintendent. He hastens to the rescue with snowplows, car-loads of provisions and several hundred men with shovels. In time they dig their way to Marshall.

We go by the next train. The weather is beautiful and we move rapidly for seventeen miles. The snowplow comes to a drift; the men ply their shovels; the sky is suddenly overcast; the wind rises, mercury falls, and in thirty minutes all must take refuge in the cars. We are “snowed in.” The next morning, your missionary vies with the rest in the use of the shovel. We make seven miles a day. The train can go no further; no team can be found; we dare not try forty miles on foot over that desolate waste, so we return with the train—only to be snowed in again and find our way to New Ulm as we can—most of the way on foot. Nothing daunted, we take the next train several days later, reaching Marshall at night after a four days’ journey, visit the church site.

A few boards are seen on the foundation. The rest is covered by a deep snow hard enough to bear a loaded team. Can it be dug out and raised again? The carpenter says “Yes.” So says a young lawyer, promising to work his subscription all over again. So say others, and I say “Amen!” Soon the spot is thronged with willing volunteers, shovel in hand, and in two days or so we have the building about where it was before the gale, and passed it over to the contractor for completion. Of course the disaster made us great additional expense which we have not the means to meet.

Will not individuals and churches in the East help us?

I have never know a missionary to end a speech or letter without asking for support. Missionaries who do so today are part of a long and faithful heritage!

The Ingalls family was to run into Reverend Alden again. After only a few years in Walnut Grove, the family moved to De Smet, South Dakota. One wintry evening the family was thrilled to find Reverend Alden once more upon their doorstep. He was as surprised and delighted as they were to find himself in the company of friends. What a small world! The first church service in De Smet was soon held in the Ingalls’ home with twenty-five locals attending. Reverend Alden later wrote a letter of recommendation supporting the Reverend Brown, who was to become pastor of the first church officially planted in De Smet and who officiated the marriage of Laura to her husband, Almanzo Wilder. Alden continued to move west as the frontier pushed toward the coast.

After this time we do not know much about the life of Reverend Alden, save that he married again after the death of his first wife, that he worked among the Indians and settled in North Dakota. He went to the Lord on May 6, 1911, at the age of 75, in his native Vermont.

This is, as far as I can tell, almost all of the information that has been handed down to us about this man. And that’s a pity. He sounds like rather an interesting individual and one I would love to read more about. He was a faithful servant of the Lord and one who played a unique role in a unique time.

August 26, 2009
Wikipedia To Make Changes
I find this very interesting (and a good lesson on human nature). “Wikipedia, one of the 10 most popular sites on the Web, was founded about eight years ago as a long-shot experiment to create a free encyclopedia from the contributions of volunteers, all with the power to edit, and presumably improve, the content. Now, as the English-language version of Wikipedia has just surpassed three million articles, that freewheeling ethos is about to be curbed.” It seems that even Wikipedia cannot overcome human nature.
BibleWorks, Logos, Accordance
Keith Mathison has reviewed all three of these packages and he offers up a comparison of them along with recommendations of which is best.
Clothing Tips for Ministers
I somehow stumbled across this article by Don Whitney and quite enjoyed reading his tips on how a minister should go about building up a wardrobe.
Family Worship Guide
This site, set to officially launch in just a couple of days, looks like it will be a very good resource for any families seeking to begin or to improve their times of family worship.
Of First Importance
Greg Gilbert has a must-read article at the 9Marks blog in which he articulates some things about a whole strain of contemporary Christian thinking. “Time after time, in book after book coming off of Christian presses, the highest excitement and joy is being ignited by something other than the sin-bearing work of Christ on the cross, and the most fervent appeals are for people to join God in doing this or that, rather than to repent and believe.”
August 25, 2009

Glory RoadThere are certain things I never get tired of hearing. I never get tired of hearing Tom Cheek’s call of Joe Carter’s home run—the one that won the Blue Jays the World Series in 1993 (“Touch ‘em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”). I never get tired of hearing the “Hallelujah Chorus” performed by a world-class choir. I never get tired of hearing the laughter of little children (Okay, this is a lie, and especially so when I hear kids laughing and giggling with hyperactivity in that witching hour before dinner). And I never get tired of hearing testimonies of God’s grace in the salvation of his people.

August 24, 2009

What makes you angry? We all have our triggers, don’t we? We all have certain things, certain situations, certain affronts to our dignity or pride that stir anger within. I know I’ve got mine. And actually, I know quite a lot about anger, as Aileen could attest (and probably will if you think to ask her!). When she and I talk about God’s grace in our lives, and evidence of it, she will often point this out—that God has mellowed me, taken away that anger that often bubbled within and occasionally boiled over. When I moved out of my parents’ home on the day I got married, I left behind a hole in the wall (hidden from their view by a strategically-placed poster) that I had smashed in a fit of anger a few months before. At one of the first homes Aileen and I lived in I cracked a door frame when I tried to smash it shut, once more in a fit of stupid anger. My immature anger just sometimes boiled over and got me into trouble. I always felt like an idiot after acting out, but in the moment my anger got the better of me; I often surrendered to it. I am profoundly grateful that God, in his mercy, has blessed me and blessed my family by taking away much of the immaturity, the irrationality, the lack of self-control that caused me to lash out like an angry toddler. I still known what it is to be angry, but no longer tend toward violent reaction.

As I sat yesterday and pondered anger I eventually turned to a dictionary to seek a definition of it. According to one, anger is a strong feeling of displeasure, a kind of belligerence aroused by a wrong. And from experience I can say it is equally likely that it is anger aroused by a perceived wrong. If someone truly wrongs me, I may well express anger and do so with some justification. If someone slights me or otherwise damages my pride, it may also cause me to act angry but with no justification at all. Anger is inherently reactive, awaiting a trigger and then waiting to react in accordance with my nature.

I think we’ve all met angry people, haven’t we? People who react to tough situations with anger and people who often act out in this anger. Such people may react in surprising, unexpected and terrifying ways. They act as they do out of emotion. And anger is not one of those enjoyable emotions. It may channel a strange, sick kind of pleasure for a moment or two, but like all sin, it very quickly loses its luster. There is something scary about seeing a person act out in anger. And the bigger that person, the more powerful his position, the greater the fear. If my three year-old gets angry and lashes out, I am bothered but not much afraid. But if I were to become angry and act out in anger, she would rightly be terrified because of what I could, I might, do to her in my emotion.

It is little wonder that man fears an angry God. If we believe that God is so much greater than we are, so much stronger, so much more powerful, and if we believe that God is capable of anger and wrath, then we have little choice but to fear him as a child may fear a parent. And, indeed, man’s history with deity, whether with the true God or with any number of idols has often been a position of terror, seeking by deed or sacrifice to appease his wrath. And so often, I think, we confuse human anger with divine wrath, imposing our own sinful, irrational, emotional anger upon God’s just, perfect, holy wrath. So no wonder, then, that we seek to appease him, to assuage our guilty consciences and to hope against hope that we may have turned aside his wrath for another day.

And here it strikes me just how different the wrath of God is from my anger, from what we see in most human anger. Charles Leiter has said it well: “God’s wrath is not a temporary loss of self-control or a selfish fit of emotion. It is His holy, white-hot hatred of sin, the reaction and revulsion of His holy nature against all that is evil.” God’s wrath is revulsion. It is not mere emotion and is not at all irrational. It is so much more than emotion. You may know what it is to be revulsed. Some time ago I heard of a woman who, upon finding out that her husband had been cheating on her, immediately vomited. It was as if her whole body was so affronted, so repulsed by her husband’s sin that it acted all on its own. Revulsion may be our reaction to a lukewarm sip of water when we were expecting ice cold or piping hot. We spew it out, repulsed. And this is sin to God. God’s wrath is a holy reaction, it is a holy and white-hot hatred of all that is evil. This is a good and just and fair reaction to something that is absolutely, fundamentally opposed to God’s very nature. For sin is against all that he is and all that he wants us to be.

God’s reaction to sin is the good and the necessary, the absolute best and perfectly just reaction. He will not act rashly in anger but will act justly in wrath. He will express this wrath against all sin. He must express this wrath against sin, for sin opposes all that he is as the perfectly holy creator of all that is. And how good it is, when we ponder God’s wrath, to know that his wrath has already been satisfied for those who trust in him. For there on the cross, Jesus Christ took that wrath upon himself on behalf all those who were his own. There God required the just penalty due for that sin. And there the Father found perfect, eternal satisfaction for his wrath. And there you and I can turn our eyes and turn our hearts and trust and believe and know that Jesus Christ has paid it all and has paid it for us if only we cast ourselves upon him.

August 23, 2009

Once again this Sunday I turned to The Valley of Vision and found there a great prayer. This one is titled “A Disciple’s Renewal.”

*****

O My Saviour, help me.
I am so slow to learn, so prone to forget, so weak to climb;

I am in the foothills when I should be in the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace so that there may be;
more decision in my character,
more vigor in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervor in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature what can be found only in the creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee until it vanishes into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of kings and Lord of lords,
that I may live victoriously, and in victory attain my end.
 

August 22, 2009

A friend sent this to me earlier in the week, a quote from John N. Oswalt’s The Bible Among the Myths (Zondervan, 2009). What grabbed me in this quote was the author’s insistence that we cannot measure human progress apart from our God-given purpose. It’s worth thinking about.

*****

I question whether we can talk about ‘development’ of any sort apart from the unique biblical perspective. Does ‘the historical process’ teach us about development or progress? Certainly we can look back over the past ten millennia and see certain signs of increased technical competence. We have moved from hunter-gatherers using sharpened stones as tools to bureaucrats communicating around the world electronically in seconds.

But is that progress? Or is it merely change? What is the goal toward which human society is tending? Or are we too, like our 10,000 year-old forbears, only wishing to survive as long as possible with a maximum of comfort, pleasure, and security? In fact, the idea of progress is dependent on the idea that our Creator has a goal for us, outside of ourselves, toward which we humans were made to progress and against which our progress can be measured. Give up that truth, and ‘progress’ becomes a chimera.

August 21, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s time for another Free Stuff Friday. This week’s sponsor is Evangelical Press. As you may well know, Evangelical Press is a non-profit mission organization based in the UK but with an increasing presence on this side of the pond. It’s mission is to place sound Christian books and sound biblical teaching within reach of as many people as it can across the world.

Stars in Gods SkyThis week they are offering five prizes, each of which is a copy of Faith Cook’s Stars in God’s Sky. Cook is quickly making a name for herself as one of the foremost Christian biographers. This book, her latest, offers a series of short biographies of important Christian figures. According to the publisher, “In her typically engaging and enthralling style, Faith Cook shows us how God graciously works in individuals’ lives. Among others here we find the encouraging short stories of John Foxe, Fanny Guinness, John Gifford and ‘Grimshaw’s men’, Paul Greenwood and Jonathan Maskew. ‘Those who turn many to righteousness shall shine like the stars of heaven for ever and ever’ (Daniel 12:3).”

Michael Haykin says of this book, “One of the great principles of God’s Word as it relates to history is that every life that God touches is valuable. This book demonstrates that vital truth abundantly. From the somewhat famous to the completely obscure—though not to the Living God—Faith Cook reveals the polychromatic grace of God at work in the fabric of our human existence. In doing so, she excites us to praise the God of all grace and to rejoice that all who are in Christ are called to service.”

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

(The giveaway is now closed)

August 21, 2009

Here is (yet) another list of books I read that will not be receiving extensive reviews.

ShakedownShakedown by Ezra Levant. Unless you are Canadian, you have probably not heard of Ezra Levant. Let me fill you in. Several years ago he was publisher of Western Standard magazine and made the decision to print the infamous Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. He did so because they were newsworthy and he wanted to use them to illustrate a story. He soon found himself before his province’s Human Rights and Citizenship Commission where he was charged with the offense of “discrimination.” It was only after a long, embittered and expensive fight that he managed to avoid charges becoming, I believe, the first person to be cleared of such crimes. He wrote Shakedown to record his experience and to draw attention to these Human Rights tribunals that happen all over Canada and which have taken for themselves outrageous powers that circumvent all manner of justice. In fact, they get awfully close to charging Canadians for “thoughtcrime,” that Orwellian phrase that looks beyond what a person has actually done to what he may have intended to do. His story is shocking and, we hope, marks the beginning of the end for the Human Rights Commissions’ most intrusive and outrageous powers. (Do note, that those these commissions exist and exist all over the country, the vast majority of Canadians, even ones who are outspoken about their faith, have never been noticed or charged by them).


Culture of CorruptionCulture of Corruption by Michelle Malkin. In this book, currently perched at the top of the New York Times list of Bestsellers, Malkin looks to “Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies.” In chapter after chapter totalling almost 300 pages, Malkin provides an exhaustive look at President Obama and the men and women who work with him. She provides extensive documentation, making much of what she says awfully difficult to refute (though, of course, she focuses almost exclusively on what these people have done wrong, not on what they may have done well over their careers). It somehow manages to be shocking and yet not at all surprising to hear of the massive amounts of corruption and immorality in Obama’s inner circle. After all, power typically comes to those who fight for it and even more typically to those who fight for it tooth and nail. While I would imagine that almost every administration has multitudes of skeletons in the closet, surely not all have so many as Obama’s. I’m glad these people are running your country rather than mine!


The Man who Made ListsThe Man Who Made Lists by Joshua Kendall. I picked up this book rather on a whim as I was scouring my local bookstore. It is a biography of Peter Mark Roget, best known for creating his famous thesaurus. It traces the life of a man who was a very odd but still compelling character. As his biographer says, “Though he had a host of female admirers, was one of the first to test the effects of laughing gas, developed the slide rule, and narrowly escaped jail in Napoleon’s France, he is best known for making lists.” And make lists he did with an almost obsessive passion. Though Kendall occasionally steps beyond what he actually could know from the historical record into the realm of conjecture, he still crafts an interesting biography of a strangely fascinating man.


In the Presidents Secret ServiceIn the President’s Secret Service by Ronald Kessler. The dust cover for In the President’s Secret Service proclaims, “Never before has a journalist penetrated the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service. … After conducting exclusive interviews with more than one hundred current and former Secret Service agents, bestselling author and award-winning reporter Ronald Kessler reveals their secrets for the first time.” It may be true that no journalist has penetrated that wall of secrecy until Kesller. The problem, though, is that this wall of secrecy broke down enough for him to write a book, it remained in place enough that he was not able to cite or document what he discovered. Hence we have a book, a bestselling book, that is crammed full of unsubstantiated assertions. Now this is not to say that Kesller has just fabricated what he presents as fact. But any historian worth his degree will balk and know that little that Kesller says has any historic value.

In the President’s Secret Service is, in a sense, two books. On one hand it is a book about the Secret Service, detailing how the organization came to be, how it has evolved over the years, and telling how it works, even today. This side of the book offers little that is original. On the other hand, this is a tell-all of sorts, where Kesller shares what he learned during his interviews with former Secret Service agents. This is the part of the book that has received much attention in the press. With one chapter dedicated to every President since Kennedy, Kessler shares some of the behind-the-scenes facts about each of them. He tells how Jimmy Carter was considered the most arrogant and obnoxious of the President’s; how Kennedy’s agents were constantly on the guard during his trysts, guarding against his wife blundering into one of his affairs; how Lyndon Johnson engaged in constant philandering at the White House and at his ranch; how George and Barbara Bush were very kind to their agents, almost welcoming them into their family and even remaining at the White House over Christmas so the agents would not have to be on the road for the holiday. It is mostly the kind of facts we would assume based on the character of the Presidents. The reader who is surprised to learn that Kennedy was sleeping with Marilyn Monroe or that Jenna Bush was hardly an ideal person to guard is a person who has not done a lot of reading. But even here, Kessler, by his inability (or refusal) to cite his work gives us little reason to trust him or to believe that he has done any more than read a couple of books and filled in the gaps in a could-be-true way.

In the President’s Secret Service is tabloid history packaged with undergraduate-level research on the Secret Service. It is interesting at a gossipy, human-interest level, but as serious history it fails badly. The writing is mostly passable but, as I see it, a sentence like this deserves no place in a serious work of non-fiction: “As with all Presidents, some people totally lost it when meeting Regan” (116). That is, like, totally unacceptable. Where was Kessler’s editor?

The serious chapters in this book seem like an attempt to legitimize the tabloid qualities. The sordid stories of America’s leaders have been used to sell the book, drawing people into a title that would otherwise be of little interest. Kessler also attempts to lend the book some legitimacy by seeking to show that the Secret Service is underfunded and underequipped for their role and that, if the situation is not remedied, at some point they will lose one of the people they seek to protect. While this may be true, Kessler fails to be convincing, perhaps largely because of the very nature of the book which is, at its heart, just not very serious.