Ypres Salient


War is hell, at least ased on the accounts I’ve read or heard relayed it is. When we as a nation honor those who have given their lives for our sakes, we do well bring war’s hellish reality into the picture. That hellish reality frames the true nature of the sacrifice made for so many by so few. 

The painting above was in a book I recall reading as a child. It captured my attention because of what seemed to me, at the time, strange colors and odd angles. There is something disturbingly dissonant about the painting and also about war. Wars happen, noted Dorothy L. Sayers, becuase something in out of whack–there is some imbalance of power or wealth or justice. In other words, war is a sure sign of the sinfulness of mankind and yet it brings out some of the best in ordinary people.

Two poems always come to mind on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day. Each has its own merits, but each is unlike the other in the way it frames the sacrifice of brothers in arms. Incidentally, each comes from the experience of fighting the ghastly trench warfare of World War I.  

The first is “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), which was censored (if I recall) at the time of its publication:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind. 
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling 
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud 
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

This poem brings to mind the actuality of death in warfare–desparation, agony, panic, pain, blood. A death in the service of a cause greater than itself is still a death marked by all these things. 

At the same time, death in the service of one’s nation serves a cause bigger than itself. We do well to honor those who have died in such terrible ways for us by framing their death in light of the cause they served.

None does this more beautifully than Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) in his poem, “The Soldier” which captures the soldier’s sacrifice in personal terms, as dying for a way of life:

If I should die, think only this of me:
   That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.  There shall be
   In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
   A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
     Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
   And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
     In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Only churches that are sustained by a deep doctrinal foundation and that stand in continuity with the faith of the earliest Christians will endure.

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Church membership is critical for spiritual growth and yet so many people opt to “rent” church rather than joining:

Those who merely attend or refuse to commit themselves completely to a church are essentially renting the church. But this is not the picture we see in Scripture.

Acts 2:42 says the early Christiansdevotedthemselves to the gathering, teaching, prayer and other facets of what makes a church. There is a level of devotion to the local church.

In numerous letters to churches, Paul doesn’t just say the church islikea body. He says the churchisthe body and the people who make it up are members of the whole. That sounds like more than “renting.”

No where in Scripture do you see faithful Christians simply attending church services haphazardly. Sincere followers of Christ are serious members of a local body.



Read more here.

My top 10 mistakes in ten years of full-time ministry leadership.

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This post is adapted from a sermon preached at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem on the weekend of May 2-3, 2015. You can listen to the audio here.

What we say to ourselves and to others shapes the way we experience life. If you develop the habit of noticing and remarking on every negative thing that happens, that practice will guarantee you will develop into the most negative person in the room. 

I live in downtown Bethlehem and, as a result, we park our car on the street. We never get to park directly in front of our house because the two couples on either side of us are retired and rarely move a cars without replacing it with another one or a motorcycle. At first it was no big deal. Then it became annoying. Eventually, especially with the winter, it became frustrating bordering on outrageous. 

Every time I turned on to the street I’d recite a litany of reasons why I couldn’t park in where I wanted to. Even if I got to park close to in front of our house, I’d become conscious that it was only a matter of hours until one of us would have to go somewhere and consequently lose the spot once more. Every good thing became simply the prelude to the next bad thing. 

There came a point where I took a mental shift. I semi-consciously decided not to park on our block. Ever. I started to practice thinking things like these couples are older and it’s good for them to not have to walk far or the weather is pretty and it’s nice to walk an extra half-block to the house. Even when there are spaces on our block, I don’t take them. I find myself thinking I’m glad that I can leave that spot for one of my neighbors. 

Writing this I find myself concerned that perhaps the spirit of Joel Osteen has taken control of my mind! On one level this is a fairly superficial thing to be writing about and for you to be reading about. At the same time, I don’t regret it. My life has been enriched because I am choosing to see this situation in a positive light. Now, when I unlock the front door I’m in a better mood than before. Who benefits from that? Certainly me, but the rest of our family too.