Book Review: The Lost Book of the Grail

I just finished listened to an unabridged audio version of Charlie Lovett’s The Lost Book of the Grail, read by Charles Armstrong

Arthur Prescott is happiest when surrounded by the ancient books and manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral library. Increasingly, he feels like a fish out of water among the concrete buildings of the University of Barchester, where he works as an English professor. His one respite is his time spent nestled in the library, nurturing his secret obsession with the Holy Grail and researching his perennially unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral.

But when a beautiful young American named Bethany Davis arrives in Barchester charged with the task of digitizing the library’s manuscripts, Arthur’s tranquility is broken. Appalled by the threat modern technology poses to the library he loves, he sets out to thwart Bethany, only to find in her a kindred spirit with a similar love for knowledge and books—and a fellow Grail fanatic.

Bethany soon joins Arthur in a quest to find the lost Book of Ewolda, the ancient manuscript telling the story of the cathedral’s founder. And when the future of the cathedral itself is threatened, Arthur and Bethany’s search takes on grave importance, leading the pair to discover secrets about the cathedral, about the Grail, and about themselves.

– From Amazon.com’s page for The Lost Book of the Grail.

I’ve always loved stories of King Author and especially the parts of the story that relate to the Holy Grail. I first read Idylls of the King in high school – thanks to my beloved English literature teacher, Hazel Fish – and that led me to read as much about the story of Arthur and the grail as I could.

Charlie Lovett weaves a tapestry of characters that makes this story more than just a “find the Holy Grail” adventure.

In fact, it is the characters that makes this story so intriguing. Lovett’s uses the depth of the English country side and adds the fun of decoding hidden secrets in ancient manuscripts.

What I loved about this story, however, was Lovett’s fair dealing with different branches of Christianity.

Especially beautiful is the hero of the story – Arthur Prescott’s – struggle with faith. He feels an intimate connection to the liturgy of the Church but struggles in believing in God.

He goes to Compline, Evening Prayer, and is best friends with one of the local clergy, but cannot bring himself to take the final steps in expressing faith in God.

His search for the Holy Grail becomes a search for himself, his faith, God, and his purpose in life – which is a story as old as the Christian Church!

I highly recommend this story for anyone who loves Grail lore, a mystery, adventure, and the quest for faith.

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

 

Trust

“Seek me and live … seek the LORD and live … the LORD is his name….”
Amos 5:4, 6, 8

When I sit on a chair, I trust that it will support my weight and not collapse.

But that has happened. Mostly because the chair was broken and ready to fall apart (but partly because I was too heavy for it, too!).

When I turn on the light switch, I trust that the lights in the room will go on. Most of the time they do. But there have been times when the wiring wasn’t correct or the bulb was burned out and flipping the switch did not have its desired effect.

There are some things we trust and count on. We put our faith in them. Things like the support of our family or the love of our spouse.

Still, it is very important to put our ultimate trust in someone who will never, ever let us down.

I’m talking about the Creator of the universe. He is the LORD (Yahweh).

He called into being everything we see (and everything we can’t see except with a microscope or telescope). We can trust him to sustain this universe to the very end.

He also formed you and me – initially from the dust of the earth and the rib of the first man.

God is our Creator. But Adam and Eve rejected God when they listened to Satan instead and then their own desires.

Because of their Fall we are all conceived and born sinners. We also initially reject God.

Some continue to do so all their lives. They put their trust in other things. Some put their trust in gods – like Sikkuth or Kiyyun, Mesopotamia deities of the ancient near east.

Others put their trust in science. Or in the world. Or even in themselves.

But everything else will violate our trust.

Science will. After all, science once told us the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

The world will violate our trust. Ask those who once trusted in the German Chancellor in the last 1930’s and early 1940’s. Or those who trusted the General Secretary of the Communist Party from the early 1920’s to the early 1950’s.

Even we ourselves will prove to be untrustworthy. Our bodies will age and fail us, our minds can grow dim and fade as well.

If we put our trust in anything but the Creator of the universe, we will be let down.

God does not want that for us. So he sent his Son to be our Savior! Jesus Christ would bear that which causes us to reject God – our sin. Jesus paid the price to buy us back from our sin, from death itself, and from the devil who led us to this untrustworthy path in the beginning.

This is the message that we have been given to proclaim and share with the world.

The prophet Amos proclaims the Law loud and clear in his book of the Bible. And reading just his prophecy is a grim experience.

But there is more to the story! The Law is always grim. But the Gospel is beautiful and comforting!

The Holy Spirit uses both – Law and Gospel – to complete in us that which the prophet Amos calls us – to seek the Lord and live!

This specific chapter of Amos – chapter 5 – warns us to not play at or pretend to trust in the LORD. There is no “going through the motions” of a worship service. That won’t work.

The trust that will truly work is that which comes from faith. Not actions but where the actions start – in the heart.

This is why Amos’ prophecy tells us that the LORD is not delighted in “solemn assemblies” or “burnt offerings and grain offerings.”

These are important, no doubt. God instructs us to worship him. But our trust is not to be in what we do. What we do should flow out of our trust in God.

And we trust in God because Jesus Christ forgives and removes our sin and gives us his righteousness.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us, “justice” can “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (v 24).

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

What You Need to Hear

“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
Amos 3:2

As a pastor and leader in a church, I sometimes feel I have two choices.

I can either a) tell the people what they want to hear; or b) tell the people what God wants them to hear.

There are a lot of pastors and a lot of churches that I have observed that tell people what they want to hear. It is as if their mission for ministry is to do whatever they can to make the people who come to their church feel good. To tell them that they are okay. That everything is going to be alright.

I suspect that if I were to follow this example and model it in my own church, more people would come and listen to me.

But I am certain that I wouldn’t feel right about it. Not that I have anything against people feeling good! Quite the contrary. I try to make people feel good, to be happy, and to leave my church feeling better than when they came in.

But when I became a pastor, I wasn’t called to make people feel good. I wasn’t called to make people happy.

I was called by God through a congregation to tell them what God wants them to hear.

I was called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A good summary of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ was born to be our substitute under God’s Law. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and gives us his righteousness by faith. Jesus Christ died on a cross to forgive all the sin of all people of all time. Jesus Christ rose from the grave three days later so that we, too, might rise from the grave one day. And Jesus Christ ascended into heaven with the promise to come back and take those who have saving faith in him back to paradise to live there forever.

This is what God wants people to hear. This is what I’ve been called to proclaim.

This is the Gospel.

But the Gospel means little unless we understand why Jesus Christ did all this for us!

And that understanding comes from something I’ve also been called to proclaim – the Law.

Law and Gospel are the two teachings of Holy Scripture. The Bible passages we read from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 are either Law passages or Gospel passages.

They are God’s Word to us – and that which I have been called to proclaim – about the things that we should do and don’t, the things that we shouldn’t do and do anyway, and the things that only God can do for us and does out of love for us.

John 3:16, for example, is a Gospel passage. It tells us what God has done for us because he loves us.

Amos 3, on the other hand, is mostly Law. And it is just as hard to hear today as I’m sure it was for God’s people when this shepherd from Tekoa first spoke it.

God has specially chosen Israel to be his people, purely out of love for them. He didn’t choose Israel because they were the most beautiful, most prosperous, or the most numerous of nations.

God chose Israel only because he loved them.

By the way, that doesn’t mean that God didn’t love the rest of the people of the world. Oh, no! John 3:16 is still true! “For God so loved the world” that he put a plan of salvation – for the whole world – in play through his special people Israel! The Savior of the world would come from the nation of Israel!

But the prophet Amos had some very tough words to proclaim to Israel. They had been rejecting God and his love for them. Even though God had chosen them. Even though God had saved them from slavery in Egypt. Even though God had given them everything they needed: food and water in the desert, fertile land to live in, victory over their enemies, good kings (like David and Solomon) and powerful prophets (like Elijah and Elisha).

God did all of this for Israel out of his love for Israel, and yet they rejected him and his love over and over again.

And so God – like any loving father – would punish them. Not to hurt them out of spite but discipline them so they learn to not reject him!

The prophet Amos could have been like other prophets and told Israel that all was well, that everything was okay, and that they would be alright.

But it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be true. And it wasn’t what Amos was called to do.

Amos loved God. And he loved his brothers and sisters. And so, he proclaimed to them what they need to hear and what God wanted them to hear.

It wouldn’t be easy. It wouldn’t make Amos popular.

But it would be exactly what God’s people needed.

And that is what your pastor does as well.

Please pray for him as he tells you what you need to hear!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.

C.F.W. Walther

Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-87), the father of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, served as its first president from 1847 to 1850 and then again from 1864 to 1878. In 1839 he emigrated from Saxony, Germany, with other Lutherans, who settled in Missouri. He served as pastor of several congregations in St. Louis, founded Concordia Seminary, and in 1847 was instrumental in the formation of the LCMS (then called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States). Walther worked tirelessly to promote confessional Lutheran teaching and doctrinal agreement among all Lutherans in the United States. He was a prolific writer and speaker. Among his most influential works are Church and Ministry and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.

Frederick the Wise

Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony from 1486 to 1525, was Martin Luther’s sovereign in the early years of the Reformation. Were it not for Frederick, there might not have been a Lutheran Reformation. Born in Torgau in 1463, he became so well known for his skill in political diplomacy and his sense of justice and fairness that he was called “the Wise” by his subjects. Though he never met Luther, Frederick repeatedly protected and provided for him. In all likelihood he saved the reformer from a martyr’s fate. Frederick refused the pope’s demand to extradite Luther to Rome for a heresy trial in 1518. When Emperor Charles V declared Luther an outlaw in 1521 at the Diet of Worms, Frederick provided sanctuary for Luther at the Wartburg castle. On his deathbed, Frederick received the Lord’s Supper in both kinds–a clear confession of the evangelical faith.

Friedrich Wyneken, Pastor & Missionary

Friedrich Wyneken was one of the founding fathers of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, along with C.F.W. Walther and Wilhelm Sihler. Born in 1810 in Germany, he came to Baltimore in 1838 and shortly thereafter accepted a call to be the pastor of congregations in Friedheim and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Supported by Wilhelm Loehe’s mission society, Wyneken served as an itinerant missionary in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, particularly among Native Americans. Together with Loehe and Sihler, he founded Concordia Theological Seminary in 1846 in Fort Wayne, Ind. He later served as the second president of the LCMS during a period of significant growth (1850-64). His leadership strongly influenced the confessional character of the LCMS and its commitment to an authentic Lutheran witness.

There is a hall of classrooms named after him at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis (my alma mater). 

Stand Firm in Traditions

So the, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us….
2 Thessalonians 2:15

Traditions can be things that are handed down to us by previous generations.

Most everyone has traditions they cherish. Things they do at Christmas-time. Things they eat at Thanksgiving. Things they do for birthdays, while on vacation, at the beginning or end of the school year, and on and on.

Then there are traditions that exist in congregations. Things that they have always done.

There was one pastor who was a guest preacher filling in at a certain congregation. It was during the summer months and their regular pastor was on vacation.

He arrived somewhat early to the little church. It was a congregation that was over 100 years old, with a cemetery right next to it and a verdant corn field across the street.

The people gathered for the service, shuffling in amid the tried-and-true preservice organ music. As they found their regular pew, they said good morning to friends and family, shook hands with each other, all the while stealing glances to the front to see if they could catch a preview glimpse of their guest preacher.

Soon enough, he walked out and stood in front of the congregation and began the worship service.

He bowed before the altar and then turned to welcome them to worship. As he turned, he was surprised to find nearly the entire gathered group sitting on one side of the sanctuary.

But they didn’t seem at all bothered by this, so he didn’t say anything.

As he stood looking at the faces of these steadfast Christians, he led them in the confession of sins, read to them Holy Scripture, and then had them sit down to sing the hymn before the sermon. He turned to walk to his chair behind the pulpit to get ready to sing with them.

As the organist introduced the hymn, the preacher was startled by a commotion. He turned back to the congregation and what a sight to behold!

The entire congregation was moving to the other side of the sanctuary!

Again, no one seemed surprised or startled except him, so he didn’t say anything.

He preached his sermon, albeit a bit distracted as part of his mind was trying to figure out this odd behavior.

The rest of the service continued with no further interruptions or mass movements by the people.

After the service, the guest preacher was sitting in the fellowship hall chatting with some of the people over coffee and a Danish.

As the people finished their fellowship and started to head home, an elderly gentlemen walked over to the preacher and sat down.

“Good morning, Reverend. Thank you for preaching God’s Word to us this day!” he said.

“You are quite welcome. It was a … ah…. pleasure and a … um … unique experience!” the preacher replied.

“I bet you are talking about the mass movement right before the sermon hymn.”

The guest preacher let out a sigh and said, “Well, now that you mention it, that was rather odd. Why do they do that?”

“It’s a funny thing. Most of the people actually don’t really know why they do it. It’s just that they have always done that, for over 70 years. Two or three generations have grown up in this church doing it but don’t really know why,” the elderly gentlemen explained.

The guest preacher noticed a twinkle in his eye and said, “But I’m guessing you do know the reason why!”

“You are correct, sir!”

“You see, 70 years ago, this was a vibrant and exciting congregation filled with mostly farmers and their families. As you probably suspect, we have sunny and warm summers – but they were awfully short. Our winters were long, drawn out affairs that were snowy and cold.

During the winter, this old clapboard church used to get mighty cold. One year, a particularly wealthy business man joined our congregation and, not being from around here originally, didn’t like the cold winters at all.

So he donated a large and brand new wood burning stove to heat the sanctuary in the winter time. The trustees of the congregation installed it the north side of the sanctuary as that was the coldest part of building.

Everyone was pleased with this new donation and during that cold and snowy winter, this sanctuary was warm and toasty. In fact, too warm and toasty. At the beginning of the service, everyone would sit near the stove to keep warm. But by the time of the sermon, they were plenty warm and they would get up and move to the other side of the sanctuary to be comfortable in the cooler air.

That stove was so well built, it lasted us till the late ‘60’s when another wealthy businessman donated a new, central heating and air conditioning unit and the stove was removed.

But the tradition of sitting on one side of the sanctuary at the beginning of the service and moving to the other side in the middle of the service was so ingrained in the hearts and lives of the people that they kept doing it out of habit.

Today, they still do it, although there are only a few of us left who know why we used to do it in the first place!”

This kind of tradition is not one the “traditions” that St. Paul is talking about in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. He is not talking about things that we do “because we’ve always done it that way.”

He is talking about things that he and his companions (Luke, Timothy, Silas) had taught them when they were in Thessalonica. Things like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how the Old Testament prophesied about the coming of Christ, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

You and I are tempted to stand firm in our traditions because we’ve always done them. They are comfortable. They feel right. They are a part of who we are.

But St. Paul reminds us that we need to stand firm in the traditions that God has passed on down to us through our fathers and forefathers – the Good News of Jesus Christ and him crucified!

Other traditions are fine, but the traditions of the Gospel will stand forever and will cause us to stand firm as well as we pass them on to another generation!

©2017 True Men Ministries

______________________________________

Read past devotions at the True Man Blog here.

Contribute to True Men Ministries to help keep this devotional going here.

Listen to the True Man Podcast here.

Subscribe to In My Father’s Footsteps here.