Life and Work in Cambridge

Letters from Cambridge #3

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Founder & Teacher,

I write with a full heart. Gratitude for my colleagues and people at Bethlehem overflows. Thank you so much for praying for me. Your prayers are gathered in God’s bottles and poured out on me according to his wisdom. Here are reasons why my heart is full.

Yesterday, June 1, I completed the major project of the sabbatical, a book called What Jesus Demands from the World. It is much larger than I anticipated—about 250 single-spaced pages (113,000 words). It is based on the double saying from Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus has all authority in the universe and therefore lays claim to every nation. And he does it by saying they should be taught “all that I have commanded you.”

Therefore, I read the four Gospels and copied out all the commands plus many implied commands (like “blessed are the merciful” implies “be merciful”). There were over five hundred. Then after many efforts at distilling them, I grouped them into about thirty categories. Then I began to write chapters on those categories. Some of the chapters were long and I divided them. That resulted in a book of fifty modest chapters.

The goal of the book is God-glorifying obedience to Jesus. And since he told us to teach all the nations everything he commanded, I pray that the book will advance the cause of world missions. Thank you so much for praying. I said to some friends this morning: The gestation period was sixty years, the labor was eight weeks, and the birth a great relief. What life and usefulness the baby will have in this world, God will decide.

I don’t read and write all the time. Noël and Talitha and I have visited Scotland to see Karsten and Shelly and Millie and Frances and Abel. I was the only one to go all the way down in the caves under the castle ruins where the enemy tunneled with the hope of conquering the castle from underneath in 1547. But they were intercepted with a counter-tunnel and defeated.

Ben and Melissa visited here for a couple weeks, and we had some good days together in London seeing the sights. If you go to London, visit the war rooms and underground museum of Winston Churchill. Nothing will give you a greater sense of the weight of the world that rests on a leader’s head in wartime. And if someone gives you a special gift, go see Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s novel turned into a musical. The triumph of mercy over blind legalism is deeply moving.

On Memorial Day we took the morning to go to the Madingley Memorial Cemetery for a special memorial service. England gave the land to the United States as a burial ground for our war dead after World War II. One looks out over 3,812 crosses and Stars of David which mark the graves of Americans based here in East Anglia whose names are known. Then on the wall there are 5,127 names of American soldiers who were based here whose bodies were never found. It was a moving service.

Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire gave a speech that was the high point for me, because he did not shrink back from addressing both the alienation between Britain and America in the Revolutionary War and the partnership of the two countries in Iraq. He said, “Who would have thought that the love of freedom that drove us apart in 1776 should bind us together today in an enduring alliance?” Such are the turns of history. And so it is often the case even in churches and families—patient coexistence in doing what you believe to be right may turn adversaries into comrades where you never thought it possible.

We attend Eden Baptist Church where Julian Hardyman is the senior pastor. His messages have magnified God for our minds and hearts to worship. Especially heartening have been the baptism services and the testimonies of young adults as they have given tribute to the grace of God in bringing them from darkness to light. God is at work around the world. If we could see it all, we would be overwhelmed at the power of the mustard seed.

We have punted along the River Cam. Punting means that you rent a long boat like a flattened rectangular canoe, and the passengers sit on cushions on the floor of the boat while one person (me) stands on a wooden surface on the back of the boat with a pole used to push against the bottom of the river. There are a few tricks. Keep the pole close to the boat. Don’t get it stuck in the mud at the bottom. Let it drag behind like a rudder after you push, and use the angle of the drag to steer. At certain points it is a bit like bumper cars with a dozen uninitiated tourists from all over the world trying to navigate under the same narrow bridge.

Cambridge gets its name from the ancient bridge over the River Cam. It is a very old city. The university dates back to 1209 when students fled from Oxford’s violence and established a new university here. There are thirty-one colleges in the university, and some of them have magnificent old buildings, the most famous being the chapel at Kings College. We have attended a free orchestra concert there. The most beautiful thing to me about the colleges is that behind their somewhat dingy exteriors are immaculate courts with grass like putting greens and gardens where vines have been trained in and out of ironworks for enough decades that they are sometimes four inches thick snaking like a giant boa through the grillwork.

We live in a second-floor, two-bedroom flat with a kitchen, living room, and bath. There is a three-window bay that looks out over the garden behind and fills the living room with light. Down the stairs and through a hall, I reach the library of Tyndale House, a residential study center. You can take a tour of the place on their website. In the library there are about fifty desks that biblical scholars rent when they are working on their degrees at the university or when they come for a time of study. My desk is #8 buried between monographs on Exodus and Amos. It is deliciously quiet with forty-thousand books within ten seconds, none of which may be checked out of the library but only used within. It is a fruitful place to work, but I would not want to spend the rest of my life here.

We have no car, and we so walk twenty-five minutes to downtown and thirty-five minutes to church. The weariness on those days makes for very good sleeping at night. My recovery from the surgery is probably complete, as far as I can tell. I do my round of exercises with water dumbbells and a Swiss exercise ball, and run two or three miles along the “backs” on the off days. (“Backs” refers to the back of some of the colleges.) God has been very good to me. Further tests, when I get back, will give a more decisive word on the cancer removal. I am happy to leave that in God’s hands and live with all my might while I live. I am very eager to see you all and take up the ministry with you again.

For the supremacy of God in all things,

Pastor John