April 2013 Blog Archives
Tuesday, April 30
5:03 AM Seth Godin's free ebook about blogging takes a new slant on an old topic. He discusses three different kinds of blogs: Cat blogs – blogs designed to be a public diary by and about an individual and their interests; boss blogs – blogs created to manage an activity; and viral blogs – blogs designed to spread ideas. Which of these describes your blog? The more I think about my blog, the less of a "blog" it becomes in my mind. To me it's a daily diary recounting events from my personal, professional, and practical life. You never know what you'll find here, from farm photos to Greek guidance to missionary musings. In fact, I myself never know what I'm going to blog on until I start out that day. Bottom line? I enjoy blogging. It's a ministry I feel the Lord has given me alongside teaching and book publishing. It's something I'd do daily even if nobody read it. But the fact is, I've met so many fine people through blogging, and had such wonderful correspondence with fellow bloggers as a result of our daily shenanigans, that I can't thank the Lord enough for this technology.
4:55 AM One author talks about his journey into web journalism. A snippet from this fascinating tell-all:
The author is certainly correct in his assessment. My own internet pilgrimage has had a similar evolution.
4:45 AM I loved this statement in Becky's latest heart-warming essay:
Grab a cup and read A Child Is Saved.
Monday, April 29
8:44 PM Man, I just can't get rid of George Woody and Marsh Humphries. They came back for more punishment today, this time in the form of assisting me with some tractor maintenance.
A good time was had by all, followed up by fish gumbo over rice prepared by the one and only Becky Lynn.
Thanks, yall, for helping me out!
1:02 PM What are the marks of a Great Commission people? Danny Akin shares his thoughts here. Don't miss it. A sampler:
12:55 PM A few down-to-earth country sayings for yall. I can personally attest to the truthfulness of most of them.
12:48 PM Those Episcopalians may be on to something here.
12:29 PM Robert Saucy, my friend and former colleague at Talbot School of Theology in California, wrote a classic text on the church called The Church in God’s Program. In it he has written (pp. 7-8):
Well said, Bob, well said indeed.
7:26 AM Ambiguous headlines:
Click here for more.
7:18 AM I see that Latin has made a comeback in Europe. In fact, in Finland you can listen to the news in Latin. I've even heard that there's a push to make Latin the official language of the EU. Reminds me of my experience in Basel, when I graduated by swearing (in Latin) my doctoral oath. Helen Keller (The Story of My Life) had this to say about learning Latin:
This is a good source for anyone just starting out.
7:12 AM Greek students, check out this jpg. of Codex Alexandrinus on 1 Tim. 3:16.
Is theos the original reading here? If so, then 1 Tim. 3:16 would be one of only a very few passages in the New Testament in which Jesus is explicitly called "God." Here are some European versions that include "God":
Sunday, April 28
9:17 PM These pictures are especially for Nigusse's fiancée in Alaba, Ethiopia. Netsanet, Mama B decided to host a small dinner party today in honor of your future husband's birthday. We had a great time together. We wish you could have been here with us, but 6,000 miles is a very long way to fly (your arms would have gotten real tired). I do hope, however, that you get a flavor of the wonderful day the Lord gave us as we celebrated the life He gave Nigusse 38 years ago. You will see that the men went fishing in our pond after dinner. Everyone caught at least two fish, though your Nigusse took first prize with a whopping 9 catches, all within an hour. He is proud of each and every one of those catches, but I think he prizes his Alaba "catch" the most.
Enjoy the pictures.
7:46 AM Summer ministry opportunity in North Carolina:
More information is only a click away.
7:31 AM He turns 38 today. Let's all sing "Happy Birthday" to Nigusse!
7:22 AM I leave for the church gathering in two hours. I belong to a fellowship that treasures several truths about the Body:
These wonderful truths form the skeleton of the Body. But the flesh is always love. Peter had this exactly in mind when he wrote (1 Pet. 4:8-11):
Praise the Lord for the fellowship of God's people!
7:04 AM A thousand thanks to Thomas and Lesly Hudgins for their translation of La Estructura Literaria de 1 y 2 Tesalonicenses!
Saturday, April 27
10:13 PM We had a great time with our Ethiopia 2013 team today. There are a few pictures below. I found myself reflecting that this will be my 16th trip to Ethiopia in the last 9 years. It is powerful to watch God's love for Ethiopia grow and implant itself in the hearts of so many others. I kept thinking, What a difference Jesus makes in our lives. I spoke on the prayer of Paul in Eph. 1, as did Jon Glass.
Brother Jason H. (a team vet) helped with the cultural and religious background of Ethiopia.
Becky (Mama B) did her usual good job of organizing today's meeting.
Several team members gave their testimonies.
And, of course, everyone had their "mug shot" taken (we send them before us so that the people in Ethiopia can place a face with a name).
We focused today on what Becky and I call "personal ministries." The big point is that we as leaders do not tell the group members what to do on our trips. That's really between them and the Lord. (You can read much more about our ministry philosophy at our India/Ethiopia Files, in case you're interested.) Now I'll quickly admit that I am a huge fan of African missions. As I shared at the conclusion of today's meeting, I feel like I'm following in the footsteps of another missionary named David, to whom Stanley once asked, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" David Livingstone spent over three decades doing missionary work in the heart of Africa. His wife died there of malaria. For 6 years he disappeared from public view completely (hence Stanley's question). He was sick for the last 4 years of his life, finally succumbing to malaria. They sent his body back to England, and he is buried in Westminster Abbey. But his heart never left Africa. Literally. After his death the believers there removed his heart and buried it on the spot where he died. There's so much more to say, but I will close these brief thoughts with a quote from Livingstone himself:
Perhaps it would help our churches today if all of us adopted that same attitude. Oh yeah, tonight we had guests over for dinner. They are on retreat until tomorrow. I've often said that no place on earth is quite as conducive for spiritual refreshment as Rosewood Farm, as secluded and quiet as it is. Small blessings are good. I'm thankful that this farm belongs to the Lord. May He always use it for His purposes, every last inch of it.
I leave you with a couple more pix. Good night!
5:54 AM I've been awake since 5:00, meditating upon the wonderful passage we have memorized for today's meeting. Care to turn there? It's Eph. 1:15-23. Below I offer my paraphrase, along with a brief commentary. My thoughts are based solely on my study of the Greek text of this passage, as well as my diagrammatical analysis.
Oh, before I begin, let me repeat what I said yesterday: that the whole passage is a reflection on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The real need in much of the church today and, quite frankly, in my own life personally, is for deeper insight into what the doctrine of the Spirit is really about, insight that can correct our faulty thinking and in whose light our twisted understanding about power and authority can be set straight.
But let's get to the paraphrase.
"For this reason, I've never stopped giving thanks to God for you."
That's the main clause in vv. 15-21, all one sentence in Greek. He expands this thought in two ways, particles that tell us WHY he is thankful and WHEN he expresses this thankfulness to God.
"I have a specific reason for being so thankful. It's because I've heard some very good news about you. And that is this: You have placed your full trust in the Lord Jesus and no one else for your salvation. I commend you for that and am indeed very, very grateful to God for it. But faith in Christ is only the beginning. It is only the first step in a very long walk of obedience. Our talk must be matched by our walk, and so while I'm thankful for your faith in the Lord Jesus, I'm just as thankful for your love for all God's people. Love is the heart of Christianity, and you have shown it right well."
Paul then goes on:
"During every season of prayer I mention you to God. My request to Him is a very specific one: I ask the God of our Lord Jesus Christ -- our glorious Father -- to give you the Spirit. You say, But we already have the Spirit. Of course you do. But do you enjoy the Spirit in His fullness? Recall the words of our Savior when He was on earth: 'If you, being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?' Yes, we possess the Holy Spirit. He indwells us. But does He possess us? Now, when He does, three things are going to happen. First, He will make you wise. And how we all need wisdom for living, for those practical decisions we need to make each and very day. Only the Spirit can make us wise in those situations. Second, He will reveal God to us. And finally, He will make it possible for us to know God in a very real and personal and intimate and spiritual way."
At this point Paul ventures off into a lengthy subordinate statement. It's introduced by a clause that could be rendered something like "the eyes of your heart having been enlightened." To continue my paraphrase:
"Such knowledge of God is possible for one reason. God has already opened your minds to see His light. This 'enlightenment,' if you will, makes it possible in turn for you to understand three great truths: how very wonderful is the hope to which you have been called; how very rich are the wonderful blessings He promises His people; and how very great is His power at work in us who believe. This power is the same mighty strength that God used when He raised Christ from the dead and when He seated Him at His right side in heaven. Do you see Him there? He is ruling! Ruling far above all rulers and authorities and powers and lords and all other names that can be named. Can you think of any other title of authority? Jesus far surpasses it, both in this world and the next. What's more, God put all things under Christ's feet and gave Him as supreme Lord to the church, which is His body, the completion of the one who himself completes all things everywhere."
So Paul concludes the opening section of his famous letter to the Ephesians. So the Spirit would make known to us, would teach us, who Christ is and what He has done for us and will yet do for us. He would make the presence of Christ and fellowship with Him realities of experience for all those whom the Scripture calls "saints" -- those who have placed their trust in Christ for salvation. The Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior and make clear the truth about Him and ensure that saintly minds receive it. And Jesus, the Lord over all, would be the focal point of the Spirit's ministry, from beginning to end.
As I thought about wisdom this morning, my mind went to a verse in Isaiah. It is describing king David. I think it's a fitting way to conclude my mini-devotional.
And that just about says it all.
Friday, April 26
6:28 PM Nothing says "I love you" quite like freshly baked cinnamon rolls. Wouldn't you agree?
This gift from Becky kept us going all day long. What was on my plate, you ask? Well, here's my list of things to do for the day.
And, since you also asked, No, I didn't finish. It's worth mentioning that I was bit pooped out after yesterday's travails. Still, we rocked and rolled here on the farm today. Becky and I transplanted two of her rose bushes alongside the farm driveway fence.
Then I thinned out the brush alongside our pond. (As you can see, it needed it.)
Then I prepped three more garden beds for Becky.
(As I type, Becky is out there planting more delectables.)
Oh, did I tell you that the doctor made a house call today? The Rug Doctor from Food Lion, that is. Becky put it to very good use too. I just drove into Clarksville ("our fair city") and returned it.
Finally, though it wasn't on my list, one of my goals today was to map out the structure of Eph. 1:15-23.
This is our memory passage for our team that's going to Ethiopia this summer. (Orientation #2 is tomorrow at Cresset Baptist in Durham.) The key to the passage, in my opinion? Whether or not you capitalize the "s" in "spirit/Spirit" in verse 17. I did, and the rest fell into place easily.
Well, that was pretty much my day. I spent the afternoon mowing Maple Ridge until, that is, the mower went kaput (one of the blades done stopped workin'). I love trying to troubleshoot a mechanical problem even though I have no earthly idea what I'm doing. After about a half hour of fruitless labor, I gave up and will take the contraption in for repairs on Monday. I sit here at the pooter so absolutely in love with life. This is absolutely, completely who I want to be. Even my ugly face is returning to its normal ugliness. Yes, the antibiotics have been successfully reducing the deformity I once called my cheek. And get this: I hear say that Becky is cooking creamed tuna over rice for tonight's supper. Have I died and gone to heaven or what?
7:15 AM Saw this sign in Ethiopia.
It's one reason I'll be returning there this summer to teach two courses. Today, however, it's back to farm work, for which I am uniquely unsuited. If I'm ever arrested, it'll probably be for impersonating a farmer.
Thursday, April 25
8:25 PM Please join me in praying for a young man who is sitting for his Ph.D. oral defense this Tuesday. (Full disclosure: I am his major professor.)
8:18 PM Well, we made it. And we never worked harder in our lives, if I say so myself. Each room was cleaned from stem to stern.
That included all of the furniture, from tables and cabinets to this high chair. Of course, that duty fell to the about-to-be-married Nigusse.
The walls, the ceilings, the wainscoting -- nothing escaped the cleaner's touch.
Tall guys got to do the chandeliers, naturally.
Here's our front porch -- sans a layer of yellow pine dust.
Somehow Nigusse ended up cleaning the entire upstairs porch by himself. Looks great, don't it?
The most challenging job of the day was scrubbing down the roof. Man was that tough! (Just kidding. No one around here has the guts or stupidity to get up on the roof.)
After our work was done, I treated everyone to Chinese food for dinner as no one was in any condition to cook anything. Becky has already gone to bed. Gotta hand it to her -- she worked for 8 and a half hours straight and outlasted both Nigusse and me. And to think that just a year ago she couldn't even sweep the kitchen floor without having to take a long breather.
God is good.
8:20 AM I have two awesome updates for you this morning. First, thank you all for praying for my cist. It's beginning to return to normal, and I am determined to be more productive today than I was yesterday. Second, thank you for continuing to pray for Becky, whom the Lord just keeps giving energy and stamina to work on all her projects here -- and they are many. I could write a whole book on how incredibly faithful God has been to us since our cancer journey began almost 4 years ago. But I also need to tell you that the spot on her head is in fact basal cell carcinoma, and we're looking at yet another procedure in the near future. So once again we're left to marvel at the way God orchestrates our lives. He is on the move, and were just trying to keep up with Him.
Oh, last night I finished reading Alvin Reid's book As You Go, which explains what "missional" living is so much better than I ever could. What a privilege it is to work alongside a guy like Alvin. In fact, I think I should throw in the towel and just refer everyone to his excellent publications from now on!
Well, Becky has officially designated today as "spring cleaning day" here at the Hall, so I had best boogie. We're going room by room, deep cleaning. I may even take a few pix.
Wednesday, April 24
6:06 PM Good evening one and all! I just slept for 9 straight hours. I had no desire or energy to do anything all day long. It's amazing to me how a simple infection can cause a grown man to crash and burn. So I ordered myself out of bed and to stop dithering. If I have been unproductive all day, Nigusse and Becky have been anything but. Nigu met with his LXX team member and together they worked for 5 hours on the class presentation they will give this Wednesday. Becky, in the meantime, planted the garden (including okra!). Both are still outside piddling around. I only surfaced once today and that was to have a grilled cheese sandwich Becky had prepared for me (thanks honey). I plan to get caught up on your emails tonight, but please be patient with this old geezer.
Tuesday, April 23
7:36 PM Look at the sofa Becky brought home today from the thrift store. Fits perfectly in the upstairs landing at Maple Ridge, don't ya think?
In other news ...
The cist I've had on my jaw line for years has decided to up and get inflamed. It is now about 7 times larger than its normal size, which means that if I don't get it worked on soon I will qualify for the freak show at the local circus. Never fear, though -- Becky has made an appointment for me at the local clinic for tomorrow morning.
Don't worry -- no pix forthcoming.
1:28 PM Henry Neufeld, who has published a work on the epistle to the Hebrews, enters the discussion about the book's outline/discourse structure. You can check out his soon-to-be-revised outline here. I love it! The only comment I might make concerns the title given to Heb. 6:1: "Press on to maturity." Here's why.
1:16 PM Praise the Lord! The golf cart is now working, and the problem was a fairly simple one -- some wires had been connected incorrectly. That saved me from having to replace the batteries (at a cost of about $560). Meanwhile, Becky called to say she found some more furniture for Maple Ridge down in Durham. The light at the end of the tunnel? Hopefully. As my favorite T.V. characters of all time would say, "Slowly we turned, step by step, inch by inch...."
7:42 AM Here are a few thoughts about publishing in response to some of our seminary Ph.D. graduates:
1) If it's worth writing, it's worth publishing. This includes your masters thesis and doctoral dissertation. I have some colleagues who think otherwise. They feel that a student's writing should "mature" before he or she publishes. I respectfully disagree. My first journal article was based on my masters thesis. My first book was my doctoral dissertation. I encourage my students to begin publishing while in school -- and many do.
2) Review, review, review. Books, that is. It's the easiest way to get into print, and you get a free book besides. I began writing book reviews for journals such as the Grace Theological Journal, Criswell Theological Review, and JETS. I did this while I was a doctoral student. Later my reviews appeared in JBL and Novum Testamentum.
3) Set goals. When I graduated from the University of Basel in 1983 I prayerfully set the following goals: One book review every year, and one book every 5 years. I have exceeded these goals, mainly because I discovered how much I enjoy writing. If you aim at nothing you'll hit it every time. Don't be afraid to set goals -- and to set them high.
4) Respect the scholarly guild, but don't fear it. Go where angels fear to tread. My second book was on the integration of linguistics and New Testament Greek. It is still in print today in a second edition. What right did I have to write a book on linguistics? None whatsoever. But nobody else had written a book on New Testament Greek linguistics, I needed one for my classes, so I gave it a whack. It immediately opened the floodgates for others, more competent than myself, to write their own books on the subject.
5) Shoot for the stars. That is, send your articles to the better known journals. Why not? The worst they can say is No. That's how I got published in Biblica, New Testament Studies, and Novum Testamentum. If you think you can't, you won't.
6) Consider publishing your own website. I believe more and more scholars will do this in the future. It's by far the cheapest and easiest way to get your ideas out to a wide audience -- literally overnight.
In short, if you are called to scholarship, you are called to writing. I have to smile whenever I meet someone who tells me, with great relief, "I finally finished my dissertation. Now I'll never have to write again!" Actually, the least important thing you will ever write is your dissertation. It is but the launching pad for a lifetime of research and writing -- or ought to be.
7:04 AM The other day I discovered that two of our Bethel Hill sisters are planning a mission trip to France this summer. Which inspired me to improve my French, which I speak very badly and in a horribly illiterate manner. My goal one day is to travel to francophone Africa and perhaps do some good for the kingdom, in what form I have no idea. The difficulty is finding someone who is fluent in French to converse with, though I must confess that I am scared to speak the language to anyone at all. My German I've managed to keep alive and well only because I spoke it for so long in Germany and Switzerland, and Becky and I will sometimes lapse into it when we want to utter secrets in the presence of Nigusse. I prefer reading Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, etc. in the original and always find the substance interesting and the manner of speaking eminently lucid. There is always some loss when one translates foreign works into English, and for this reason I strongly encourage all of my Ph.D. students to read their French and German every chance they get. Cullmann's Christ and Time, for example, is an uncommonly interesting book that I have read both in German and French (Cullmann was from Alsace). For beauty it compares with the elegant English prose of Markus Barth's Ephesians commentary in the Anchor Bible series, perhaps the greatest commentary ever written on that great New Testament epistle. As you can see, I am an incurable language-lover, though learning languages is a lifetime process and an unsatisfactory one at that, since you never seem to master any of them as you would like to. At any rate, à bientôt -- I hope.
6:55 AM Once again I'm discovering the wit and eloquence of the apostle Paul in his great letter to the Romans. The effect he gets out of the Greek language is incomparable. The play on the phron-root in 12:3 is unattainable in English and in German and French as well. "Don't hyper-phronein beyond what is necessary to phronein but instead phronein so as to so-phronein." Incredible. Language gives me as much pleasure as music, and strains of Paul's prose continually waft in my ears. What I would really like more than anything is a year or two of quiet meditation in this cavernous book, but then it would be impossible to do anything else. Reading Scripture in the original is a pleasure, and so is not having to read for a class assignment but simply for the joy of it.
Monday, April 22
3:10 PM I'd like you to meet our new farm signs -- a huge part of the new and improved look here at Rosewood Farm. It's taken us "only" 6 months to get them posted around the farm. The same night that Becky finished painting them was the night she experienced the mother of all stomach perforations. It was back to the hospital for her, to face yet another complicated surgery and recovery. At any rate, we had a blast putting them up today. It would seem that from now on it will be very hard for anyone to get lost around here. The signs will always have a deeper meaning for me, however. They will be a constant reminder of the ray of light that shone into what seemed like impenetrable darkness on the night of Oct. 24, 2012. In them I'll see my wife's beautiful heart -- and my trembling hands in sore need of calming.
These are the days when I think I could live on a farm with Becky forever. Pix (of course):
10:11 AM Just finished my syllabus for the exegesis of Philippians course I'll be teaching at CBS in Lansdale this summer. I'm requiring only one commentary -- Hawthorne's exquisite work. In fact, I wish Martin had not revised it, as Hawthorne's original work was unsurpassed in my opinion. I love the book of Philippians. I've written a handful of essays on the letter if you're interested. The text offers us something extra, above and beyond our mediocre existence. Excited to be able to teach it again.
7:59 AM Little news here. I'm getting ready to trailer the golf cart down to Oxford for repairs. J’espère que le projet se réalisera. (That's for you, Bailey, since you are on your way to France.) The weather is a cool 37 degrees, going up to 60 today, and the sun is shining brightly. I have just had several emails that I need to answer. I do have a 24-hour rule, though I don't imagine an email of mine goes unanswered for more than a few hours. Recently I had a request from a student asking yours truly to be his major advisor in our Ph.D. program. I've built a reputation of sorts for being fairly selective when it comes to choosing doctoral candidates. I follow a simple law: if you want your track team to win the high jump, you find one person who can jump seven feet, not seven people who can each jump one foot. So I have my own detailed application form for prospective doctoral students, in addition to the one required by the seminary. Every serious student of mine needs to have a solid knowledge of Greek, a good knowledge of Hebrew, a commitment to academic excellence, a willingness to master (and not just master but use) German, French, and any other modern language deemed necessary, and evidence of ability to research, reason, and write. If you're interested in preserving the status quo, you'll probably want to look elsewhere. I do enjoy my current doctoral students very much. Each in my view is a champion high jumper already. And I look forward to adding to their number, Lord willing, in the future. If you're interested, shoot me an email.
Sunday, April 21
6:48 PM Brian Small has just linked to An Exegetical Outline of Hebrews. The author naturally shies away from Pauline authorship even though new arguments are being made for that position today (or at least for the "Paulinity" of the letter), and I feel constrained to point out that his very first outline division leaves much to be desired. He tells us that the opening paragraph of the letter is 1:1-3 -- which to me is a complete impossibility, since verses 1-4 are a single sentence in Greek and form their own distinct discourse unit. (I have treated this paragraph in some detail here.) These "thorns in the cushion" (as Thackeray, himself an unhappy editor, once called them) are perhaps not deadly, but they do make one pause. However, perhaps I am being overly critical. Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.
6:22 PM Here are three classic quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I found them on p. 209 of Donald Durbaugh's The Believers' Church.
6:10 PM Had a wonderful time at the fellowship this morning. I had a new sense that we're really getting it, that we are at the point of pushing out our borders, of asking God to give us so much more, of asking with confidence, under God's guiding hand, that He would make us a missionary church -- every last one of us. I am not talking about that artificial, whipped-up passion among Christians today, the same kind of enthusiasm you see at a football or basketball game. I'm talking about a genuine love for the lost. As Christians, we are not to be depositories but dispensers of grace, not just to enjoy the Gospel but declare it. God is calling every Christian to learn the secret of service to the world, not just to experience the high of a church service but to experience the joy of a lifestyle of humble behind-the-scenes service to Christ's upside-down kingdom. In this kingdom all titles and positions are irrelevant. It doesn't matter who gets the credit. We are nothing but unworthy servants serving a worthy King!
8:54 AM Despite the personal insult (shame on you, Jeff!), I loved these thoughts by the Scripture Zealot:
The rest Jesus promises us is not the cessation of activity. It is what I call "restful rushing" -- rest in the middle of incessant labor. Co-yoked with Him, we experience His peace even in the midst of our frenetic lifestyles. Let us, therefore, be steadfast, unmovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, inasmuch as we know that our labor in the Lord is never a waste of time.
8:21 AM Thoughtful piece here: Why People Prayed for Boston on Twitter and Facebook, and Then Stopped. The money quote:
7:46 AM When I return from the break, I will be conducting yet another Ph.D. oral exam. When I think of scholarship, I think of the apostle Paul. And when I think of Paul, I am reminded that his scholarship took second place. In fact, the term "scholarship" is completely redefined when I think of Paul's missionary life. I've often heard Paul referred to as a theologian. I can't dream of Paul ever using that term to describe himself. Paul wrote great theology, it is true, and he was a thinker of the first magnitude. But he thought of himself, first and foremost, as a preacher of the Gospel, a church planter, and a lover of souls. He was God's "chosen instrument" to take the Good News to the Gentiles, and to that single task he was fully devoted. He was, as every Christian should be, "separated unto the Gospel" (Rom. 1:2), and whatever publishing he did he did for one purpose: to advance Christ’s kingdom and to build up the church.
Many years ago I came to a similar conclusion in my own life. Like many others before me, I had viewed my scholarship as an end in itself, as an entrée into the world of academic conferences, as a means of gaining recognition and affirmation. But as I read the New Testament – a novel thing for a New Testament professor to do – I began to see that my priorities were terribly misplaced. The words of Kierkegaard spoke to my heart (Provocations, p. 201):
Today I seek to use whatever limited scholarly abilities the Lord has given me for His service. Simply stated, I practice serving. The opportunities are endless to model the Jesus walk to others. Don't wait for politicians to bring about cultural renewal. Be the hands and feet of Jesus – evangelizing the lost, feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, caring for unwed mothers, rebuilding the broken walls of our culture.
7:21 AM The end of the semester is fast approaching. I thank God for every one of my beginning Greek students. No, they are not all at the same level. No, they are not all doing great on the tests. My advice? Figure out the size of your plate and then fill it. Set realist goals for yourself. Having your own objectives firmly in mind will help you more easily sustain your motivation and interest in Greek. Here's one way you can set foreign language goals: use the system set up by the Foreign Service Institute. Depending on your needs and desires, you will want to shoot for one of the following "R-Levels" (i.e., reading levels of proficiency):
If you can identify the level you want to achieve, you will be able to better focus your efforts and feel more positive about your achievements because they will become more evident to you. If, in your current life situation, there are other things more important than Greek, I understand completely. Do what you can. If you only get 10 percent of what I'm teaching, you'll still have ten percent more knowledge than when you began. And remember: Paul had learned to be content in whatever state he was. I guess that included the "state of confusion."
Saturday, April 20
8:48 PM I am finally getting around to posting a few pictures of Becky's trip to New York. Here's one of Becky with Mercy Magdalene. What a cutie pie!
Micah with his Mama B.
Matt and Liz in front of the Adirondack Bible Chapel, where Matt serves as a pastoral intern.
Finally, here's Isaac and Caleb.
Becky is still raving about her time up north. Thanks, Liz and Matt, for taking such good care of her!
1:32 PM The SEBTS Board of Trustees just approved a completely online M.Div. degree. It has my 1000 percent backing. Wherever you live, come study with us!
1:23 PM Yesterday was such a glorious day here at Rosewood. We got most of our farm chores done and then witnessed a beautiful lightening storm. Glad to see that things have settled down in Boston, and I was delighted to hear that the younger bombing suspect was captured alive. The law is a jealous mistress, and justice will no doubt be done, but I can't help but feel a modicum of pity for a young life so wasted and so misguided. I see too that the tragedy in West, TX, took the lives of 11 volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. When we moved to North Carolina 15 years I joined the local volunteer fire department. Good guys -- often taking big risks. My heart goes out to the families in Texas.
This morning Becky and I went to Bethel Hill for today's all-church work day. What a joyous time of fellowship. Body life at its best. I leave you with a few pix. Ciao!
Friday, April 19
6:56 PM This fall we will add three new faculty members here at SEBTS. For introductions, go here. Welcome, gentlemen!
4:32 PM The wind and the rains have started, so I need to make this update a quick one. This morning I drove the tractor and trailer down to the valley and worked on several projects.
One of them was to fill in these holes that were left after we discontinued a line of fence posts.
Hopefully this will minimize the danger of anyone getting hurt. After lunch, Becky and I planted various bushes on the farm.
These included several rose bushes.
The prize, however, goes to this rose bush that came all the way from Burji, Ethiopia. We transplanted it to a better site where it will get more sunshine.
Can't wait for supper tonight. Becky has been experimenting with new recipes, and all of her dishes have been fantastic.
8:58 AM For anyone who speaks Spanish out there, I've added a new essay to our Spanish Essays:
Special thanks to Thomas Hudgins for his help in producing this translation. And no, "Padres" does not refer to a baseball team in San Diego.
8:40 AM West, Texas. Until yesterday, most of us had never heard of this town near Waco, pop. 2,800. I think it's significant that one word keeps cropping up as the media attempts to describe West, and that word is "community." Displaced residents aren't living in shelters set up by the government -- they are staying with friends and family. The first responders were volunteer fire fighters -- from West. Last night the town held a vigil to honor the dead. All marks of community.
How's your church doing in this department? It is hard work to build community. It takes prayer and obedience and love and patience. For all the hang-wringing today over church growth fads and worship styles and leadership principles, why is it that we ignore the essential question: Is my church a genuine community? We now erect sanctuaries with glass fronts and baby grand pianos in the foyer and restaurants catering to the public, but people on the street look in and see little to make them exclaim, "Look how they love one another!"
I believe we are in the midst of a great awakening in the slumbering church of Christ. God is infusing new strength and vigor into an aging body. Jesus stretches our view of "family" beyond mere kinship. Biological family is too small to encompass what He is doing in this world. We are meant to be "fam" -- a community known for love for God and neighbor, authentic relationships, and interdependence.
A town in Texas is showing us the way.
Thursday, April 18
2:28 PM Takin' a break. My work thus far -- not that anybody except for farm boys would be interested:
1) The tiller is working again ... so I put it to work. My goal was to finish three raised beds today.
2) Lovely soil, ain't it?
Believe me, it's not natural to the region. When we moved here the soil was nothing but red clay. Hence the raised beds, which have been nurtured throughout the years.
3) Mowed our front lawn at Bradford Hall.
4) As you can see, our luscious fields will be ready for haying very shortly.
5) "The sower went out to sow...." After seeding fescue on all the dirt areas at Maple Ridge, I covered them with hay straw.
6) Just now finished the garden beds. Only three more to do :)
Why does life seem to take on a whole new flavor when one walks through the garden gate?
8:12 AM Good morning from southern Virginia, where green pine dust has settled over everything not in motion. The farm is bursting forth in spring beauty (irises, figs, berries):
We're expecting rain tomorrow so today I'm gonna try and get caught up on my farm chores. The tiller is ready for pickup, which means that I can finally get back to prepping B's garden beds, but that's only the first thing on my list of things to do. Be blessed wherever you are and whatever you're doing this fine day, and remember: don't take yourself too seriously!
Wednesday, April 17
6:35 PM My colleague Alvin Reid just gave me a copy of his latest book. No one knows -- or does -- missions quite like Alvin. Looking forward to reading it this weekend.
8:22 AM Well, she is BACK. We returned to the farm around 1:30 this morning. I am painfully aware that it is utterly impossible to truly thank the many of you who prayed for Becky during her sojourn in New York. I look forward to getting a full de-briefing this morning, but in a word: The trip was perfect. Just what the doctor ordered. Thank you for praying!
In the meantime, how I praise God for His goodness in allowing me to address the Board of Trustees yesterday. I shared with them some of the lessons I have learned along the exciting road we call discipleship.
Then what can I say about the chapel service that followed? Here are students willing to break out of the velvet cage of comfort and convenience and literally go "to the uttermost parts of the world."
They have begun a lifestyle of sacrifice, service, and (potentially) suffering for the Lord. We too are asked to live as He lived and love as He loved. The question that faces us is: "How can a Christianized culture like America that knows so much truth fail so miserably to obey the Great Commission?" Why aren't we incarnating Christ to the lost billions still in darkness around the world? Jesus said He is sending us into the fields just as the Father sent Him. Missions is simply an extension of life. We must be willing, like Him, to let everything go -- "goods and kindred" -- and give our lives to recapture perhaps just one inch of lost territory from darkness. No, you can't do everything and go everywhere. But you can do something and go somewhere.
I love teaching at SEBTS. No, we are not a perfect seminary. But we are trying really really hard not to be just another "Jesus bless me" club. That said, authentic Christianity is not just for seminarians. It is not something reserved for those with a formal Bible education. It is for every one of us, whatever our location and vocation. God will never force us to walk the path of obedience. It's a choice we have to begin personally. May He help us to take that first step.
Tuesday, April 16
4:51 AM Roger Mohrlang, who teaches New Testament at Whitworth College, has just published a book on Paul called Paul and His Life-Transforming Theology: A Concise Introduction. You can check it out here.
4:25 AM Before I return to campus today, I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about education. The reader should be forewarned that I offer no help to anyone who is looking for the "Seven Keys" to successful teaching. Jesus alone is the Master Teacher, and I still have a very long way to go. But for what it's worth, here are three principles I strive to follow.
1) Christian education is likeness education. We teachers impact our students more by our passion than by our communication. Is this not true? People learn best by example, not by direct instruction. "Actions speak louder than words." This is how the Savior taught – He chose 12 men to "be with Him," then He poured His life into them. As a teacher I must move from being a mere "dispenser of information" to a mentor and organizer of the learning process.
2) My job is to serve my students, not vice versa. Effective teachers understand their pupils and discern what causes their difficulties. Now this has several important implications, not least that we should be more student-oriented than subject-oriented. Classes must be interesting – each and every one of them. As someone once put it, "There is no such thing as a boring teacher. If he's boring, he's not a teacher." Students have a right to want to come to class, to be dismissed on time, to have their term papers graded by their prof, to get their work back promptly, to be trusted with take-home exams, to have teachers with open door policies, etc.
3) I seek to challenge students to think for themselves. The fill-in-the-blank approach to learning tends to produce students with simplistic answers to complex questions. In my own college and seminary experience I was, more often than not, taught what to think rather than challenged to think for myself. A wise teacher gives students the tools necessary for their own personal reading and study of the Scriptures.
4:12 AM The events in Boston yesterday are a reminder of the brevity and uncertainty of life. The chief plague of this present age is triviality. But when we are confronted with death, with horrific injuries, triviality is eclipsed. If you're like me, you're asking "Why?" Even Jesus asked His Father that question (Matt. 27:46). We don't have the answers yet and we may never have all the answers, but we need never question our Father's presence. God bless all of the victims of this tragedy and their families. Truly, today we are all Bostonians.
Monday, April 15
1:27 PM Not long ago, "reaching for the moon" meant trying to attain the impossible. Since then humans have walked on the lunar surface. The goal of missions is to reach the nations for Christ. It is perhaps a goal that is unattainable in its entirety but that is no excuse for complacency. May God give our generation the satisfying pursuit of an impossible goal!
1:22 PM It rained last night and made the soil too wet to work in today, so I'm spending the day preparing for my summer classes. This summer will be a marathon -- two classes at SEBTS, two at the Evangelical Theological College in Ethiopia, and one at Calvary. Think I'll be ready for my sabbatical this fall?
12:11 PM Just got an email from a former student who now resides in Munich, Germany. I find place names especially challenging when traveling in Europe. In Italy, Florence is Firenzo, Naples is Napoli, Padua is Padova, Venice is Venezia, and Milan is Milano. To the Danes Copenhagen is pronounced something like "koopen-howen," and in Switzerland the name of my doctoral city is spelled four different ways (Basle, Basel, Basileia, Bâl). In Germany, the city of Cologne is really Köln and Munich is München. Recently I flew into Frankfurt (or is it Frankfort?). Did you know that in 1987 the name "United Airlines" was changed to "Allegis" by the company's CEO Richard Ferris? Donald Trump said the name sounded like a disease, and upon Ferris's ouster his successor changed the company name back to United.
Names -- what headaches!
11:16 AM Commenting on harmony in the church, Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology, p. 347) writes:
Our generation will not get back on track until it hears this message loud and clear. Let's say, for example, that you are in a traditional Baptist church and have a desire (which you share with your pastor and others) that the church move forward toward what all of you consider to be a more biblical ecclesiology, in this case a plurality of elders ("elder-led congregationalism"). This desire, if pursued, is likely to lead to divisions in the church if carried out selfishly – that is, if you fail to consider the other person's needs rather than just your own. So, although you are convinced that having multiple elders is a healthier and more biblical pattern for the church than a single pastor, you are not interested in fighting to get your way. In seeking to introduce change to our churches, there can never be any irritation or ridicule toward someone with whom we might disagree. We must banish from our mindset once and for all both censoriousness and contempt.
At the same time, it is still possible (and, I think, both desirable and needful) that every congregation consider carefully what the Scriptures teach "about how they should think and act" (as Marshall puts it). I think this is what Paul means by "having the same mind" in Phil. 2:2. He is referring to a disposition of like-mindedness whereby we bring to the table an attitude of unity, cooperation, amity, and harmony. This is a far cry from putting our brains in park or neutral. And it is certainly no excuse for sloppy thinking. There must be agreement in the congregation that the Word of God comes first, and that whatever course of action is decided upon must be dictated by conviction and not simply by convention. We would all do well to remember that it is our duty to have biblical convictions, and that it is our equal duty to allow others to have theirs. But I'm talking about convictions, not blind allegiance to tradition.
So, what do you think?
8:58 AM Check out the new blog at NPR called Code Switch. The premise is that all of us have different styles when we speak or write. We mix speech patterns and even accents. Obama does it when he speaks "Da Kine" in Hawaii. Clinton did it when he switched to a deep drawl in addressing Southerners. The same thing occurs in the New Testament. Just compare Luke 1:1-4 with the rest of the chapter. Luke's diction makes a 180 degree turn from a very classical form of Greek to the most mundane colloquial Koine style. The odd thing is that no English translation that I'm aware of attempts to translate these stylistic differences. Too difficult? Probably. But are we missing something important if we don't?
Just askin' (notice I dropped the "g"?).
7:46 AM One of the things I love about our seminary is our commissioning service every spring semester. This is the chapel service in which we lay hands on and pray for our missionary students before sending them forth. Folks, we can praise the cross without ever taking up ours. Jesus doesn't exclude wealthy Americans from the Great Commission. He just tells us that discipleship will cost us everything we have.
Tomorrow's chapel service will be phenomenal. If you can make it, I would love to see you there.
7:30 AM Quote of the day:
7:17 AM Tomorrow, the Doolittle raiders will gather for the last time since they bombed Tokyo in 1942. (Read A Final Toast for the Doolittle Raiders.) Only 4 of the original 80 crew members are still alive. I wish the report had at least mentioned one crew member whose story is truly an amazing one. Jacob DeShazer, captured by the Japanese after bailing out in China, spent 34 months undergoing solitary confinement and was severely beaten and malnourished by his captors. But it was also in Japan that he came to know Christ personally. After the war, DeShazer returned to Japan with his wife as missionaries of the Prince of Peace. DeShazer distributed a Gospel tract he titled "I Was a Prisoner of the Japanese," detailing his capture, conversion, and complete change of heart toward his former enemies. Perhaps his most famous convert was Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese airman who led the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Fuchida read DeShazer's tract (as well as the Bible) and eventually came to faith in Christ. Beyond Pearl Harbor will give you the details.
Friends, look at this picture. This is the Gospel. Sin is our trouble, and we are left in a worse state when we given anything less than the cure. To treat cancer with pain pills only endangers the victim further. The disease must be rooted out, not the symptoms. Both DeShazer and Fuchida went to war believing their cause was just. Former enemies, they became friends and brothers in union with their Savior. Love does not take account of evil; it keeps no record of hurts. Each of us has suffered at the hands of others. But personal wounds can be healed by the Lord.
Today both men are seated around the throne of heaven, trophies of grace. One day you and I will join them if we have placed our faith in Christ. What a glorious day that will be. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Sunday, April 14
6:22 PM Neil Cole (a former student of mine at Biola) offers a good word about intentionally seeking the last place:
Read The Way to be First is to Be Last. We might as well face it. We don't like this kind of advice. Do it anyway. What an impressive sight this would be -- one church actually esteeming the other as more important than itself.
Well done, Neil, well done.
5:04 PM Rod Decker points us to a Helpful new book on translation. Rod's commendation of the book is based partly on the fact that the author is himself a Bible translator. I tend to agree with Rod's assessment. I might even take it a step further: I would suggest that no one is really capable of translating the New Testament from Greek into English who cannot speak (fairly fluently) a modern language. I have stated this conviction several times already on this blog, and I stand by it. Without the facility to translate "on the run" (like one has to do when speaking German with a Lufthansa flight attendance, as I did two weeks ago), translation will remain a mere theory. That's why I strongly recommend my doctoral students to acquire a speaking knowledge of German and French, not just a reading ability. That one aptitude might in the end be more helpful than all of the courses in exegesis we offer at the seminary.
Incidentally, while you're at Rod's site, take a look at his brief post called Suffering and grace. Rod, I see that you and my wife now have something in common: you are both diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Be assured that our thoughts and prayers (and those of many others, I'm sure) are with you. God bless you, friend.
4:49 PM CT has just run a piece called Knowing What the Bible 'Really' Means. The author's peroration?
I think I get the point. We should study other languages in order to better understand our own. I recall teaching one time in South Korea and asking my students (all pastors) what the Korean word for "trinity" was. "Three-and-oneness" (sam-we-il-che) came the reply. "Perfect!" I said. "You get the prize! Our word 'trinity' overemphasizes the threeness and underplays the oneness. A better English term might be 'triunity.'" They all nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement.
However, do note the subtitle of the article I linked to above: "Why multiple translations might even be better than Scripture in its original languages." Forgive me, but something just got stuck in my craw. Just my once cent, but nothing can replace a knowledge of the biblical languages for anyone involved in Bible translation or interpretation. Thus, when a seminarian asks me, "Why should I bother to study Greek? We have so many translations available today in English," my answer is invariably, "It is precisely because we have so many English translations today -- and none of them agrees with another -- that it is now more necessary than ever to be able to check their accuracy against the original text." It has been my great joy and delight to have taught New Testament Greek for some 36 years now. The ultimate reason for teaching and learning New Testament Greek is that, properly applied, it can issue in a "readiness for every good work" – that is, a life that is equipped to do God's will and go God's way. No, Greek is not a panacea. It is not the Open Sesame or the Abracadabra that many make it out to be. But it remains a very useful tool in our exegetical toolbox.
1:48 PM Speaking of Calvary Baptist in Pennsylvania, I just noticed that their summer 2013 schedule has been posted. Summer courses include "Growing Healthy Churches in the Twenty-first Century" (with Gary McIntosh of Talbot), "Dispensationalism," "Matthew," "Old Testament Backgrounds," and "Greek Exegesis -- Philippians." Each course is 2 credit hours. For details, please go here. This will be my first time teaching adjunctively at CBS and I am really looking forward to it. My class will meet June 17-21. Would love to see you there.
1:40 PM Is the Catholic Church poised for some major reforms? This CNN essay thinks so. How about your church or mine? Just as a musical instrument needs to be retuned from time to time and a timepiece needs to be reset, so our wayward hearts need to turn from the detours and traditions they so easily follow and come back to the Truth. But how many of us are willing to rethink the wineskins? We may have come a long way but most of our churches have a long way to go still.
1:17 PM Just back from The Hill. Another great day with the Body. Right now I need to cook Sunday dinner for Nigu and me, then prepare our meals for the week, then finish mowing and edging, then prep for classes. I also need to complete my syllabus for the Philippians course I'm teaching this summer at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. Becky gets into RDU at 11:30 pm on Tuesday -- can't wait. I think Nigusse is getting mighty tired of his dad's cooking.
9:14 AM Calling all Acts lovers! Here's a book we can all look forward to:
The release date is June. For more, click here.
8:38 AM I am deeply humbled and honored to have been asked to give the morning devotional during our Board of Trustees meeting this Tuesday on campus. My message will be basically this: The "you" in the Great Commission ("As you go ...") includes, well, you and me. Outsourcing missions to paid professionals will not get the job done. I have rarely been so convinced of anything in my life.
Your prayers will be greatly appreciated.
8:24 AM One more thought about Romans 14. Paul clearly teaches that we are not to seek our own good but the good of others. That's clear. However, sometimes offense is inevitable. If you want to become a redemptive person, sometimes you have to make difficult choices. Peter, for example, had to keep on offending the Jews by eating with Gentiles. That's called living redemptively. Moreover, within the church you will often find what I am calling "professional" weaker brothers or sisters, people for whom everything is black or white and who have the smallest comfort zone. They expect you to live by their self-imposed list of dos and don'ts. Sound familiar? They are not seeking unity; they are seeking control. Don't let them! They need to be confronted in love for the Gospel's sake.
If you have a scruple, I'm not going to be your conscience, but you had better be prepared to handle your scruples in a biblically-informed and loving way.
7:52 AM The Christian life is nothing more than one big "Thank you" to God.
7:48 AM If you ever teach through the book of Romans, you'll be encouraged by this outline of the book. It's the product of the one and only Warren Wiersbe. (You know you're getting old when you say "Warren Wiersbe" and people go, "Who?") Most of Wiersbe's "Be" commentaries have been translated into Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. And rightly so. Check out his Romans outline and you'll see why.
7:29 AM Good morning, friends! Got time for a quick devotional from my Bible study this morning? At Bethel Hill, we have been roaring through Romans. Last Sunday we covered chapter 14. Paul says, in essence, we are free, but never free to do wrong or to harm a brother or sister. I think that's his point in a nutshell. Only careless Christians love to spout, "All things are lawful for me!" (1 Cor. 6:12). Being saved doesn't give us liberty to do whatever we please. Liberty is never license.
So how shall we invest our lives? John Piper recently reflected on that question now that he has entered a new season of life (see Piper on Regrets and Retirement). "How shall I best minister now that I have retired from the pastorate?" What about you? What about me? Are we really free to do whatever we want? There are three tests I think we've got to apply here:
1) The test of expediency. Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient." Is this something that will help fulfill God's plan for my life, or will it hinder me from running the unique race that God has set before me? I cannot do everything. In fact, I can only do a few things well. What is best? This takes spiritual discernment.
2) The test of enslavement. "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." Is that hobby really necessary? Hobbies can easily turn into hobbles. Our "causes" can easily enslave us. But Paul says, "I will not be brought into bondage by anything -- whether good or evil."
3) The test of edification. "All things do not edify" (1 Cor. 10:23). I must focus my final years of life on edifying others and building up the Body of Christ. And I must build out of gold, silver, and precious stones, not wood, hay, and stubble.
John Piper has a new sense of purpose, of urgency, since he retired from the pastorate. That's what happens to us when we age. "Knowing the seasons," writes Paul, "that now it is high time to awake out of sleep" (Rom. 13:11). Farmers know well the seasons. Though it is planting season here in southern Virginia, it is autumn in the world. "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jer. 8:20). It is harvest time for God's people; the fields are ready. The Lord's return draws near. Blessed are those who know the seasons in the calendar of God.
Saturday, April 13
1:02 PM I just had to show Becky pix of her farm on this gorgeous Saturday in the Virginia Piedmont.
1) Bradford Hall ("home sweet home").
2) Maple Ridge with a freshly cut lawn.
3) The oldest building on the farm (ca. 1790).
4) Colors everywhere!
5) The gambrel barn we built.
6) Our illustrious chicken mansion (not house).
7) Nigu mowing the orchard.
8) And last but not least, these three beauties say, "Come home soon -- we miss you!"
12:44 PM This week on campus we'll be having missionary speakers in chapel as well as in our classrooms. I have asked missionaries to Asia to speak briefly in my Tuesday classes. I am really looking forward to it. Most of you know that Becky and I have served as fulltime missionaries to Ethiopia, even though we do not actually live in that country. One of the hardest things about being a missionary is spending time on "home assignment." But I've got to remember that all ministry, whether of word or deed, whether there or here, is equally acceptable and pleasing to God as long as it is motivated by love. Speaking about missions is a good place to start, whether in my classes or when I am invited to be a guest speaker in a church somewhere. No one better than a missionary can inspire people to a life of sacrifice for Jesus. Hearing "live missionaries" while growing up in Hawaii was always a special blessing to me, especially when the report was about God's work rather than a boring, factual itinerary. Our Ethiopia team members do an exceptional job of presenting missions in churches, clubs, and even public schools. Some are mechanics, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, but they each have a dramatic story to tell. None of us is a "professional," but that hasn't intimated us in the least. We tell it like it is, good and bad, though we emphasize the positive simply because there is so much positive to report.
Students, God is calling His people to embrace missions. This week will highlight that fact. But in the end, the real question will be, What will it take to move us from being the best informed Christians in the world to a life of active service?
Stay tuned to see what the Spirit will do ...
8:54 AM These pix are for Becky's eyes only. (Don't the rest of you peep, now.) Honey, you'll be pleased to know that I taught Nigusse how to cook French toast this morning.
They turned out great. I bet they even topped the cinnamon rolls Matt made for yall this morning.
All Rosewood Farm sends you our love!
8:25 AM Time to cook breakfast for Nigusse and me -- French toast! -- and then get some yard work done. The weather here is perfect. In upstate New York, Becky is huddled down indoors -- nothing but snow, ice, and sleet. But that's okay; she's getting some much needed rest and having a great time with the family. Thanks for continuing to pray for her!
8:18 AM Here a few more pix from Odessa. If you're like me, one of the reasons you love to travel is because it allows you to meet new people and make new friends. Here are just a few of them. The final photo shows the president of the Odessa seminary whom I've invited to visit SEBTS in the fall. Looking forward to hosting you on campus, Vladimir!
7:58 AM Can you be more Reformed than Jesus? Yep.
Read the whole thing.
My thoughts? We are afflicted today with a cheap, cognitive form of Christianity that will not pay the price for genuine discipleship. Wood, hay, and stubble can be dressed up today and made to look like durable building material. But you always get what you pay for. True discipleship is always costly. And messy. And practical. Our Lord never offered us bargains. There is no such thing as discount Christianity. Christian character is expensive and will always have its cost in prayer and work.
How's your theology? Look at your deeds.
7:40 AM The latest issue of Leadership Magazine has some good thoughts about excellence in ministry:
Amen to that! Nothing develops our own spiritual life like sharing our blessings with others and participating in the work God is doing both in the Body and in the world.
But I'll let the author do the rest of the talking. Read Participation is the New Excellence.
7:24 AM To follow Jesus we may have to cut the knot rather than untie it gradually.
7:10 AM I just read Eph. 4:11-12. I love these verses! If we are to have church renewal, if we are to transform our congregations into a "fellowship of the concerned" and a "company of the committed," then I think we have to take this passage more seriously than we do. Reeducation is not an option. It is a necessity. The recovery of the ministry of the "laity" can come only as we train our pastors not to be institutional maintenance men but congregational mobilizers.
6:52 AM In Greek class we always have this discussion: How should we translate ekklesia into English? My favorite translation of ekklesia is not "church." Nor is it "congregation" or "assembly," and it most certainly is not "called out ones." I think the best rendering of the word is simply "community." In the first century, one could use the term to refer to any type of community – a civic community, a religious community, and even a Christian community. I recall driving through West Germany for the first time. (This was back when there was a West Germany.) We came to the hamlet of Lörrach, and just on the outskirts of town was a sign that read Gemeinde Lörrach, i.e., the "community of Lörrach." But just inside the town one could attend (as I did) die Baptistengemeinde Lörrach, that is, the "Baptist Church of Lörrach." It seems to me that we can think of New Testament churches in much the same manner:
In his book The Home Church, Robert Banks writes (p. 52):
The great need of contemporary Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and to the profound simplicity of the New Testament. The "church" is never a place – it's always a people. The Book of Acts clearly shows that our elaborate church buildings are necessary neither for numerical growth nor for spiritual depth. And adding a "community center" will not guarantee genuine koinonia either. If a church building has any significance at all, it can only be practical – simply a place to meet and carry on the essential functions of a church.
So I ask: Do you simply "go to church" or do you live in community?
Friday, April 12
6:55 PM It's getting a bit old. Web ads, that is. I go to your site for the content, not the Madison Avenue promos. Do you need the money that badly? In the immortal words of the Max von Sydow character in Hannah and Her Sisters, "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
How long can it be before the law of diminishing returns kicks in?
4:20 PM LXX students! Go here to purchase your copy of the Greek LXX/NA28 combo.
1:30 PM The bloodiest 4 years in U.S. history began 152 years ago today in Charleston Harbor. In 1861 every American was faced with the horror of watching a nation sundered, and the decisions our forefathers made that day changed our history as a nation forever.
We hear much today of secession, of founding a "truly Christian nation" (or state) based on "biblical" principles. Recently I was asked if I was a nationalist. I replied that I am. I belong to the only Christian nation the world has ever known, the holy nation of the people of God. Nations may contain Christians but there will never be a Christian nation except for the people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. God's people today need to be what they are -- a minority of holy nationals and heavenly ambassadors who exist to show men and women how to be reconciled to God. When I travel abroad to visit the persecuted church I go as a missionary of this holy nation, because I believe in a God of scandalous love, because I believe that no one is beyond redemption, because I realize that all creation is groaning and political Christianity has not satisfied the souls of those who hunger and thirst for a new way of living, because I believe in the way of peace even though all we have are wars and rumors of wars, because I believe that another World is about to break into our earthly kingdoms and men will begin to beat their swords into plowshares. As if that weren't enough, I believe that Jesus turns power on its head, that God is taking over the world through little acts of kindness and offering every slave of sin an Emancipation Proclamation. In the world there will always be tribulation, but we can be kept in perfect peace because in Christ we enjoy freedom from fear and worry and the evils that would enslave us.
It is only when we become His slaves that we are set free.
7:35 AM I've been palling around the house getting a few odd jobs checked off my list. I've also been watching a few little brouhahas brewing on the I-Net, intellectual smack downs if you will, but since I grew up with McHale's Navy and I Dream of Jeanie I'm too naive to know what to think of them. I made some notes for a blog post but then had to balance the checking accounts. The most I can offer is a brief comment. The Internet is fertile ground for religious zealotry of every kind. Keep your posts short and inane. It's not good to overburden people with too much complicated information. Attack the person and not the ideas. Etc., etc. Well, let the boys go at it if they want to. "Live and let live." Yet there's something bizarre about watching grown men sparring like they were 8-year olds. There are already too many pompous bloviates on the web, I say. How about just staying focused on the issues?
Here's one issue I've been thinking about. This morning in my devotions I was pondering the question, What would it look like if the Christian shared the same purpose in life that Christ had? So how did Jesus live? Why did He come to this earth? What was His purpose in life, His goal? "To this end was I born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should testify to the truth" (John 18:37). Thus our Lord declared His mission. Elsewhere He put it this way: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." That's pretty clear, wouldn't you say? How few Christians -- how few pastors -- have a clear sense of mission. We study to get a degree, we train to fill a position, we move to the top of the ladder, we supply a demand. For Jesus, there was no such confusion. He came to give His life away for others. Listen to the shoptalk even in our seminaries and rarely do you catch that note. We are too busy looking for appreciation and honors and that top salary and that wealthy church. Few of us live to minister to the needy. "The matter is quite simple," said Kierkegaard. "The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be able to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand it, we are obliged to act accordingly."
I'm ready for something new. I have a hunch you are too. When I began studying the life of Christ several years ago I realized that the time had come for a change. I was tired of talking and was ready to live. The satisfaction of normalcy and conformity had died. Was I merely a would-be disciple who, with fingers crossed, said, "Lord, I will follow you, but ..." (Luke 9:61)? Our Lord says, Let the dead bury their dead. He had resolutely made up His mind and was headed for Cavalry. Will we follow? Of course, if we do, we have no idea what we're getting ourselves into. But I can guarantee one thing: it will be a little more dangerous but a lot more satisfying.
Bottom line? I want to be like Jesus. I want one thing: to be a passionate lover of God and a man who takes the Jesus way of life seriously.
Oh, and to avoid becoming a bloviator.
Thursday, April 11
12:51 PM Quote of the day (Henry Neufeld):
12:36 PM The book of Philippians has changed my life forever. My study of it, published in Novum Testamentum, showed me what Paul lived for, and what the Christian is to live for. It is our privilege to stand together in one spirit and contend as one person for the faith of the Gospel (1:27-30). Paul's language pictures an athletic team in which every team member has a job to do -- a joint effort, not an individual one. It is a life of selflessness, of giving rather than getting. And it is costly. Kingdom service involves sacrifice. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "I learned to hold everything with a loose grip because it hurt when God had to pull my fingers away." Salvation involves more than accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. It must include a commitment to becoming servants in the world. The church of the New Testament does not merely "do missions" or "send" missionaries. It is missions. If we are to be the church we must go to all nations. Please do not learn this lesson as late in life as I did.
10:58 AM Farm update: Just returned from the True Value store in South Boston. I had planned on tilling Becky's garden beds today but it turns out that my Mantis tiller needs a new carburetor. We're expecting more rain this evening so it looks like that project will be on hold for a few days. Meanwhile, picture my pleasant surprise when I arrived on campus Tuesday only to see these beautiful buds.
If the weather continues the status quo, we should be looking at quite a lovely spring.
I doubt if anything has ever made a greater impression on me than when we first arrived in North Carolina and witnessed such gorgeous foliage. If you are ever in the area you simply must visit our campus. I can't give you a personalized tour, but I will at least treat you to a cup of Kona coffee. A deal?
8:38 AM Mealtime in Odessa (actually, "Adyessa").
Potatoes almost every meal. Once I was served potatoes with a side of potatoes. Bread accompanies everything. The borsch was out of this world. One thing I quickly observed was that wedding rings are worn on the right hand. Traveling is such a great learning experience. I've eaten coffee in Ethiopia and dog meat in South Korea. In one country I was served donkey. I didn't have the heart to tell them that donkeys are pets in America.
What strange customs have you encountered in your world travels?
8:20 AM Good morning, thoughtful bloggers and bloggerettes.
I know I've been blogging a lot lately. Please don't get tired of all this posting, especially not the posts coming at you from my heart. Unless I'm badly mistaken, you ponder many of the same questions I do. This morning, for example, I was really trying to wrap my head around the Christian's purpose in life. We often say, "Why, it's to glorify God, of course!" I have no problem with those words. But are we willing to pray, "Lord, glorify Yourself through me"? The reason I say this is because God sometimes has some strange ways of bringing glory to Himself. Lazarus's sickness was for the glory of God (John 11:4). Peter's death was to be a means by which he would glorify God (John 21:19). Much discussion, I believe, has confused rather than clarified this matter of glorifying God. It is possible to glorify God more by death than by life, in sickness than in health, during those twisted, terrifying periods of life when everything seems dark, even in those drab and normal days when nothing is "happening." It is easily possible to so idealize "glorifying God" that we come dangerously close to denuding the expression of any meaning. Look at your life. By the world's standards, it may or not be successful, but that's really irrelevant. Satan is a great imitator, and he has a false gospel, a false discipleship, and a false sanctification. Especially vulnerable are those who get caught up in following some famous Bible teacher's pet theories and religious vagaries, never settling and abiding in the Truth themselves. It is of first importance that the Christian learn to glorify God no matter what happens to him or her, whatever it takes, whatever it means, even if it means being dropped to the bottom of the ladder, even if it means stooping to drudgery or bending low in unappreciated service to others.
Saving grace is always serving grace, and if we are not serving we had better check our theology. If we do not learn how to bring the glory above down into the misery below and come from the clouds to the barrios, then we do not really understand what it means to glorify God in sickness and in health, in life and in death, by what we do and what we forego, in body and in spirit, theologically and practically. As the Master, so the servant. No one can die and rise with Christ and live comfortably in a world like this. He bids us come and die. The early Christians wore scars but we want accolades. Do you have any wounds to prove that you have been in the battle? Or is "glorifying God" a mere slogan? True Christian activity should be the outflow and expression of our intimacy with God. Genuine discipleship will cost us everything we have. It cost John Bunyan his pulpit and John the Baptist his head. It may cost you your family. As we talked about yesterday, people call themselves "Christians" who are not Christian. The noun has yet to become an adjective. Our actions do not match our motives. We need to become Christian Christians.
I'm excited (and a bit anxious) about how all of this is going to turn out in my life. God, true to form, is shaking things up. Which is why I'll keep writing, keep sharing with you my struggles and aspirations and frustrations and victories. Because you are part of His work in my life through your prayers and emails, part of this awesome journey we call life. And that, my friends, is good enough reason to keep blogging.
God richly bless you,
Wednesday, April 10
7:08 PM Hey folks! Got time for a few odds and ends?
1) Quote of the day:
Read Radical for Jesus: What Does That Look Like in America? This is so right on! The point is this: It is one thing to write about suffering in your book or on your blog. It is another thing to voluntarily enter into the sufferings of Christ. The words are cheap.
2) Boy, Andy, am I jealous.
3) Check out this nifty index to The Bible Translator. Very helpful indeed.
4) Robert Martin, the Abnormal Anabaptist, writes I Am Not a Christian. Wise words. I encourage you to become a follower of Jesus, to put no trust in names or titles or religion. Even if it means you must die.
5) Some powerful words here from Jody Neufeld: Do You Tremble?
6) Finally, congratulations to Thomas Hudgins who passed his Ed.D. oral exam today with flying colors. Thomas blogs here. (Yes, many of my students blog.)
Thomas, your dissertation on Christian education as likeness education (Luke 6:40) has shown us how we are to live and model Jesus' upside-down kingdom. The reality of Jesus should mess with us. I have heard other voices of your generation echoing similar thoughts. They are beginning to consider what it truly means to pledge allegiance to Christ and to His cross. You obviously believe in a God of scandalous love. Now you and your generation must model that for the rest of us who are a bit slower to "get it."
Thank you for your diligence. Rarely have I read a more carefully argued dissertation. And now the great Subject of your book dares you -- and me -- to come and follow, to take up our crosses, to lose our lives to find them, to go to the margins and perhaps even to the ends of the earth, simply because that's what He did, and we are His apprentices. May our great God richly bless you and Lesly as you seek to serve Him wherever He leads you.
By the way, Thomas was my first Ed.D. student (I usually mentor only Ph.D. students). Ken Coley, the head of the Ed.D. program (above right) graciously allowed me the opportunity to mentor Thomas since his dissertation was more a study of biblical theology than a case study. I believe Dr. Coley would be open to future Ed.D. students working in the same field, and I assured him I would consider taking under my wings any qualified student. For more on Southeastern's fine Doctor of Education degree, go here, or check out Ken's personal website, Helmsmen.
Time to feed Nigusse!
Tuesday, April 9
5:05 AM At the risk of repeating myself ...
Think about it.
4:52 AM Ministry note: This weekend my good friend Kevin Brown (elder at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro, NC) will be holding a parenting conference at the Raleigh Chinese Christian Church in Cary, NC. His topics include "Worldview and Parenting," "Do's and Don'ts of Parenting," and "The Role of the Father in the Home -- Houston, We Have a Problem!" There will be 5 sessions in all. For more information, go here.
P.S. Here's Kevin on one of his trips to Ethiopia:
Tall, dark, and handsome, eh? Look for reports of the conference at Kevin's outstanding website.
4:43 AM I've been pondering the question: What will heaven be like? Not the same as what we think it will be like, I'm sure. As always, the real thing is utterly different from what one imagines. I can recall gazing upon pictures of Mount Rushmore, or the Great Sphinx, or the Acropolis, or the Swiss Alps, or Notre Dame in Paris, or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The reality was so distinct from the pictures when I actually stood at the site. The impression I got when I visited Masada, for example, was one of great shock. The shape of the ruins I knew already, but what was startling to me was the actual size and vastness of the fortress. As for heaven, how dimly I see things now, as through a glass darkly. It strengthens my faith tremendously to know that one day I will see clearly, face to face.
4:35 AM This week I am reading, purely for pleasure and inspiration, a little book called Englisch für Fortgeschrittene. It is written for Germans who want to perfect their English. It is a really wonderful way of reviewing one's knowledge of German. I can't find a trace of the pedantic it, and the dialogues, thank goodness, are lively and humorous. The stars are "Walter " and "Connie," employees of the "Warchester Times" who go through quite a rigmarole on their way up the corporate ladder. How ridiculous they are made to look, but how true to life.
Are you keeping up with your languages? If not, why not? You worked so hard to acquire them. Why lose them now?
Monday, April 8
5:45 PM Can you lose your faith in seminary? Henry Neufeld thinks so:
5:12 PM I've used this ditty in my teaching for years. Hope you like it.
A Psalm of David (Black)
My textbook is my guide, I am never in need.
It makes me learn the conjugations.
It leads me beside the declensions.
It restores my confidence in grammar.
It guides me along the paths of exegesis
For its publisher's sake.
Even though I face the scourge of participles
I will fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your appendices and charts,
They comfort me.
You prepare an answer for me in the presence of my teachers.
You anoint my mind with wisdom.
My soul bursts with pleasure.
Surely my textbook will follow me
All the days of my life,
And I will remain a Greek student forever.
5:08 PM Markus Barth's audio files on baptism may be found here. As the announcer quips, these lectures are most certainly not "dry." I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Barth lecture on this subject while taking a course from him on Mark's Gospel in 1981. This is a treasure trove indeed.
9:32 AM CNN offers this blast from the past (including pix from the 60s). They ain't got nothin' on us!
9:20 AM The Iron Lady has died. My favorite Thatcher quote:
7:02 AM Two of my doctoral students are sitting for their orals this month in hopes of graduating in May. Often I'm asked, "What advice can you give me about the exam?" Well, for what it's worth, I have a very simple formula:
1) Because we are testing the limits of your knowledge, it's okay to say "I don't know."
2) Don't say it more than once.
Now wasn't that painless?
6:28 AM Ed Stetzer's CNN article on Matthew Warren's suicide just appeared. Read How churches can respond to mental illness. Among his points:
Good word, Ed.
6:20 AM I'm sitting here in my office at home after a very good sleep, but memories of my trip to Ukraine are still very fresh. Turns out the students wanted to have a going-away party for me on my last night in Odessa and wanted to know if I had any requests. We'll, since I am half Romanian (my mother's family is from Cluj) I said, "What about utsketsele?" They'd never heard of it. But when I described this pastry dish to them they all began nodding their heads. Apparently there's a Russian version of this infamously mouth-watering powdered-sugar-coated delicacy.
Look closely at this picture but try not to drool too much.
And so it was that my teaching time in Ukraine came to an end. I feel like I was just getting to know the students. Fittingly, we ended the evening with me leading in prayer.
Soon my days will get busier and busier and I will forget my trip to Odessa, tuck it away in some corner of my memory. Or so I think. Because you can never really forget a mission trip that was so fantastic, so blessed by Him. What an absolutely amazing God we serve. You see, grace has been poured into my undeserving heart from every direction. I count it a joy to travel and serve. I do so simply because God told me to go, to rely upon Him to fill my emptiness, to let it all go. Here in the U.S. we talk a lot about the American Dream. I have no idea what that looks like anymore. There is so much to learn from our international brothers and sisters. We are responsible for each other. Yes, it's draining, and yes, I'm tired. But I hope to live this way the rest of my days.
Sunday, April 7
6:26 PM Spring has sprung! As a direct result, Nigusse and I have been working on prepping Becky's garden beds for planting.
We hope to have them in tip-top shape when she returns home from New York in 10 days. Shhh -- don't tell her. It's a surprise. I also mowed today. Don't the grass look purty?
6:12 PM Important update! Recently I asked you to pray for little Tibblet in Burji, Ethiopia, our precious Down Syndrome child who needed immediate medical attention. Thank you for praying with us on her behalf. The latest report is that is that her condition was due to a common cold (though with Down children we are told that the symptoms are magnified) and that she is responding well to medication. In addition, her parents were greatly encouraged by your emails. Becky sent them to Oshe who then translated them into Amharic for Tiblett's mom and dad to read. Oshe writes:
Becky and I are also very "happy and thank full." So ...
9:10 AM I just realized something. Tomorrow I'm putting Becky on a plane for upstate New York to visit Matt, Liz, and the kids. How many people can say that about a spouse who was at death's door just a few months ago? By now, I think everyone knows that Becky has stopped all conventional forms of cancer treatment. They were literally killing her. The medical profession basically has run out of options.
God seems to have other plans. If you recall, Bec has begun an alternative form of treatment. I have never tried to understand how it works. But I've realized something. I've never understood our cancer journey. Because I don't need to. All I know is that Becky is getting on a plane tomorrow to have the time of her life getting reconnected with people she loves. All I know is that she is scheduled to travel to Asia in August and India in October for mission work. As for me, I look up to Heaven like a little boy with eyes full of wonder. Because there is life after surgery and radiation and chemotherapy.
That's it, isn't it? Follow hard after God, and leave everything else in His hands. That's all that matters. I don't know exactly how much longer Becky will feel well. But even if its only for one more week basking in the sunshine of 6 people who love her unconditionally, it will be more than enough.
7:58 AM I honestly can't say how much I loved teaching in Odessa. It was a week of helping these young people learn the ropes and gain confidence in their approach to hermeneutics. At first I thought the students would be intimidated by the topics. After all, do you remember your first introduction to New Testament textual criticism?
Or structural diagramming?
But these young men and women were more than up to the task. Take textual criticism, for example. As of yet, there is no "King James Version Debate" in Ukraine. But it's coming. The train is about to pull into the station, and these students had better be well prepared for the controversy it will stir up. Soon believers in Ukraine will be debating which Bible is the "best" one, much like we do here. And a huge part of the equation is which underlying Greek text should be used when translating. It was thus with fear and trepidation that I introduced the class to the principles of textual criticism, its history and materials, and just how debated (and debatable) this topic is today. But they seemed eager to discuss Westcott and Hort. They seemed eager to understand how relevant the topic is to everyday living. (Does Jesus forbid all anger or only unjustifiable anger? How you resolve the textual variant in Matt. 5:22 will determine your answer.) Which is why I am so excited that my little book on the subject is now being translated into Russian. I hope it will serve the church in Ukraine and Russia well. There is certainly a need for such a concise guide.
I want to say thank you, again, to all of my students in Odessa. Thank you for your passion for Scripture. Thank you for your eagerness to learn new things. Thank you for putting up with a teacher who talks too much and too fast. Thank you for "getting it" when it comes to the importance of higher critical methodologies. Thank you.
Man, my job is fun. And man, does Scripture rock.
Saturday, April 6
6:02 PM What an amazing and exciting day it was. I am so grateful to all of my students who came and helped us today. The response was overwhelming.
1) Here's our work crew.
As you can see, the weather was perfect for working outdoors. Our thanks to each of you who came!
2) One of our projects was to clear out of the junk from the wood shed.
3) Here Shawn Madden (my LXX co-teacher) hauls the trash to the burn pile.
4) Meanwhile, the ladies were weeding our flower beds and planting bulbs. Thank you!
5) Down in the valley, we are wanting to build a rustic log cabin for retreatants. Undergrowth needed cutting ...
6) ... and the results were superb, as you can see. Can't you just visualize an old cabin on this spot?
7) Then the guys cut up more downed trees for firewood.
8) Not too bad for one day's work, eh?
9) French drains are a lot of work...
10) ... but teamwork gets the job done every time.
11) Then too, the well house needed a new coat of paint.
12) Et voila!
13) Here the men are putting up a new rain gutter at Maple Ridge...
14) ... while this table needed the old polyurethane stripped away.
15) A long day finally comes to an end.
Well, I could show you dozens of more pix but I don't want to bore you more than you already are. Becky and I were greatly encouraged by this outpouring of tangible love. We had the joy of working together for the kingdom. We accomplished goals that we could not have done by ourselves. We enjoyed exceptional fellowship with some of God's greatest saints.
So, yes, it has been an amazing and exciting day, and I thank God for it all.
4:52 PM Our thoughts and prayers are with brother Rick Warren and his family today. I just heard the news that his son Matthew has committed suicide. I have no words. God bless you, Rick.
Friday, April 5
7:54 PM My how time flies. A week ago today I was speaking in the chapel service at the Odessa Seminary. As you can see, my teaching text was published on the screen for all to see.
Prior to that I played bass with the music team. Brought back even more memories, this time of playing bass guitar in a group we formed at Biola called "Joyous Creed."
I'll have more to share about the seminary shortly. Made many new friends there, and there are many ways you and I can help. But that's for later.
7:24 PM Please check out my colleague Alvin Reid's just-released book, As You Go. Gotta love that missional title.
7:18 PM An interesting observation is made in several places by Donald Kraybill in his outstanding book The Upside-Down Kingdom (Scottsdale, PA: Herald, 2003):
I just love this flat kingdom, don't you?
6:17 PM Praying about pursuing a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies or Theology? Here's some very useful advice from several perspectives. If you'd care to hear my own story, take a peek at My Academic Journey.
4:08 PM Does the Iwo Jima Memorial contain 13 hands? The reason I ask is because the statue portrays only 6 men.
Many believe it does, stating that the 13th hand is God's. Nice story, but it's not true. (For more, see this Washington Post article.) Friends, the sword of the Spirit is the only sword the church of Jesus Christ knows. By bringing the sword of steel into the church we pervert the Gospel. It is like admitting a cancer into the tissues of Christ's Body. The Anabaptists assailed this perversion, and I for one am glad they did. No one can be coerced into the faith. And no nation is a "Christian" nation. It is only natural that people should want to honor their nation's war dead, but nationalism has no place in the church.
3:55 PM I studied a lot of Barth in Basel. He would often nail it. Here's a good example.
Now that is simply profound.
1:30 PM Good morning one and all -- er, make that good afternoon. Believe it or not, I'm just now getting out of bed. This morning the Lord "blessed" me with a colossal sinus headache but it has now passed, so it's up and at 'em for old Dave. Becky is busy as a beaver in the kitchen preparing chili and cornbread for tomorrow's work day, while Nigusse is upstairs preparing to take another online exam. I've got some odds and ends to get done this afternoon but otherwise I plan on saving my energy for tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've got some very good news: B. H. Streeter's famous The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins is now online. This book is exactly what it claims to be and ought to be required reading in every seminary. For years it was simply the definitive work on Gospel origins. I'll never forget reading it for the first time at Talbot. I highly recommend it, even though my own views are diametrically opposed to everything Streeter stands for. Books about the Gospels do not, of course, substitute for reading the Gospels themselves, but they can shed helpful light on them. While I was re-reading The Four Gospels online last night, I had to laugh out loud. Streeter's arguments I once found so convincing. Erudition is certainly on his side. But something must be said for simplicity -- and for the use of Occam's Razor. My own view of synoptic origins necessitates neither a Q nor an M or L. Indeed, the synoptic problem receives a completely satisfying answer if we take into account the patristic testimony. Speculation based solely on the internal evidence is not very satisfying. Everything depends on our estimation of the external evidence. This is a problem that, frankly, few New Testament scholars have faced. But what is to keep the current generation of students from investigating all of the evidence?
Thursday, April 4
4:50 PM Schedule note: Danny Akin will be leading a family life conference starting tomorrow night. For more information, click here. Becky and I attended last year's conference, along with several other couples from our church. All found it very profitable.
4:42 PM Michael Kruger has posted an interesting essay in which he argues that the Fourfold Gospel canon was not invented by Irenaeus.
Wonderful. And a good reminder why Bernard Orchard called his view of synoptic origins the "Fourfold-Gospel Hypothesis." (For details, see my book on the subject.)
1:48 PM Today Nigusse and I swept and mopped the porches. Just tryin' to get ready for our guests on Saturday. Actually, Nigusse did most of the work. I am still a walking zombie.
So how does it look? Care to sit a spell?
1:36 PM The Reader's Digest once published an article called "13 Things Used Car Salesmen Won't Tell You." Well, here are "13 Things Your Greek Teachers Won't Tell You."
1. Greek is not the only tool you need to interpret your New Testament. In fact, it's only one component in a panoply of a myriad of tools. Get Greek, but don't stop there.
2. Greek is not the Open Sesame of biblical interpretation. All it does is limit your options. It tells you what's possible, then the context and other factors kick in to disambiguate the text.
3. Greek is not superior to other languages in the world. Don't believe it when you are told that Greek is more logical than, say, Hebrew. Not true.
4. Greek did not have to be the language in which God inscripturated New Testament revelation. Truth be told, there's only one reason why the New Testament was written in Greek and not in another language (say, Latin), and that is a man named Alexander the Great, whose vision was to conquer the inhabited world and then unite it through a process known as Hellenization. To a large degree he succeeded, and therefore the use of Greek as the common lingua franca throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century AD should come as no surprise to us today. I emphasize this point only because there are some today who would seek to resurrect the notion of "Holy Ghost" Greek. Their view is, in my view, a demonstrable cul-de-sac.
5. Greek words do not have one meaning. Yet how many times do we hear in a sermon, "The word in the Greek means..."? Most Greek words are polysemous, that is, they have many possible meanings, only one of which is its semantic contribution to any passage in which it occurs. (In case you were wondering: Reading all of the meanings of a Greek word into any particular passage in which it occurs is called "illegitimate totality transfer" by linguists.)
6. Greek is not difficult to learn. I'll say it again: Greek is not difficult to learn. I like to tell my students, "Greek is an easy language; it's us Greek teachers who get in the way." The point is that anyone can learn Greek, even a poorly-educated surfer from Hawaii. If I can master Greek, anyone can.
7. Greek can be acquired through any number of means, including most beginning textbooks. Yes, I prefer to use my own Learn to Read New Testament Greek in my classes, but mine is not the only good textbook out there. When I was in California I taught in an institution that required all of its Greek teachers to use the same textbook for beginning Greek. I adamantly opposed that policy. I feel very strongly that teachers should have the right to use whichever textbook they prefer. Thankfully, the year I left California to move to North Carolina that policy was reversed, and now teachers can select their own beginning grammars. (By the way, the textbook that had been required was mine.)
8. Greek students think they can get away with falling behind in their studies. Folks, you can't. I tell my students that it's almost impossible to catch up if you get behind even one chapter in our textbook. Language study requires discipline and time management skills perhaps more than any other course of study in school.
9. Greek is fun. At least when it's taught in a fun way.
10. Greek is good for more than word studies. In fact, in the past few years I've embarked on a crusade to get my students to move away from word-bound exegesis. When I was in seminary I was taught little more than how to do word studies from the Greek. Hence, I thought I had "used Greek in ministry" if I had consulted my Wuest, Robertson, Kittle, Brown, Vincent, or Vines. Since then I've discovered that lexical analysis is the handmaiden and not the queen of New Testament exegesis. Greek enables us to see how a text is structured, how it includes rhetorical devices, how syntactical constructions are often hermeneutical keys, etc.
11. Greek can cause you to lose your faith. It happened to one famous New Testament professor in the US when he discovered that there were textual variants in his Greek New Testament, and it can happen to you. When the text of Scripture becomes nothing more than "another analyzable datum of linguistic interpretation" then it loses its power as the Word of God. That's why I'm so excited about my Greek students at the seminary, most of whom are eager to place their considerable learning at the feet of Jesus in humble service to His upside-down kingdom.
12. Greek can be learned in an informal setting. The truth is that you do not need to take a formal class in this subject or in any subject for that matter. I know gobs of homeschoolers who are using my grammar in self-study, many of whom are also using my Greek DVDs in the process. If anyone wants to join the club, let me know and I will send you, gratis, a pronunciation CD and a handout called "Additional Exercises."
13. Greek is not Greek. In other words, Modern Greek and Koine Greek are two quite different languages. So don't expect to be able to order a burrito in Athens just because you've had me for first year Greek. On the other hand, once you have mastered Koine Greek it is fairly easy to work backwards (and learn Classical Greek) and forwards (and learn Modern Greek).
Okay, I'm done. And yes, I'm exaggerating. Many Greek teachers do in fact tell their students these things. May their tribe increase.
Now who wants to tackle "13 Things Your Hebrew Teachers Won't Tell You"?
1:05 PM Speaking of our visit to Wheaton, here's a picture of the College Church next to the campus.
Becky's uncle Dexter McKlenney once pastored there. What a small world.
12:59 PM What I want to be when I grow up: "research professor of theology, ecology, and rural life." Yes, that title actually does exist. I qualify, don't you think?
10:48 AM "My" students and colleagues at Odessa Seminary. Love 'em!
10:35 AM Jonathan Merritt's latest post is called In the Middle East, Not America, Christians Are Actually Persecuted. Think about that the next time you're tempted to boycott Target because their employees wish you "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Xmas." (Yes, I used Xmas intentionally.)
Case in point: In Ethiopia, Tesfai's 8-year old daughter was decapitated and her headless body was thrown down the village well, simply because her family was Christian. Yet Tesfai has never complained. He truly loves his enemies.
Jonathan puts it so well:
The true scandal of the North American church is that, while we are getting stuffed with the Gospel over and over again, most of the rest of the world is waiting to get a single bite. Folks, we need to ask ourselves seriously why God has blessed America so richly. The answer seems clear to me: So that we might share our rich material and spiritual resources with others. That's a worthy goal to strive for, don't you think?
9:22 AM Yesterday one of my students told me excitedly, "I am going to take a French course at the local community college in preparation for doctoral studies." Nothing brings me more joy than to hear that my students are using the living language approach in acquiring modern foreign languages. Had I not learned to speak (a very broken) French I would not have been able to converse with the couple sitting in my row on the flight from Frankfurt to Newark. Of course, you will still need to learn theological vocabulary (which you are not likely to get in a course in a community college), but if your goal is to think in the language, then the living language approach is the only way to go. So kudos to my far-sighted student!
9:03 AM Good morning blogdom! Becky has just left for Wake Forest to spend time with four of her "daughters." She's even going to attend a class this afternoon. I've often thought, "Becky would make a great seminary student." She works hard, thinks independently, and loves the Word. Which reminds me. Back in 2011, Becky and I attended the Wheaton Theology Conference. Its theme that year was "Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective." We loved the event for two reasons: we were able to travel together, and we met Andrew Walls for the first time. I even had him autograph his books for me. (Yes, I'm a groupie too.) Well, I see that Ed Smither has published a review of the conference papers. Ed's a missions prof at Columbia International University in South Carolina. If you are anything like me, you love contextual theology. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all theology is contextual theology. All of us theologize with a peculiar "accent" if you will -- in my case, all the cultural baggage of the North American church scene. Traveling abroad can ameliorate the problem to a degree, which is one reason why I think every American should own a passport. At any rate, kudos to Gene Green of Wheaton College (and his colleagues) for putting on such a stellar event and for editing such an excellent book.
While I'm on the subject of publishing, I recall a conversation I had in Ukraine last week. I was asked to describe a true Christian revolutionary. Well, inspired by the great Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller, I put together a little introduction to what I am impudently calling Christian Archy (instead of "Anarchy"). Folks, we are under Christ's rule, period. To recognize this is to rebel against anything in our lives that is inconsistent with the reign of God. To live in this way is to be an apologist for no movement other than the upside-down kingdom. In other words, to live the cross-life is to be a true revolutionary, following the example of Christ and living lives that at times look crazy, impractical, and even irresponsible from the world's perspective.
So that's my answer to the question, "What does a Christian revolutionary look like?"
I am so excited that Christian Archy is being translated into Russian. I'm praying that God will use it to wean us from our "causes" so that we can better serve the Cause of Causes.
Wednesday, April 3
7:58 PM Something happened today that I can hardly explain. Today Becky, along with Miss Kimberly (our good friend) and her daughter, got in Kim's monster truck and headed out to God's Pit Crew in Danville to find some used furniture for Maple Ridge. Well, believe it or not, we got the furniture for free -- one ministry to another.
Our thanks to the fine folk at the Pit Crew for their generosity. I'm writing about it here as a shout of praise, a song of joy, and an awed "How Great Thou Art!" in the presence of Him who is perfect Love.
By the way, if you're ever in the Danville area, do check 'em out. Again, they are called God's Pit Crew. Their motto is "Helping friends next door."
6:18 PM Good evening, fellow bloggers. Just wanted to say hello. It was a grueling two days on campus. It's getting harder and harder to get over jet lag. What else should an old geezer expect? I used to a "wonder man" when it came to traveling. Not anymore. Call me the Energizer Bunny; I may be slow but I keep on going. But enough whining already. Let me share with you a couple of miscellaneous thoughts.
1) As you know, I was privileged to attend the memorial service for Howard Hendricks in Frisco, Texas a few weeks ago. I see that the service is now on YouTube.
Friends, if you've ever suffered from depression, you simply must view it. Howard Hendricks would often disappear into the darkness of depression. As one of his sons recalled, "A massive gray wet blanket would wrap itself around him," adding, "As a little boy I was terrified by it." And while we're on the subject of depression, Jeff the Scripture Zealot recently published a post called Dealing With Depression. His links are well worth checking out. I can't tell you how often the subject of depression came up during my stay in the dorm in Odessa. Students everywhere seem to struggle with it. At any rate, do check out the video of the memorial service. I am by no means a wise man, but I feel like I'm beginning to discover a deeper truth about depression. What truth? That it's okay to disappear into the darkness. That God is our Helper, no matter how dark life becomes. That if we cry out to Him, all else will fall into place. I am more than ever committed to challenging my students to being real and transparent, just as Hendricks' children were with their audience.
2) Here is another picture of my trip.
I loved the students. I loved staying with them in the dorm. I loved dining with them in the cafeteria. (Ukrainian food is awesome.) I loved their constant questions. I even loved watching them struggle over what to call me (I asked to be called "Brother Dave"). After all, we are siblings. "Brothers" is Paul's favorite way of referring to his fellow Christians. The term occurs 14 times in 1 Thessalonians alone. Even in the book of Galatians (where Paul has to call the church to task) it occurs 9 times. Why? "Brothers" is a measure of the warmth of Paul’s relationships with the churches he founded. He enjoyed a fraternal relationship with them. And so I asked to be called "Brother Dave." How much richer would our churches be if we considered each other as brothers and sisters. Remember, folks: The Gospel radicalizes and disrupts our culturally dominant notions of what really matters in life. So let's be radical.
3) Finally for now, a program note. My trip to Asia this month was postponed due to some pretty incredible circumstances beyond my control. It has been rescheduled for September. I am eager to return!
Your friendly DBO administrator.
Tuesday, April 2
5:20 AM Herb Bateman's Charts on the Book of Hebrews has just been reviewed here. On the back cover I wrote the following endorsement:
The work is highly recommended.
5:10 AM As you know, every semester Becky and I have our students over to the farm. We've been doing this for as long as I can remember. Nowadays we call this a "work day," which means that we all pitch in to help the old man with this or that project on the farm. Well, the job list has just been written, and I can't wait to enjoy a beautiful Saturday with some of my great students and their families. The weather promises to be bright and shiny, so cancel your nervous breakdowns and postpone your hospitalizations -- Saturday is almost upon us. Come as you are: we'll provide the meals.
4:49 AM The greatest joy of teaching? Probably watching your students become teachers themselves. Alfie Mosse (left) took Greek with me at Simon Greenleaf University back in the Dark Ages.
Now he's the Greek teacher at the Odessa seminary. Today he speaks fluent Russian and I had a blast watching him mentoring his flock.
Below you have three generations of Greek students: Me, Alfie, and his students.
It's called the ministry of multiplication. It's what teaching is all about. Incidentally, recently Clint Arnold, the new dean at Talbot School of Theology, was visiting Ukraine. The students asked me, "Do you know Dr. Arnold?" "Yep," I said. "He was in my beginning Greek class at Biola."
And so the good work continues ...
Monday, April 1
4:34 PM As I said, last week's trip was wonderful. On Sunday morning I had the privilege of speaking in the Baptist Church of Fontaka, a short drive from the seminary. Here I am with my friend and former student in California, Alfie Mosse. (More about Alfie later.)
Here is something I rarely do -- stand on the platform and speak from behind a lectern!
The church hosted us for lunch after the service. Here I am with the pastor and his wife. The pastor, by the way, is bi-vocational. Love it.
More to come ...
4:15 PM Looking ahead ...
1) One week from today Becky leaves for upstate New York to visit Liz, Matt, and the kids. She'll be gone for 9 days.
2) In three weeks I leave for my next international trip. I'll be in Asia for 10 days.
3) Our next Ethiopia Team orientation for our summer 2013 mission trip will be held at Cresset Baptist Church on Saturday, April 27.
4) Becky's next Pet Scan is Wednesday, May 1, and Bec and I will meet with her lead oncologist at UNC on Monday, May 6 to discuss the results.
5) Becky's birthday (as well as Mother's Day) is on May 12.
6) Finally, a certain "young" man who lives with us will be celebrating his ___th birthday on Sunday, April 28.
2:24 PM Bruce Ashford, my provost, has an excellent piece on the value of doctoral dissertations. His peroration?
It is my opinion that the dissertation is the least valuable thing a student is likely to write. I see the real value in writing a dissertation being in the self-discipline it helps you to develop. The dissertation should not be the last thing a student writes. It should be the launching pad for a lifetime of research and writing.
God has blessed SEBTS with an excellent faculty. More and more of us are publishing. All glory to God.
2:02 PM Friends, I wanted to call your attention to a wonderful essay by one of my former Th.M. students, Andy Bowden, who is now working on his doctorate in New Testament in Munich. Andy is concerned that we produce doers of the Gospel and not hearers only. His essay is called "The time for action has come!" Andy is one of my favorite bloggers. This essay is no exception to the high quality of his entries. Andy, I couldn't agree more that Jesus is the measure of what it means to be a Christian. I am not talking merely about a set of beliefs or doctrines, including rules of ethics. When we speak of being a Christian, it is not sufficient to attempt to point to or repeat Christian doctrine. People must respond to Jesus with something more than doctrinal assent. I think this is why the photos of the pope washing feet are so powerful. I have asked myself a thousand times, "Why hasn't a Protestant church/denominational leader done the same thing?" Sure, let's have our Bible conferences. But here's a suggestion: after the conference is over, could we not spend three days serving the needy in a local soup kitchen? Where's the fruit of our orthodoxy? So do read Andy's post. Especially if you are a book worm like me. "But the full measure of the act of living is made up of things other than books."
1:46 PM A shout out and "Thank you!" to Robert Noftz for this video review of my Greek grammar and DVDs.
1:22 PM Yo folks. Just back from a delightful lunch date with Becky. Below is a picture from my trip to Odessa. (No, not Texas.) Not sure what to say about it. I'm feeling a bit scattered right now (jet lag). But I just love this photo. It's of my newest translators. That's right. As you may know, only one of my Pulitzer-Prize-losing books has been published in Russian. Well, all of that is about to change. There are now 4 -- count 'em: 4! -- more books in the pipeline, including The Myth of Adolescence, New Testament Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide, The Jesus Paradigm, and Christian Archy. Wooooohooooo!
To my surprise and delight, students also volunteered to translate several of my web essays into Ruski for me, and I hope to post these soon. I am especially tickled that a married couple at the seminary have decided to work on "A Great Commission Marriage" together.
Just countin' blessings!
10:58 AM Got time to shoot up a quick prayer? While I was gone Becky and I received an urgent email from Oshe in Burji. (Burji is where my Becky was raised.) Do you remember little Tibblet, the Downs baby girl that God brought back from the brink of death in March, 2010? She is now 4 years old and has been thriving.
But now she is seriously sick. In her little village high up in the Burji mountains they do not know what is wrong with her. She's limp and will not eat, and the family has no financial means to get her to the hospital. Her father Wolde is an evangelist who serves in a region far from home. We have sent funds for their transportation to the hospital and for basic medical intervention. We already know that Tibblet has a heart condition, but it is not realistic to treat that condition with surgery or extensive intervention. Please pray for Bogalech (mom), Wolde (dad), and Tibblet as they make their way down the mountain on a rough backroad to a hospital, and pray that the medical care received will be appropriate and efficient. Pray for them to have wisdom and to surrender this child to the Lord's plan for her.
I will never forget meeting Tibblet and her mother for the first time in the Burji clinic. It was clearly a God-ordained encounter. Some things make going to Ethiopia totally worthwhile. Little Tibblet is one of those. There's something so wonderful about these people. It's going to break my heart if Tibblet doesn't make it. But I have never known God to make a mistake, have you? Every day and every moment of our lives He has planned. I just wish it didn't hit me like a sucker punch in the gut every time I see such suffering. So I'm asking you to pray. Which is all I can ask you to do.
10:39 AM A belated Happy Resurrection Sunday to everyone. It was a wonderful trip in every way. Thanks for your prayers. I arrived home early this morning. Though flying standby, the Lord allowed me to make every single one of my flights (Odessa - Frankfurt - Newark - RDU), and my bag even arrived in one piece. Praise God! So much to be grateful for. A full report later. Shortly I will be taking my bride out for Mexican food. But here's a pic for starters.
It was nice to go from winter to sitting on the front porch with Becky this morning enjoying bright sunshine.