April 2015 Blog Archives
Thursday, April 30
2:48 PM I'm glad I read Longstreet's biography. Lee seemed to have made a mistake in attacking on the third day at Gettysburg. The South fought at a great disadvantage. They stumbled blindly into an unwanted battle, and took unnecessarily desperate chances. But that was Lee. Longstreet, on the other hand, was content to wait for the most favorable chance to strike and would even decline battle if the situation warranted it. As for Lee, when struck a blow he wanted to return it immediately. As Longstreet put it in in his memoirs, "[Lee] chafed at inaction; always desirous to beat up the enemy at once and have it out. He was too pugnacious." Longstreet was a realist. He preferred to avoid an attack that had no chance of success. He neither shared Jackson's view of war as a moral crusade nor Lee's advocacy of the tactical offensive. For what it's worth, I think Longstreet was right.
A couple of anecdotal incidents in the book stood out to me. In one, Grant met with Longstreet at the McLean House in Appomattox just after the surrender. They had been best of friends at West Point. Longstreet had attended his friend Grant's wedding in Missouri in 1848. When Grant saw Longstreet he approached his former comrade, grabbed him with both hands, then gave him a bear hug.
I had to chuckle at the other anecdote. Longstreet's wife Louise died in 1889 at the age of 62. They had been married for over 40 years. She had borne him 10 children, and together they grieved the loss of 5 of them. "Old men get lonely and must have company," Longstreet remarked, and the widower married Helen Dortch in Atlanta on September 8, 1987. She was 34 years old and outlived him by 58 years, dying in 1962.
You gotta love history.
10:33 AM Talk about not meeting a publisher's deadline! What irascible souls! My "project" went out today, and with the mere click of a computer key. (I remember the days when we actually sent manuscripts by mail.) My latest work is a dazzling achievement. I predict it will be required reading along with all the other huge, thick tomes in your library. I've also got some beach front property I'm selling here in Nelson, Virginia.
Wednesday, April 29
9:04 PM Quick note at the end of a very busy day. I continue to be amazed and pleased with what God is doing on campus. I learned today that one of our LXX students has been accepted into the doctoral program at one of North America's most prestigious universities. I also met with a colleague who shared with me the good news that one of his books was just published in Korean. Then I had a nice surprise when one of my former students told me he was looking into doing a European doctorate in New Testament. Good things are happening -- good, and God, things.
Right now I am just gelling. I just took an online test that answers the question: What Kind of English Do You Speak? My results were 55 percent General American English, 15 percent Dixie, 15 percent Yankee, 10 percent Upper Midwestern, and 5 percent Midwestern. It said nothing about Hawaiian Pidgin. Oh well. It will come back to me when I return to Kailua this summer. Oh, I'm really pumped up. I'm turning my writing project in tomorrow, right on time. Closure. Love that word! Tonight I'll finish reading my book on James Longstreet. Two things have struck me so far in reading about this famous soldier: He was tireless in his devotion to his cause, and he had an uncanny ability to size up the enemy. I would like to have that same depth of devotion to my cause. J. D. Jones once said about the kind of men and women God is seeking: "Those are the men God wants -- faithful men, loyal men, standfast men; men who will die but never surrender; men who will go to prison and to death but never deny Him; men whose enthusiasm shall not be like the flame of straw -- one fierce blaze and over -- but as the flame of the house fire, ever steady and brightly burning." Imagine! God is looking for people who will worship Him -- not by "going to church" necessarily but by living an ordinary life with extraordinary devotion to His cause. It means nothing to study the Bible without obedience. Students who have studied German, for example, but then have forgotten what they learned, wasted their time when they studied the language. (Note: I began our LXX class today in German, including the opening prayer. I hope I may have inspired some of our students who have already taken the language in preparing for their doctoral studies to use what they worked so hard to acquire.) We must read the word, yes. But we must also live the word. That's my goal, regardless of my circumstances. Nothing much has changed since Becky went home to heaven. I'm still the same ordinary man alone in the same house. But my heavenly Father understands my situation perfectly, and through His power I am lifted up out of myself, given a perfect frame of reference for life, and made alive and alert and passionate. Like you, I'm on a pilgrim road, one I've never traveled before. Also like you, when I lift up my eyes I can see the Unseen and look into His smiling and ineffable face. And that makes a huge difference in how I go about living my life. I trust that has been your experience as well.
Tuesday, April 28
8:58 AM If you enjoy Civil War history, John Banks has posted a series of photos called Then & Now: Chancellorsville House on Orange Turnpike.
8:28 AM Good word for today (A. W. Tozer):
Monday, April 27
8:38 PM The best graduate programs in Christian apologetics.
8:34 PM My pretty puppies!
8:03 PM Exactly 152 years ago today the Chancellorsville Campaign began. The Army of the Potomac began its march on a Monday morning. The commanders of the Fifth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Corps were to have their troops at Kelly's Ford by 4:00 pm the next day. The long flanking march had begun. The issue was clear: how quickly the Union forces could outflank Lee's army and march toward the Chancellorsville crossroads. The Federals were out to fool Johnny Reb. Outnumbered two to one, Lee's Army of Northern Virginia drove the Yankees back across the Rappahannock after destroying an entire Union corps. Ironically, Lee's greatest victory prodded him to launch his invasion of the North that led to his greatest defeat at Gettysburg.
History. The stuff legends are made of.
6:45 PM Greek students, here's an excellent introduction to Greek accentuation.
In my opinion, the subject is a bit too complicated to cover in the early weeks of an introductory course, but by the time you finish your first year of Greek you should be able to pronounce Greek correctly and accentuate words yourself. Much of this is simply intuitive.
6:32 PM Yours for the asking:
6:28 PM The groomer is here. It's bath time again.
5:02 PM I know, I know. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it :)
12:16 PM I'm finished with my project! But I'm not out of the woods yet. We still have to type everything up and proof it. But we're close!
This meant that I was free to walk the property (all 123 acres) and do some amateur forestry work today (as well as check out the blueberry bushes). I'd say we've got about 40 acres in pines (that I had thinned a few years ago), as well as about 50 acres of hardwoods. Both will be ready for harvesting in about 10-12 years. Even though I sell hay for horses, another crop here is comprised of trees. It's all a part of farm management, which has been around since the Garden of Eden. Now please do not mistake me for a Christian agrarian. I once was -- which demonstrates how easy it is for even modern western farmers to slip back into theologically-based farming. I do not think that dirt can be "born again," nor do I think that God is most pleased when our hands are most dirty. Some Christian agriculturalists believe this, but they have the right to be wrong (this is America). All kidding aside, I just think that everything we do ought to be done to the glory of God, even the act of buying processed food from the local Food Lion if we have to. As followers of Jesus we're called to follow Him, not to pretend that we have any superior wisdom when it comes to working the land or to politics or to economics, etc. If you have a farm, honor God with it. If you are city slicker, honor God with your house or apartment. Perhaps most important of all, I need to constantly be rethinking how I can leverage the farm for the glory of God and for the good of others. I'm working on it. Please pray for me to get God's mind on this ... and not feel overwhelmed by the task of managing such a huge piece of property by myself.
Your agrarian (and ex-apologist for agrarianism) friend,
9:22 AM I've been looking at the pictures of the destruction in Nepal. How awful. I think God's heart must ache when He looks at that country. Mine does. Everywhere you look you find death and destruction. Both rich and poor areas have been hit, and hit hard. Resources are desperately needed. Christian relief will be there soon if it hasn't already arrived. This is as it should be. I am praying for lots of things this morning: the people of Nepal, our team in India, the ministry I'm involved with in Asia, reconciliation in marriages that are dissolving, Christians in Iraq and Syria, believing prisoners in Iran, wisdom for our national leaders. Yesterday I surveyed the little nest a sparrow is building for her young on my front porch and was reminded again that God even takes care of the birds. But there is so much suffering when human beings inflict relational pain on each other, and it can get overwhelming real fast. I have seen two Christian marriages die in the past year. Part of me says, "Divorce happens." But in these cases, a vow was made, pledges were given, a permanent and exclusive and covenantal union was established in the eyes of God and before others. Honesty about sin never comes easily. But thankfully God's healing power is unlimited. So many evangelicals today are upset by the fact that World Vision is employing people in a legal "gay marriage." I don't agree with their decision either. But I would also argue that homosexuality has become a buzzword among evangelicals. The greatest challenge to the sanctity of marriage in the U.S. is not the homosexual agenda but a skyrocketing divorce rate among those claiming to be Christians. We are responsible before God for the choices we make to break our wedding vows. Admitting our failures is a key part of the healing process.
On an unrelated note, I read this morning about a blogger who is reluctantly giving up blogging for a week because a person whom he regards as his spiritual authority told him to do so. In my experience, peace comes from sheer obedience -- doing what God tells us to do. We can never experience the peace of God when we are disobeying the Lord. Of course, I realize that none of us is autonomous. I realize that if we refuse to submit to the biblically ordained authority of civil government, our employers, and other legitimate authorities we will rob ourselves of peace because ultimately we are rebelling against God. But if you're a spiritual leader, the best way to lead is by example and by the word (Heb. 13:7). All of us are to do what the author of Hebrews tells us to do: "Fix our eyes on Jesus." Perhaps you will need a trusted friend -- someone who really knows the word -- to help you evaluate whether you are overdoing it in some area of your life. But no human voice should ever override the voice of the Spirit of God. Blogging for me is an intensely personal experience. I have no schedule for blogging. I blog when I am moved to blog and I take a break from it when I sense the absence of any compunction to write. I have even designed my blog in such a way that it is impossible for me to blog while I am traveling. As I said earlier, I am not denying that we ought to seek the counsel of others and even submit to those whom God has placed as leaders in our lives. I am also aware that spiritual abuse runs rampant in our sin-sick world. A human counselor and guide can only go so far. A wise person will reserve judgment until he has heard both sides of an issue (Prov. 18:13-17). The bottom line: Carefully choose your source of authority and information.
Finally (for now), I'm in a season of contemplation about suffering. I am especially wrestling with a passage in Philippians 3. It all depends on what you do with the use of the Greek definite article. Does Paul say that knowing Christ involves both (1) the power of His resurrection and (2) the fellowship of His sufferings? Or does he place these expressions in apposition to each other: "The power of His resurrection, that is, the fellowship of His suffering." Perhaps in the end it doesn't matter all that much, but I've always been a stickler for details. If indeed we have a Granville Sharpe Construction here, then Paul is saying that there can be no power without suffering. This thought would be in keeping with what he wrote earlier about Jesus (2:5-11) when he painted a picture for us of the divine parabola: Only after Jesus humbled Himself did God exalt Him. The lesson is an important one: The way up in the Christian life is down. There can be no exaltation without humiliation. There can be no power without pain. I like what Gordon Fee has to say in his Philippians commentary (italics his):
The reason I'm mentioning all this is because I find myself still experiencing the pain of losing Becky. I am still very much in the bereavement period of life, even though she went to heaven 16 months ago. Add to this the fact that there is so much suffering the world over. People are hurting, friendships are hurting, churches are hurting, marriages are hurting, families are hurting, communities are hurting. What are we to do? In his fabulous book Margins, which I was reading last night, Richard Swenson makes four suggestions about what we are to do with pain:
Fee noted that Paul could rejoice in the midst of his pain "because Christ's resurrection had given him a unique perspective on present suffering...." Yep. That's it in a nutshell. It is our faith that gets us through the pain and loss -- faith in a God who is not small enough to be understood but is big enough to be trusted. As I write these words, memory brings in sharp focus the death of my wife. Her departure required me either to deny God or else to believe Him. I could trust Him or I could renounce Him, the experience was just that earth-shattering for me. When Becky contracted cancer, God knew that what I really needed was not explanations but sanctification. My ideas about God needed to be put through the fire. And, as He promised, He held me. He showed me all that I needed for life and godliness. If my exegesis is correct, Paul's good word in Philippians 3 does not comprise an explanation of human suffering. It is a simple statement of fact and duty. To use a formula: The power of His resurrection + the fellowship of His sufferings = the normal Christian life. The power of hell can never prevail over a soul that understands this principle. When Becky died, I had to let go of what the world calls safety and security. I found my safety where the dying Christ found His, in the bosom of the Father.
I want you to know that my posting here might be more sporadic than usual, since I'm trying to beat a writing deadline. I'm so encouraged by how God is using this project. But I have to admit that I'll be relieved when it is over. Finally, for those of you who want to help the people in Nepal rebuild their lives, don't forget about Baptist Global Response. They are easy to find and simple to use. Believe me, I'm not going to turn this blog into one long advertisement for those seeking your money. It's just that I can't be silent in the face of such destruction.
Sunday, April 26
8:56 PM Last week a student asked me what I thought about the New Perspective on Paul. Since we're dealing with the New Testament concept of the Old Testament law in this week's LXX class, I thought I might share with you a few thoughts on the subject. For myself, it seems to me that the Scriptures are astonishingly coherent and clear about forensic justification. I also think, as Udo Schnelle points out in this interview, that Lutheranism has been guilty at times of caricaturing Paul. An even bigger gap, as I see it, is the failure of students of Paul to come to grips with his historical milieu -- a point that Wright often makes. Kingdom ministry embraces sanctification, good works, and healing. It also has a strong communal element to it. All well and good. But wherever the Gospel is preached, and wherever the church is truly carrying out the work of the kingdom, there is an inner logic that places "repentance from dead works and faith toward God" (Heb. 6:1) at the forefront. In a word, personal, individual repentance and commitment to the King is required of all of us, Jew or Greek. In Christianity we have a new law for a new people by a new Moses. And it is all by faith, from beginning to end (Rom. 1:17). In Phil 3:7-9 Paul writes:
As Jesus put it, you cannot enter the kingdom of the Righteous One without a righteousness even greater than that of the scribes and the Pharisees. Neither Jesus nor Paul had a quarrel with the Law and the Prophets. In fact, they validated them. But they were totally against the barrier of externalism that the scribes and the Pharisees had erected -- "scribal righteousness" it's been called. The Great Commission calls for personal faith in Christ (Mark 16:15, a verse which, in my view, is authentic), but a faith that eventually issues in a kingdom lifestyle and an obedience to everything Christ requires of us (Matt. 28:19, a verse whose originality is not disputed). To follow Jesus demands a completely different way of living; it requires values and ambitions that are radically new and kingdom-oriented. And the good news is that this obedience, this kingdom way of living, is as much enabled as it is required. As Paul writes in Rom. 8:3-4 (verses I wish every Christian would commit to memory):
Yes, God's righteousness is imputed to us -- thanks be to God! -- but it is also to be imparted; and we are to desire the whole thing, complete righteousness, not just a part of it.
8:38 PM T. W. Manson argues that Apollos was the author of Hebrews in this somewhat dated essay. Oddly enough, one of his arguments is the following:
All I can say is, "Amen."
8:32 PM Well, Becky's sugar maple now has tiny little buds.
It grows about one foot every year, which means that when I'm 80 the tree will be about 19 feet tall. One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it never changes. It will be the same when I am 80 as it is on April 26, 2015. In other words, the Bible never gets old even though we do. Our lifeline is Jesus. In times of trouble we need to hold on to Him and His word.
So much this tree will teach me through the years!
9:10 AM Quick notes from the farm:
1)Yes, I'm totally jet-lagged even though I haven't flown in 7 days. I think I pushed myself a little too hard this week and now I'm paying the price for over-doing it.
2) The weather here changed dramatically yesterday. A cold front arrived and the outdoors have been plunged into a dull, grey existence. A good day to stay indoors and write.
3) I'm in the countdown to complete my writing project that is due to the publisher on April 30th. Special thanks to my assistant Joshua Covert for transforming my hand-written Cuneiform into legible computer files.
4) The other day I posted a YouTube of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. Actually, here's the link I originally intended to post. The scene at 6:48 and following will literally make you speechless.
6) While reading a biography of Confederate General James Longstreet last night, I ran across a wonderful quote:
It is always great to see leaders and those they lead working well together.
7) Kudos to Joy Ames for her stellar Asbury Journal article called Teaching as Formation: The Vision of Ephesians 4:11-16 and Pedagogical Implications for Routine Teaching Tasks.
8) The current issue of Biola Magazine has a fine tribute to one of their students who died during a mission trip to India.
9) I had a conversation with Henry Neufeld about blogs. I asked him which ones he reads regularly. Interestingly, neither of us read many blogs on a regular basis. In fact, I've cut back considerably on my blog reading. If you know of a blog that you think is an absolute must read, let me know and I'll post a link here.
10) This Wednesday our LXX class will be discussing the use of the Old Testament in the New. A resource we're finding extremely helpful is Gleason Archer and Gary Chirichigno's Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament.
11) Good word for today: "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving." Frederick Buechner.
Saturday, April 25
3:12 PM It's time to take a break from writing, and besides, I'm in a thankful mood today. My thanks to Henry Neufeld for taking such good care of my donkeys this weekend.
Henry is the most steady-handed editor I have even known. When he's not on the street corners of Pensacola preaching about Armageddon you can find him publishing my zany ideas. That alone deserves a boat load of thanks.
To sister Friesh at the Queen of Sheba for the great Ethiopian food, thank you. The kai wat last night was the very best I think I have ever eaten. And yes, I am sure there will be injera in heaven.
To the North Carolina Symphony for a fabulous performance yesterday evening, a thousand thanks. If you've never seen the maestro conduct in person, you have never lived.
To those from Southeastern who helped clean up the farm today, yall are the best. The place looks tons better. Now if I could only keep it that way.
To Team India who participated in the school dedication in India today, I send you my love. Our sweet daughter Kim got to cut the ribbon. Man is that cool.
Being married to Becky made me the luckiest guy on earth. Okay, to be politically correct, we'll say "blessed." But I almost get giddy just thinking about the crazy 37 years we spent together. Becky was my superior in all things and was my greatest cheerleader. Today I read the book of Acts -- yes, the entire book in one sitting -- and I was impressed with these verses:
"When they had prayed, the place they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak God's word with boldness." To the India team, I know Becky would say this if she were here: "You're making a difference. You're shaking the world for Jesus. I'm so proud of you."
Then there was this passage about Dorcas: "She was always doing good works and acts of charity." Ok, you already know what I'm going to say. Becky was a Dorcas through and through, and I thank her for nurturing that same spirit in so many others, her husband included.
Another passage in Acts 18 spoke to me. It's where Paul says to the Ephesians, "I'll come back to you, if God wills." My dear Indian friends, I would love to have been with you today but my travels elsewhere this year precluded it. But I want you to know that I am ready -- and eager -- to get back to your wonderful country, if for no other reason than to have the privilege of walking through the building that was dedicated to the Lord's glory today.
Finally, in Acts 20:24 Paul says, "But I count my life as no value to myself so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of God's grace." That just about says it all. God has been so gracious to me. I only hope and pray that my life might accrue to His glory and that I might have the privilege of walking in His ways always.
Now get off the computer and get back to work, David.
2:12 PM Yet another devastating earthquake hits Nepal. Here's one way you can help. There are many others as well. Please consider giving.
9:30 AM Read 3 Important Church Trends in the Next 10 Years. I have a slightly different vision of what the church in America could be like in 10 years -- if we were obedient. It will be a serving church. Its organizational structure will be simple, unencumbered by bureaucrats and bureaucracies. Its financial priorities will reflect a commitment to missions, local and global. Capital expenditures will be reduced and the savings earmarked for discipleship. Most jobs that are currently salaried positions will be filled by volunteer help or eliminated. Denominations will make drastic reductions in funds spent on publications that are a waste of the church's money (bulletins, glossy magazines, and Sunday School quarterlies). The Bible will be used instead. Church buildings will be used for primary and secondary Christian education. Believers will gladly work transdenominationally and cooperatively, especially at the local level. The church will proclaim the Good News of the Gospel as its first priority while not neglecting the cultural mandate. A full-fledged lay ministry will replace clericalism. Individual believers will be expected to assume specialized ministries according to their giftedness. Churches will provide regular lay training and build voluntary programs of education into their structures. Worship will no longer be confined to a single time or place. Preoccupation with church buildings will be seen for what it is – idolatry. The church will no longer cling to its prerogatives but take the form of a servant. It will refuse any longer to shun the secular. Trained pastors will become humble assistants to the "ministers" – every member. Disciples will take the going forth as seriously as they do the gathering. New believers will be asked to specify a regular community involvement (neighborhood council, PTA, volunteer library staff, nursing home visitation, etc.) in addition to their commitment to a ministry in the church.
The points I have been making – and I have repeated these in my books The Jesus Paradigm and Christian Archy – contrast sharply with the grandiose structures we have become accustomed to since Christendom came on the scene. The fight of faith to which we are committed is not a battle against Christianity. It is a battle to free Christianity from the shackles of Christendom, to smash our idols, and to establish a church that is once again characterized by poverty of spirit.
So, where will your church be in 10 years? The choice is yours.
Friday, April 24
12:48 PM Miscellany:
1) I love Lewis's A Grief Observed. Lewis knew what it meant to struggle with life's deeper questions. He lost his mother to cancer when he was only nine years old. His wife would also lose her struggle with this disease. Yet he held to his faith through it all. "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." A Grief Observed is no mere detached writing but the emotional storm unleashed by bereavement. Read it if you dare.
2) When I was at Mid-America last week, I had a friendly discussion with one of their New Testament faculty about the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Of course, Heb. 2:3-4 came up. What we must remember is that Paul received direction from the fellowship of believers in the church at Antioch. Earlier he was willing to submit to the test of validity of his gospel before the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem. He did this despite the uniqueness of his call as an apostle personally appointed by Christ. Paul claimed to be nothing more than a co-laborer in the church that Christ Himself was building:
3) Missiologist Ralph Winter once made an interesting observation about missions. He said there were four stages in the work of global missions. In the pioneer stage, the Gospel is brought to a certain field. Usually this leads to the paternal stage in which national leadership is developed. In the partnership stage, nationals and missionaries share an equal voice. Finally, in the participation stage, missionaries are present only by the invitation of the national churches. I seriously believe that the church in places like India have reached the participation stage. The church in India is fully mature. It is capable of running its own affairs, doing its own evangelism, and sending out its own evangelists and church planters. So, as I see it, my goal is to link up with local churches in the nations of the world. In many of these nations, frontline missions has been taken over almost completely by national missionaries. Thank God for this development. It has been a long time coming.
Back to paying bills ....
10:58 AM This will go to the first person who writes and asks for it.
It is a fascinating -- and disturbing -- tale. It's reviewed here.
10:32 AM This and that ....
1) Visit the farm and I might put you to work, as I'm doing today with Henry Neufeld of Energion Publications.
2) Here are the program notes for tonight's symphony concert in Raleigh. Henry and I will have Ethiopian food beforehand.
3) Much truth here:
4) Good thoughts on prayer by Jon Glass: Are you praying? I struggle with prayer. Oh, petitions come easily. But devotion? I don't know how it is with you, but often I'm able to do little more than groan in prayer. It was Spurgeon who said, "One real groan fetched from the heart is worth a million litanies, one living breath from a gracious soul is worth ten thousand collects." Sometimes Jesus simply sighed. The Psalmist said, "I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you." To quote Spurgeon again:
So forgive me. I have very little I could teach you about prayer except that prayer is simply the ministry of the Spirit in our hearts. Pray when He leads you to pray. Speak whatever words (or wordless groans) He prompts. "Ugh" is as much a valid prayer as anything else we may utter.
5) Had dinner last night at Mexico Viejo.
Yes, it was partly to remember Becky. I am hopelessly nostalgic.
6) The "Becky Black Building" in Bagdogra, India.
To be dedicated to the Lord tomorrow.
Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ!
Thursday, April 23
4:06 PM Been mowing and bush hogging the farm paths all afternoon. I'm also trying out the panorama feature on my iPhone.
How do you like it?
"I am never satiated with rambling through the fields and farms, examining the culture and cultivators, with a degree of curiosity which makes some take me to be a fool, and others to be much wiser than I am" (Thomas Jefferson).
I'm no Tom Jefferson, but I do enjoy the farm. :-)
1:50 PM Want this book?
It sells for $54.00 at Amazon. It's an excellent commentary. I used it this semester in our LXX class. It's yours for free if you'll tell me why you think you should have it. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your mailing address.
10:42 AM When I was learning Greek I was asked (forced) to do quite a bit of English to Greek translation. I'm glad now for the experience. In our LXX class yesterday we did translation into Greek and Hebrew.
Our translations were based on a silly made-up story by yours truly. The goal was to see how well we could translate certain words and idiomatic English constructions into Koine Greek and Biblical Hebrew.
There were many challenges of course. But that's precisely why we did this little exercise. It is never possible to adequately translate one language to another with the same emphasis, feeling, idioms, etc. Interpretation is inevitable. There is no such thing as a perfect or unbiased translation!
We'll do more of this during the semester.
10:22 AM Quote of the day:
10:02 AM Received this question today:
I responded as follows:
Wednesday, April 22
6:45 PM Just purchased tickets for the NC Symphony this Friday night in Raleigh. The concert program includes two of my all-time favorites: Copland's Appalachian Spring and Barber's Adagio for Strings. Here's the latter (in a deeply moving tribute to 9/11 originally broadcast on September 15, 2011):
6:20 PM 48 hours ago I was in Dallas. Yesterday and today I taught three classes. I'll be up early in the morning to get some writing done. I've discovered there's no quick way of getting things accomplished. You just plow ahead.
But I've always got time for a few blog posts ....
1) World Malaria Day is coming up on the 25th. In 2013 there were 198 million cases of malaria and 584,000 deaths from this awful disease. (I say "awful" from personal experience.) Half of the world's population is at risk from malaria. The long walk to a malaria free world is well worth your reading. Much is being done, but much more can be done. Be informed and take action if you are so led. Believe me, I wouldn't wish malaria on my worst enemy.
2) Relationships are always evolving. A book I've found to be very helpful as I've reexamined my relationships is Gordon MacDonald's Renewing Your Spiritual Passion.
In chapters 6-7 MacDonald describes five kinds of people that affect our spiritual passion:
MacDonald's main point is that relationships always involve give and take, and that the flow of passion is either primarily moving in one direction or the other: toward us or away from us. I think we can all learn valuable lessons from MacDonald's 5 types of people. I've always been convinced that relationships need constant reassessing. I know there are people in my life who push me along to greater passion. I also know there are people in my life who drain me of much-needed passion. May God grant me the wisdom to know who is who.
3) Only four weeks to go before I leave for Hawaii. My goal? To rest – and to surf nonstop for 8 days. No speaking engagements, no writing, no appointments. My vacation will be a silent retreat when my mind can be tuned to God's beautiful creation, my spirit can be retuned, and the quietness of Sabbath can be experienced. I'm going to set aside time to enjoy God's gift of rest. I enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm but there is always work to do here. I've decided that waves are God's greatest gifts to humanity and I'm going to enjoy them. "God is the friend of silence," said Mother Teresa. C. S. Lewis put it this way: "Just give Mary a little chance as well as Martha." Thomas à Kempis called this "spirituality" or "walking inwardly." Spirituality is a journey with Christ in which He is given permission to guide us, renew our inward strength, and offer the sustenance needed to overcome fatigue or failure.
I'm praying now for huge waves. Perfectly-formed waves. Gigantic tubes. Glassy conditions. But even if the ocean is flat I'll still surf. Surfers are, after all, the ultimate optimists: "The waves are just over the horizon!"
I will cultivate the garden of my private world until my secret cross becomes my crown.
4) The Moody Blues are DY-NO-MITE in this performance from the Royal Albert Hall. The song that begins at 23:10 will blow you away. "Somehow I'll return again to you." Yes, Becky, I will.
5) Sam Storms calls boring preaching a sin. He's right. Preaching today is trite, predictable, repetitive, and boring. "You already told us that a dozen times." Is it too much to ask for preaching that is scholarly without being pedantic, simple without being superficial, progressive without being avant-garde, comprehensive without being overly-detailed, irenic without being wishy-washy?
Tuesday, April 21
10:34 AM History. It is forever urging us on, forcing us to question, ponder, inquire. History encompasses all of life. By studying it we feel at home with perplexity. It inevitably leads to a kaleidoscope of events too numerous to fathom. To study history is to listen before speaking. As historians we eschew dogmatism and pontification. And, if you're a pedagogue like me, history is something personal and private. You can't visit a Civil War battlefield and not ask, "If I had been here, what would I have been doing?" History has a way of compelling us to confront issues we try to evade. During my weekend trip to Dallas I finished a book about Confederate General A. P. Hill. It's a very realistic look at a very flawed man. But with all his flaws, Hill was a man of dauntless courage, personal integrity, and the highest ideals. The trouble is, as you get deeper and deeper into Civil War biographies, the more you want to know. Civil War history is simply too vast to be understood.
As you know, I also love church history. The church in America is moving from old to new. Just as a jet airplane experiences turbulence when climbing through the clouds, so the church in North America is in an unsettling period in its history. My book Godworld will explore this restructuring of the American church. My thesis is that we are moving in the dual directions of accommodation to the information age while beginning to acknowledge that the "ancient ways" still have much to teach us. We have begun to let go of the idea that church is an institution. We are restructuring from a church run by pragmatic considerations in favor of much longer term goals. In particular, we are discovering that the locus of the New Testament church is not the clergy but an empowered laity. We are shifting from our over-reliance on professionals to more self-reliance in all aspects of ministry. Prodded along by an ever-growing number of dissenting voices, we are leaving our traditions behind and exploding into a Spirit-led participatory church culture.
In the course of my travels I have been overwhelmingly impressed with the extent to which young Christians have espoused the notion of a bottom-up revolution. This is why the "every-member-a-minister" movement that advocates both personal responsibility and sacrificial living is such a critical part of the equation. More and more Christians are applying the "law of the situation" as they rethink the wineskins. This term was coined in 1904 by Mary Parker Follett who managed a window shade company and persuaded its owners that they were really in the light-control business. Her clients began asking, "What business are we really in?" Years ago I began to reconceptualize what business I was in. This paradoxical shift in my teaching is the reason I wrote my books The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. It's also the reason I often refer to myself as a fulltime missionary. When people say, "But I thought you were a professor of ancient Greek," my response is, "Yes, that's my job but it's not my business. I'm in the Gospel business 24/7/365."
This is what decentralization is all about. It means more opportunities and more choices for individuals. More and more Christians are beginning to disengage from the institutions that have disillusioned them and to relearn the power of taking action on their own. Churches are reclaiming the New Testament's teaching on spiritual gifts after decades of relying on professional workers. Many in our churches no longer see themselves as passive bystanders, handing their responsibilities over to the professional class. They are beginning to take responsibility for ministry. Participatory democracy is revolutionizing local churches. Bureaucracies still matter, but they matter less and less. Local churches are beginning to send out workers themselves. Qualified lay elders are assuming leadership roles just as they did in the early church. More and more pastors are now viewing themselves as facilitators rather than as order-givers. Hierarchies are being replaced by networks. What is evolving is a network style of ministry rooted in informality and equality. Local churches in the U.S. are coming alongside local churches in other nations, quietly blending their gifts and resources. "Promotion" is no longer a desideratum. Indeed, in a network environment, people do not feel the need to climb to the top of the ladder simply because there is no ladder to climb any more.
In the church today we are faced as never before with the necessity of drawing on the potential of every member of Christ's body to accomplish the task. Ultimately we have no other choice. God is calling the church in the West to recognize that:
In short, to be a global Christian in the West requires a different lifestyle -- one that is more simple, more compassionate, more involved, and more committed to the Great Cause. Missionary organizations need to take an inventory of their effectiveness in terms of permanent results. Our pastors and leaders must decide that they exist for global missions and take a more active role in the missionary enterprise. It is not enough merely to talk about soul-winning or global evangelization. We must get involved personally.
The question facing us today is a simple one: Will biblical theology control evangelical missiology? The point is not whether or not we need professionals. The point is that in its New Testament expression the outworking of the kingdom of God is primarily seen in the liberating of God's people from the bondage of sin and selfishness and in their empowering for evangelization in the world. When we rethink the New Testament teaching about missions, it becomes apparent that missions today and tomorrow will require action as well as understanding. Faithfulness and fruitfulness in missions require nothing less. What we need is the kind of vision that links biblical truth with the right kind of action. To the critics of every-member ministry (and there are many) I ask: It is too much to ask for the kind of commitment exemplified in our Anabaptist forefathers that acknowledges the Christian mission as the grandest enterprise on earth? Evangelicals believe that Jesus Christ will return visibly in power and glory to consummate His salvation. In the meantime, His words that the Gospel must be proclaimed to all nations is a spur to global evangelism. The period between Christ's first coming and His return is to be filled with the mission of the people of God, and we have no liberty to stop working together for the evangelization of the whole world before the End. We each hold within our hearts and hands the ability to expand the kingdom to parts of the world we touch. Each of us can glorify God by passing along the divine Truth to others. Traditional questions about missions such as the following will take on new meaning:
There is a simple answer to all of these question. It is to walk and talk with Jesus. As we walk and talk with Jesus, He will tell us when to go, when to stay, when to speak, when to keep silent, when to work, when to rest, how to support ourselves. The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit. Thus our work should arise spontaneously from a Spirit-filled life. A Christian who is not a missionary is a contradiction and is quenching the Spirit. I'm calling upon Christians to pray for such a visitation of the sovereign Holy Spirit that His fruit may appear in His people and that all the gifts may enrich the body of Christ. The needs are unprecedented, the demands staggering, the possibilities endless. Our greatest tragedies are not persecution and death threats but unredeemed opportunities.
Friends, the challenge of global missions cries out to us. As we look around the world, the enemies of the cross abound. But none of them can stand against the power of Jesus' love. We face gigantic challenges, but they can be overcome through the dedicated ministry of every member of Christ's body.
I recall the first time I called upon You. It was to confess my sin and to grasp the hand of the Savior. And now I come to You again, confessing that I have not loved You to the degree that You deserve. But Dad, I do love You. Not as I ought, not as I should. Thank you for loving me anyway. Thank You for granting me a new heart, a heart filled with Jesus. Use me however You like. Let me live for You and, if necessary, die for You. You are worth it.
Friday, April 17
11:14 AM "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it" (G. K. Chesterton).
11:06 AM Another good essay by Art Rainer: 5 Reasons Why Millennial Leaders Should Consider Participative Leadership. I love it! In every generation, in every decade, in every local congregation, the New Testament polity has to be rediscovered and re-applied. If we can learn the cell structure of plants, surely we can apply the wisdom of the Creator of the church in our daily practice as congregations.
9:58 AM Tonight the Garland (TX) Symphony Orchestra presents flute soloist LeeAnne Thompson performing Liebermann's Flute Concerto, and tomorrow the Vocal Majority are presenting a concert of great sacred music called Amazing Grace. Here's a sample of their talent:
Eager to see Becky's mom and dad again and enjoy some great music together.
9:32 AM Last night I finished reading an interesting book called What They Don't Tell You: A Survivor's Guide to Biblical Studies. The author is to be thanked for a helpful guide indeed. I especially enjoyed these insights:
This is so right on. But this definition of "interpretation" left me flat:
My own view is that scholarship does not exist for its own purpose but only as a servant of Christ and the church. It serves God's purposes but must never control them. It serves the world as well, but must never forsake it. Servanthood is the key to biblical scholarship. Scholars, having received the benefits of their studies, now go forth into the life of the church to render to Christ that form of service or that ministry for which God has equipped them. The apostle Paul -- possibly the greatest Christian scholar who ever lived -- was fundamentally a missionary and church planter. What then is the scholar's role? He or she is a member and leader of the Christian community. Such leaders can be authoritative but never authoritarian. They serve to inspire and animate the congregation. They arouse enthusiasm for personal Bible study. They feed the church of the living God and develop the talents and energies of all God's people.
I am deeply grateful for biblical scholarship. Biblical scholars have a strategic task in the church. One senses a closeness between the apostle Paul and the churches he always viewed as co-workers. Today a wide gulf exists between scholarship and church. This gulf has often been difficult to bridge. At the same time, many biblical scholars have taken the initiative in opening channels of communication, such as open forums and various types of conferences. Most parishioners desire such dialogue. They feel a need for two-way communication. If in the average church we should suddenly take seriously the notion that every "lay" member, man or woman, is really a theologian (as James Packer emphasized in his book Hot Tub Religion), we would have something like a revolution in a very short time. Jesus' own life and ministry is our greatest object lesson. His favorite method of teaching was opening up conversation with a question or a miracle of healing. He was a citric of mere knowledge for knowledge's sake, of mere form worship, of the manmade rules and status symbols of the Bible scholars of His day, the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus cultivated a brotherhood of faith, a fellowship of learning. True discipleship, said He, is really servantship. Even He had come to serve!
Faith in Christ is a dynamic thing. It can't be confined to the halls of academia. We need to gratefully recognize the scholarly guild. It has done great things in Christian education. But it includes training for all aspects of discipleship, not just the intellectual. We biblical scholars need to ask: Are we as active in the church and the world as we ought to be? Do we "operationalize" biblical truth? Have we limited the term "interpretation" to an idealized representation of what the Bible meant? The old Scottish proverb was right:
Think about it.
Thursday, April 16
3:10 PM This just came in the mail:
8:48 AM Good morning folks. Thanks for blogging in.
Am I a "missionary"? My answer is "absolutely not" as well as "profoundly yes -- and right proud of it too."
I am not a "missionary" if by the term you mean someone who is a professional that has been "deployed" to an overseas venue to serve the Lord. In my book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I repeatedly call on all Christians everywhere to engage in missionary work. In fact, I argue that this is what the Christian life is all about. This is true for our individual lives as well as for our marriages, our families, our churches, even our seminaries. So many of us today are trapped in a Constantinian model of ministry (in which the church has become professionalized, clericalized, and institutionalized). But why should Christians continue to believe this when the New Testament evidence is overwhelming that all of us -- even us so-called "New Testament scholars" -- are called to imitate Christ and manifest and expand the unique, absolutely beautiful kingdom of God (what I am calling "Godworld")?
Now, this was the message I took with me to Mid-America Seminary in Memphis the past two days. I have for years been a fan of this school and I deeply respect the work they are doing in tirelessly and fearlessly championing a Great Commission mindset among their students. I personally want to thank Dr. Mike Spradlin, president of MABTS, for his kind invitation to participate in their chapel services and to lead a doctoral seminar. A big shout out also to my new friend David Shackelford, who heads their New Testament department and who also lives on a farm. (All true New Testament scholars are agrarians.) Everyone I met was genuinely interested in global evangelization. This is truly an amazing place. Within its halls I found a great deal of warmhearted Gospel appeal. I only lament that my visit was so short. I personally thought the dialogue during the Ph.D. seminar was very helpful. The Gospel is not the true Gospel unless it has revolutionary consequences in the way we view (and practice) church life and missions. In any event, I deeply appreciate the tireless work this school is doing to share the love of Christ with their neighbors and with the lost around the world.
That's my take on the trip.
While visiting the library at MABTS I ran across two new books I'd like to mention briefly. The first is a brand spanking new grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Below is a photo of its first page. As you will see, the book commits a fatal error from the get-go by using Hebrew words even before the alphabet is introduced. A recent New Testament Greek grammar does exactly the same thing. Let me say that I have the utmost respect (and sympathy!) for anyone who tries to write a beginning grammar of any language, but folks, it's pedagogical nonsense to intimidate students with funny looking words when they haven't even been exposed to the letters!
The other book was a real winner. Of course, I read it with somewhat jaundiced eyes since I am a lover of all things Paul. But one page stood out to me (see below). Think about this. If Paul had a copy of Mathew's Gospel (in scroll form, of course) on his missionary journeys, wouldn't it make sense that he would quote from or allude to it occasionally? That's exactly what seems to have happened, even in Paul's earliest writing (1 Thessalonians). I suspect that the scholarly guild has become so committed to the Markan Priority Hypothesis that it will simply overlook this phenomenon, but I recall Bernard Orchard and I discussing it at length. Orchard develops this point in his essay "Thessalonians and the Synoptic Gospels" (Biblica 19 [1938) 19-42). In my Why Four Gospels? I argue that not only did Paul carry a copy of Matthew with him on his missionary journeys, but that He had also prompted his faithful companion Luke to provide a fuller elucidation of Jesus' ministry and of the place the Gentiles had in the kingdom of God. Thus Luke would go on to produce a "Gentile" edition of the Gospel of Matthew in the years 58-60 while Paul was incarcerated in Caesarea. The Gospel of Luke is the product of the crisis caused by the emergence of the Gentile churches alongside the primitive Jewish church and hence they needed their own interpretation of the Christian mission as a sign and proof of their full and equal status. Maybe I can't prove any of this but who cares. I'm an obscurantist and sometimes people will believe anything an obscurantist will say!
A final note. As you know, I'm working feverishly on a writing project that's due at month's end. It's a big project but it's getting smaller by the day. It's going to be brutal to make the deadline especially since I've been on the road so much this month. Oh, did I tell you I leave for Dallas tomorrow? Am I crazy!
Below I've posted some pix of my trip in case you're interested.
1) With the president.
2) Speaking in chapel.
3) Ph.D. students.
4) I brought a suitcase full of books to give away to them.
5) Book signing.
6) A big "no-no."
7) I liked this!
8) Paul's use of Matthew.
Monday, April 13
8:56 AM Between stabs at writing (deadlines, deadlines, deadlines!) I've been reading Mid-America Seminary's Journal. Jeff Walters of Southern Seminary has an excellent piece called Calling from Death to Life: Donald McGavran and the Relationship of Evangelism and Social Ministry. Here's his conclusion:
Christians today need to recover this thoroughly Gospel-based focus. Only a genuine commitment to the Great Commission can withstand the acids of easy-believism on the one hand and misguided humanitarianism on the other. The "evangelism mandate" will eventually lead to the "cultural mandate" but will never be replaced by it. We can't simply insist on the priority of personal conversion without a recognition that genuine conversion implies a fundamental social responsibility. All too often Christians concentrate on proclaiming the Gospel without living the Gospel. In reaction, others emphasize social action to the point where the message of salvation gets lost amidst the noise of building hospitals, school buildings, and wells. And the earliest Christians? The idea of separating spiritual conversion from practical deeds of love never occurred to them. They both proclaimed and lived the Gospel. So intense was their concern that they became famous for their deep, loving, practical assistance in times of need. Suffice it to say that "fellowship" for them meant more than a potluck supper. Here was a church that gave generously to support their own, even across barriers of race and nationality (see Acts 6). What a splendid example for the church of today.
I've bookmarked MABTS's journal and I plan to come back here often.
7:24 AM How to grow older without growing old. Excellent interview with J. Ellsworth Kalas of Asbury Seminary.
7:05 AM Blogspotting ....
1) The rapid evolution of emojis. But when will someone come up with the most important emoji of all?
2) The revival of the exclamation mark. I hate exclamation marks!!
3) The Journal of Greek Linguistics is seeking contributors.
4) Latin and Greek -- for your pets.
5) "I am here since an hour. When do I become a fish?" said the German to a server in an American restaurant. Yes, it's a joke, but I love hearing Germans speak Denglish and, vice versa, Americans speaking Germlish. Spoke a lot of German, by the way, down in Florida in my hotel restaurant. Na ja, viele Touristen. Want to learn German? Try Deutsch für Euch.
6) Congratulations to Scot McKnight on being named the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. Well-deserved honor for sure.
Sunday, April 12
6:34 PM Dear praying friends:
Just a quick note to say that I was blessed to have attended Harold Greenlee's memorial service in Ft. Myers, FL, this weekend. Harold held a Harvard doctorate, was a professor of New Testament and Greek for many years, and a scholar who put his considerable erudition at the feet of Jesus in service to the nations. That the latter point should be worth mentioning is in itself a remarkable thing because all of us so-called New Testament scholars should be about the Father's main business. I want to thank David Greenlee for his invitation to attend. If ever a man accepted the demands of life with grace and humility, it was Harold. Simply put, he lived for others. May the Lord make His face to shine upon Harold's widow Ruth and bring sunshine and peace to their household every day.
Tomorrow I'm back on the road. This time I travel to Mid-America Seminary in Memphis to give two days of lectures and to address their Ph.D. students. Mid-America was founded in 1971 and exists "to train men and women to fulfill the Great Commission." It offers a full range of academic programs including the M.Div., the D.Min., and the Ph.D. This will be my first visit to Mid-America. I'm glad to be able to make the trip.
I took a slew of pix in Florida, but I'll just bore you with five:
1) Here's Ruth Greenlee with her three children Dotty, David, and Lois. Each of the children is faithfully serving the Lord. Those who build their house on the Rock will see the Rock do some pretty amazing things.
2) A book table was set up in the foyer featuring Harold's many publications. Very nice touch indeed.
3) Harold's personal Greek New Testament.
Harold did not believe in writing in one's Bible, and it shows. However, he made it very clear to his son David that should his Greek New Testament be displayed at his memorial service, he wanted everybody to know he read it constantly.
4) Poor Floridians, having to put up with sunsets like this one every day.
5) Finally found it -- the Loch Ness Monster!
P.S. "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today." (Chinese proverb.) I'm glad to report that Becky's tree seems to be doing fine.
Friday, April 10
8:30 AM This morning I was reading several blog posts that basically said that the pastor is the ultimate authority when it comes to interpreting the Bible. The essays extolled the "teaching office" of the church and asserted that laypeople are essentially to hang on every word their pastor says. I plan on getting to the problem of biblical illiteracy in my book Godworld, but today I want to note my concern with such notions. Actually, I agree that formal teaching in the church is an absolute necessity. I've been teaching in local churches since I was 16. (Unusually what I do is called "preaching," but I prefer the term "teaching" in accordance with Eph. 4:11 and 1 Tim. 3:2.) I also agree that many Christians in America have unfortunately become their own sole authority in interpreting the Bible. But could anything be more contrary to the teaching of the New Testament than to say (or imply) that pastor-teachers are the ultimate authority in interpreting the Bible? One thing we learn from reading the New Testament is how varied the teaching ministry of the early church was. I doubt if there was the pulpit-centricity in these early congregations such as we find today in so many of our churches. Formal teaching undoubtedly existed. But this does not mean that the leaders did all the talking. To say this is not to belittle the ministry of pastor-teachers. I have trained a good number of them during 38 years of teaching Greek. Nor am I pleading for an "anything goes" mentality when it comes to our gatherings as believers. I am simply pleading for such a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that it should not be impossible for the Holy Spirit to get a message across to the people through any member of the congregation He should inspire to speak. This is no pipe dream on my part. I have seen it happen in many congregations, my own included. I believe that most churches could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. In this way many in the congregation will be prepared to put into practice the teaching of Heb. 10:24-25. The gathering would move from being a time of passive listening to an opportunity to engage in mutual edification.
And what of 1 John 2:27? Here the apostle John is emphasizing the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit when it comes to knowing spiritual truth.
Do we as evangelicals truly believe this statement? It is the Spirit who grants us understanding of the Scripture. It is He who allows us to grow in knowledge and in spiritual stature. It is He who illuminates to our hearts and minds not only the person of Christ but His will for our lives. The Spirit is thus the supreme interpreter of God's word. Once you understand this, Bible study will become an important part of your life, a discipline that you can hardly afford to neglect. This means that once we come to faith in Christ, we need never be dependent on human teachers to lead us, helpful though they may be. As our "anointing," the Holy Spirit not only teaches us the truth of God but guides us as we seek to live out that truth in our lives. We have in the Spirit a teacher who is resident within us to show us the mind of the Lord. Little wonder that increasing numbers of Christians today are finding they have a new love for personal Bible study.
Put all this together and you arrive at the conclusion that God has provided multiple teachers in His church: gifted leaders, our fellow Christians, and ultimately the Holy Spirit Himself. I "preach" regularly in churches. But to be honest with you, I would never want anybody to hang on my every word. I would rather point them to the only infallible source of knowledge about God and His will for us, and that is the Bible. It is this Bible that we are to teach one another. We need each other, not least when it comes to understanding and obeying God's word. I urge you to find a church home that encourages this kind of mutual edification. If there is a strong teaching ministry where you attend (and hopefully there is), make sure the teaching is sound and feedback encouraged. (A monologue need not exclude audience participation.) Make a point too of participating in small group Bible studies. Remember that believers are all on a par with each other: teachers and taught alike are fellow-sinners and fellow-learners. If possible, make room for more formal courses in the Bible. If a local church is to make a significant impact in its community, it must become a learning center, a place where truth is valued and taught. (In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I devote an entire appendix to the theme of "Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church.") My prayer is that God will use His word to prepare all of us to fulfill the vital role He has for us in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in our day.
7:34 AM Here's an idea that could prevent future police shootings. In the meantime, lessons from North Charleston:
1) For the public: Never run from the police. You are putting your life in danger from an officer who thinks he is judge, jury, and executioner.
2) For police officers: Never shoot an unarmed suspect that poses no public risk who is running away from you. You are putting your life in danger (death penalty).
Thursday, April 9
6:38 PM Been texting with one of my daughters:
Truth be told, I intentionally leave typos in my blog posts so that other people can find purpose in life. No need to thank me.
6:08 PM Well, I see that I have now published more books with Energion than any other of my great publishers, including Baker (a mere 6 titles).
I'm grateful beyond words to Energion publisher Henry Neufeld for his support through the years. (I'm also glad that someone appreciates my eccentricities.) Of the 10 books of mine that Henry has published, some have sold about that many copies -- but it's not his fault. One day Henry will publish my magnum opus, Black's Encyclopedia of Surfing and Skateboarding, available at fine bookstores everywhere. Until then, let me just say, "Thanks, friend."
Imagine a pastor saying that. The man deserves a medal.
12:50 PM What I'm reading ....
12:34 PM It happened exactly 150 years ago today in Appomattox, Virginia. Every surrender is both a death and a new life. Surrender is a passage from what we're used to and walking into a brand new world. Think of when you left home for the first time. Or when you graduated from college. Or when you got married. What does all of this mean? It means dying to the old life and accepting the new life God grants. Just look all around you -- leaves sprouting from what not very long ago looked like dead branches. The cycle repeats itself: life out of death, gain from loss.
For Lee, the surrender meant the presidency of a struggling college that was about to close its doors. Within 5 years the college faculty would grow from 4 to 20 and enrollment from 50 to 400 students. Lee had been reborn as an educator. When a widow asked Lee his feelings about the late war and what she should do with her children, he told her, "Dismiss from your mind all sectional feelings, and bring them up to be Americans." Remember: this was the same man who in April of 1865 said to his staff, "Then there is nothing left for me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths." Later, in responding to a letter from Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, Lee wrote:
"Conform to the new order of things."
Jesus went to the cross and experienced the death of deaths. His crucifixion was a sign of shameful, abject, total loss. But it also marked a new beginning. Bereavement, as I've often noted, is a kind of death. The loneliness of a widowed spouse is seen in a myriad of details (such as filing my tax returns as "single"). I do not want people to pity me. Bereavement is a responsibility of the burden of marriage and one I gladly assume. It is heartening to know that a warrior like Robert E. Lee could make the transition to civilian life so smoothly. It seemed that for him to put aside his own wants was not a hard thing to do, because his love for his state, the state of Virginia, never changed. It's just that the focus was redirected. I am thrilled to the core when I think of that. Lee was full of optimism even during his trials and troubles. As I have worked through my own loss, I have discovered new ways of expressing my gratitude to God. The better I come to know Him, the more I want to live and breath and have my being for His kingdom, for things to be done on earth as they are in heaven. Many in my family (and in my larger family as well) know Christ in this intimate way. They are the ones who, like Lee, keep pointing me forward -- and heavenward.
To be a Christian is to accept what we cannot change and grow where we're planted. There is a future and there is a plan for each one of us. Praise be to God.
8:58 AM Here's the latest pic of the school building in Bagdogra, India.
I am speechless.
This was the building project that Becky Lynn Lapsley Black designed and then, through this website, publicized. Once again, God has provided for His own. The building will be dedicated this month and our team will be on hand to pay tribute to God and to those whose uncompromising, unquestioned obedience made it possible. But please hear me. The magnum opus of Becky's life isn't this building project. Nor is it any of the other works she did for Christ. It's the way she lived. Likewise, our greatest work will not be seen in the spectacular but in the impact of our ordinary daily lives faithfully lived in extraordinary ways. A huge part of this "ordinary" way of living is, I believe, seen in raising the flag of collaborative faith through weaving strong threads of cooperation in all we do. Becky made a difference in this old world because she was always seeking out ways she could help her brothers and sisters in foreign lands. If you will, Becky had a robust theology of Christian vocation, and her life inspired others to embrace common grace for the common good. Having herself embraced the Gospel, she then lived it in humble deeds of service to people small and great. Like the apostle Paul, she didn't view her work as a tentmaker a distraction but instead saw it as a conduit for Gospel incarnation. Christian discipleship was woven seamlessly into all aspects of her life. Her well-lived life now lives on in this building and the ministries it will house. I am so proud of her!
In his book The Radical Disciple, John Stott asks, "What is God's purpose for his people?" His answer is as profound as it is simple: "It is this: God wants his people to become like Christ, for Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God" (p. 29). Thomas Aquinas once said, "Theologia habitus est" ("Theology is a way of life"). For Becky, this was more than a slogan. Theology literally changed her life, as it did mine. Sound biblical theology will always do that. I have seen it happen again and again in the lives of countless students during 38 years of teaching. For me, New Testament studies is truly a way of life.
Billy Graham was a "regular" farm boy from North Carolina whom God used to reach 215 million people in 185 nations. Becky was a normal wife and mother whom God used because she was simply willing to be who she was created to be. You too are custom designed for God's plan. He has designed you to make your own contribution to the world. It doesn't matter whether you're in so-called "fulltime Christian ministry" or an Uber driver. Love someone. Serve someone. That's the way Christ lived. Now go and do likewise.
Heavenly Father, in Your divine providence you gave us Becky for 60 years. Her one desire was to glorify You in and through her daily work. May we also do our work well by walking in the power of the Spirit. May the characteristics of Christ be increasingly evident in our lives. Lord, use our lives to advance Your purposes in the world. For Christ's sake. Amen.
8:34 AM "Because of the love of God in me, I can't be like that." Watch this powerful interview with Walter Scott's mother:
Amen, sister! As Christians, we are called not only to endure this world but to overcome it because He overcame it and because we can do all things through Him.
Wednesday, April 8
8:28 PM The campus is bursting forth.
Got some more great pix to show you but they will have to wait till tomorrow. Time to chillax. :)
Tuesday, April 7
8:02 AM The rain has returned to southern Virginia, just in time to water "our" favorite tree. Just think: A sugar maple grows about a foot per year, which means in 30 years our remembrance tree will be around 35 feet tall. Sugar maples can grow to over 100 feet and can live for hundreds of years. But the first weeks of care are critical. Thank you, Lord, for watering our tree :)
I love reading Jeff Shaara -- always have, with only minor irritations. His flaws are far outweighed by his extremely satisfying prose. However, I do get a bit put off when, as for example while reading Gods and Generals last night, he portrays the Federals on May 1, 1863, as pushing back Stonewall Jackson's forces on the first day of the Battle of Chancellorsville. Shaara makes it appear that the Confederates were greatly outnumbered by Joe Hooker's forces and that Hooker lost his nerve when he ordered his troops to beat a hasty retreat back to the Chancellorsville crossing. Modern day critics tear into Hooker for suspending the attack "that was going so well." The facts tell a far different story. Hooker was facing 48,300 Confederate troops on his front as compared with his own force of 33,500 infantry in and around Chancellorsville. His reinforcements were too far away to be of any use on this first day of battle. Union General Sykes on the Orange Turnpike had been outflanked, and General Slocum's corps on the Plank Road was being threatened on his right by Rans Wright's brigade.
Thus, while stymied in one sense of the word, Joseph Hooker was neither discouraged nor had he lost confidence in his battle plan, which was (1) to get his army south of the Rappahannock River and steal a long march on Robert E. Lee, and (2) draw Lee's men from beyond their fortifications in Fredericksburg. He had succeeded in doing both.
For anybody picking up a copy of Gods and Generals or any of Jeff Shaara's outstanding novels, the phrase "It's only fiction" comes to mind. You'll need a guide to plow your way through his writings, and the non-fiction works we have on every Civil War battle are about as vivid and accurate an account as we are likely to encounter. Likewise, when interpreting the Bible, let's keep in mind that our object is ultimately to read the Bible for itself. Of course, there are many other voices (and noises) competing for our attention, and many of these are helpful. But we should always try to listen to the text as much a possible even as we read extensively elsewhere.
Monday, April 6
7:34 PM 2014 taxes are DONE.
8:20 AM Well, I endured a rather misty-water-colored weekend filled with wonderful reminiscences and some pretty lachrymose blogging. My Id is now officially back in its box. Really, I marched into a labyrinth of my own making, but sometimes I find that grief is assuaged only by plunging in deeper and just letting the crashing wave expend its force. So, what's the latest? I'm not finished with my writing project yet, which, under contractual obligations, is due to the publisher at the end of the month. But I'm working hard at it. Keeping deadlines is an important part of my life especially because I'm so adamant that my students keep theirs. This weekend is also a chance to pay my respects to a former colleague in the field of New Testament studies, Harold Greenlee, in Ft. Meyers, FL, where the weather (I'm told) will be in the 90s. Do people wear suits to memorial services in the Sunshine State?
Moving on, the New Yorker has just published a story on Andreas Lubitz called No, Psychiatry Could Not Have Prevented the Germanwings Disaster. Gary Greenberg, the author of this fine piece, writes:
I suggest that this is the only realistic approach to take when it comes to mental illness. Due to our concern for safety, we sadly assume that "professionals" (of any stripe) can fix all of our problems or even prevent them from happening in the first place. Personally, I think the two-on-flight-deck rule is about the best we can do at present. Incidentally, the crash in the Alps hasn't changed my opinion of pilots and airline safety one bit. In 2014 there were 12 fatal airline accidents out of a total of 38 million flights, or the equivalent of one accident for every 4.4 million flights. 3.3 billion people flew safely in 2014. There's much more to fear from the average highway idiot. However, in one way I think my flying habits will change, and that's making sure I greet the pilots and flight attendants on the way out and saying something like "Thank you for getting me here safely." They deserve it big time as theirs is an enormous responsibility.
On another note, as you know I'm giving a lectureship at a seminary in Memphis next Tuesday and Wednesday. I probably would have said "no" to their invitation except for the fact that I was given carte blanche to speak on any topic I wanted to, so my talk will be basically a prequel to my book on the kingdom (Godworld)-- what the kingdom IS and what it is NOT. In case you are wondering: Godworld looks just like Jesus. It's really that simple. So if you want to know whether your church or your seminary or your marriage manifests the kingdom, just ask yourself to what extent you look like Jesus.
Like you (you're all voracious readers, right?), I did tons of reading over the weekend, enjoying the beautiful weather we've been having by reading outdoors. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, so full of good moments. I can't point to one thing and say "This is what made my weekend so special," but if I had to pick just one thing it would be the Good Friday service at Duke. As I told one of my daughters yesterday, the speaker actually used the "s" word in his message. Today it's so easy to focus on the symptoms when the greater malady goes unobserved. The basic trouble we all face in life is called sin, and just when we think we have conquered one of the symptoms (say, gluttony) the basic evil breaks out in another form (say, gossip). It's the same old disease but new symptoms. The only solution is Jesus, who in His innocence drank the cup of iniquity and voluntarily laid down His life to take it up again. He didn't climb the hill of Calvary because He was the victim of a mob or because there was something weak or pitiful about Him. Myriads of angels were at His beck and call, yet "Could our tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone, He must save and He alone." It was my iniquity -- our iniquity -- that made Calvary necessary. This weekend I wept for my sins that put Him on the cross and I remembered the One who counted not His life dear to Himself. "Neither do I count my life as dear to myself" (Acts 20:24) is, I suppose, the only valid Christian response to Easter Sunday.
Blessings on you as you wage war against all that opposes Godworld!
Sunday, April 5
5:46 PM Eager to begin a new work week. I've been reading through Acts and learning many lessons. These include:
1) The need to rely totally on the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit was a dynamic, ever-present reality to these early Christians.
2) The need for constant prayer. The New Testament church was a pliant, praying church. The early believers triumphed over adversity through petition and supplication and praise.
3) The need to care for the poor and disadvantaged. I think especially of Barnabas' generosity (4:37) and Cornelius' almsgiving (10:4-5). The Lord's grace toward the needy and the outcast characterized the ministry of these early Christians. They had a deep sense of accountability to God for the use of their possessions that led to the actual sharing of those possessions. Their heart was huge.
May God grant me a reliant, pliant, and giant heart this week.
10:02 AM If this doesn't light your fire, your wood is all wet.
9:16 AM What is "Easter"? Easter is a call to "walk as He walked" (1 John 2:6), it is a time to remember that "the night is coming, when no one can work anymore" (John 9:4), it is knowing Christ and making Him known, it is entering "fulltime Christian service" (every Christian is called into fulltime Christian service), it is grappling with the horrid, sordid, hideous problem of evil, remembering that Jesus defeated death and the devil and left us with a Gospel and new life because He now lives it in us, it is preaching not Christ the Paragon but Christ the Propitiator, slain and risen for us sinners, it is remembering that a Gospel without offense is a Gospel without effect, it is moving beyond head acceptance of truth and making a total commitment of all we are and all we have to the Cause of causes, it is rejoicing in the Risen One in the midst of sorrow and adversity, it is thirsting for God as the hart pants for the water brooks, it is remembering that this old world is not our home but merely our proving ground, it is outliving ourselves by living to the glory of God and for the good of others, it is becoming saints who understand the times and are enabled by the Spirit to know what we ought to do, it is looking to God to get what only He can give, it means being prepared for trouble and drawing on the bank of heaven when we are bankrupt on earth, it is proving our profession in our lives, our churches, and our communities, it is getting our eyes off of faith and onto the object of our faith, it is feeding daily on the Bread of life, it is doing God's work in God's way and not our own, it is learning to blend the wisdom of a serpent with the harmlessness of a dove, it is hating the deeds and doctrines of the Nicolaitans, it means keeping no record of slights and catty remarks, it is putting our hand to the plow and never looking back ("Let the dead bury their dead"), it means loving one another if we would be known as the Lord's disciples, it means to rise from the dead, having been buried with Christ in baptism so that we might walk in newness of life. It takes no talent scout to locate a true follower of the Resurrected Christ. The distinguishing mark of Christians is that their hearts are perfect toward God, bent on pleasing Him. Satan would have the church conform to this world and be squeezed into its mold, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may prove by experience the will of God. Some day the world of hospitals and graveyards will be forever past, but in the meantime we are called to to be more than "Easter Christians" who have a superficial interest in the things of God and a minimum of interest in what is of maximum interest to Him. A poor frightened world stumbles from one tragedy to another, but there is a balm in Gilead and there is a Physician available. The best way to celebrate Easter Sunday is by getting right with God and then giving our own selves to Him, keeping our spirits in tune with His. His death and resurrection are not mere facts in history to be celebrated. They demand of us our very lives. "For to this end Christ both died and rose again and is alive today, so that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living" (Rom. 14:9).
Saturday, April 4
6:50 PM It's planted :)
9:33 AM As you know, today is tree planting day. A friend sent along these words:
Also, my daughter Liz sent me a link to a song she described as "specifically written about mom." She was right. Watch Andrew Peterson's "Planting Trees" and see if you don't agree.
"She rises up, as morning breaks. She moves among these rooms alone, before we awake. And her heart is so full, it overflows. She waters us with love, and the children grow. So many years from now, long after we are gone, these trees will spread their branches out and bless the dawn."
8:55 AM These arrived yesterday. I'm hoping the book can be of some use in the Spanish-speaking world.
8:44 AM I got home last night from Duke Chapel's Good Friday Service of Tenebrae emotionally drained. After 8 hours of sleep I am still recovering from the experience. At the conclusion of the hour and a half service, the cathedral was plunged into total darkness while the church bell tolled 33 times, once for each year of Jesus' life on earth. The music and singing left me breathless -- "What Wondrous Love Is This?," "Go to Dark Gethsemane," "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross," "Ah, Holy Jesus," "Were You There," and my favorite, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." As a prelude, the organist played the great hymn, "Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein," whose words touch the deepest chords of sorrow and comfort:
To listen was to be transported into the Garden and beyond, to a hill called Golgotha. I have no words to express how much I loved this service or how deeply it moved me. As the bell tolled, each clang was spaced about five seconds apart. During the intervals one heard quiet sobbing all around, and I for one was teary-eyed, wondering "Will it ever stop, will the church bells chime forever into the night, will they sound not only for the death of Jesus but for the 150 souls aboard Germanwings 9525 or for the 147 killed in the Kenya school attack or for the millions who, like Becky, lost their battle with uterine cancer?" I had heard that facing grief is toughest on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, when "grief attacks" occur with greater intensity. I can attest that this is a true statement. I wanted to stay home last night, to stay as I was, but a voice deep inside told me to attend the service at Duke, for that voice knew I would be reminded again that God's ways are not our ways, that through death we see life as it really is, that when all else goes dark Jesus is still the Light of the World, that the cross calls us to be open and truthful, that (as one poet has said) "It's not the weight you carry but how you carry it," that if only I cling to His unchanging hand I can make it. This morning my heart is overwhelmed and joyous. Dear God, thank you for letting me hear the voices of angels. Thank you that the Messiah is my Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for saving my life from sin by carrying my sins and being crucified. What a priceless gift. It was a joy to sit back and revel in Your majesty. I am reminded of that happy day when I gave my life to You.
Friday, April 3
11:36 AM Today the evangelical blogosphere is filled with posts extolling the substitutionary atonement and rejoicing in the great Savior who died for us on the cross of Calvary. This is as it should be. Theologically, today we commemorate the time in human history when God the Father extended His hand of grace toward us and offered us, on the basis of the death of His sinless Son, His righteousness as a free gift. To be sure, this gift is conditioned on faith, to be exercised by us, but its origin is divine.
Practically, however, this faith-appropriation of "the righteousness that comes from God" calls forth, or should call forth, an ardent yearning on the part of every believer to know Christ better and better and to obey Him more completely. One gains positional righteousness so that one may gain experiential obedience. To show what this positional righteousness implies, read Eph. 2:8-10, where Paul emphasizes that once a person has received eternal salvation as a gift of pure grace through faith, that faith makes itself more and more manifest in that person's entire conduct by means of the "good works" that God ordained beforehand. Rejecting sin and selfishness, believers now throw themselves without reservation into the work of being God's hands and feet to turn others away from darkness and into the light. Christian faith is not mere belief. It is a living and sanctifying power.
Thus today, as we celebrate the completed work of Christ on our behalf, and as we rightly honor the One who merited all these blessings for us, should not all this enhance our love for Him and intensify our oneness with the believers of all ages? Even as we cling to the truth of the Gospel that was proclaimed to us and that we received by faith, should we not also hold forth the life-giving word to others? The Gospel needs no supplement. Yet should its influence not be seen in ever-increasing measure as we carry others' burdens to the throne of grace or as we visit the sick and bereaved in their homes or as we give generously of our time and talents to the cause of the Gospel or as we conduct ourselves in harmony with the responsibilities of our new relationship to God -- in short, as we love as He loved? Should not proper theology result in God's children loving Him more in thought, word, and deed? The fact that our obedience is a matter of sovereign grace and has nothing to do with human effort or merit should increase, not diminish, our continuous, sustained, and strenuous effort to extend the Gospel to every nation and every people group in the world. The Gospel we have received and in which we rejoice on this Good Friday was not meant for a select few nor is it confined to any particular geographical region. Just look at the life of the apostle Paul. There was never a gulf between his theology and his service. When he embraced Christ as his Lord and Savior on the road to Damascus, he also embraced Him as his enabler and example. Little wonder he toiled and labored to the point of weariness and exhaustion in his fight against Satan and his hosts. Read 2 Cor. 6:4-10 and 11:24-33 and you will see what it means to be a missionary-theologian!
The question has to be asked, then: How is it possible for a person to receive the merits of Christ's finished work on the cross of Calvary and yet fail to experience His enabling Spirit within their entire person? Student, you may earn straight As on every exam you take, but nothing delights the heart of a teacher more than a young man or a young women's embrace of uncompromising commitment to Jesus' teaching. May this Good Friday challenge all of us to follow Jesus to the margins and to live out our faith in this world, and not just the next.
8:22 AM It's a cloudy, overcast Good Friday here in Southern Virginia -- a good morning to publish a brief post. Today I'm thinking not about Jesus' death but about the death of His good friend Lazarus. When Lazarus died, something happened to Jesus. Imagine. The Savior weeping openly at the funeral of a friend! Yet that's exactly what transpired. In everything Jesus did, He became a participant, as it were, in the greater mystery of the human story. And yet when God looks at us, He does not see merely a mass of humanity. In His eyes, none of us is a soloist. No one truly goes it alone. We belong to an orchestra in which every performer plays a particular part. Should the oboe be absent, the entire orchestra would suffer. Jesus saw people as extensions of His creation. He had created Lazarus, and now the Creator weeps for the one He made. We have not truly loved another person until we have wept with or for them. When our loss seems too much to bear, it is because we have forgotten the Weeping Jesus, forgotten how ceaselessly and carefully He is ordering and ordaining our lives for our good and His glory. Last night, as I sat on the kitchen floor and wept over the death of Becky, I offered her up again to her Creator and Savior. I had no one in the house save for the dogs -- and the One who matters most when it comes to empathy. No, my loneliness can't be fixed. But it can be accepted. God is turning it into something beautiful. "Our troubles are slight and short-lived," writes Paul. "Meanwhile, our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen. For what is seen is passing away, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Jesus, the Unseen Empathizer, is there when we hit the kitchen floor in tears. In the words of Francis Thompson's magnificent poem "The Hound of Heaven":
Good Friday is a reminder (to me at least) that God draws the griever to Himself. He listens to our cries and groanings -- this God who took the defeat of Good Friday and turned it inside out and right side up on Resurrection Sunday. Death always fits into His larger plan. And so when I find the waves of grief washing over me again (will this ever end?), I know that I am never really alone. The Weeper weeps with me.
"Jesus wept." These words come to me over and over. The peace I have received from them breaks all bounds of human understanding, and I begin to see again that every loss is a gift if I receive it as such.
Thursday, April 2
7:34 PM Sunset over Kerr Lake, along with a hot fudge sundae.
I used to take Becky here on one of our "hot dates." It's nice to remember the good times.
5:46 PM What to say about Pamplin Historical Park?
Well, for starters, it's huge. It comprises over 400 acres, and I think I walked most of them today. The Breakthrough Battlefield self-guided tour will take you to the actual spot where Union forces stormed the Confederate defenses on April 2, 1865. It was a perfect day to stroll along the parapets and trails and witness what's left of the trenches and abatis, which are remarkably well preserved.
The first Union soldier to breach the defenses was (so I'm told) Captain Charles Gould of the 5th Vermont. First he was bayoneted in the face, and then in the back. A friend dragged him to safety. Gould would eventually receive the Medal of honor for his heroics. I salute your bravery, sir.
The Tudor Hall plantation house (a model of the original) formed the headquarters of Confederate General Samuel McGowan from the fall of 1864 to the final days of March, 1865. It too is open to the public.
As for the Museum of the Civil War Soldier, the tour comes with an audio player and ear phones that allow you to follow the wartime experience of a soldier of your choice. I picked a private from Virginia (of course) who, miraculously, survived the entire war without a scratch. Not to be outdone by their historical forbearers, a handful of reenactors were also present today.
These included a Confederate artillery unit that kept blasting away at the Federal troops a mere 100 yards distant. I noticed that not a single Union soldier went down -- which indicated either very poor aiming on the part of the Southerners, or else that the Yankees were (as we would often quip during a reenactment) "wearing their Kevlar uniforms again."
One of the highlights of my visit today was the small museum dedicated to the history of slavery in America.
I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of A. P. Hill Redivivus at the small monument that marks the spot of his death on this day 150 years ago.
I've never considered Civil War battlefields "sacred ground," but the historical significance of the Breakthrough Battlefield is not lost on the visitor. "Candor compels me to say that, in my opinion, the decisive moment of this campaign, which resulted in the capture of the Army of Northern Virginia, was the gallant and successful assault of the Sixth Corps on the morning of 2nd April," wrote U. S. Grant a few weeks after the battle. Today's journey was another journey of discovery for me. Having driven right past Pamplin Park a thousand times on my way up north, I thought it was about time I paid it a visit, and what better day than the 150th anniversary of Grant's breakthrough. "Why isn't this great battlefield better remembered?" is a question I'll be asking myself for a very long time.
P.S. I don't hate interstates. Let's just say that I really, really dislike them. Instead of taking I-85 today, I drove along historic Route 1, the famous Boydton Plank Road -- and saw nary another vehicle. Sweet.
8:20 AM Today marks the beginning of the end for Lee's army in Petersburg -- or shall I say "the end of the beginning," as sectional strife will continue long after the men have laid down their arms.
"What can defeat teach me?" I ask myself as I begin my battlefield tour. This is the thing that makes me furrow my brow this morning, this insatiable desire to learn the lessons of the past so that I don't repeat them. I suppose Lee thought that if he just worked hard enough and arranged his troops to the highest degree of discipline he could wear down the enemy. In fact, I have often thought the same thing. "If only I could achieve success in my field and discipline myself to write every day (even when the cool spring air beckons me outdoors) and work hard on relationships, then life will be nothing but brightness and joy." But there are no guarantees with faith. "Giving it all I've got" isn't the answer. I need God. You see, life is a series of opposites. In defeat, Lee discovered his life's calling as an educator. In death, Becky received her ultimate healing. In my dotage, there's new life, new goals, new excitement. In his Poetics of Music, Stravinsky once referred to "the anguish into which an unrestricted freedom plunges me." There is no joy without anguish. Conversely, there is no anguish that cannot be turned into inexpressible joy -- if we allow it.
Perhaps this is why I am so filled with anxiety about Saturday. The whole farm will shift back one page. From now on, whenever I leave the house or sit on the front front, her memory will be there, pushing down roots. I've been around the world many times but there's only one place I call home. I want this place to mean something, not just for me but for coming generations. A tree -- a simple sugar maple -- will be a constant reminder that I am on an adventure, seeking the road less traveled. When I'm tempted to whine "But I have lost the best part of me," I will remember the love she lavished on me. I will let that tree teach me the unforced rhythms of grace. I will stare in awe at God's creation and thank the Creator that He loves me still. To live is to die. It is to do what Jesus required: die to one's self daily. Give up one's rights. Relinquish the past. No longer act independently. Forgive anyone who has trespassed. Look for new life in the midst of death. Even as I type this, I can hear the sparrows singing, filling the air with praise to their Creator. The fields are clapping their hands. And a tiny tree lies in a cool spot, her roots carefully watered, patiently waiting to be planted.
C. S. Lewis once wrote (Letters to an American Lady), "I will never laugh at anyone for grieving over a loved beast.... No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much."
Toss in a maple tree, Mr. Lewis, and I think you've hit the nail on the head.
I think I love this place.
Wednesday, April 1
7:48 PM What I'm reading tonight: American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Assassination.
7:36 PM Today -- the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Five Forks. Tomorrow -- the Breakthrough in Petersburg. I'll be there (D.v.).
5:38 PM Margaret Howe Freydburg died last week at the age of 107. Tonight, NPR ran a story about her life. When she was the ripe young age of 90, Freydburg wrote a book called Growing Up in Old Age. In it she writes:
What a gift, this ability to accept old age. I wouldn't mind it if you were to call me old. But I don't feel old. In my mind's eye, I'm still that strapping 24-year old who married Becky, who surfed on the weekends, who had dark hair and looks and a bright future ahead of him. The problem is that, even at the age of 24, I had a lot of growing up to do. I still do. Immaturity shows up in strife and bickering and complaining and divisions and all the evils so prevalent in our culture. To our shame, Christians are not immune to these dangers. We won't have real revival in the land until the childish become childlike and start growing up -- whether in old age or in youth.
One mark of Christian maturity is when we learn to accept others with whom we disagree -- a point made in a delightful new post over at Kevin Brown's site. I think his point is -- I don't mean to put words in his mouth -- that one can be righteous without being self-righteous. Or, as someone has said, "It's easier to produce Pharisees than Christians." In other words, it's a whole lot easier to get people to do things "good Christians" do than to get them to become the kind of Christians who do what they do for only one reason -- because they love Jesus. Sister Tinkling Cymbal defends homeschooling to the death, while Brother Sounding Brass votes conservative Republican all the way. We must get our eyes off of religion and on to Jesus. We can spend so much of our time trying to develop our faith that we never end up simply being preoccupied with Him. We American Christians easily get the idea that we can do the work of the church with the same approach taken by civic clubs and community groups. We minister to others with borrowed bread. How fruitless! The mature believer will voluntarily and readily unite with other believers to worship Jesus, learn, and serve. I don't have to see eye to eye with you to work hand in hand. How ridiculous to act as though the Gospel were about "Don't touch, don't taste"! We poor sinners called Christians will one day stand before the presence of God united. Until then, we had better do a little growing up!
1:18 PM Another glorious day. Just finished cutting back the trees at Maple Ridge. There were 18 of them.
Not bad for a guy whose thumb is not only not green but is totally colorless. Well, since I've become an expert in horticulture (hehe), I'll observe that pruning non-fruit-bearing trees is quite unlike pruning fruit trees. The latter you want to spruce up a bit, make them look attractive. With fruit trees, it doesn't really matter how nice they look. It's all about the sap. During the winter months, the sap recedes deep into the ground and sort of hibernates there. But as soon as spring comes, it's ready to shoot up through the branches, which is why, when pruning a fruit tree, you're aiming to remove dead branches, overhanging branches, branches that cut off the sun from other branches, etc. I am was told by one expert ("expert" because I watched him on YouTube the other day) that you really can't ruin a fruit tree by pruning it too much. It might even have a slightly "butchered" look to it when you're done. But as long as it begins to bear fruit, your pruning was a success. I imagine there's a spiritual principle of some sort here, but I'm too lazy to think about it right now.
By the way, "it" just arrived ....
Now if you'll excuse me, time to do a couple of back flips.
9:58 AM Becky's tree is almost here!
Glory be! Sound the trumpet in Zion!
9:34 AM Yesterday, as I said, I deleted quite a few websites from my Favorites. I'm pruning, remember? Well, today I added a website to my Favorites and I might urge you to do the same: Dwight Gingrich Online. It's odd, but I only stumbled upon this website this morning. It represents the beautiful and powerful grassroots kingdom movement all over the world that Baptists in particular need to notice. I was delighted to see that Dwight had written an essay on the oft-misinterpreted and oft-misapplied verse in Hebrews (13:17a) that implies we are to "obey our church leaders." The KJV reads:
Dwight's piece is called Giving Account for Our Use of Hebrews 13:17. The essay is both deeply humble and exegetically precise. In it, he challenges the consensus view. I encourage you to read this powerful and relevant article in its entirety. Here are just a few quotes (italics are Dwight's):
Dwight then concludes his essay with this magnificent summary. Pastors/Elders, take careful note!
My hearty thanks to Dwight for these very helpful clarifications. It this is a topic that interests you, I urge you to peruse his entire website. As an equestrian, though, I'd like to conclude by adding a word about his analogy of horseback riding. Dwight writes:
Although I'm hesitant to put too much weight on this one point, I'm in total agreement with Dwight's understanding of riding (I offered my own perspective in my essay My Horses, My Teachers). The goal in horsemanship is to achieve perfect harmony between horse and rider. I always used the mildest possible bit (called a snaffle) with my geldings. I wrote:
Whether you ride or not, if you're involved in church life in any way, shape, or form, Heb 13:17 is a verse you will have to come to terms with sooner or later. As you read Dwight's essay, try to keep an open mind, especially if you're involved in a church that requires you to sign a church membership covenant. No, I'm not pretending that Dwight's interpretation is not without problems or is adequate in and of itself. But I am convinced that something like this has the potential of edifying the body of Christ in a very big way.
More to come. In the meantime, I urge all of us to imitate God as He is revealed in Jesus and not the God revealed in authoritarian church leadership. As Dwight concludes (italics his), "… submission is urged because servanthood has been demonstrated."