Monday, September 1
8:58 PM "Never let your studies interfere with your education." Mark Twain.
8:25 PM Hey folks! I'm back after a whirlwind trip to the great state of Pennsylvania. I tell you, it feels good to be blogging again. The other day Henry Neufeld and I were talking about the joys of blogging. Seems he's been blogging up a storm lately as have several of my favorite bloggers (Jacob Cerone -- welcome back!). I think many of us find blogging to be both addictive and inspiring. I can see why it's still so popular despite Facebook and Twitter. While some people seem to struggle to post a pic or a comment on Facebook, bloggers are having fun writing away with whatever thoughts come to mind. I once thought about opening a Twitter account but then decided against it. Blogging is lots more fun. I realized I had stumbled onto ideas that people seem to really care about. I write for folks who like to cogitate but who also enjoy curling up in the sofa with something that's unpredictable. When I'm reading other people's blogs, I'm always looking for quick bursts of motivation. If the blogger is personable, so much the better. As I read blogs like Henry's and Jacob's I discover lots of new ideas that get my own writing juices flowing. You know, blogging can either be a huge waste of time or a very productive avocation. In the end, it's become one of my most high-value activities as it nurtures my own soul and hopefully the souls of my readers.
Well, as I said, I just returned from 4 days in Gettysburg speaking at a conference as well as revisiting the site of the nation's bloodiest battle. When it comes to the Civil War, I am mercifully free of all bias on the one hand and personal advocacy on the other. And oh -- I've got some beach-front property in Fargo, North Dakota for sale as well. Actually, it's probably impossible to find a completely unbiased American when it comes to the war, perhaps least of all in Gettysburg. Through the town men and women in Union blue and Confederate gray weave their way through the crowds, doing their best to remain in period. Not a few of them are severely overweight -- which would have been an absurdity back in the 1860s. Period music wafts through the air, while suttlers push their wares, and store owners sell their gaudy Gettysburg t-shirts by the hundreds. I enter a friend's photo studio on Steinwehr Blvd.
Rob Gibson is known and revered throughout the reenacting community as perhaps the best period photographer in America. As I climb the stairs to his studio I hear Rob explaining to a group of tourists how a tintype works. Many people are too frugal to sign up for a portrait, but yours truly, under pressure from a good friend who dared me, I stop and pose as one of the more famous combatants of the battle.
Rob gave me the jpeg, which I sent out to my family and friends with the caption: "Look who I ran into while in Gettysburg. Looks a little miffed that he lost the battle."
There seems something both silly and noble about trying to portray a man like Robert E. Lee. But Gettysburg will do that to you. One can't help but feel overwhelmed, excited, amazed, and humbled that an actual battle took place right where you're standing. Like millions of other Americans, I found it engrossing. Having my likeness taken is a reminder that the soldiers who lived 150 years ago and who stare at us from the old daguerreotypes are really not all that different from most of us today except for all that facial hair. I have been to Gettysburg 5 times and still I find the site of Pickett's Charge mindboggling. I have reenacted the assault 4 times, twice in a full woolen uniform. This time I did it in shorts and sunglasses with a bunch of buddies who met me for breakfast in town. It was their first time to cross "that bloody space." We talked about the war and about reenacting. Much to my surprise, none of them had attended a big event. You've never really lived until you've spent the day roasting under a July sun confronted by faux-officers brandishing period sabers in front of a long row of Porta-Potties. Over here is JEB Stuart, instantly recognizable by his red beard and plumed hat, while over there stands Lee himself, resplendent in his colonel's uniform. My Yankee friends would be able to recognize Grant and Meade in their new blue uniforms. Irony of ironies, Meade's statue at Gettysburg is dwarfed by Lee's. Lee you can lionize and certainly Grant, but Meade? Still, I give old Meade a lot of credit -- a lot of credit -- for the Union victory at Gettysburg. That day the South was outmanned, outgunned, and outgeneraled. Stuart had foolishly deprived the Army of Northern Virginia of its eyes and ears; Longstreet was slow and half-hearted; Ewell's bloodied and tired men failed to take Cemetery Ridge. Meade, on the other hand, was as tough as nails and all over the battlefield, personally directing his troops. As my friends and I made it past the Emmitsburg Road and began to climb Cemetery Ridge to the Bloody Angle and Copse of Trees, I thought of Pickett's famous answer to the question of why his division's attack failed. "I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it," was his laconic reply. Last Friday, my friends and I stood on the very place where hundreds of Americans were killed, blown apart by musket fire or double canister. During a Civil War reenactment, Federals and Confederates blast away at each other, but no one dies. Not so on July 1-3, 1863. War happened, it really happened, and the results are more significant that the 1,400 plaques and monuments you see plastered all over the battlefield. As Faulkner once said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Gettysburg proved that the seemingly invincible Lee could be defeated. It also led to heroic acts of kindness on both sides. Take the field hospital that was set up at the Lutheran Theological Seminary along Seminary Ridge. I had always wanted to climb into the cupola that stands atop Schmucker Hall (as the building is called). What would General John Buford have seen from those heights? Well, last week I wrote Mark Hoffman, who teaches New Testament and Greek at the seminary. I told him, "Basically you don't know me from Adam, but since we are colleagues and both teach Greek, perhaps you might be willing to do me a big favor and see if I can get up into the cupola during my visit." Mark wrote back a very cordial letter with the surprising and welcome news that the building has been turned into a museum, and that anybody can tour the copula by paying an admissions price.
Both Isaac Trimble and James Kemper (Confederate generals) were treated here after the battle, along with hundreds of wounded from both sides. Below I am standing in the exact spot where Sam Elliott (playing Union General John Buford in the movie Gettysburg) calls down to General Reynolds and says, "There's a devil to pay."
The seminary even allows skirmishing on its property each year. It has four stories of unforgettable displays, like this one showing Union wounded after the first day of battle.
I was ecstatic to have been in the cupola. The view was more than spectacular. The rest of my time in Pennsylvania was spent speaking at a conference at the Middle Creek Bible Conference Center in Fairfield, only a few miles from the Round Tops.
My hosts were Kathy and Ken Coley. The retreat center has been in Kathy's family for years. It's 535 acres of pristine Pennsylvania farmland devoted in its entirety to King Jesus. I was joined by my new friends Matt Olson (former president of Northland Bible Institute) and David Foster (a biology prof at Messiah College), both of whom brought excellent messages.
I spoke twice on missions and sacrifice in the cause of the Gospel (no surprises there, I suppose). Definitely a great time. A thousand thanks to the Coleys for their gracious invitation to minister the word. I kept praying that the Lord would fill us up with love and strength and wisdom so that we could all go back to our daily routines and pour ourselves out all over again. I'm starting to think He may well have accomplished that. To Him be the glory. Here's a few more pix for you to enjoy while I go and cook supper. Good night.
The place where General Armistead was mortally wounded.
The Codori farm, famous for being right on the Emmitsburg Road.
This is the ground Lee's men had to cover to reach the stone wall on the third day.
Lee's HQ. It's only a block from the Lutheran Seminary.
The site where John Reynolds was willed while leading his First Corps against Heth.
I drove up to Cashtown to see the place where Lee's troops bivouacked the night before the battle.
Pickett's reconstructed "Division."
The Virginia Monument on Confederate Ave. Our "charge" began there.
We reach the Emmitsburg Road!
During the last few yards, we went at the double quick. There's Armistead (Ken Coley) waving his hat.
Standing with Michael Cooper-White (to my right) and Mark Hoffman, president and professor of New Testament respectively at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg. Two more gracious hosts I have never met.
The Round Tops as seen from the Longstreet overview along Confederate Hwy.
Rob Gibson displays his magic. I was tongue-tied.
Thursday, August 28
7:54 AM Jody Neufeld is writing a wonderful series on mourning. May I join the conversation for a moment?
Caught up in the crossfire of circumstances, we humans sometimes become as unpredictable as the weather. We suffer from a crippling disease: being a human. I have known discouragement – a life that Thomas Hobbes once referred to as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." So have you. I have also known elation. So have you. Most days I'm striving to find a balance between the two extremes. Life is a psychic infirmity brought on by the reality of the struggle between darkness and light, flesh and Spirit. So I'm always grateful when I read how Jesus had compassion on people experiencing this kind of distress. I imagine that I struggle where many of you struggle – being preoccupied with the things I've done (or failed to do) in the past. When I think of Becky going Home, I think How much better of a husband I could have been! How much better of a Christian I could have been! I run the film backwards, and misery ensues. Then I look into the face of the One who took the brunt of Martha's mocking words at the tomb of Lazarus: "Well, I see you finally made it. Don't you think it's a bit late to do anything about it now?” The Rabbi is not defensive. His face mirrors her own grief. The past is tragic, He seems to say. But there's hope. "I am the resurrection and the life."
Through all the vicissitudes of my life, I have discovered that the only answer to discouragement is hope. Hope made David get dressed and begin to act like a king again after his son died. Hope made Simon Peter a rock after he had denied his Lord. Life is impossible without hope. Yes, Jesus frustrates me. He will frustrate anybody who tries to live in the past. "It is finished," He says. "It’s all under the blood."
7:38 AM I get to spend the weekend with one of my all-time favorite Christian educators, my colleague Ken Coley, head of our Ed.D. program. As an educator myself, I am deeply concerned with what people think. But I am equally concerned with how people think. Unfortunately, due to the tragic condition of the American school system, most students are simply told what to think rather than being equipped with tools to think for themselves. This is not a time for evangelicals to ignore biblical truth. Still less is this a time for mindless conformity.
It is no longer possible to ignore the academic vacuum that exists at all levels in our churches. Even pastor-teachers fall prey to what I call educationism – the belief that one can't know anything unless one learns it from this or that "expert." Such an attitude actually produces a shallow conformism since it leads us to believe that we need others to tell us what to think. Many well-meaning friends once warned me about going to the University of Basel for my doctorate. "You'll lose your faith!" they exclaimed. Actually, one of the many reasons I ended up in Switzerland was to have my faith challenged. Thank God I came though still believing in unchanging standards of truth and goodness, but my point here is that students today seldom look for ways to have their beliefs challenged. When I was in college and seminary, I allowed my professors to dictate what the questions were and the method of approaching them. I was told that Mark was our earliest Gospel, that Paul could not have written Hebrews, that the Byzantine Text was secondary. I was rarely asked to look at the evidence for myself and make hard choices. What I sought and desired in school, but rarely found, was a map or a guide by which I could know what questions to ask.
Modern education in the U.S. has largely forsaken the scientific method of inquiry. The result has been unreflective rigidity. This inattention to discovery and heuristics is often a product of an anti-intellectual stream in our past. This is very unfortunate. I want my students to leave seminary with solid biblical convictions, of course, but I also want them to understand how one comes to know (epistemology) and to think (logic). Pedagogy matters. It matters because the systems that are opposed to biblical Christianity use logical arguments and philosophical methods. Michael Peterson, in his magisterial work Philosophy of Education (p. 83), writes:
In other words, if our business as Christians is to glorify God, then that includes glorifying Him with our minds. Whatever it takes, whatever it means, whatever happens to me, am I willing to obey His lordship over my thinking? Students, beware of the pedagogy that says, "You sit still while I instill." And to my fellow Christian educators I say: let us teach our students how to think and not only what to think.
7:34 AM Southern California has become a surfer's paradise. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, check out this footage of a guy shooting the pier at Malibu, shot from a drone:
Wednesday, August 27
6:38 PM This and that ...
1) Geoff Smith writes Wondering what to read before seminary? He also has a great post called The King James Bible, with reasons why you should read the KJV and why you should read other versions as well.
2) "I'm his master but his best friend as well." A lesson from the BBC about being a good pastor/shepherd.
3) Henry Neufeld has some thoughts about Voting in Local Elections.
4) Beautiful day on campus:
5) "The Bible was never intended to be a book for scholars and specialists only. From the very beginning its was intended to be everybody's book, and that is what it continues to be." F. F. Bruce.
7:45 AM "Missions is ravenous in its hunger to please God. It knows no other purpose for its existence. It lives for the single pleasure of hearing God say, 'Well done, good and faithful slave' (Mt 25:21). You have told the truth in a false world, you have turned the iron key of liberty in the steel door of hell, and the captives are freed (Lk 4:18)! For this liberation you have been called 'missionary.'" Calvin Miller.
7:22 AM "My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed." Anne Sullivan, referring to her student Helen Keller.
Tuesday, August 26
7:28 PM I know of several students who are beginning their seminary studies this fall. Believe me, your first semester is likely to be your most challenging. So, for what they are worth, here are seven tips for those just starting seminary:
1) Be prepared to work and to work hard. Seminary is usually harder than college. Much harder. The expectations are high, and the requirements heavy. So be prepared to learn self-discipline and good study habits as well as theology and missions.
2) Consider a reduced class load for your first semester. That is, instead of taking 15 hours, take 12 (or even 9). Allow yourself some time to get over the initial hump of adjusting to graduate studies. Four classes will keep you plenty busy.
3) Buy a day planner and use it. Don't ever wing it, schedule-wise. Be sure to write out your weekly assignments for each course you are taking, and then review your schedule frequently to make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks. Know your due dates, and keep them.
4) Get to know your professors outside of the classroom. My office door is always open, and I would love to meet you in person, whether or not you are a first semester student. So take some time to become acquainted with your teachers. And then be sure to go to them during the semester with your questions.
5) Take the languages first. Yes, I recognize that Greek and Hebrew are not usually prerequisites for theology courses or even for NT and OT Introduction. But if your professor is anything like me, you will be hearing lots of Greek and Hebrew in even the most basic general ed classes, and the more of the discussion you can follow, the better.
6) Use the library. Get to know its ins and outs. Take a guided tour and then make use of its ample resources. Librarians are some of the most helpful people on any campus. They are eager and able to help you with your research. Use them.
7) Finally, take a mission trip at least once during the semester. I do, and it is a constant reminder to me that inflow requires outflow. After all, you are learning to serve other people, and the best learning is by doing. Your "mission trip" might be a visit to the local soup kitchen, or it may be to some faraway country. The "where" doesn't really matter.
Have a great semester!
5:18 AM More on Phil. 1:1-2....
Cooperation in the Gospel is essential if we are to reach the world for Christ. This is one reason why Paul writes to all the saints who are in Philippi (1:1). Philippians is fundamentally an appeal for Christian unity. It is organized in such a way as to allow Paul to address tactfully two women who had quarreled badly and were endangering the church's unity (4:2). It is because of the need to maintain the unity of the church that there arises in the very heart of the letter the great passage about selflessness and humility (2:1-11). Thus the words "to all the saints" (1:1) sets the tone of the whole letter.
The word "saints" here is not so much a reference to behavior or conduct as it is a reference to the Philippians' position "in Christ Jesus." Far from connoting otherworldly piety, it pictures a people who are set apart from all other people because of their commitment to follow and obey Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ are the "different ones" – different because they live in the sphere of eternity and in the encircling presence of God. They are, moreover, consecrated to Him because of their special relation to Jesus. Like Paul and Timothy, they too are bond-slave servants of Christ Jesus, set apart for a different and special function in life. This function is nothing less than full participation in the work of the Gospel (1:5). The Philippians had been drawn together by the grace of God, and when people are really touched by God's unmerited favor their hearts begin to beat with the pulse of Christ and their love begins to go out to the men and women for whom He died.
The Philippians lived, of course, in two spheres simultaneously: "in Christ" and "in Philippi." Christians must live out their sainthood in this world. But wherever they live in the world, and whatever outward circumstances they may face, they are always in Christ, enjoying His presence and purpose and power. My "Philippi" happens to be Southside Virginia. Yours is wherever you reside. My job happens to be teaching Greek. Yours is probably something quite different. But wherever we live and whatever we do, we can do it willingly and cheerfully, because we do all things as unto the Lord and in His presence -- and service.
When asked how he attained such great victories, Nelson said, "I had the happiness to command a band of brothers."
The church is a genuine church only when it has the quality of togetherness. The Philippian church was just such a church, a group of saints whose first concern was to put their Christianity into practical action for the sake of others. That this togetherness was in danger of being torn asunder did not prevent Paul from addressing his loving thoughts to all of them rather than to some of them or most of them.
Monday, August 25
7:12 PM Odds and ends...
1) My poor mechanic. It took him as long to figure out how to reset the "change oil" warning light on the dashboard in my van as it did to change the oil.
2) It was a perfect 76 degrees today as I mowed. An early taste of fall perhaps?
3) It's hard to take a bad picture at Rosewood.
4) Been cooking supper, and, no, it's not Chinese stir fry tonight but another special concoction I've brewed up. Ingredients? Cooked hamburger meat with cream of chicken soup and a can each of kernel corn and green beans. Served over Jasmine rice. Mmmmm mmmmm good.
5) While I was cooking, the Market Place Evening Report on NPR was interviewing the person at Google who designs their little doodles in their search engine. The young college graduate being interviewed began every response with "so." That used to drive me crazy, but it turns out this overused conjunction actually has a logic of its own:
Sew now you know!
6:15 PM Continuing our discussion of Phil. 1:1-2....
In this opening salutation we also note that Paul goes out of his way to greet "the overseers and deacons" (so most translations). In the New Testament there are two Greek words that are used interchangeably to describe church leaders. The word presbuteros is usually rendered "elder," while the word episkopos is usually rendered "overseer." The uniform practice of the early church in the New Testament was to have a plurality of elders or overseers. This is because leadership by one person always tends to exalt one man over others, while the Bible clearly teaches that only Christ is to be exalted, for He alone is the head of the church (Col. 1:15-20; Matt. 23:8-12). Thus, Paul does not greet the "overseer" (singular) of the church in Philippi, but the "overseers" (plural). Though the churches we attend may have a "pastor," this is generally not the teaching of the New Testament.
It is instructive that Paul describes these believers in Philippi, not as being "under" their leaders (in which case the Greek preposition would have been hupo), but rather "along with" (Greek sun) the overseers and deacons. This is not accidental. In terms of biblical teaching, every Christian is a minister. There is no separate class of those who minister while others stand by and watch. Though some ministers may devote more of their time and energy to the ministry, and some may even be paid for their ministry, all Christians are "in fulltime ministry." As Alec Motyer of Christ Church, England, writes: "Within the local church there was fellowship (all the saints) and leadership (the bishops and deacons). The leadership, however, was not an imposition upon the fellowship but an expansion of it. For the saints are not 'under' but with ('in company with') the bishops” (The Message of Philippians, p. 33). Motyer adds, "As is always the case in the Bible, the existence and activity of such ministries arise out of the needs of the church, and they can be exercised only in ways that are suited to what the church is. Thus, for example, the New Testament never speaks of any ministry as mediating between God and the church" (p. 35). Motyer is referring to the great New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which is an essential part of the biblical idea of the church.
It is also important to note that neither "overseers" nor "deacons" is used with the Greek definite article. This seems to be significant. In Greek, the use of the definite article generally points out particular identity, whereas the absence of the article generally emphasizes qualities or characteristics. Apparently Paul uses this construction to emphasize the work these individuals do and not their titles. Evidence for this functional meaning of the terms comes from other Pauline epistles as well (see 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:28-31; Rom. 12:6-8). The clear impression we receive is that of local churches under apostolic authority with each church managing its own affairs under the leadership of qualified men who oversee and serve the congregation.
The implications of this are tremendous. If you were to go into practically any Protestant church today, you would likely encounter a hard and fast clergy-laity distinction, and very often a church led by one man (sometimes with an iron fist). Or you may find the leadership divided into pastors, elders, and deacons, or into ruling elders and teaching elders, with the ruling elders functioning more like administrators who are involved in very little pastoral ministry. None of these models is, in my opinion, truly biblical. While some passages suggest the presence of an elder who became the spokesman for the leadership, there is no suggestion anywhere of one man who was viewed as "the" pastor. Such a person was always accountable to the other elders and never led in a hierarchical manner, as was the case with Diotrephes (3 John 9-11). Thus the church is never viewed as a one-man team with the "pastor" doing all the work while the "laypeople" watched. Because of the limited capacity of one man to lead the church, New Testament leadership was plural and equal, with no system of hierarchy. True, certain people will generally function as leaders among the leaders because of their wisdom and experience, but all are equal and accountable to each other.
Moreover, in the worship of the church, the leaders are never seen as dominating. Instead, a pattern of multiple participation by the congregation seems to have been the mark of all apostolic churches (see Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:11-16; 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), regardless of their geographical location (see 1 Cor. 4:16-17; 11:16; 14:33). The New Testament teaches that the congregational meeting is to be a place where Christians exercise their spiritual gifts and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. There is no division into two classes of people: clergy and laity.
In addition, the leaders in the congregation did not take upon themselves honorific titles that might set them apart from the rest of the "saints." Alexander Strauch, author of Biblical Eldership, correctly notes (p. 259):
In light of what we have seen above, there is a great need for reformation within local churches in the way we view leadership. Traditional pastoral ministry tends to promote a one-man model of leadership under the self-styled "pastor." In contrast, the New Testament teaches oversight by a plurality of men usually called elders. Some elders might be gifted differently and may even excel in specific pastoral tasks, but there is no biblical warrant for dividing church leaders into separate, highly-developed "offices" with honorific titles. The New Testament does not speak of two classes of Christians, as we do today. According to the Bible, all Christians are the people of God who through the exercise of spiritual gifts do the work of the ministry. Such is the teaching of Paul in Phil. 1:1. Once again, Alec Motyer summarizes it well (p. 40):
This kind of leadership has many facets. It involves realizing that leaders and led share the same Christian experience: both are sinners saved by the same precious blood, always and without distinction wholly dependent on the same patient mercy of God. It involves putting first whatever creates and maintains the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It means that leaders see themselves first as members of the body, and only then as ministers. In this way they face every situation from within the local body of Christ and not as people dropped in from the outside (or even from above!). It involves patiently waiting for the Holy Spirit to grant unanimity to the church in making and executing plans. It involves open relationships in which the leaders do not scheme to get their own way or play off one against another, but act with transparent integrity. It involves willingness to be overruled, to jettison role-playing and status-seeking, to be ready to cast a single vote with everyone else. It involves putting the welfare of the body of Christ before all personal advantage, success or reputation and it involves co-equal sacrifice for the Lord and his Gospel. It is the leadership of those who are content to stand among the saints as those who serve.
12:25 PM Oh, the joys of trash!
No, not the trash itself. But on the way to the dumpsters I did have a chance to hear a great Diane Rehm interview about care giving. The interviewee had lost her husband to Alzheimer's. This statement of hers caught my attention: "Military men are the best caregivers. You know, 'honor,' 'duty,' 'leave no one behind'." Wow. Men, some day you might be called upon to care for your dying wife. How will you do it? Honor. Duty. Leave no one behind. For it is the special magic of love to demonstrate convincingly that the real goal of marriage can only be achieved by total self-sacrifice. It will not be easy to watch your spouse die. But even more startling is the realization that there is nothing your wife can do to unearn your love. "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!" (Song of Songs). "You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes!"
If a man and a woman spend enough time looking into each other's eyes, they will realize that they are really one, and that there is nothing in the world that can destroy their love for each other.
11:34 AM My friend Robbie stopped by to help me fix the truck's windshield wipers. I did the hard part (bought the parts at NAPA).
10:56 AM One of my daughters just texted me to ask me if I was working today. I told her, "Yep. Fixing plugged drains, spraying Round Up, writing, doing a trash run, getting an oil change ... and texting you." And did I mention mowing? Love my work!
10:12 AM In the opening greeting of Philippians (1:1-2) we see that the letter was written and sent by two of Jesus' slaves, Paul and Timothy, men who worked side by side and shoulder to shoulder for the Gospel. Timothy is mentioned because he was with Paul when the church at Philippi was established and is now with Paul in Rome. Of all Paul's churches, the church at Philippi was the church to which Paul was closest, and of all Paul's companions, no one was as dear to him as Timothy was. The great contribution of Timothy to Paul's missionary service was that he could be entrusted with any task. His one desire was to serve Christ. Paul could therefore send him to Thessalonica, to Philippi, and to Corinth with perfect confidence that Timothy would get the job done. Like Paul, he was simply a bond-servant, a slave of Christ Jesus, His absolute possession and the One he owed absolute obedience.
Only rarely in life does one find such a trusted friend as Paul found in Timothy. Becky and I were extremely blessed to have known and worked with many such "Timothies." I'm not talking about people who merely put on a show of affection for others or who feign concern for the Gospel. I'm talking about believers whose sacrificial service for others in the name of Christ is exemplary, just like Timothy's was (2:19-24). I must tell you, these radical Jesus-followers were a great encouragement to us. Our work in Alaba, in Burji, in Gondar, our work among the nomads, the animists, the Muslims, the Orthodox of Ethiopia – all this work would have been impossible without the willingness of Timothies who worked with us side by side and shoulder to shoulder.
Sometimes our closest Timothy is our own spouse. I know that was true in my case. Jonathan Edwards' last words before he died were those of gratitude to his wife Sarah for the "uncommon union" they had enjoyed by the grace of God. Whenever I think of the partnership between Paul and Timothy or between Aquila and Priscilla I think of the similar kind of relationship I enjoyed with Becky. We had the opportunity to spend large amounts of time serving the Lord Jesus together both in America and abroad. We tried to set priorities for our marriage that elevated the kingdom to a place of precedence over everything else in our lives. I am not ashamed to say that God used Becky tremendously in my life to draw me closer to Him and to nudge me toward greater Christian maturity. Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, had a similar relationship with his life partner, Maria. J. C. Pollack, in his book Hudson Taylor and Maria (p. 102), writes:
I'm sure you would be as blessed as I was to see Becky’s servant-style selflessness. She was a woman of great faith and prayer and an indispensable part of my work in the Gospel.
Notice how Paul elevates Timothy to his own level as a co-equal partner in the Gospel. Later he will tell the church, "I have no companion who has a spirit like Timothy does, no one else who is so genuinely concerned about other people, no one who lives so selflessly. He practically enslaved himself to me in the Gospel!" (2:19-24). Like Paul, I am a wealthy man because I have been blessed with such selfless companions in the service of the Lord Jesus. What makes my work in Ethiopia and Asia and the Middle East so precious? It's simply the people – people who join me in the work, who faithfully continue the job, and who hand it on to still others.
9:20 AM Today I'm starting a brief series of posts on Phil. 1:1-2, the opening salutation of Paul's love letter to the Philippians. Christianity was a revolution that changed the attitudes and values of the ancient world. It was an entire way of living and not merely a set of dogmas. What made early Christianity so revolutionary? The salutation of Philippians contains several answers to our question.
But before I begin, allow me to say something about the first word of the letter: "Paul." When I think of Paul, I am reminded of his scholarship. No, I'm not referring to his academic achievements or his publications or his reputation as a graduate of one of the world's leading universities of his day. In fact, the term "scholarship" is completely redefined when we think of Paul's missionary life. I've often heard Paul referred to as a theologian. I can't dream of Paul ever using that term to describe himself. Paul wrote great theology, it is true, and he was a thinker of the first magnitude. But he thought of himself, first and foremost, as a preacher of the Gospel, a church planter, and a lover of souls. He was God's "chosen instrument" to take the Good News to the Gentiles, and to that single task he was fully devoted. He was, as every Christian should be, "separated unto the Gospel" (Rom. 1:2), and whatever publishing he did he did for one purpose: to advance Christ's kingdom and to build up the church.
Many years ago I came to a similar conclusion in my own life. Like many others before me, I had viewed my scholarship as an end in itself, as an entrée into the world of academic conferences, as a means of gaining recognition and affirmation. But as I read the New Testament – I know that is a novel thing for a New Testament professor to do! – I began to see that my priorities were terribly misplaced. The words of Kierkegaard spoke to my heart (Provocations, p. 201):
Today, I seek to use whatever scholarly abilities the Lord has given me for His service. Simply stated, I try to practice serving, as did Paul. The opportunities are endless to model the Jesus walk to others. Don't wait for politicians to bring about cultural renewal. Be the hands and feet of Jesus – evangelizing the lost, feeding the hungry, teaching the illiterate, caring for unwed mothers, rebuilding the broken walls of our culture.
There is much to savor in Paul's opening salutation in Phil. 1:1-2. I hope you enjoy our brief excursion into these two verses.
8:06 AM Money and mission trips can be a sensitive topic.
7:48 AM Historical background issues of interest in Philippians:
1) The history of Philippi as a Roman colony
2) Latin as the official language of the city
3) Emperor worship (the imperial cult) in Philippi
4) Paul's use of the "citizenship" motif in the letter
5) The absence of a synagogue in the city
6) Paul's ministry as described in Acts 16
7) Why were only Paul and Silas arrested (and not Timothy and Luke)?
8) The membership of the nascent Philippian church
9) The (unique?) place of women in the church at Philippi
10) Where was Paul when he wrote the letter?
11) The nature of the opposition in Philippi
12) Paul's "thankless thanks"
13) The leadership of the church
14) The pax Romana v. the pax Dei
15) The koinonia/societas motif as pecuniary
We will be discussing all of these topics (and many more, I'm sure) in tomorrow's Ph.D. seminar on Philippians. Our first presenter is my assistant, Joshua Covert. Wish him well!
Sunday, August 24
7:22 PM Read Britain Is Not a Christian Country. Key quote:
6:53 PM My prayer for my children and grandchildren this evening:
6:34 PM This Tuesday one of my missionary friends will be sharing very briefly in my Ph.D. seminar on Philippians. Makes sense, since Philippians is all about the way we can partner together to advance the Good News. I want these doctoral students to be exposed to a fairly novel idea in academia, namely that their skills and degrees can perhaps best be used in overseas settings. This was the point made by Keith Campbell in an outstanding essay that appeared in JETS. His article is well summarized in this blog post by Bruce Ashford, my provost. Ashford concludes:
This is wisdom for today. It is sound advice. And even if you should find a fulltime teaching position here in the states, you can still leverage your doctorate for the Gospel by serving overseas on an occasional basis.
What about it? Would you consider going overseas to teach?
6:10 PM Once again, I listened to the TED Radio Hour on NPR as I drove to church this morning. Today's topic? Vulnerability. Transparency. I loved it. You say, "I don't do vulnerability." I understand that. It takes a good deal of courage to be transparent. In fact, according to one person interviewed on today's show, "Vulnerability is one of the greatest expressions of courage." I agree. The apostle Paul embraced vulnerability. Just read the book of 2 Corinthians -- a book that most scholars agree is Paul's most personal writing. God led Paul down one of the most difficult and harshest roads imaginable. He speaks of having the sentence of death within him; he speaks of being weak and broken; he speaks of coming to the end of himself. "Outside were conflicts, inside were fears." If there was anyone in the ancient world who knew what it was like to be transparent, it was the apostle Paul. He was truthful, honest, and open in his dealings with others. And he sought to develop a culture of openness in the churches he founded. He knew that truth and trust were the twin building blocks of relationships. And even though he talked openly about his weaknesses and infirmities, he always seemed to find comfort and victory in union with Christ. He was hard-pressed but never crushed; he was sorrowful but always rejoicing. And all because of the Savior.
Transparency is a flattening force that has the potential to have a profound impact on every one of our relationships. When we are open and transparent, we share our struggles with others. Not everything. Not all the details, for sure. But we are, in a word, real. My favorite bloggers are like that. I sense they are real human beings with real flaws and real aspirations and real victories. Their example is worth following.
2:55 PM Lunch with the Glasses today in Durham:
Earlier, Jon began a series on the book of Nehemiah at Cresset Baptist. It was excellent. Later I heard my son Nathan bring a wonderful, Gospel-centered, Christ-honoring message at a funeral at a church near the farm where he ministers. I am a blessed man.
Now I need to get some writing done. See ya!
7:20 AM As you know, I've had to come to grips with the fact that I'm not married. Most of my friends are wedded. Most of my children are. Many of my students are. But God does not owe us a spouse. Nor is singleness a disease. I have a good friend who has been single for a very long time. Today his "family" is comprised of hundreds and thousands of Iraqis in Kurdistan. I'm not saying that marriage is not an option. But for those who pursue God's calling for a single life, there is still a great blessing. Jesus, who was a bachelor, knew that some people are called to singleness ("Some choose to stay single for the sake of the kingdom," Matt. 19:12). Paul had much the same notion (1 Cor. 7).
God has given me peace. I once made a vow, a holy pledge, spoke sacred words that required perhaps 30 seconds of my time. Keeping that vow was the work of a lifetime (37 years to be exact). Becky and I consistently looked back to our vows. And now God has called me to comfort, encourage, and perhaps even challenge those who have made those same vows to protect them. He has given me many "children" to care for and look after. In my affliction I have been comforted, and now it is my turn to comfort those who are afflicted with the help of God's gift of widowerhood. Single or remarried, my goal is to give glory to God. There is much love in my life. The face of that love is seen in so many ways and in so many individuals. But it is the Lord who makes this gift of love possible in the first place. It is He who calls all of us, single or married, to be transformed into His own likeness and image, to demonstrate His great love to others, to allow ourselves to be sucked into the great vacuum of the world and its sin and horrors and make His love incarnate. Thus marriage (and singleness) is not something we need to carve out for ourselves but a gift from God to be used in the service of the kingdom. Our identity is not in our marital status but in our God, who allows us to see all the weaknesses and failings of others (our spouses included) and then, by the pure grace of God, accept them and love them.
I suppose I've become used to being identified as "widowed" on the forms I sign. To the government, I am a single taxpayer. To the banker, I am no longer required to have another's signature. Nevertheless, I am not what others think of me. I'm not just an insignificant blip on someone's radar. Rather, my name is known to God and is inscribed in the Book of Life. And that's what I have: an identity secured by all that God intended. It is truly a foretaste of heaven, where there will be no marriage other than the marriage of the Bride to her Lover.
Christian, are you struggling today with loneliness? I understand your struggle. But we're free to turn back to God. "Look at Me. I stand at the door and knock," Christ says. You opened the door once. Go ahead -- open it to Him again.
Saturday, August 23
8:15 PM Let the chase begin!
5:30 PM It's been two months since my daughter and her husband lost their full-term baby named Kai. Parenting is inevitably a trap -- a trap in which two people are caught up in the absolute necessity of trusting God and loving each other. Marriage is the closest possible bond between two human beings, and the fruit of that bond (children) are the most tangible results of that permanent commitment. Such a bond always comes at a very high cost, and the cost is nothing less than one's own will. The capacity to love your spouse is, in fact, nothing less than a death to self, and there is nothing really one can do about this but to allow that death to occur and to make use of the event as an opportunity to lift one's thoughts to God. Marriage is a living demonstration to the world of the inexplicable intimacy into which God desires to draw us. It also opens us up to heartache and tragedy that we could never ever have imagined when we said our wedding vows. Naturally, I love my children and want to do anything I can to assuage their grief. I have prayed for them constantly over the past two months, and I have done so because I know no one except God who can comfort their grieving hearts. As with Becky's death, the Homegoing of Kai personalizes Christianity -- the joys, but also the pains. For in our losses we discover a new thing -- a love that is deeper than anything we had dreamed could be possible, a love independent of any earthly thing at all, a love that finds its meaning in Love Himself. Kai's death challenged me anew to find my true contentment in God. To all who are grieving the loss of a loved one I say: God isn't just watching your pain; He is experiencing it with you. You're a unique creation of His whom He loves and is lovingly guiding along the route that is best for you according to His eternal perspective. I know that fact doesn't lessen your pain. But God says, "I am working this out for your good, and therefore you can release your grip on worries."
On the first Easter morning Christ burst His bonds. But the day is coming when all those who have died in Christ will arise victorious from death. That reality, I believe, will one day be Becky's, and it will one day be our precious Kai's. Blessed by the name of the Lord.
3:38 PM Yes, it's true ... I survived another farm work day here at Rosewood. I had lots of excellent help, as always. My heartfelt thanks to Matt (landscaper) and Luke (farm boy) and Russ and Leah (very hard workers) for coming all the way from the Forest of Wake to help out -- on very short notice. If you're a small-scale farmer like me, you know how quickly farm buildings have a way of becoming messy and overgrown with bushes and weeds. So having a farm work day was long overdue. I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed working with my "crew." I was especially impressed with Luke's rendering of the "Greek Alphabet Song" (last picture). Way to go, Luke!
Greek students, we'll have another work day this semester, and this time I will give you plenty of advanced notice (warning).
Now, for the pix:
8:28 AM Good outline of Philippians by Walter Hansen in the Pillar series:
What's your favorite outline of Philippians?
8:22 AM "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." So said Gerard Manley Hopkins. Well, the grandeur around here has succumbed to weeds and fallen tree branches. So grateful for the students who are coming over to help me clean up a bit today. At times, 123 acres can be a bit much to care for by yourself.
8:13 AM Pastors, let's be careful what we say about Ferguson tomorrow. There is often a huge disparity between our human reaction when wronged and that of our Lord, whose response to those who shamed and beat and killed Him was, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing." We humans are good at seeking revenge, at hating. That's why, I suppose, He died for us. Let's pray for justice, yes. But justice tempered with mercy.
8:10 AM Read Biblical Languages and the Local Church.
Friday, August 22
9:12 PM Just spent time in prayer for my family. So many needs. Relationships can be a hot tin roof. It's a place where love never sleeps. Only a God who knows all things can be called upon to help us in our challenges. As obvious as it sounds, prayer can be the most difficult priority to keep in perspective. I want to DO, not pray. What it amounts to, finally, is a kind of pride that says I have the answers when I really don't. Thankfully we have a Lord who has hair on His body and blood oozing out of His wounds. Today is the day to carry to Him all of my burdens and rest the whole weight of my responsibility as a father and grandfather on His shoulders.
7:08 PM I've been reading Henry Neufeld's blog and was so impressed by his thoughtful post called Why Not to Tithe that I just had to stop and comment on it. Henry says he's always been against tithing in a legalistic sense, even before he published David Croteau's book on the subject. Yet he was afraid to tell others he didn't believe in tithing. He was afraid that people would give less than 10 percent if he did. As it turns out, I share that fear. If I were to teach pure grace (as I indeed do teach), people might assume that I didn't think giving was all that important. Actually, grace giving ought to be the easiest type of giving of all, but instead it can be the most difficult. It takes maturity to know when to give, how much to give, to whom to give. Giving is an abstract subject. There is no black and white. For when Christ enters a person's life, it is always on the level of grace and never on the level of legalistic morality. Tithing reduces all decisions to one simple decision, and there is no struggling with the Holy Spirit. When, however, we come to understand and accept the place of grace in our lives and love relationships, it becomes easier for us to grasp the theological doctrine of grace giving. Somehow we must learn to love as God loves and give as He gives. Our giving should be watered with tears and bedecked with affection. For now is the time to give, now is the time to be generous, before the opportunities have passed and it is no longer an option.
5:19 PM Just picked these from the back yard.
Roses to honor the memory of my rose.
10:30 AM Please pray for me. I have several upcoming meetings to speak with individuals and churches about India: Today, Sept. 7, Sep. 14, Sept. 28, Oct. 22, Oct. 26, Nov. 2, and Dec. 7. I take great courage from the fact that many of us are taking steps toward greater obedience to the Lord's Great Commission. There is a brilliant truth that I have come to see, largely through Paul's letter to the Philippians. In 1:5 he thanks God for the church's "participation in the Gospel." We have a God who promotes His own mission through the lives of His people. And note: This participation came about in three very specific ways, which I believe are patterns for how we are to do missions today. The Philippians actively participated in Paul's Gospel mission by:
1) Praying for him (1:19)
2) Sending him regular financial support (4:10-18)
3) Sending someone to care for his needs (Epaphroditus; 2:25-30)
The body of Christ in Asia is looking for Christians in other lands who will link hands with them in this time of great harvest for the kingdom. With prayers, support, and love we can help native evangelists and their families march forward to complete the task of world evangelism in our day. That's my vision, that's my goal, that's my burden these days. Believers in North America and believers in India are made of the same dust. We cry the same tears. And we are free to help each other by becoming partners in the Gospel. I am trying to raise up an army not simply of mission supporters but of lovers -- people who have fallen desperately in love with God and with suffering, lost people.
9:50 AM Loved these posts:
9:05 AM A word to my beginning Greek students:
So you've chosen to take me for baby Greek. I'm glad for that, and I'm glad to teach these classes. But I do have a word of caution. Two things ought never be entered into prematurely: embalming and a Greek class. So let's make a deal. I will do my very best to fulfill my side of the bargain. And that's to teach the language in a way that is easy, simple, understandable, and motivating. I promise to be as clear, accurate, and precise as possible. I also expect you to be as careful with your part of the bargain. What's that? you ask. Blood, sweat, and tears. Tons of memorization. Hours of study. Let's both do our part, okay?
Nothing we strive to do should begin in a context of vagueness and uncertainty. If I have time, I'll .... No, no, no! Purgatory has a special room for procrastinators. If we say we are going to do something, we need to do it. It's called commitment. In our irresponsible society, I realize that commitment is a dirty word. I also realize that many of you are already over-committed. Then I might suggest that you delay your embalmment -- and your Greek class -- until the right time.
One last thing: You can't do this on your own. It takes what I call divine discipline. On Wednesday I was brutally honest with you about my own failures in this area (I lasted only three weeks in my first semester of Greek before dropping the class). We've all failed in one way or another in this area of life. I'm simply suggesting that before you begin a new project you count the cost. It will require a great deal of divine discipline. As with a marriage, you must choose to adapt, adjust, and work through the obstacles that will inevitably come your way. I've already pointed out on this blog how William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, took up a new language when he was 70. That really convicted me when I read it. I myself am thinking about jump-starting my Spanish this school year. It will come in very handy as more and more Hispanics move into our area.
In the end, you do whatever you know is God's will for you. As Jim Elliott put it so eloquently, "Wherever you are, be all there, and live to the hilt whatever you are convinced is the will of God for your life." And if Greek is part of that purpose for you, you can rely on Him for the grace to get you through.
8:59 AM "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Harold Wilson.
8:40 AM Claire Smith's study of the concept of "teaching" in the Pauline communities disappointed me. I read it in its entirely last night.
She attempts to give us a portrayal of what Paul's "scholastic communities" might have looked like, but she delimits her study to only 1 Corinthians and the Pastorals. This is, in my opinion, a critical oversight. It means that such crucial verses as Col. 3:16 (which emphasize fraternal instruction) are completely overlooked ("Teach and instruct one another in all wisdom"). In terms of specific cases of exegesis, I also found her study wanting. For example, I was particularly curious to see her discussion of the adjective didaktikon (which is one of Paul's requirements for being an overseer in 1 Tim. 3:2). She renders the term "able to teach." In a footnote she states "This translation ... is to be preferred to 'able to learn' or 'teachable'." But why? No rationale for her position is given. BDAG allows for both renderings. My preference is for "teachable" in light of the context (character traits are in view, not skills or aptitudes). Besides, the best teachers are those who are always learning. They are, in a word, teachable.
A final thought. I do not think the word "scholastic" is appropriate for the Pauline communities. That they were didactic is beyond doubt. That teaching took place -- both formally and informally -- is beyond question. But Paul's churches were not mini-seminaries. I encourage you to put no trust whatsoever in scholarship per se. We all know people who have been educated beyond their intelligence. The only real knowledge is knowledge of God, a knowledge that can be attained without a formal biblical education. I say this as a professional educator and as one who is often called a scholar. We must remember Paul's words (in 1 Corinthians no less!): "God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important." The world thinks that scholarship is very important. It indeed is, when we understand its purpose: to be placed in humble service to the cross.
Thursday, August 21
8:14 PM I was 7 years old on this day in 1959 when the original "Hawaii 5-0" (as in "50th" state) was officially launched. I remember it (and the fireworks) well.
Little did not I know at the time that Hawaii had been an independent nation when U.S. Marines illegally overthrew its government in 1893 and when President William McKinley handed it over to the U.S. in 1898 (though he had no authority to do so). In 1993 the U.S. Congress passed a bill officially apologizing for this illegal history. Public Law 103-150 reads in part:
Oh, well, sometimes childhood innocence is a good thing. At any rate, Happy Statehood Day to my native state of Hawaii. All together now:
Makua Lani e
Makua Lani e
12:16 PM This morning I enjoyed having Kim and 5 of my grandkids over. They played so nicely. Now I'm getting caught up on reading all of my favorite bloggers. There seems to be some discussion about the purpose of the church. Some of the discussion was apparently prompted by my new book on the church. Well, I have an opinion (surprise, surprise!). Let's start by asking a few questions:
"The Son of Man came to .... what?"
"You shall be My .... what?"
"As you go .... make what?"
"Go into all the world and .... do what?"
"As the Father sent me, so I am ... what?"
"I became all things to all people in order to .... what?"
To me, the evidence is more than ample. I am not against the gathering. I gather regularly. I love the gathering! But: The gathering exists for the going. I suppose you could call this a mantra of mine, but I will keep repeating it ad nauseum if necessary. To return to the above statements:
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
That's a missionary purpose!
He told us to be His witnesses.
That's a missionary purpose!
His final command to us was to make disciples of all the nations.
That's a missionary purpose!
He instructed us to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to everyone.
That's a missionary purpose!
As the Father sent Him, so He is sending us.
That's a missionary purpose!
Paul became all things to all people so that he might save some.
That's a missionary purpose!
YES! YES! YES!
And so I ask my readers: Are you heartbroken that countless people have never experienced the forgiveness of their sins? Will you do whatever is needed in order to fulfill Jesus' final command to His disciples? In short, are you a missionary – locally, regionally, globally, even cross-culturally (Acts 1:8)?
I think it's very dangerous when we'd rather be good businessmen or pastors or scholars or churchmen or homeschoolers than good witnesses for Jesus. I think it's very dangerous when we find good reasons for hiding our faith. I think it's very dangerous when we learn how to be "all things to all men" but not for the purpose of "saving some." What is the point of Christianity if not to lead men and women to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord? Why does the church exist if not for the conversion of the lost?
Here's the gist of my argument. To me it's a matter of priorities. Jesus taught that as we humble ourselves before God and reject all earthly standards of success and happiness we learn to view the world as He sees it. We then want to make Jesus and His teachings known as far and wide as possible. We learn that the way of the Gospel is the way of suffering, trial, poverty, and sometimes despair. We no longer cling to our creature comforts. We are ready to sacrifice everything for the Gospel. It becomes the object of our preoccupation (Phil. 1:27). It gives meaning to all of life. We now find the true significance of our earthly existence. We learn to accept the insecurity of freedom in God. We do not need security! We are free in Christ to live for others, not ourselves.
In my book The Jesus Paradigm, I had a lot to say about the Anabaptists, because I think they got it right when it comes to this matter of priorities. The purpose of the Anabaptist movement was more than to recall Christians to their biblical roots or to the notion of "proper" church services. At every point the Anabaptists sought to correct the notion of their contemporaries that the Great Commission had been fulfilled by Christ's original apostles. It was this emphasis that explains the disgust, and even contempt, that some of the magisterial Reformers felt for the missionary program of the Dissenters. I believe that our own situation is much like that of the Anabaptists. Today we have to strip off the false notion that missions is only for professionals. Jesus is asking His followers today to take seriously not just the gathering but the going. What we must learn to say to the world is: "Here we are. We are willing to make any sacrifice to see that you know Jesus. We are not asking you to come to church with us. We love you right where you are. We love you no matter what you do to us. If we have to build a hut next to you for the rest of time just to witness to the love and grace of the Lord Jesus, we are going to make that effort."
For the Anabaptists, the church was a community consisting of those who had a vital relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. It was the brotherhood of the redeemed, purchased by Christ's spilled blood. It was the fellowship of the regenerated who as "living stones" were being built up into a holy temple. It was the body of Christ where each bore the other's burdens and thus fulfilled the law of Christ. The church was all of this to the Anabaptists.
But it was much more than this.
The church was the community of those who not only worshiped God and learned of Christ but who witnessed to others and proclaimed in word and deed the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation to anyone who would listen. For the Anabaptists, the biblical church was at heart a Great Commission church – witnessing, evangelizing, and ministering in love both to each other and to the outside world. For them the whole of life was to be one of service and sacrifice. Members of free churches were not to be left alone to their own devices. This meant that they would not only serve the needs of the brethren but carry their witness into the world. No words of Jesus meant more to the Anabaptists than the Great Commission. They believed that the true church was obliged to take that commission seriously. We are obliged, I think, to do no less today.
In my opinion, then, if the ministry of the church is God's means of fulfilling His mission in the world, it is necessary that we view what we do on Sunday as merely the beginning, not the climax, of our work. In other words, we need to change the basis for evaluating the effectiveness of the ministry of our churches. The question is not "How many attended on Sunday?" or "How well were we edified?" but "What did those who attended on Sunday do during the week to advance God’s mission?" This is what it means to be the People of God. It is a people who understand that the mission of the church is to fulfill God’s redemptive mission. Our calling is to join God’s army and become aggressively involved in His mission in the world.
I want to thank all of you who have interacted with my new book on the church. The conversation will continue. But in the meantime, may I encourage all of us to not wait on the outcome of the discussion. Starting now, let us unite with other disciples and manifest Christ's love to a lost world. How you gather on Sunday isn't necessarily going to change the world. How you live will.
Blessings on you all,
Possibly interested in more? See:
Wednesday, August 20
8:14 PM Here's another book I have to read! Primarily because my good friend and colleague Daniel Heimbach gave me a personal copy.
Please check it out at Amazon. Thank you, Dan, for this gracious gift and for the privilege and joy of serving with you on campus. I know that many will be challenged in their thinking as they read this book.
7:48 PM Here's the latest photo of the new school building in Northern India that, with God's help, will be completed next spring.
The school will hold 2,000 students. The Peniel Gospel Team sent me this update today. I could scarcely contain my excitement when I read it.
By charging a monthly tuition fee of $25.00 USD per student, not only the school but the various Christian ministries of PGT will be maintained. The building will be used for public and Christian education during the daytime hours and for the training of evangelists and "lay" leaders during the evening hours. Brilliant plan, eh? Yup. Becky thunk it up.
As I mentioned a few blogs ago, the bottom line is that Indians are ready to reach India for Christ. They have been placed in the harvest fields of this work by God. The question is, What is the Western church's role in these matters? Lord willing, I believe that if we follow God's instructions (2 Cor. 8-9), we will see these endless millions of Indians come to know Him, and ministries such as this school will be the bridge to reach them. God is already doing a wonderful work in India by His Holy Spirit. He is building "His" church in every nation of Asia. The day of the native missionary movement has arrived.
Well, sorry for preaching at you all the time about this. Well, not really. I am passionate about this, can you tell? My prayer? For hundreds if not thousands of North American Christians to awaken to what the Lord is saying to His church. This involves sacrifice and, for some, suffering. But that is what the kingdom of God is all about. And it's also the only way to know true joy and the abundant life that Jesus promised His followers.
Holy Spirit Blessings (and I'm not even a charismatic!),
6:24 PM Sometimes words just don't cut it. A case in point is Wake Forest. Man, I have more fun there than a barrel of monkeys. Our opening convocation was packed with new students.
Then I taught three great groups of students. Then I was honored to be interviewed again by my good friend (and former grader) Abidan Shaw. Then I was blessed to meet with several of my doctoral students.
Then I got home only to see that another review of my Seven Marks book has been published, as well as an interview with one of our Areopagus authors, David Croteau, on the Janet Medford Show (David's treatment of the subject of tithing will really get you thinking). My heart is filled with song.
I do believe I love this life of mine.
My friends, despite feeling so unworthy, despite feeling so inadequate for the task, our limitations are not liabilities to God. We carry on -- in His name. And when we become tired from all the effort and from the investments we make in the lives of others, just picture His open arms as He calls us close and says, "Come to me, all of you who are exhausted and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."
Tuesday, August 19
5:30 AM Back to school day. I'm grateful for Southeastern and its focus on the cross. There is no place in Jesus' band of disciples for those who are not willing to accept suffering and uncertainty. We have millions of theology books today and more head knowledge than ever before in Christian history, but what good will any of this do unless we pick up the towel and the basin? We will stand powerless and defeated. "Mere garbage" (Phil. 3:8) is perhaps the most famous euphemism in the New Testament. Paul uses an expression that carries a highly offensive connotation. Perhaps the best we can do in English is "unspeakable filth." Many people who call themselves Christians have never arrived at the point at calling their assets "debits," or their accomplishments "manure." Our Lord invites us to gain Him and reckon everything else as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable.
May all of us find Him this semester.
Monday, August 18
7:55 PM My topics at the Apologetics Conference in California?
7:50 PM Tomorrow we begin Dr. Little's email to the Horse-Lovers. Get it? I've modernized it a bit :-)
7:40 PM You will enjoy this:
7:20 PM Philippians students, please, please, please read this fantastic blog post by Brian Fulthorp called On Paul's Letter to the Philippians. The man nails it. The reason he writes is "because I know the church local and global is in the midst of conflict. There is strife about certain preachers locally. The church in the Middle East is being systematically murdered. The church is facing new levels of conflict both from within and from without."
Yep. You are right, Brian. Thank you for your own "prophetic and powerful word." Let the church of Jesus Christ be known for what we for, not against. And, let it be noted: This unity cannot be drummed up on our own. The Spirit of God alone can initiate and empower such unity.
Incidentally, this is why Becky and I intentionally adopted a consciously cooperative model of doing missions. (See How We Do Missions.) That is, when we go into a nation, we do not go as representatives of the American church bent on pursuing our own strategies and agendas. We have no American "experts" telling us what to do. No, we simply come alongside the churches that are already there and ask, "How can we help you?" The reason we have done this is very simple: Christ does not have "bodies." He has one body. And every local church is a manifestation of that body. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one kingdom, one church, and one authority -- the word of God. Individualism is out; we strive together as one person.
Do you see your local church as one with Christ's worldwide body? Are you fighting side by side with the brethren in other nations for the sake of the Gospel? We can. We must!
5:53 PM Cooking supper now. Yes, stir fry with my super secret ingredient.
5:42 PM I thought my Ph.D. seminar started at 7:00 in the morning but then I was gently corrected by my new assistant. We actually start at 7:30. Thank God for assistants!
1:25 PM I just sat down to write a thank you note to John Reumann, author of the magisterial commentary on Philippians in the Anchor/Yale Bible series, only to find out that he died from cancer in 2008. I cannot speak too highly of this work. It is an excellent book written by an excellent scholar and churchman. Reumann taught New Testament for 50 years. Having read the book in its entirely (805 pages), I have come to the conclusion that I should have read it years ago. The Spirit has already used it in my personal walk with Christ. Reumann takes great care with the text, as if it were something precious and holy (which it is). I especially loved the way he challenged conventional wisdom -- for instance his view that the Greek word normally rendered "humility" should actually be rendered "humiliation." His commentary, in short, is a deep study of Paul. It is tough reading but thankfully all the Greek has been transliterated. I plan to read the book again as our class goes through Philippians this semester. And I can't wait to thank the author personally when I get to glory.
10:42 AM It's official! In September I will have the honor of being a keynote speaker at an apologetics conference in San Jacinto, California as well as speaking at 412 Church on Sunday morning.
My talks will center on the absolute trustworthiness of the New Testament, including the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. I just love the warmth and enthusiasm of my Calvary Chapel friends who always make me feel right at home. In all honesty, I probably won't be saying anything these folks haven't already heard a thousand times. I hope they won't be too bored with me!
Get the word out, all you Southern Californians!
10:04 AM Remember "our" Indian evangelist who received his new motorcycle? I received this email from him this morning. Praise God for the internet!
We assure our prayers too :-)
9:36 AM Well, I'm off to a terrible start this morning. There I was, sipping my first cup of coffee and enjoying the view from the back porch when NPR ruins my day. It ran a story about the Fields Medal, a prestigious mathematics prize that is given every four years to the nation's top mathematician under 40 years of age. This year the award went to an Iranian scientist working at Stanford. But that's beside the point. The story posed a different sort of question: What happens to these recipients after they receive their prizes? Do they become more productive in their future work, or less? With whom are they being compared? you ask. Well, you have to remember that the prize is given only every four years, so the study involved 37 year-old mathematicians who lost. Who was more productive: those who received the award, or those who lost out? And the answer is ...
The award winners were less productive than their prize-losing counterparts.
Now, it's important to keep in mind that the whole purpose of the award is to encourage productivity in that mathematician's particular field of research. What the study showed, however, is that once a person receives the award, they tend to lose interest in the subject that got them the award in the first place. In a word: They lose their single-mindedness.
Now stop what you're doing and listen to the story over at NPR.
The reason this story ruined my day is because I wasn't planning on blogging much this morning. Too much work to do on Philippians. But how can't I blog after such an interesting report? Let's see if I can't weave this it into my work on Philippians, okay?
In Phil. 1:27, Paul begins the hortatory part of the letter (i.e., the section in which he begins to show us how to live as Christians) with a single Greek word monon: "Only!" Since the word is a neuter adjective, we might translate Paul's meaning as: "[The] only [thing that matters]!" Paul says there's something in life that we can be absolutely sold out to. It's the only thing that matters in life. Now I'd called that single-mindedness, wouldn't you? Jesus spoke about this subject in Matt. 13:44-46. Remember? He said that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field. It's there but it's hidden. Then it's accidentally found. The finder is ecstatic. He sells everything he has to buy that field. No, he doesn't care about the field. He cares only about the treasure.
Let's say you were to visit my farm and you notice a big sign out front: "For Sale: 123 Acre Farm with Two Houses." Not only that, but when you pull up the long gravel driveway you see a "For Sale" sign on my Honda Odyssey. You'd say, "What's up with Dave? What in the world is he doing? Looks like he's selling out. For what?"
Now let's ask the apostle Paul the same question: "What is the 'only' thing in your life, Paul? And what will it cost you to acquire it? Will it cost you a beating? A shipwreck? Going without food or water? Your finances?" Paul's answer might go something like this: "Yes, I had it all. I used to be a pure-bred American. No immigrant, me. Had a Harvard Ph.D. to boot. I had everything, man. But then I caught a glimpse of that treasure in the field. Since then, everything else seems like ______ (untranslatable). No, I don't have it all figured out yet. But I'm working on it. My goal is now very simple: I want to know Him and to make Him known. At whatever personal cost. Even if it costs me my life."
So let's go back to Phil. 1:27. For Paul, living as a good citizen of heaven in a manner required by the Gospel was the only thing that mattered to him. Now, just how you and I flesh this out is between us and the Holy Spirit. There's no magic formula that says "do A-B-C." You'll notice that I haven't literally sold my farm and car.
Bonhoeffer put it this way (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 211):
Listen. Our time is limited. Yours and mine. Our days are numbered (by the Lord). Our resources are limited. Our money is limited. Have you found that treasure yet, Dave? What will it cost you? What is your "only" thing in life? Being a native son of America? Having a Basel degree? Enjoying a reputation as a "scholar" (whatever that means)? Well, I'll tell you: I don't have it all figured out. But I'm working on it. I want to have the same single-mindedness that Paul had. "This one thing I do" -- not "these 50 things I dabble in."
Coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." Now that's single-mindedness. And that's precisely what the award-winning mathematicians lost.
Little wonder I stopped sipping coffee and started blogging.
Sunday, August 17
8:25 PM Hey there, all you missions-minded people out there. Check out this history of the church in Africa as told in maps. It's a brilliant essay. About one of every four Christians in the world lives in sub-Saharan Africa.
Now contrast that with the Indian sub-continent. The world's least-evangelized people groups are all concentrated in India. According to Operation World, of India's 159 people groups of over 1 million population, 133 are unreached. Christians number barely 6% of the total population of the nation. Hindus comprise 75%. Many Indian states have no church and very little Gospel witness.
But there is a bright side to all of this. An entire generation of young Indian Christians is mapping strategies to reach all of India with the Good News of Jesus Christ. I believe (as you well know by now!) that the church in the West is being called to be involved by sharing both prayerfully and financially in the great work of evangelism that lies ahead. It is time, is it not, to launch the biggest missions movement in history, one that mobilizes hundreds if not thousands of native Indian missionaries to reach their own people with the Gospel.
Will you not join me?
6:34 PM I've now had my iPhone 5s for three weeks and I'm loving it. Here are ten things I like most about my new smart phone:
1) It's thin and light.
2) It's handsome and elegant.
3) I can hold it easily.
4) It's fast.
5) Siri works great (most of the time).
6) The fingerprint sensor is awesome. (I actually use my thumbprint.)
7) It allows me to answer emails anytime, anywhere.
8) The emojis are fun.
9) The space pack battery case I bought provides all the extra juice I need.
10) It takes great pix.
Thanks to my daughters for suggesting (i.e., needling, provoking, urging, insisting, cajoling) that I buy one.
Below: Dave's iPhone (***actual photo!!!!***).
2:54 PM Another great morning at The Hill. We said "goodbye" to our pianist Leanna. But she won't be going very far. She starts at the College at Southeastern tomorrow! As for moi, I've been working outdoors. I love mowing.
I love being outdoors period. I even enjoy mowing around the farm cemetery.
In case you can't read it, this marker says: "Anderson Boyd. Corp. 59th VA. Inf. C.S.A. November 21, 1936." Boyd is the former owner of the property. I'm grateful for this entire farm, even the parts that cause me to sweat like a horse. I call this "willful gratitude"!
9:58 AM As our Philippians class begins this week, I thought I'd link to some essays I've written on the book. Enjoy!
8:48 AM Our retreat ministry here at the farm is kicking into high gear and I'm afraid I can always use help in completing my (ever-growing) list of farm, yard, and garden projects. This coming Saturday I am announcing a work day here at Rosewood from 9:00 to 1:00. Please send me an email and let me know if you'd like to participate. The more the merrier. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. My street address is 2691 White House Rd., Nelson, VA, 24580. You'll need your work gloves and a chain saw if you have one. I'll be passing around a sign-up list to my three classes this week. I know this is short notice, but this is the only Saturday I've got free. Ladies, there's plenty of house work that needs to be done too!
8:14 AM Ship ahoy, matey! Eight bells and all is well. Did I hear someone ask how the India work was coming along? Since last Sunday I've had four invitations to speak about India in various churches. It's such a strange paradox. I don't feel like a fundraiser or that I am doing fundraising. But I love talking about what the Lord Jesus is doing in other parts of the world. So we'll keep speaking as long as He opens doors. I'm glad I live among people who think the same way.
I was talking with someone yesterday and we realized all over again how dangerous it is to be an American and to grow up with wealth (all of us are wealthy when compared to people living in the Majority World). DC is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. But to be honest with you, I have the same reaction that Paul had when he entered Athens. I think of that wonderful verse in Philippians that says our citizenship is in heaven. As Christians, the Jerusalem that is above is our mother. On this earth we are nothing but "resident aliens" (to quote the title of a fantastic book). Do we pride ourselves in the halo of big government, the marble edifices, the laws and protections afforded by our constitution? Far more real is the heavenly commonwealth of which we are citizens, the commonwealth that gave us birth and that governs our lives by its dictates. The greatest display of power this world has ever seen is when God used His almighty power to dive into the murky waters of humanity with all of its weakness. At the incarnation, God took upon Himself all that is hideous and redeemed it all, making it shockingly beautiful. Now, I'm fully aware that many find the Bible's teaching about human government offensive if not insane. And it does sound crazy: We are to love our enemies, not kill them. Jesus is no prize fighter beating up His enemies. He's clothed in a blood-soaked robe (Rev. 12:11). And if we are His true followers -- true citizens of His kingdom -- the only way to conquer is through Jesus' lamb-like way. This is not to say that Christians can't participate in politics or government, but the only real security the Christian has is in Yahweh and living as He has revealed in Jesus Christ, even if it means dying. The portrait of human government in Revelation 13 is very instructive here. So is the apostle John's statement that "the whole world lies under the power of the Evil One." Over and over again God stresses that He does not in any way conquer evil by evil. He seeks time and again to awaken us to our bondage to the ugly, illusory notion of political power. Scripture teaches that cosmic forces are loose in this world and governments are held hostage to these forces -- but not forever! It's from this perspective that we refuse to grant ultimate and unconditional allegiance to the nation-state (Acts 5:29). By contrast -- by sharp contrast -- believers are to follow the Lion/Lamb with absolute loyalty and undying love ("all who love His appearance," 2 Tim. 4:8). Jesus said it's impossible to serve two masters. I don't think this means we can't be involved in the political process. It's a democracy, so go ahead and assert your opinion about who to vote for or what policy you'd like to see in place. Never forget, however, that for our God, the governments of this world are "less than nothing" (Isa. 40:15-17). Our job is stay centered in the King and run after His righteousness and not the things the pagans run after. To use a military metaphor (2 Tim. 2:4), our responsibility is to please our Commander-in-Chief and put His beautiful character on display at all times (Eph. 5:1-2).
On a completely unrelated (and possibly contradictory-sounding!) note, on Friday, Sept. 29, I'll be walking the field where Pickett's charge occurred at Gettysburg. If you'd like to join me, let me know. It's an easy walk. There are usually a couple of mowed paths from in front of the Virginia Monument all the way past the Emmitsburg Road to the Angle on Cemetery Ridge. We may even climb the trail up Little Round Top afterwards. On Saturday and Sunday I'll be speaking at the Middle Creek Bible Conference just a few miles from the park, thanks to a very gracious invitation from my colleague Ken Coley.
This Tuesday is Convocation, of course, thrusting us all into a new semester. The church in the West is at a vital crossroads. My prayer? That we all would hear what the Lord is saying today to the North American church. Are we willing to live for eternity and follow Christ's sacrificial lifestyle? I hope so!
Saturday, August 16
6:58 PM Last night I watched the movie Into the West for the fifth time. It's got a cute story line: Two "traveler" boys (gypsies) in Ireland steal a horse in order to return to the West and leave behind the tenements of Dublin, including their drunken father. Their acting alone makes the film worth watching. I think the toughest role is played by their conflicted father, "Papa Reilly" (Gabriel Byrne), who has never come to grips with the death of his wife seven years earlier.
I think the movie is profoundly right about this. I suspect any widower watching this flick would say, "That's exactly how grieving feels." The movie thus has potential to be a great story about redemption. Unfortunately, it has too much mysticism mixed in with it for the truth to win out. Too bad. The movie has a good plot line and is exceptionally well acted. In one scene, where Papa Reilly kneels down and grabs two handfuls of ash and then "washes" his face with it all the while crying out "Mary, Mary," the note of absolute realism is glaring. He had wept in private but never publicly, and in that one public act he experiences the long-awaited catharsis. Denial has its place in the grieving process. It's like a cushion that eases the initial blow. But watch out if it turns against you and keeps you from moving forward with life. We all need to learn how to say goodbye. I'm not one for etymologies, but perhaps because the word "goodbye" originally had the notion of "God be with you," it's a bit easier to let go when we realize that God is part of the process. At least that's how it's been with me.
How about you, fellow traveler?
6:32 PM From Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:
2:42 PM 541. That's the number of miles I just put on the old horse and carriage. On Thursday I decided to drive up to DC to see my daughter Karen. She had just moved there from New York for work, and so I wanted to catch a glimpse of her new apartment and meet her roommates. One of the things I'm no longer very good at is driving all day or through the night, so I broke the drive up there into two parts. I'm really glad for that, because there is something about taking your time when you're driving across this great nation of ours. You can hop into bed whenever you want to and can get up late. You can just luxuriate. Since I avoid driving on the Interstates (unless I'm in a very big hurry), I have acquired an embarrassingly large amount of knowledge about Virginia's two-lane highways. Of course, the GPS on my new iPhone worked wonders to keep me relatively on course to my destinations. I was thinking -- I suppose I am always thinking -- about how we used to travel during the dark ages, when I pulled a tent trailer full of kids and dogs through countless states during summer vacations. No internet, only a crumpled up map. I think I like the modern way of traveling a lot better. I had always wanted to visit the site of the Civil War's greatest cavalry engagement at Brandy Station, so that was my first destination on Thursday. After that I decided to spend the night in a quaint old (ca. 1859) bed and breakfast right on the Fredericksburg battlefield grounds. (General Lee ate his breakfast there on the morning of the battle.) On Friday I drove the rest of the way up to DC, paying my respects to the old man of Arlington House before crossing the Potomac and taking Karen out to dinner. I overnighted back in Virginia, whence I left this morning to get back to my farm work. On the way home I stopped by the historic Manassas Battlefield to say hey to Old Jack.
What I am about to do is detestable, I know, but here are a few pix if you can bear them. Augustine once quipped, "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." Happy Trails to you, wherever your own horse and carriage -- or someone's words and pictures -- should take you!
1) Leaving Clarkesville ("my fair city") and heading up Hwy 15. The traffic was terrible, I tell you, terrible!
2) Enjoying a delicious bacon and eggs breakfast at the famous Wyliesburg Diner, just around the bend from Podunk. I was their only patron.
3) And get this: Gas for only $3.09. Ever seen a 62-year old man do a back flip? Woo-hooo!
4) Hwy 15 is famous for its ante-bellum homes. This one has been turned into a restaurant.
5) This is Jeb Stuart's HQ at Fleetwood Hill near Brandy Station, where the Gettysburg campaign began in 1863.
Can you imagine 21,000 sabers going at it right here? Good old Jeb was taken by surprise, though he did eventually manage to send the Union boys scurrying back across the river. Embarrassing for old Jeb for sure. Think that's why he decided to ride around the Union army again, maybe just to save face? When he did, of course, he left Lee and his army blind.
6) Care to purchase this old structure in Brandy Station? I wish I could move it the farm!
7) Braehead Manor, where I spent Thursday night. Isn't she a beaut?
8) Warren and Karen were the perfect hosts, along with their two dogs and cat. If you ever want to break up your trip going north through Virginia, do consider Braehead. Their website is here. I give it 5 stars out of 5.
9) They even let me play their period
10) Beautiful Arlington House, once overlooking a 1,100 acre plantation.
11) The monstrous unfluted Doric columns are almost enough to send one scurrying back down the hill. Lee once wrote, "My affections and attachment are more strongly placed here than at any other place in the world."
12) The room where Robert and Mary were wedded on June 30, 1831. Military life took a heavy toll on Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee.
13) The gardens are kept immaculately, even today.
14) Here's Karen's three-story apartment in DC. She shares it with 5 other young Christian ladies. It's about two blocks from Capitol Hill Baptist Church and not much farther to the U.S. Capitol.
15) Although there are several good Ethiopian restaurants in "Little Ethiopia," there is also an excellent diner only 5 blocks north of Karen's apartment. We decided to try it for dinner.
16) Ethiopia is definitely one of the top contenders for the best food in the world, and our meal at the Ethiopic was right up there with anything I've eaten during my 17 trips to Addis. Check them out whenever you're in DC next.
17) Recognize this?
18) And this?
19) And him?
Well, this concludes our travelogue for today -- only a few highlights from the oodles of things that happened as it were in an instant of time. To travel is to be swallowed up by time and events. For one moment I saw nothing but clean and wondrous sky and thought, My Father made all this. He also made each one of my wonderful daughters, has them at different stages in their life. And I am their dad. Wow. That word carries with it a lot of joy but also a whole lot of responsibility. Like Judas at the sight of Mary pouring out her costly perfume at the feet of Jesus, part of me cries out "This money could have be used for other things!" But Jesus, of course, loves scandalous acts. He is the inventor of the "scandalous waste." Parenting involves an extravagant commitment of pouring out time and effort and resources into the lives of the people we love. I guess, in the end, that is what this little jaunt up to DC was all about. To share love with those who love you. To talk, to eat, to encourage and be encouraged, to say goodbye -- "Till the next time!"
Sometimes I think the only real way to demonstrate that something is not ours is to give it away. And that's why I love taking 541-mile trips like this one.