Tuesday, November 24
3:38 PM Glad the dogs and I checked the mail today.
A set of Helen MacInnis books!
Got them on EBay for cheap.
9:34 AM Ken Schenck makes some really good points about SBL.
9:12 AM Was the apostle Paul an athlete? The reason I ask are these verses in 1 Cor. 9:14-16:
The subject here, of course, is self-discipline, not physical fitness per se. But let me ask you: How could Paul have endured all of the rigors of his missionary travels unless he was in good physical condition? Consider the two catalogues of suffering he lists in 2 Cor. 6 and 11.
Consider, too, what Paul writes about Christian marriage in Ephesians 5. How can he tell a husband to love his wife "just as he nourishes and cherishes his own body" unless he assumed that we naturally care for our bodies? Certainly a man does not have to be a star athlete to be a good husband. But the essential fact is clear: It's natural and normal for us to seek physical wholeness and well-being. Everything we accomplish in life will be done through our body. What high value, then, we ought to place on it! I agree with the Psalmist (Ps. 139:13-14): "Thank you for making my body so wonderfully complex. It is amazing to think about!" Many of us have fallen into undisciplined habits of feeding our appetites instead of our hunger. But Paul says, "Discipline is the price you pay for freedom from flabbiness, laziness, and harmful habits." Hence it's not at all surprising to me that Paul should write in Rom. 12:1: "And so ... I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice -- holy and acceptable to Him. When you think of all He's done for you, is this asking too much?" Why should we settle for the fatigue that so often sets in late in the day? The cure is: motion. Motion of any kind, providing it is vigorous -- walking, cycling, running, rope skipping. The game of life requires physical energy. Without it, what we do will be done badly or not at all.
As we approach National Gastric Indulgence Day, let me ask you: How do you feel about your body? How do you treat it? Respectfully? Or indulgently? The first impression people have of you is your body. You'd better not ignore it -- no one else is going to.
Monday, November 23
2:52 PM Everyone at Rosewood Farm is happy today. The doggies are happy because I let them inside on this sunny but cold day. The donks are happy because they have a nice thick winter coat.
And I'm happy because the doc just gave me antibiotic ear drops. By the way, my blood pressure today was 112/87 and my resting heart rate was 68. Not bad for an old geezer who was born before the ark landed on Ararat. Cardio seems to be paying off.
Much to be thankful to God for today!
10:38 AM John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." Boy is that true. Today I'm looking at my day planner for 2016. I feel like I'm getting ready for the rest of my life. And I'm only looking at the expected. Only God knows what unexpected things will occur. In glimpses and flashes, my aspirations are becoming clear. For indeed, I (like you) still have a life to live. We have future goals, plenty of them. Not that I regret the past. I don't. In the course of my ministry I've had the joy of serving as a professor of New Testament and Greek in three wonderful institutions, had the privilege of teaching in a great many countries around the world, even had the audacity to write a few books that were less-than-status-quo-promoters. It's been an exciting adventure of faith. But I'm looking forward, not back. I still hope to make an impact (no matter how small) on the lives of others and engage in acts of love toward my neighbors here and abroad. So, then, here are a few of my goals, aspirations -- you could even call them dreams I suppose.
1) I dream of a church that exists not for itself but for its yet-to-be members.
2) I dream of a church that embodies the practical love that characterized the life of Jesus.
3) I dream of a church where members get to know, love, and depend on each other.
4) I dream of a church where training is not abdicated to paid professionals or youth pastors but is taken up by parents and mentors.
5) I dream of a church where teaching is not a one-way street but involves dynamic debate and lively discussion.
6) I dream of a church where the social implications of the Gospel are embraced.
7) I dream of a church where evangelistic zeal is commonplace.
8) I dream of a society where churches are in partnership with each other instead of in competition.
9) I dream of a church where alienation between "clergy" and "laity" is unheard of.
10) I dream of a church where leaders see their job as equipping Christians for the work of serving Jesus rather than trying to do all the work themselves.
11) I dream of a church where each person in the body realizes they are indispensable limbs and are fulfilling their calling.
12) I dream of a church where Jesus alone is the true model of leadership.
13) I dream of a church where believers experience the active and intimate leading of the Holy Spirit.
14) I dream of a church where members shed their masks and false expectations.
15) I dream of a day when all of our lives would be a proclamation of the Gospel, not only our words.
16) I dream of a church where Scripture shapes our prayers.
17) I dream of a day when studying and learning theology would be our vocation and not our hobby.
18) I dream of a day when we rid ourselves of all of our evangelical hero worship and celebrity Christianity.
19) I dream of a church where it's okay to regress, stumble, and rest and recoup.
Lofty expectations, I know. And there are plenty more I haven't even mentioned. I know I'm living out the final decades of my life. I'm excited about the past. But I'm leaning forward into the next crazy adventure.
What are your aspirations, dear friend? I pray for you. I pray that you would know you are loved by the Lover of lovers. Remember that, live it, breathe it, and rest in it. Let the Lord lead you into a new chapter in your life. Open your arms and welcome whatever comes next.
God be with you.
Sunday, November 22
5:35 PM I've heard it said that our theology is formed by our autobiography. I believe that's true. And I think the same thing applies in politics. My fascination with the Republican presidential candidates is not so much with their positions on the issues (which are fairly predictable) but rather on their personalities. How do they handle conflict? I think this question matters. When I was in seminary I was taught that there are basically three ways we protect ourselves from psychological pain. We either withdraw from others or, conversely, we placate them or, finally, we attack them. Each approach is based on a simple premise: Others will try to hurt me if they can, so I must not allow myself to be vulnerable. Withdrawers are experts at protecting themselves. Because of their fear of rejection, they build walls around their inner self that are basically impenetrable. This wall allows them to relate to others without becoming emotionally involved with them. The strategy is that if you can't get close to me you can't hurt me. Withdrawers are experts at cover-up. "I don't want to" sounds so much better than "I'm afraid to." Placaters, on the other hand, are experts at congeniality and helpfulness. They reason thusly: If I'm a nice guy, there is no reason for anybody to attack me. But behind the facade of kindness is a fearful individual who has serious misgivings about their own self worth. Finally, attackers employ the strategy of preventive warfare. They think: The only way to prevent other people from getting one up on me is to get one up on them first. Hence attackers go after others before they come after them. The plan of attack may be direct as well as indirect. Attackers may simply bully other people (the direct method) or they may subtly denigrate them by trying to make them feel stupid or inadequate (the indirect method). If you recognized one of the Republican candidates in the latter description, you are not alone. I hope the discovery made you very unhappy. Attackers may appear to be tough and strong but their hostility belies the fact that they are motivated, like the withdrawer and the placater, by fear. Their survival depends on always having the upper hand, of always being on top. Other people will always be an imminent threat to their security.
I'm not done yet figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the various candidates. The issue is neither simple nor straightforward. But at least none of the candidates has espoused a blab-it and grab-it theology. Always something to be thankful for!
1:05 PM Today I'm nursing a mild head cold so I'm taking some time to read a bit of systematic theology. For someone who loves practicing theology as much as I do, I confess that I really do enjoy reading well-written tomes on theology. When you come of age when I did, during the turbulent 60s, you quickly realize just how important sound doctrine is. The more I study New Testament Greek, the more deeply convinced I have become of the need for unimpeachable orthodoxy. Anti-intellectualism is a horrid trait of certain strands of evangelicalism. Nonetheless, I think this is much less true today than when I was growing up. No evangelical Christian in their right mind would minimize the need for proper theology. Bible study is one of the means by which we appropriate and experience God's grace. The word is milk and meat and a lamp to guide us. Of course, knowledge is not enough. We develop strong Christian muscles only by serving the Lord. The Bible alone will not do the job. Yet if the Christian life is to be one of obedience and discipleship, how can we obey and follow unless we understand what is expected of us?
"But there are so many disagreements among evangelicals," you say. This is, of course, very good reason for more, not less, study of Christian theology. When I was teaching at Biola and Talbot I was greatly encouraged by "Evangelical Affirmations," a careful statement produced by some 650 evangelical leaders in 1989.
Among its affirmations we read the following:
In 1989 I had had my doctorate in theology for less than 7 years. So I was both humbled and honored to have been asked to represent Talbot (along with Robert Saucy) at that Evangelical Affirmations conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I tend to agree with James Packer (Hot Tub Religion) that all Christians are theologians, or at least ought to be. No, the kingdom of God is not simply orthodox theology. As a professor, I'm not in the business of disseminating information. I'm in the business of transformation. Like my students, I'm an exile in a fallen world, here to plant gardens of truth and love until that day when all things will be renewed and restored. And this, my friend, is why we study theology: to become the very best and most productive gardeners we can possible be.
Saturday, November 21
6:24 PM I'm sneezing tonight. Maybe I overdid it a bit today. It's just another reminder that I'm in exile in a fallen world where bodies get tired and even sick at times. I'm drinking an Airborne right now. That usually fixes it. Life boils to down to some fairly simple principles. It's all a matter of what the Greeks called epieikes, moderation. Our modern concept of moderation is a bit different I think. To the Greeks, moderation meant participating in activities that led to a consistent pattern of peak performance. It meant exercise, diet, and rest. The point is: Live your own life, run your own race at your own pace, and remember to rest (I had a nap today). I finished my run this morning feeling great. We will not do anything for any length of time if we find it boring. So tonight I have a plan of action: More Airborne if necessary and plenty of rest today and tomorrow. Every day, we must decide -- you and I -- what we're going to do and who we're going to be. To do that, we have to come to terms with our strengths and our limitations. When you run a 5K, you are in a sense tyrannizing your brain. You're engaged in a wily game of mind control. Your body dictates to your grey matter. Only through perseverance can you succeed. And in the end, it doesn't really matter what your time or pace were. It's the repeated performance that produces pleasure. When, then, is success attained? When a person realizes that being less than a winner in the activity is preferable to the so-called "good life" elsewhere. In this case, we may run out of time but, as Vince Lombardi used to say, we can never lose.
12:50 PM Got more pix to share with you today:
1) Today was the annual "Cleft Palate Gallop" (or, in my case, "Trot"). Our goal was to raise at least $6,000 for the UNC Craniofacial Center. I'm told that we exceeded that amount by quite a bit. Woohoo!
2) Here I am with the two race coordinators. They are both students in the dental school at UNC.
What marvelous people. I learned so much today about children born with cleft palates. Restorative surgery is now commonplace and begins as early as 3 months. The funds raised today will be made available to needy families on a case-by-case basis. So if you live in the Raleigh-Durham area and ever hear of a child born with cleft palate, please don't forget the services provided at UNC.
3) The weather could not have been better for a 5K -- clear, sunny, and cold. I'm told there were 350 runners in today's race.
4) Yes, I was pretty jazzed by the results!
5) Finally, what can I say about last night's concert? Something deep inside me was touched by Rachmaninoff.
Music is one of those eternal things that reminds you of who you are in the midst of all the rushing about of life. The second movement of the concerto brought me to silent tears. The music was both powerful and comforting. How is it possible not to love classical music? It touches your soul and you start thinking of all sorts of things -- a lost loved one, your childhood, your parents, your children, a trauma in your life that no one else knows about, the victims of war and terrorism, even life and death. Today it was particularly difficult for me to be back on the UNC campus, which is where I brought Becky countless times for her treatments. What helps me the most, when I can do it, is to relax into the arms of God and relinquish any effort to control my life. I accept life as it's been dealt me -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Music helps. So does running. Both nudge me toward complete reliance on God's love, which is "broader than the measures of the mind." I need protection from the demons that assail me in the night. The last thing I want for my family is a father and grandfather who can't shoulder his burdens. Once again, today I was enabled to sing a new song. "You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety! You are my refuge and strength in every trial, every danger, every challenge! Nothing I lack if I am Yours and You are mine forever! Thee I love, O Lord! O, how I love Thee!"
Friday, November 20
2:32 PM I think of myself as an old surfer, although I still think there's some big waves left in me. This GoPro video captures the world of surfing so well I just had to share it with you.
Riding a good wave feels like being at a 5-star hotel's breakfast buffet. You're overwhelmed by the options, which seem endless, but even more than overwhelmed you're fantastically happy and want to taste every little morsel you see. Surfing is always like that. Whether you are young or old. Whether the waves are tiny or huge.
I have got to get a GoPro camera for my next trip to Oahu.
11:50 AM A couple more things ....
1) Today's cardio.
I began my workouts on May 18, 2015. As of today, my totals are:
2) My youngest grandson turns 6 months today. Happy Monthaversary, Mr. Peyton! Papa B loves you!
3) Again, Diane Rehm concluded her news roundup today with the words, "The world sure is in a mess." Yes, Ms. Rehm, it is. Permanent peace is an illusion until Jesus returns. In the meantime, you can forget about "security." The plotter of the Paris raids was in Syria as recently as the Monday before the attack. What kind of national security is that? When I walk through TSA "security" at the airports do I feel safe? While they're busy grabbing the bottle of water I forgot to take out of my carry-on bag, layers of security are missing, including the ability to "thwart" tests performed by the Department of Homeland Security. We are spending a lot of time and resources treating symptoms instead of the disease. People who do bad things have something more wrong with them than that. Removing the symptoms will not cure the disease. The basic trouble, Ms. Rehm, is the old self that is sinful and that does not consent to die. Only when a person begins to live in the truth of Gal. 2:20 and Phil. 1:21 can there be any hope whatsoever of change. But our God is able to make all grace abound even in this wicked and perverse world. The Christian can say, "Of His fullness we have all received, even grace upon grace, and those who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by Christ Jesus." Thus we do not count our lives as dear unto ourselves, as Paul said (Acts 20:24). Jim Elliott's battered body was a horrific sight but his soul had gone home through gates of splendor. Human life is precious in God's sight. We Christians do not devalue it. It is a good gift and we will give an account for it one day. But when we count it as His and not ours (it never was ours), then we are free to "lose what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose."
7:38 AM Odds and ends ....
1) Just made my reservations for my next trip to Hawaii in April. This time I hope to do this:
I am praying the stairs will be legal by then. I mean, it's no more dangerous than climbing Mount Olomana, which I've done 4 times.
2) Henry Neufeld has published a book he can't read. If you're at SBL in Atlanta, you can ask him about it.
3) I watched "The Truth About Your Food" last night. Horrible. Our food is produced not on farms but in factories. Even if you don't eat at a fast food restaurant, you're eating meat that is being produced by this system. Chickens never see sunlight. Antibiotics are put into feed. Cows stand ankle-deep in their own manure all day. Beef cattle are fed corn to finish them. Nobody ever asks "Why?" The average American supermarket has 47,000 products for all seasons. I can buy a ripe tomato today. It was picked green and ripened with ethylene gas. It's not a tomato. It's the "idea" of a tomato. It's a disturbing notion to say the least.
Okay, wait. We know that eating at MacDonald's is bad for us. But we do it anyway. This has everything to do with discipleship, because the kind of person I am determines the kind of disciple I am. "We are subsidizing food that is making us sick," says one interviewee. He adds, "By 2030, 42 percent of Americans will be obese." As I wallow in self-pity ("But it's too hard for a single guy to cook healthy food all the time"), I am literally killing my body.
Can't we just say "no" to junk food?
4) Just a reminder that Eisenbrauns has my book Scribes and Scripture on sale. It's 40 percent off. Go here for more.
5) Lest we forget: The Nigerian terror continues. In 2014 alone, Boko Haram was responsible for 6,644 deaths. My stars!
Thursday, November 19
5:45 PM The best flash mob ever.
12:50 PM On my drive home from the gym today I happened to listen to a "conservative" talk radio program. I try to be charitable in my thoughts but I wince when the speaker describes how he would treat Syrian refugees. It's a small thing, I tell myself. But sometimes a small thing can become a hairline fracture that could break us one day if left untreated. The more I think about it, the more I believe there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of Syrian migration. I find it strange, however, that people claiming to be Christians can talk about bombing the ____ out of ISIS but never once mention the Gospel. One wonders if Jesus even loves Muslims. I checked out a new book from the school library on Tuesday night.
It's the kind of book I'd like to hand to millennials and church leaders and say "Read this!" I admire the author's charity toward Muslims without being naive about Islamic terrorism. Like him, I long for a church that calls itself to higher ways. Evangelism is a package deal with belief in Christ; we are an unavoidable trinity of God, you, and others. As Christians we are called to practice our faith as compassionate and cross-bearing citizens of the world. Following Christ requires the ability to hold many contradictions. It is not out of irreverence for human life that we rebel against hate-mongering. It is out of reverence for the heaven on earth whispered by the author of Hebrews (11:16). You are the people with whom I need to get together to co-create the most important reality of all: "Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven." I know it's audacious to believe that Christians might actually love their enemies, real or perceived. But Christians give away what they have received. This is the way of grace. It isn't enough just to say we love the lost. We need to give ourselves away if we want to experience the abundant, brave life Jesus promised. That's the miracle of the church. What other institution on earth asks people to lose themselves so that others might live? None of us is meant to keep the Gospel to ourselves. We are made whole by becoming broken vessels of truth and love.
A few takeaways from this excellent book:
8:24 AM Yesterday a senior colleague of mine and I had a happy discussion about that day when we will eventually leave the classroom. It's amazing to think that I've been teaching Greek for 39 years. One day I will say goodbye to it all, hopefully before it is said of me, as was once said of a venerated Oxford scholar who refused to retire, that he had all the Christian virtues except for resignation. I somehow feel like the cowboy sitting on the rear-facing seat of a stagecoach so that he could watch the road over which he had travelled. I have taught thousands of students for whom, eventually, my name will be but a distant memory. Indeed, according to my observations, the grandchildren of scholars seldom read their grandfathers' books. I dare not expect them (or anyone else, for that matter) to feel fascination with my career. It's strange to think how many miles I've traveled down the road of academia. The old pursuits (and agonies) are lulled to rest. Instead of trying to make a scholarly name for oneself, the important thing now is to finish well and leave the classroom in fairly acceptable condition for the next generation of teachers. I suppose I have led an interesting life. My day's work, for four decades, has been more than a little satisfying. I was brought up to believe that a Christian never truly retires. Indeed, I still think of myself as a student of Scripture rather than as a scholar. Thus I do not mind becoming obsolete. I read, like everyone else, the works of such scholars as Tom Wright, but the reading does not transform the world for me as it seems to do for many of my younger colleagues. There are writers, it is true, who once turned the world upside down for me -- Eller, Ellul, Cullmann -- but even these stellar authors I no longer read with the same youthful enthusiasm. Some currently unknown American scholar may one day publish as good a book as The Subversion of Christianity, but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, I hope to communicate to everyone who will listen that the living Lord has designed a way to make the church work. He holds out a divine blueprint of hope and encouragement even in these dark days. And because He is the Bridegroom, I can declare without reservation that His plans are believable, attainable, reliable, and workable. The only question is: Will you and I trust Him through the painful yet inevitable process of change?
Off to the gym. :-)
Wednesday, November 18
6:45 PM Can't wait to hear this concert on Friday night at the NC Symphony. Rachmaninoff is arguably the greatest Russian composer of all time. His Symphony No. 2 is, to me, the definition of beautiful sadness.
4:50 PM More miscellanea:
1) So proud of my daughter-in-law, Jessica Black, who is featured as a doula in this story at WRAL.
2) Millions are asking: "When is your next 5K, Dave?" Answer: This Saturday in Chapel Hill, NC.
The goal this time is to support the UNC Craniofacial Center.
Care to join me? Here are the details.
4:25 PM This and that before I cook supper....
1) Congratulations to today's 110 Award recipient for getting a perfect score on our latest Greek exam. Ashish hails from Nepal. Free book time!
2) This week I was asked to read a paper at the Society for New Testament Studies annual meeting in Montreal in August, 2016. I gladly agreed. My paper title: "Contemporary images of Gehenna in the life of a single man."
3) As you probably know, I don't believe that church gatherings exist for worship – at least not in the sense that church is about the "worship set." When I go to church, I tend to look for what Paul described as oikodome, edification – believers encouraging other believers to grow in Christ. I must confess, however, that last Sunday at Old Fort Baptist Church I experienced something akin to real devotion as I sat through the worship sets.
I guess I just want to say "thank you" to the worship team. I came away with a strong impression that here were people who weren't interested in providing entertainment or in calling attention to themselves but rather had the ultimate goal of exalting Jesus. I found my gaze being directed beyond the platform or stage, toward God Himself. My esthetically-critical side gave way to a renewed focus on the internal dynamics rather than on the externals of singing. For once I wasn't distracted by the style of music. In an odd sort of way, I saw people exercising their spiritual gifts in accordance with 1 Cor. 14:26. The people on stage weren't entertainers. They were prompters. I marveled at God's ability to speak directly to people from all walks of life. I will always be grateful for that older gentleman I saw who stood with his hands raised toward heaven, caught up in pure grace. It was as though we shared – he and I – a common life, full of promise and hope. Paul Tournier once said, "There are two things we cannot do alone: one is to be married and the other is to be a Christian." I came away from that service impressed yet also troubled that maybe I've been missing a great truth of Christianity, one that C. S. Lewis wrote about many years ago:
I remind myself of Lewis's words whenever I find myself squirming during a "worship set." Yes, the church has become far too anthropocentric for my taste. Yet I have seen in my own life the direct and personal benefits of church music. Paradoxically, hypersensitivity to esthetics can be both a blessing and a curse. As a musician, I often have to force myself to enjoy church music. But on Sunday last, I believe I became more responsive to God than I had been in a very long time. Should I not have something of that same attitude toward congregational music wherever I am? In God's family, Paul tells us, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free." Perhaps I could add, "neither musician nor non-musician." All such distinctions are blotted out under the ink of God's amazing grace.
I am glad, very glad, for that experience last Sunday. As I rose up to address the congregation I felt I had become one with them, joined together in our identity in Jesus Christ, who breaks down every barrier and every wall of partition among His people. Indeed, I have come to believe that my own attitude may well be the most important factor in a worship team's "success" or "failure."
Tuesday, November 17
8:20 AM Who says seasoned citizens can't have fun?
7:45 AM Please don't take this the wrong way, but despite appearances to the contrary, I am a minimalist. I prefer the concepts simple and the words few. Recently I was asked to write an endorsement for a new textbook. The authors seemed to have a million things to say about every detail. I passed. Students don't have lots of time. They are fluent in fast. If I force irrelevant information down their throats, they'll know it -- and won't like it. Teacher friend, learn to speak the language of your students. Pay attention to what works and what doesn't work in the classroom. Each of your students is different. But none of them needs to be the object of intellectual browbeating. Jesus often drew tight boundaries around His mission. He knew how to say no. So did the apostle Paul. So can you. Fellow writer, say no to verbosity. Say no to the temptation to write everything you know about your subject. Yes, we know you're an expert. That is precisely the problem. (This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with the two most recently published beginning Greek grammars.) Say yes to succinctness. Say yes even to humor. Use the first person. No one will object except for your high school English teacher, and she is long gone.
May I tell you something else? Maintain constant eye contact with your students as you address them. And try -- please try -- to be at least moderately entertaining. Telling a joke in class is not a sin. Being boring is. And there are plenty of boring teachers. Let's not perpetuate this trend.
7:30 AM My first post this morning is nothing other than a few random, undeveloped reflections that came to me as I sat in various air terminals over the weekend. (Don't we love air travel?) As I sat in my chair I reflected on my place in the world. How do I feel about my social roles, my work, my purpose in life, my family roles? How are my aspirations and goals being violated -- or invigorated -- by my current relationships? Disney's Lion King is famous for its theme song, "Circle of Life." It depicts the cycle of life and death in the animal kingdom. There is sunrise and sunset, safety and danger, health and illness, life and death. I imagine this same perspective applies to human relationships. In fact, one of the most important things about you is the relationships you have with others. And for these relationships to be strong, other people have to be intentional in how they maintain them with you. Moreover, we are constantly rethinking our relationships -- prioritizing, consolidating, simplifying, eliminating. We seek deep instead of surface relationships. We ask, "How big do I want my circle of relationships?" Relationships can be healthy and beneficial. They can also be toxic and harmful. This is, I think, one of the pressing human issues of the day. I have no shortcuts to offer. But I believe God will grant us healthy relationships when we dedicate ourselves to Him.
Most modern lives resemble a patchwork quilt. There seems to be no consistent pattern by which to function. There is no centralized, unifying force at the center of our lives. Our lives resemble an orchestra warming up -- a thousand jarring sounds. "Why should Dave mention all of this?" you ask. Well, folks, currently I'm praying about my circle of relationships. My quest is for what Augustine once called the "well-ordered heart." He suggested that to have a well-ordered heart we need to love (a) the right thing (b) to the right degree (c) in the right way (d) with the right kind of love. His point is that we can love others with an evil as well as with a good love. We can love others selfishly or selflessly. We can love others in a well-ordered or haphazard way. So how do we go about transforming our hearts into hearts that love the right thing to the right degree in the right way with the right kind of love?
Again, I have no answers. If there's one thing I've learned in 63 years of living it's that spiritual transformation can't be orchestrated or programmed. We need spiritual sails to help us catch the wind of the Spirit. For Jesus, that meant foregoing certain relationships, even with members of His own earthy family. It meant reducing (rather than increasing) the number of His followers. In a sense, each one of us chooses our friendships whether or not we are intentional about it. We choose by default. Today I'm seeking an undivided heart. "Purity of heart," wrote Kierkegaard, "is to will one thing." The goal is a life that is integrated, a life focused on one thing -- what Jesus called "seeking first the kingdom of God." Imagine having a mind cleansed of all the debris that blocks our single-mindedness. As difficult as it is for me to admit it, I often quench or stifle God's voice. As Christians we need to be responsive to God's leading. If we have a sense that God wants us to do something, we must say yes. In the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has come to guide us, and we can experience His leading as definitely and immediately as did the people of Israel when they followed the cloud by day and the fire by night.
Well, that's it for these cogitations of mine on relationships. For today at least. I'll be revisiting this issue in future posts for sure. God, it seems, is pouring His love over me in such an extravagant manner these days that it's all I can do to keep standing upright under the flood. At the same, He's nudging me from where I am to where I know I ought to be. And for once I have no pat answers, no Christian platitudes. I don't know how I'm going to do this, but it's got to get done.
Monday, November 16
6:36 PM Yo folks! Hope you had a great weekend. I had a wonderful time in the city by the sea. It was busy for sure. On Saturday morning I ran a 5K for lung cancer research at Folly Beach. I was shocked to hear that lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. And get this: over the past 37 years the rate of new lung cancer cases has risen among women by a whopping 98 percent! And it's not all due to smoking either. So it was great to be able to help the American Lung Association reach their goal of $70,000. There were tons of racers, which I was very happy to see. Then, on Saturday night, I spoke at a men's dinner at Old Fort Baptist, and the next morning I had the chance to speak twice at the same venue. To wrap things up, this morning I spoke at Charleston Southern University. Baptists love to eat and I feel like I'm going to pop. Since my hotel was next to the university, I did my cardio on campus. One evening I did 3 miles as the sun was setting. It was gorgeous.
As for the church meetings, I have rarely been part of a church missions conference that was so providential. The pastor had been teaching on "every Christian is a missionary" for the past month. They hoped my talks would be the icing on the cake. I was humbled to be given this important task. The messages burned in my heart as I gave them. My prayer is that God will use them to prepare God's people at Old Fort to live the most Jesus-looking lives they possibly can. My hope in making this trip was that my audience would take the risk of opening their minds wide enough to become in danger of challenging a view of Christianity that they may have held for 10, 20, or all the years of their life. We've all experienced paradigm shifts, but not all paradigms are created equal. I would wager that the most dangerous paradigm shift of all is the one that demands that we renounce "Christianity." It's a shift that produces a brand of Christianity that lives out the fullness of the Gospel and gives it the luster it once had. It's a shift that helps instead of hinders the progress of the kingdom. In effect, we are recovering the lost wisdom of Jesus, though it must be remodeled for a twenty-first century church. I desire to see a new generation of Christians who hunger for the Bible to touch each and every part of their lives. The only question left for us is: Are we willing to embrace a wider, smarter, humbler, and more biblical Christianity, or will we cling to the tassels of the Pharisees? All it takes is "repentance" -- a Hebrew idea that means, essentially, to "return." As believers, let's begin there.
My heartfelt thanks to my former student Charles McCallum (now at Old Fort) for arranging my trip and to Peter Link (Ph.D. in Old Testament, SEBTS) for inviting me to speak in his class on campus. Traveling and speaking is the hardest thing I've ever had to do but it's so rewarding. I'm so weak that I have to live in almost complete dependence and trust. Thanks so much for your prayers and texts. As always, they keep me going!
1) At RDU. Have coffee, will travel!
2) Historic Old Town Charleston, with Fort Sumter in the distance.
3) Get ready to rumble at Folly Beach!
4) Where's my board when I need it?!
5) My personal best time and pace. Woohoo!
Still haven't cracked that 30 minute barrier. One day maybe!
6) The men's dinner featured frog legs. Now them is some happy boyz!
7) Speaking from Luke 3:23 on Sunday morning.
8) Charleston Southern University just gets prettier and prettier every time I visit it.
9) Peter Link's beginning Hebrew class. I had just cracked a lame joke.
It was a great privilege to speak to them about the importance of biblical Hebrew for New Testament studies.
This evening I'm writing a few thoughts about relationships. I'm also jotting down a few ideas about the value of succinctness. If I have time, I'll post my musings in the morning before leaving for campus. Until then, blessings!
Friday, November 13
8:06 AM I'm taking a couple of new books with me to Charleston to read on the trip. I have three "rules" when reading:
1) Whenever I read a new book I always read it through from beginning to end in one sitting and without pondering the things I don't understand. I find I have a much better chance of understanding a book on second reading after I've already gained a bird's-eye-view of its contents.
2) As for speed of reading, my golden rule is a simple one. I read a book no more quickly than I can read it with satisfaction and comprehension. I can generally skim a book on my first reading. This gives me some idea of its form and structure. I am thus prepared to read it well the second time around. I can always tell whether a book is a "good" book. A good book is one that is always over my head in some sense. It forces me to think, to stretch, and to pull myself up to its level.
3) As for marking in books, I do so religiously. My pen is my best friend in reading a new book. Whether underlining major points or placing an asterisk in the margin or circling key words and phrases, I try to read consciously and interactively.
How do you read a book?
7:58 AM If I were cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
7:46 AM Several years ago a 14-year old sent Becky and me a letter indicating her interest in missions. This was my response. Since Christmas is almost upon us, I thought it might bear repeating.
Thursday, November 12
3:14 PM Here's another true confession. I guess you might say I'm not a huge fan of lengthy introductions when I speak. They sound too much like eulogies. Not long ago I was introduced with a long list of publications and superlatives. It was a nice introduction, but it wasn't introducing me. My past accomplishments are just that: past and unimportant. I've learned that life is to be lived in the present. I still have goals for the future, plenty of them. If I read Phil. 3 correctly, having goals is more important than attaining them. I've learned a great deal from the biographies of such scholars as F. F. Bruce who still had ambitions after they retired. What is my ambition in life? To be my best. To achieve everything the Lord wants me to achieve. I've crested many hills, but they're all behind me now. Life is a present race with constant demands. Each day is important. And always, it's more important to emphasize why something is done and not merely what. I admit, there are still some temptations toward self-indulgence. I still tend to look backwards. There's no denying how attractive those leeks, garlic, and honey of Egypt are. But there's no sense in living in the past. None whatsoever. Being forward-looking means becoming the best you can be now. No matter how old I get, the race of life remains a rewarding experience. My 5K times might be not be improving, but it doesn't matter. I'm still running. At my age, I'm free. Free to do something with the person God made me. I'm not sure where I read this, but studies have shown that the two life cycles with the greatest creativity are 38 and the early 60s. But frankly, it's not age but the self that's the issue. Are you living in the past? Is nostalgia a game you like to play? Is yesteryear what it's all about? I am a human being, created and recreated in God's likeness, capable of infinitely more than I ever suspected. I know I look old, but I feel like a healthy young man. On Saturday morning I'll get in that starting line and sweat it out. Then, that evening, I'll teach my heart out. I'll repeat that process on Sunday morning. The Old Adam will resist, of course, but I'll tell him to take a hike. Take Saturday's race. If I'm fated to be a mediocre 5K runner, I promise you I'll be the best mediocre runner I can possibly be. The lesson? I'm not sure. Maybe it's simply this: Never dwell on the past. It's, well, past. It is far more profitable -- and much healthier too -- to stretch our body, soul, and spirit in the here and now to find our limits.
I have come to agree with Paul's philosophy: Christians do not have convictions; they live them. And the time to live our convictions is now.
1:04 PM Well, I see that the Chinese version of Seven Marks of a New Testament Church is about to be released. Here's the cover. I can't read a word of it.
12:55 PM One of my daughters has compiled a list of Becky's well-known "sayings." How cool is that?
Who was Becky? Can you even remember? I can. She loved God. She trusted Him. She prayed to Him, a lot. And I, her husband, prayed with her. I thought surely the Lord would protect and guide -- and give healing. But it was the cancer that won.
What, then, is faith? It's certainly not optimism. Faith is recoiling in horror because you expected God to operate in a certain way, and then deciding to trust Him anyway. This weekend in South Carolina, I'll be speaking about true discipleship. Discipleship is simply thinking as God thinks. Just look at Jesus' life. It means the end of self, the acceptance of hardship, and unconditional obedience. "If you care for your own safety, you'll be lost. But if you will let yourself be lost for My sake, you will find your true self" (Matt. 16:25). Becky was a woman who found her true self. She let go of what the world calls "security," surrendered to the Lord, and offered herself unreservedly into His hands. I think her "sayings" encapsulate this way of living well. See if you don't agree.
And now for my daughter's essay:
“Just want ya to know…”
And other phrases that mom used so frequently that they are forever etched in my mind.
As we have all discussed in the last few weeks, Mom was an incredibly special person. There are so many things that made her unique that we would fail to try to write them all. Yet, in the last days and weeks, I’ve found myself contemplating the phrases that she used so often that in our home they’ve become known as “her” phrase. We find ourselves often saying, “well, you know what Mama B always said…” Here’s my attempt at jotting down a few of those phrases. I hope you’ll enjoy.
It’s just a guide. It’s no secret that Mama B had a deep desire to make every single moment of her life count for eternity. One of the ways that she insured a productive use of her time was through her lists. Any person who entered her home would doubtless have seen her lists. She had a “things to do” list for each day. She had a list for groceries, a list for things that she wanted to accomplish but not necessarily for the immediate day. And there’s no telling how many lists were needed for each mission trip that she coordinated. She was well organized; there is no doubt about that.
But mom also knew that God was sovereign. And mom cared about people and investing in people more than projects. Often times God would bring a circumstance into any given day that would trump her goals for the day. If there was a need, particularly from one of her daughters, she was always quick to say, “it’s just a guide” when contemplating the list of things that would inevitably not get done for the sake of caring for another’s needs. I’m so thankful for the way that she modeled this for me.
God knows. Mom had a strong understanding of the character of God, and because of this she was able to (seemingly effortlessly) rest in His character. She sometimes found herself in difficult situations with the various issues that accompany ministry. And she would so frequently say, “God knows.” There was no need for her to fight needlessly, or to defend herself, or to try to be something that she simply was not. She would examine herself before the Lord and then rest knowing that He alone knew all.
Baca. This is the Ethiopian word for “enough.” Mom had learned as an MK at a very early age to train her emotions. For her, there was no time for indulging in a pity party. Whether mom was working with a fussy toddler or dealing with a grumbling 30+ year old daughter, she was quick to stop it with the simple word, “baca.” The neat thing about mom was that she had such wisdom, and this single word could be spoken in so many different tones. She knew when we needed a gracious gentle nudge back to truth. But she was just as aware when we needed a firm rebuke. While none of the people in my home have made the trip to Ethiopia (yet), we still often speak this phrase to each other.
And, Hulet, Zost, Bilu! Mom had a fabulous tradition that so many of us daughters have adopted into our own families. When a meal was served, no one was to eat until ALL had been served. The cue that it was time to dig in was simply counting, “one, two, three, ENJOY!” To make it all the more exciting and fun, we would count in Amharic and sometimes German, but very rarely in English.
It’ll be what it’ll be. Again this phrase so often used by mom expresses her intense trust in the care and sovereignty of her Lord. This phrase should never be confused with some lase fare attitude-- quite the contrary, in fact. Mom knew she had a responsibility to use her life and every resource given to the fullest extent for God’s glory. But at the end of the day there were times when she had no control over a situation, and so she would remain calm and unfrazzled about these situations. Some examples that I remember clearly discussing with her were things like trying to apply for visas for travel, thinking through the effects of chemo on her body, and even things like the weather on student days and such.
This is grace. Mom knew that she had been saved by grace, and she trusted that every single event that took place in her life came through the Lord’s hand of protection and was ultimately an act of grace upon her. She was quick to make sure that each of us trained our minds to think this way too. The piles of laundry, the house full of sick children, the flat tire, the unexpected pregnancy, the difficulties in church, all were to be seen as an opportunity to acknowledge God’s grace in our life. The years of her instilling this in my head have been so critical in the last years as we all watched mom suffer so much and then to die. Oh! that we could all echo with mom that this is all, indeed, grace.
Not gonna worry ‘bout that. This goes along with several of her other often used phrases, but I’ve saved it for last for a reason. The usual context that I would hear this phrase was in the daily mundane this and that of life. However, as I sat with mom in her last few days of life on earth, it was hard to tell if she was altogether “there” or not. But she would repeat some words over and over again. Sometimes she made no sense at all, but other times it was as if she was working through some list in her mind…checking things off her mental list as she prepared to go be with her Savior. And do you know one of the phrases that she repeated over and over again in those final hours. It was this one, “not gonna worry about that.” Perhaps it wasn’t a list she was working through. Perhaps she was still facing attacks from the evil one. She knew that she would claim Christ’s righteousness for her own, and there was no need to worry about any accusation that came from the evil one. Whatever the context, she was able to rest safe in His care.
I bet that mom would be flattered for us to contemplate her words and to even incorporate them into our own use. But I’m certain she would only be pleased if we looked beyond the woman and her words to the Savior whose character had affected every way of life for her, including her speech.
10:40 AM Travel update: Lord willing, this weekend I'll be back in Charleston, one of my all-time favorite U.S. cities. I have the honor of speaking Saturday evening at Old Fort Baptist Church at their sportsmen's banquet, and then in both of their Sunday morning services. On Saturday morning I'll also be participating in the annual Lung Force Walk/Run 5K in Folly Beach. The race starts at 9:00 am. The goal is to raise $70,000 for the American Lung Association. Believe it nor not, lung cancer is still is the number one cause of cancer in the U.S. The best news of all? It's a flat course!!!!!
Wednesday, November 11
6:24 PM Food-wise, it's so good to be home again. Tonight I had a homemade tuna fish sandwich and a carrot for supper. Delicious. But if I have to eat out, I sure wish we had this restaurant here that I found up North.
The food was outstanding, the service was excellent, and there wasn't a single TV set in sight!
4:42 PM This arrived in today's mail. I gave it a very strong endorsement.
4:36 PM I see that Talbot (my alma mater) has an opening in Old Testament.
4:26 PM Random reflections ....
1) I'm not over the hill. I'm just a little farther down the curvature of the earth.
2) Remember the name Michael Green. I know of no one who is more passionately engaged with what it means to call the church to its fullest potential. You can find his writings at Amazon. Pastor friend, I double dare you to read his books.
3) If the church cannot become a place for real, honest people (including real, honest leaders), it doesn't have a future nor does it deserve one.
4) God, pardon the cheesiness, but I still pinch myself whenever I think about You saving me when I was 8 years old. Thank You.
5) Thanks to my DBO audience for reading my stuff and treating me like I belonged among bloggers.
6) Thanks, R. C. You are a real friend. You are as wise as you are kind.
7) Thanks, K. B. I needed that Holy Spirit kick in the pants in the other day. You're the greatest.
8) Thanks, H. N. I wouldn't work with your company if it weren't for your absolute commitment to ministry.
9) Thanks to my Greek teacher, Harry Sturz, for giving me the gift of curiosity. It was 39 years ago when he hired me to teach Greek at Biola. Egads. Was it really that long ago?
10) Thank you, Rosewood Farm. You will always feel like home to me.
11) I've always dreamed of being an airplane pilot.
12) We choose how we will respond to heartache. We can move from a "broken heart" to a "broken-open heart." God, let Becky's death lead me to a more vibrant life serving You.
13) I used to groan for Christ's second coming. Now I groan with earnestness.
14) Our labels in the church strike me as being silly. Why can't pastors just asked to be called "brother"?
15) An increasing number of folks my age are getting into shape. They are saints in my book.
16) Give what you have. Because you have something worthwhile to give. It isn't enough just to get.
17) What makes the church toxic is not its size or wealth. What makes the church toxic is when it weaves the illusion in our minds that greatness is about physical things when real Christianity is nothing other than humble living in a way that actually looks like the ministry of Jesus.
18) A healthy community is always an honest community.
19) Today I like myself more than I have in years.
20) It is pointless to argue with people in the church about politically divisive issues. The one exception is The Donald's hair.
21) Even mainline denominations have in their folds strands of evangelicalism. I know. I've seen it.
22) "We belong in a bundle of life" (Desmond Tutu).
23) Family relationships are extremely fragile. Our legs are wrapped together in crepe paper. If we're going to move at all, we're going to have to move in unison.
24) I've been flirting. With bowling. Used to bowl all the time in high school. Love that hobby.
25) "I'm in this with you." Tell that to someone today.
26) Church no longer has a capital "C" in my book.
27) New word in my vocabulary: calendaring.
28) Someday I may rename my property Masterpeace Farm.
29) I want to be free of my fear of heights.
30) I like listening to a good sermon. I especially like listening to God speak through regular people.
31) I love tough women. Becky was one. She was, in that sense, a true Christian. "We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah," writes Dorothy Sayers, "certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand."
33) My favorite words include mercy, love, friendship, redemption, music, aging, health, conversation, partnership, healing, weakness, and brokenness.
34) Confession time: I ate two Dunkin' Donuts at the Dulles airport. It's a hazard of airline travel. Forgive me, Lord.
35) I really wish we celebrated the Lord's Supper as an actual weekly meal as practiced by the early church (Acts 20:7). Even if that means the sermon has to be cut short.
36) I'll confess that I get impatient with mediocrity. My own especially.
37) I think of Scripture as scaffolding. It holds up the old bricks in your life.
38) I don't believe in reading the Bible just to read the Bible.
39) I tend to compartmentalize my life. Of course it's wrong, but I do it anyway.
40) If you don't answer emails within 24 hours, you are rude, plain and simple.
Tuesday, November 10
9:55 AM Hey folks! My trip to G-Burg was just what the doctor ordered. I guess you could say I found perspective again. I teach. I write. I travel. I serve. I farm. I study history. But none of that is my identity. I don't even find my identity in being a dad. I am simply my Father's beloved, as are you. I worry that our evangelical superstars are ruining the church. Instead of seeing rulership in the New Testament I see relationship. Sometimes the most holy thing we can do is listen to those who are suffering and make their sorrow our own. This is how I want to live. See a need? Meet it if you can. Is someone sorrowing? Be there for them if you can. Feel like your batteries need recharging? Spend time with Jesus. I think the kingdom is far more simple than we make it. Enjoy a hike with God. Do a good deed for someone that no one knows about. Love your enemies. And fill your eyes with the light of Jesus. I am 63. I hope I can still change. I hope I can still grow. This weekend was like going for a long walk in a beautiful forest. Finally room to breathe. A cool, fresh wind in my face. Here I am, my Daddy's son.
Oh, Lord, You're beautiful.
Your face is all I seek.
And when Your eyes are on this child,
Your grace abounds to me.
P.S. Here are a "few" pix. Grab a second cup of coffee if you have the time and I'll show you where I've been.
1) After arriving in Dulles early Thursday morning, I made a beeline for a historical site I had never had the chance to visit before. The Battle of Ball's Bluff took place fairly early in the war. I hiked the battlefield and then headed to my next stop, Harpers Ferry.
2) To reach the old town of Harpers Ferry you have to stop at the ranger station and catch a bus.
3) Here, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, John Brown led an armed band of insurrectionists in an effort to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves. He and his men overran the arsenal and took some hostages.
4) On October 18, 1859, a company of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Jeb Stuart overwhelmed Brown and his men. Later, in 1862, Harpers Ferry would be captured by Stonewall Jackson during the Sharpsburg Campaign.
5) During that battle, A. P. Hill's Division was left behind in Harpers Ferry to parole the Union prisoners. But when Hill got an urgent call for assistance from Lee, he marched his men to Sharpsburg and reached the battlefield just in time to neutralize the threat to Lee's right.
6) This was my fifth visit to the Sharpsburg/Antietam battlefield.
7) Becky and I once spent our anniversary on the battlefield, here in the Piper Farm House, which was used by Longstreet as his headquarters during the battle. It's no longer a bed and breakfast, but I have fond memories of taking long walks in the adjacent fields with Becky.
8) Everyone knows about the famous "Sunken Road" at Sharpsburg. When we reenacted the battle many years ago, my unit was on the far right of the road and took many "casualties." Ah, the fates of war.
9) That evening I arrived in Gettysburg intent on jogging the field of Pickett's Charge. I made the round trip in less than 30 minutes.
10) This is as far as Confederate General Lewis Armistead got on that fateful day.
11) Off in the distance were the Round Tops. I decided that the next day I would ascend both.
12) On Friday I began my trek at the national park visitor center. A ranger suggested I hike from the center to the Round Tops and back. To do this, you have to make your way south along Cemetery Hill and Ridge, the sturdy perch from which the Union army made a stand for two bloody days.
13) My walk took me past the Leister Farm House, which served as General Meade's headquarters during the battle, then along Hancock Ave. As the fight on Day 1 died down, Meade called his corps commanders together at this house. By candlelight the generals decided to remain and fight it out at Gettysburg rather than retreat south. "Such then is the decision," said Meade. The house is tiny. It has but two little rooms. I suppose it would have been torn down many years ago but for the vagaries of history.
14) As you can see, the park was almost completely deserted.
15) Eventually you arrive at Meade's statue along Cemetery Ridge. (It was an odd war: Meade's sister married a planter from Mississippi and her son died at Fredericksburg fighting for the Confederacy.) The statue does a good job of portraying Meade's balding head and pouchy eyes that always seemed to give an air of melancholy. At Gettysburg, Meade was at his best. Sadly, his reputation took a considerable nose-dive when he let Lee escape back into Virginia. Lee won the race to Williamsport, and the war dragged on and on.
16) Here is the famous "clump of trees" that everyone knows about from the movie Gettysburg.
17) The largest of the 1,200 monuments in Gettysburg belongs to the great state of Pennsylvania, for obvious reasons.
18) This is the George Weiker farm house. It stands in the shadow of Little Round Top. It served as a field hospital during the battle, with wounded filling every room and arms and legs piled up outside the windows. Horrible.
19) As you continue south you see the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to your right. (Like the Sunken Road at Sharpsburg, certain place names in America deserve capitalization.) I was reminded of Union General Sickle's folly in moving his men forward contrary to orders. From this point you begin to ascend until you reach the summit of Little Round Top. Here, on the second day of the battle, Federal signalmen waved their flags to communicate with other portions of Meade's army. General Gouverneur Warren was one of them -- the army's chief engineer. He still stands here today, field glasses in hand.
20) The Federals resisted repeated Confederate attempts to flank the Union Army. The struggle for Little Round Top was ferocious. But none of this was obvious on this peaceful November day.
21) It's eerie standing on the exact spot and seeing the exact stones where the 20 Maine made its stand.
22) "L" stands for "Left." This was the end of the line for the entire Federal Army of the Potomac on July 2, 1863.
23) Five minutes later I had made it to the summit of Big Round Top.
24) The round trip was about 7 miles and it took me exactly 1:39 to walk it. The little curl in the line at the bottom shows where I stopped at Little Round Top.
25) I love the Lutheran Seminary building. There's a wonderful museum in it now.
26) On Sunday I was blessed to find a Southern Baptist congregation in Gettysburg.
27) Here's pastor Steve. He baptized three young people that morning. Woohoo!
28) My final goal of the trip was to see where Lee had sent Jeb Stuart and his cavalry on the third and final day of battle.
29) It was in this field that Stuart's attempt to get into the rear of the Union Army was thwarted by a newly minted Union General named George Armstrong Custer.
30) While in Gettysburg I couldn't resist having my picture taken as a general in gray...
31) ... and as a general in blue....
32) ... and as a general nuisance.
So ... a great trip it was, in every way. I'm never sure how to respond when people ask me how I'm doing. Obviously the loss of Becky was devastating. I will never have her back again. Yet I can say without any hesitation that God has used this experience to grow me in Him. The process is so slow I am never really conscious of it. But this weekend I realized again just how much He loves me. The loss that so impoverished me is also the loss that made me rich with new relationships, new experiences, new interests, and a closer walk with Him. I miss Becky like the dickens. But she died with dignity and with a glorious future ahead of her. I can still hear her laughter, see her face in every room of Bradford Hall, watch her hands busy working for Jesus, and I end up believing with greater depth and joy than I had before.
Thursday, November 5
4:03 AM Run your race. Don't bury a single talent of yours. God designed you to be good at something. Now find it and do it.
Wednesday, November 4
5:32 PM Odds and ends ....
1) I love Old Wake Forest. It was here that the Manual Labor Institute was founded in 1833. Students took courses in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and mathematics. They lived in former slave cabins and went to class in the carriage house. The town of Wake Forest College was eventually founded in 1880. So much history to see when you're doing your morning exercise!
2) Here I am giving away boxes of books to Moncy Mammen to take with him back to India, where he serves as principal of the Hebron International School.
Love it. Listen, just because everyone else is building their gigantic libraries doesn't mean you have to as well. I am a guy who loves books. That's who I am. I love reading them and I love writing them. But take a lesson from me: Don't think twice about handing your books over to people who need them far more than you ever will. Giving away books is just a matter of good stewardship. Most of your books have been completely untouched for years. But in India (and a dozen other countries) there are students who just can't wait to get their hands (and eyes) on them. When I retire I don't want any books left in my library. Not one!
3) Oh, and here's Moncy's dad, Mammen Joseph. He's given my daughter Nili the keys to her new scooter.
"Scooty" she calls her new two-wheeled motor bike. Cute. Nili tells me she uses it to get back and forth to college. Good reader, I don't mean to sound selfish, but man, I love what God is doing in Nili's life. Every good, meaningful possibility in life comes from Him. Amen!
4) Tomorrow morning early (as in 6:00 am) I fly to Washington Dulles to begin my trek to Gettysburg. Who knows the routes I'll take in getting here? I'll probably start out at Harper's Ferry, then traipse on up to Sharpsburg, MD, following in the tracks of Lee and his troops in 1862, and from there to Chambersburg and possible Carlisle before heading south toward The Burg of Getty. I just had a full-blown-tears-down-the-face-cry thinking about Becky, and I believe I just need to get away from the house for a few days. Mind you, I am not interested at all in Civil War history. Zero, zilch, nada. (I love to tease.) I plan to do a lot of hiking in the national military parks. I might even have my likeness taken again in the role of Lee after he became the president of Washington College (remember that old photo of him wearing an oversized black suit and looking like a grizzled old bear?). Here's Lee with some of his old cronies at White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia in 1869, a year before his death.
Gettysburg could have been a huge success for Lee had not the Union Army regrouped on a place called Culp's Hill and Cemetery Ridge -- the twin foci of my research on this trip. I've even hired an authorized park guide to help me. He better be good. The "Wo-ah" (as we say here in southern Virginia) is one of the most riveting stories of history. It will gobble you up if you're not careful. Then you'll end up buying a bunch of books that you'll end up giving away anyhow.
Tuesday, November 3
8:25 AM Two more from the "testimony file":
1) I am thinking about my dear friend who left us two years ago. She was so very precious; a joyful and delightful giant of a lady. I will never forget the day she announced that she had cancer. My heart was deeply saddened as I wondered what the days ahead would be like. She demonstrated true trust in our Lord as she moved forward adding the new challenges before her to her already full life.
I remember being amazed at how she refused to let the doctor’s visits, sickness and all cancer related additions stop her from living daily life to the fullest. I thought people “stopped life” to concentrate on the urgency of cancer, but not BeckyLynn. Her plans were altered, but her following hard after Christ never changed. Yes, she had difficult days and bumps in the road came, but she flowed along through them resting in her sovereign Lord. All who watched her could plainly see that she had vision, purpose and determination to follow God. She had no intention to quit pressing forward to do those things she was passionate about. Serving God, loving her husband, living life to the upmost and making a difference in the lives of others motivated her as the months came and went. Oh, how I miss that joyful smile, words of encouragement, little outings together, lunch, and her laughter that gave me a happy heart.
No matter how we spent our together times she intentionally included Christ, without fail. BeckyLynn had a special greeting for others and it went like this, with her beautiful blue eyes sparkling and a big smile on her face, “How are YOU?” with the emphasis on “you.” How I loved to see her and hear that greeting. Now to end this, I want to say that she loved her husband dearly, and she expressed concern for when she would no longer be there to take care of him. Even with that concern though, she trusted Dave to God’s keeping. Now that I have mentioned Dave, I must say that watching him care for his dear wife was a most beautiful picture of God’s mandate for husbands to love their own wives as they love themselves.
Dave and BeckyLynn lived out the Word of God in their marriage, and together they truly demonstrated Christ’s example of loving others more than themselves and His directive for marriage. Together, and individually, they stood strong hand-in-hand with the Lord of their lives through the easy times, the hard times, and ultimately the day of separation in this life. The friendship that I had with BeckyLynn Black was a privilege, an honor, and a true gift from God. I treasure the memories of her life with delight and gratitude.
2) Brother Dave,
I've been praying for you. I walked through the cemetery this weekend and we had our time of corporate prayer for those being persecuted for their faith yesterday. Those things always make me think about Becky (and you). I've been thinking about ways that she impacted my life over the weekend. Not only mine but so many others. Yesterday as Moncy shared about their ministry again I was reminded of the selfless life that she taught me to live. I'm not even close to being the example that she was or that the Lord wants me to be but I am desiring to be.
I know that she challenged me to be all that God created me to be. She raised the bar of expectation and though sometimes the task seemed daunting she somehow knew what I was capable of doing in the Lords strength. It was in those times that I truly began to discover my gift of teaching. It thrills my soul to be in His Word studying in an effort to teach other women the things of God. For that I am so grateful!! We will often say, "this is not Mama B in charge." Anyone who was ever a part of her planning a trip or event would know exactly what that meant. She was an amazing organizer and planner. She even thought about how we would be affected after a trip and prepared us for that as well.
She would drop me a note of encouragement from time to time and that would always mean the world to me. I have a devotional book written by Amy Carmichael that she gave me. Those little treasures I hold onto because I have never received anything like that from my own mother. She knew that too. I miss her and I'm so very thankful for the time that I had with her. What a glorious day it will be to see her again as we live together forever with our precious Lord and Savior!!
May God Bless you brother Dave. Thank you for all that you do to serve King Jesus and for sharing Becky's life with us.
8:10 AM So I survived the weekend. Yippee! So much love to all my kids. Without you, life would be a lot tougher. Thanks for being there (and for giving me space when I need it). Endless gratitude to my church family and blogging buds (you know who you are) who have taken the time to write me such encouraging emails. You are my cheerleaders. Thanks for letting me be me. Finally, thank you Jesus for being your brilliant, loving, and magnificent self. Yes, I need my friends. I need their companionship and counsel. But mostly, Jesus, I need you.
You folks may recall that I was whining the other day about how difficult the 5K course was last Saturday in Raleigh. (Yes, I know that Paul outlaws all "grumbling" and "complaining," but he didn't say boo about whining.) Well, today I discovered an elevation graph of the course:
Okay, wait. That only looks difficult. You should try and run it to realize its true hellishness. Lately, it has become clear to me that being a racer means that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Not every course is level. Um -- ain't the Christian life a bit like that? I mean, just when you think everything is going well, kazaam! Cue the music from Jaws. Yep. That's what last weekend was like for me. But just think -- that's over and done with! I'll never have to face that again! Smooth sailing from here on out!
Look at that chart again, Dave.
Jesus was correct: Following Him wasn't going to be easy. In fact, it seems to get tougher and tougher the older you are. I should know, since I'm an old geezer. I keep telling myself, "Self, if you truly loved Jesus more than anyone or anything else, you'd make a lot steadier progress in life." Well, I just lied to good old "Self." I'm engaged (as you are) in a war with the world, the flesh (myself), and you know who. How much harder can this possibly get? we ask. Life is going great -- and then you have a miscarriage. Or a cancer invasion. Or a nervous breakdown. None of us means to, but it's just so easy to make the Christian life into some kind of Christian utopia. A true fantasy world. Kinda reminds me of one of the Republican presidential candidates who, during a rally, held up his Bible. "See? Lookie here! Do you see it now? I'm an evangelical! See?" People like that remind me of a half-filled bag of Doritos-- not exactly "pressed down, shaken together, and running over." (And no, Mr. Trump, it's not okay to insult other people, even though you most certainly are better looking and richer than anyone else on the planet.)
So where does this leave me on ... THE DAY AFTER? About the same place I was three days ago. Trying to step graciously into my role as the household patriarch. Encouraging my students and the church at large to fill in each other's potholes and gaps so that the body of Christ can be whole. Taking one day at a time, knowing that I am surrounded by God's all-surrounding grace and the freedom it brings -- and the hope, and the joy, and the peace, etc. I've learned that life begins every day. Every when you get old. In the words of my dear sister-saint, Sarah-Patton Boyle:
Substitute "man" for "woman" and you'll get the idea perfectly. I can get older without getting old. My doctor tells me that my lifespan is related to my lifestyle. I believe her! Clearly, my body benefits from my workouts and races. But my mind and soul and emotions do too. When my students are taking a quiz I sometimes look out over my captive audience and ask silently, "Are you content with this total living person you are now? If this were your last day on earth, would you be satisfied?" You know, Becky was always in a state of "improving." She was never, ever satisfied with the status quo. In this respect we were a lot alike. Always growing. Always challenging ourselves to new and greater heights. We've all met octogenarians who felt younger at heart than many people half their age. But such perseverance requires spiritual resources. It means we can't avoid courses like the one depicted in the graph. You see, each one of us has three ages: our chronological age, our biological age, and our psychological age. You may be 30 but you may have the biological age of a 60-year old, and vice versa. You may be 60 but true age is measured by how you feel and act.
God still has a plan for this lump of clay. It may be old, but it can still be reworked. My prayer is that God would show me, this day, what new purposes He has for me. How 'bout you? Have some Face Time with Jesus today. This has everything to do with how you negotiate the ups and downs in the course of your life. And, by the way, isn't it time you got that old bod in shape?
(*Dave gets down off soapbox.*)
Monday, November 2
6:16 PM Bless your hearts, my dear readers. You've put up with me for two days of random reflections about the woman I called my wife for 37 years. For much of the weekend, the pain was unbearable. I sank back into the all-familiar waters of discouragement and anxiety. I was reminded: This was the hardest thing you've had to do, Dave. This weekend was a time to weep. Weeping offers its own consolation. Now it's time for my soul to take courage and travel on. At the age of 63, it seems to be a little late for God to be building character. But that's what He's doing. This is yet another chance to count on God's grace. With infinite wisdom and love, my life is constantly sustained. "And so God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage" (Ezra 9:8). This is a wonderfully comforting word to me tonight. Acceptance of loneliness is not passivism. Tomorrow I will teach my classes and mentor my students and participate in the victory of Christ. There is still the joy of sunlight and the scent of flowers and the breathing of pure air and the stars smiling like the eyes of God. My ruined plans now somehow fit into His larger plans. I begin another year -- without Becky. It's merely a new chapter, and I will go on living in a fractured world with fractured relationships. I am a widower. That's my assignment now. Another gift. Is it the end of the story? No. A thousand times no. It's just another chance to count on God's grace, just as you are doing in your life.
Folks, it has been my privilege to have shared my thoughts with you these past two years. Thanks for tuning in. Now let's all make tomorrow an offering to God, who can transfigure it into something for the good of others. After all, that's what He's left us here to do.
2:32 PM Thank you, Nate and Jessie, for a wonderful lunch with four awesome grandsons.
Nolan, I absolutely loved your new train layout. You and your pop are having way too much fun. Brings back memories of when your daddy was your age!
Alright Mr. Peyton, stop showin' off. I already know how cute you are!
A dozen roses in memory of my Texas belle. :)
10:18 AM Morning bloggers! Despite a rather tumultuous day yesterday emotionally, the Lord gave me a good night's sleep last night. My subconscious must have been wide awake, however, because I awoke at the exact time that Becky slipped into eternity. I got up, prayed, then began my normal Monday morning routine. I worked out at the gym, did the tread mill (it's raining outside), got gas for the van, then came home and had a light breakfast. Right now I'm playing catch up with your emails. Today I will celebrate Becky's life by placing flowers at her grave and then having lunch with one of my children and their family. For what it's worth, here's a list, by no means comprehensive, of some of the things I've learned in the past two years:
1) Whether life takes a dramatic turn or it stays the same, God is dependable. Always.
2) "You have to tell your story," people said. I chose to do so. I hope it was a blessing and a challenge to you. It was certainly cathartic for me.
3) My life is just about "normal" again. I have learned to make life work, the whole time relying solely on God's grace.
4) Loss means choice. One has to choose that God is still God, that He is wise and good and sovereign and loving and benevolent and all-powerful and compassionate. As shattered as I became two years ago today, I determined to learn as much as I could from the loss and understand how God works good out of evil.
5) Memories still flood my mind. That's a good thing. After all, I still love her.
6) I have not remarried. I have no desire to. I am content to learn how to function as a single father to all of my kids and grandkids.
7) My life is as rich today as it has ever been. It's not that my circumstances have changed. I have changed. I ponder life more deeply today than I did two years ago. I am also more content with the ordinary stuff of life. I have slowed down, smelled the roses (literally), and begun to live as joyfully and serenely as possible.
8) To my children who still feel sorrow on this day: It's okay. I expect we will all feel some sorrow and sadness for the rest of our lives. When you tell me, "I miss mom," I know exactly what you mean. We have gained much from her legacy and heritage; now we need to resolve to pass on that heritage to those who will come after us.
9) I have had wonderful encounters with many people over the past two years. I've reconnected with old college buddies who wrote to say they were praying for me. I've gotten back to the Islands. I've forged new friendships at the gym and on the track. It is moving to hear the stories of other people's losses. None of us has escaped death or loss. I hope we can continue to be an encouragement to each other.
10) Anniversaries and holidays are the hardest. I know this. You know this. But when those days come, they almost always seem to catch us off guard. Yesterday I felt so oppressed by sadness I could hardly function. And I realize that both Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the bend. My goal is to budget in breaks around those times so that I can give God time to work in my heart. Hold me to it, will you?
11) Developing new hobbies has been a life-saver for me. No matter how old I get, I want to continue walking and running and hiking and racing. In Saturday's race, I guess I ran at the middle of the pack. The eight-minute milers were long gone. As I neared the end of the course, I had run up and down several hills and was paying for the effort. As I crossed the finish line my chest was on fire, my legs felt like lead, I was losing my form. It was all I could do to finish. It mattered little, once I saw the smile on Anna's face. She was worth it -- and so was the cause of raising awareness about mental illness in our country. Each race for me is a challenge, a drama, and hopefully something God uses to stretch me. I'm glad I discovered this sport.
12) As I blogged yesterday, my dogs have come to mean a lot to me. I admire them. They live as we have to be told to live: one single day at a time. Like the birds, they look to God to meet their needs. They may not have "faith," but they sure do exercise "trust." They have become my new teachers.
13) My children and grandchildren have become a source of encouragement to me as well. Almost daily I hear from at least one or two of them either by text, email, or an occasional phone call or Face Time. Just before I crawl into bed at night I pray for each of them and ask God's richest blessings on their families. When it comes to family, my life is a bounty, and I am so grateful for that blessing.
14) At first, my loss made God seem distant. Now He is so close I can almost touch Him. This is the promise of true transformation. This is the power of the Gospel.
15) Catholic theologians often refer to the "sacrament of the present moment." Becky's death has made me more alive to the here and now. Today is the eternal now. It is the only chance I have to be alive, to know God, and to serve others.
16) Finally, the recurring challenge for me is to model for others, who will have their own turn to experience loss and grief, something of how to face their loss with integrity and an open heart. A few folks I know want me to write a book about my journey, but I have long since tabled that idea. My blog posts will have to suffice. As for tomorrow, I imagine the focus of this blog will change a bit. This is now my time to make every new day an offering of my best to the One who deserves our best. I hope that between now and November 2, 2016, I will learn to practice the Presence of Christ as never before, to come before His throne with new urgency and with a heightened eagerness to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But whatever my condition when I show up in His presence -- whether as a Doubting Thomas or a trusting saint -- I have to believe that God will meet me there, providing what I need for that single day and for all the tomorrows of my life. As with anyone who has suffered a loss, I still have issues. I still have matters to work out. I'm far from perfect. But God's grace is mercifully wide. Despite all of our hang-ups, He loves us still.
Thanks to all of you for caring. Time and time again I have heard one of you say, "Dave, you have no idea much your blogging has meant to me." If you have been blessed, it's because you allowed my suffering to become yours. And now we must choose, likewise, to suffer with those who suffer, whether they be family members or friends or those being persecuted in the Middle East. Suffering is a pure gift to us. Let's all make the most of it.
Sunday, November 1
8:05 PM "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (Matt. 6:6).
But what about the dogs? I can't keep my grief private from them, can I? Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could. You see, my dogs have this sixth sense about them. Always have. I can't keep my pain entirely to myself because they witness it. They are members of this household and -- for crying out loud -- they will take their place at the great circle.
Here I am reading. I have my Bible and two books. Sheba jumps up on the sofa, while Dayda stands guard on the bottom deck. "He is lonely," their eyes seem to say. "We'd better stay close by."
It's an irony, but often the things that are taking place in the spiritual life are hidden to all but the eyes of God, while the outward appearance seems almost incidental. But I can bear solemn witness to the fact that dogs can indeed empathize. It's as though they are telling me, "It's okay to grieve, daddy. God is already here, and God's promise for you is, 'He shall still bring forth fruit in old age'" (Ps. 92:14). (I guess dogs know Scripture too.) Pets never seem to worry or fret. They know they will be cared for, fed, watered, and bathed. There isn't a man or woman anywhere, I am convinced, who does not long for the love of a dog. All creation praises God all the time -- the sun, the moon, the stars, the rivers, the sparrow. I have seen His face more than once in the faces of my puppies.
Big hugs, then, to Sheba and Dayda. I love it when you come over to be with me, regardless of your motives. I love keeping you safe, happy, and healthy. Yep, you're part of the family!
6:40 PM "I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God's purpose is that people should fear Him" (Eccl. 3:14).
I intended to go to the assembly this morning and thence to the grave, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. As you might surmise, that 100-foot wave I mentioned to you the other day? Well, it's hit, and with full force. Community is such a basic human need, but right now I just want to be with Him. Today my library was turned into a sanctuary. It's where I hear Jesus say, "I will see you through this." The Christian life isn't easy but it is simple. Be real. Cling to Jesus. And if you want to be a leader, become a servant.
So here I am, holding a worship service in a farm house. The tears come in bucket loads. It helps to remember that when Becky died, she was simply going home. There were days when she feared death, and days when she felt an odd exhilaration, knowing she would be meeting the One who met her daily in her prayers and in her deeds of service. Though I know those who love me are praying for me right now, it's exhausting just to walk or eat. It's a paradox: You relax into the pain, knowing that the force of the 100-footer eventually has to dissipate. Jesus refreshes us even in the midst of our suffering. His purpose is that I should "Fear God," as Solomon put it so long ago. I am being tested in ways I can't control, but I can still trust. Because God never leaves His people comfortless. Never.
11:06 AM The story of Julianna is the most heart-warming and heart-wrenching story you will read today. (Kleenexes handy?) Julianna is a dying 5-year old who has chosen heaven over hospital.
As Becky lay dying in our bedroom 2 years ago, I asked God to teach me the discipline of full release. If it was His will to heal Becky, I prayed for healing. But if it was my time to release Becky as she entered a new life with Him, I prayed that He would deepen my trust so that I could lie down in peace and sleep at night in the safety of His arms. In life or death, Becky and I were His. He gathers us all to Himself one by one and brings us home. God, today I join with all those who are losing someone they love. I ask that you lighten their sorrow and give them a strong sense of Your presence. Guide their doctors and hold their families near Your heart as they face this going. Preserve those who are left behind from resentment, fear, and despair. Sustain in them a spirit of thanksgiving for every day they had with their loved one. Help them to accept what they must and enjoy what they can until that day. Be near them and comfort them, and let them find their rest in you.
10:22 AM "Who will console you? Who will comfort you?" (Isa. 51:19). Human words do help. Thank you. Here are three more testimonies. The last one, by the way, reminds us to pray for the persecuted church around the world. This being Persecution Sunday, that's not a bad idea.
I'm just thankful for how she invested in my life. She cared for me and my family! She spoke truth and love into my life. She didn't have to do that. She chose to do that. I believe she did that because of her love of Jesus and because she wanted to obey Him. She thought of others more than herself. She gave of her time, wisdom, and finances to help many. I still think of her often and I'm thankful God allowed me to be a part of her life.
It’s hard to imagine that it has been two years since MamaB went home to be with the Lord…. She is missed, there is no question about that. The truth is my wife and I think about her all of the time. A tall and beautiful woman, gentle and tender in how she expressed the love of Christ, full of wisdom, and always mindful that everything in her that was good and imitable—and there was much—was all the work of her wonderful Savior. She was an advocate. She was a nurturer. She was the most intentional disciple-maker we have ever known. Her life is evidence of how God can take a person and give them a huge impact at home and abroad, if they would just place their life in his hands and surrender it all. Her impact in so many of our lives is just one more example of how a continued, sacrificial, and resolved investment of one person’s life into someone else’s can really make the world a better place. MamaB’s investment in our lives is a constant reminder of the cost of discipleship. She taught me that though the cost is extremely high for one who is a disciple, it is even greater for one who makes disciples. The world needs more “moms” (Titus 2:3-5). There’s no question about that either. But, for us, there is and always will be only one MamaB.
I never gave Ethiopia any thought until I read Becky’s book. My heart was opened and began to pray for people suffering for Jesus around the world. I am grateful for that book because it challenged me to follow Jesus with an intense faith.
10:12 AM Since thousands have been asking what my race time was yesterday ....
9:40 AM Two years ago today Becky and I were still together. I sometimes ask myself: "What did we learn in 37 years of married life together?" Here are a few random answers to that question:
1) Contentment. "There is great gain in godliness with contentment," wrote Paul (1 Tim. 6:6). Becky and I knew what contentment was. We had learned to live with things we knew we couldn't change. We had learned that no matter how hard we tried, some relationships were never going to be healed. We had learned not to squabble over little things. We had learned not to expect too much from life. Contentment does not negate a commitment to caring. We cared about people, a lot. But life does have its limits. There are only so many things you can do, so many places you can travel to, so many people you can help. And contented people are okay with that.
2) Discernment. "Be very careful how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:15-16). Two years ago Becky and I were 60 and 61 respectively. People over 60 don't believe in "killing time." They realize that life flies by. Time is a precious possession. Becky and I spent much time in prayer, seeking to discover God's will for our time, energy, and resources. Discernment led us to let go of certain pursuits and ministries. But it also led us in new directions in our work for Jesus. Both of us felt that even greater demands awaited us in the Lord's service. We were working harder than ever for the kingdom. We had learned to work wiser and not only harder. We rarely felt nostalgia for days gone by. Life needed to be lived in the "now." Wrote William Barclay, "The fault of age is that it has come to a stage when it prefers things as they are." What a shame. Jesus was always forward-looking. And that's how Becky and I wanted to spend the rest of our married life together.
3) Faith. I love Acts 2:17: "Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams." As Becky and I entered the winter of our married life together, we continued to expand our horizons. We felt that our last years could be our best years -- a grace-filled period in which we leveraged our wisdom and experience for the Gospel. Though we both keenly sensed our heavenly citizenship, we knew we were here on earth with a heavy responsibility to return the gifts we had received. One of Becky's final dreams was to help a ministry in India establish a school that would make their ministry self-supporting and less dependent on funds from the West. We were always looking for new directions to stretch our faith. Growing older was simply a new leg on life's journey. We knew that God still had work for us to do if we only had the eyes of faith to see it.
4) Vulnerability. "The Lord said to me, "My grace is sufficient, because My power is made perfect in weakness '" (2 Cor. 12:9). Isn't there a touch of the Savior in being vulnerable? The older Becky and I got, the more committed we became to transparency, both in our writings and whenever we counseled with people. Our weaknesses and struggles could become places of healing and power for others. Have you noticed? There are some people you know who seem to be able to rebound from one loss after the other. They seem to have a deeper acceptance of life that carries them through life's sorrows. They don't have fewer problems than the rest of us. But they have a gusto for life that amazes you. Becky and I wanted to be like that. We shared honestly with others so that maybe they could learn how to rebound from their losses. Becky's book My Life Story is a reminder that she experienced pain in her journey. Scars are road maps that tell our life stories. What is important is what we do with those scars. Becky was a person who made even the bad things count for Christ.
5) Acceptance. About a year before Becky died we both came to the realization that we would not grow old together, that God was calling one of us Home to be with Him. We thought we had perhaps 12 months to say our goodbyes. We would often sit on the front porch recalling earlier days, memories of life together in California or Switzerland or Ethiopia. At other times we would sit there without saying a word, carefree and happy, old in body but young in spirit. We could not turn back the clock of years, but we could relish His Presence and anticipate a future Easter.
In his book How We Die, Sherwin Nuland says the aged and diseased "do not succumb to disease -- they implode their way into eternity." I smile whenever I read that, because that's exactly how Becky entered heaven. She died leaning forward. For her, entering eternity was merely the next crazy venture that God had in store for her. I want my final goodbye on this earth to be like that. I want it to come with a blessing -- and a nudge in the direction of heaven. "Goodbyes are part of every single day," wrote Joyce Rupp.
Becky lived her last chapter with amazing courage and love. She never wanted to be the object of pity. She left a closet-full of unfinished projects and to-do lists, but I don't worry about that now. I didn't choose to say goodbye to Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. We had much work for the kingdom left to do together. But perhaps incompletion is itself a blessing. Perhaps it is a small closure that I need to accept. Possibly what is unfinished will remain unfinished. As John Milton put it so long ago, "God does not need man's work or his own gifts." One thing I do know, however. I know that on November 2, 2013, the God who began a good work in the life of Becky Black brought it to completion. If it is His will, God will carry through to completion all the acts and intentions that Becky left unaccomplished. And when I die, God will perfect what I leave imperfect. What I want now is to travel with grace over every new pathway, across every new threshold of life. Now, as I await the day when Becky and I will be reunited, I am aware that old things have already passed away, and all things are being made new.