Thursday, July 2
8:48 AM Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sure you know that I leave today for Dallas to spend a few days with mom and dad. Mrs. Lapsley recently had shoulder replacement surgery so please keep her in your prayers. I couldn't have a better set of in-laws. As we all get a little bit closer to seeing Jesus (and Becky too -- woohoo!), I am reminded of that day when all creation will be set free from every diabolical influence such as sin and death and we shall rule and reign with Christ on earth. Then, God's will shall be done "on earth as it is in heaven." I, for one, am looking forward to that day with great anticipation!
8:05 AM Good morning, fellow blogging nerds!
"You can probably make more money by having a first-class yard sale" is the way Rachel Toor's essay Things You Should Know Before Publishing a Book opens. If you've ever thought about writing your own book, you need to read this article. The author will regale you with publishing myths, how to boost your odds that a publisher will accept your manuscript, and even "What makes for a good author?" I write because I have to. It's a virus. George Orwell (Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty Four) once wrote an essay called "Why I Write." Here he laid out his four primary motives for writing, which were:
In short, I think he was saying that authors generally feel (1) that they have something important to say and that others should read what they write, (2) that writing is extremely pleasurable, if not for the reader then at least for the writer, (3) that by writing they hope to "set the record straight about some subject," and (4) they desire to push people's thinking and attitudes in a certain direction -- theirs, of course. "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy," added Orwell -- and there is no little truth in that statement. I myself have got to be the most un-self-disciplined author in the world. I write when I feel like it. Otherwise, I'm doing other things. What drives me, I guess, is a felt need to get a point across. Thus Orwell again:
Or, as Gao Xingjian puts it, "Writing eases my suffering."
I am now 63, and yet there are stories I still want to tell, ideas I still want to flame into reality, myths I still want to challenge, and students I still want to motivate. I do not know of a single publisher who would not honor those motives for writing. But your brain must lead, not your ego. For example, a book idea came into my head the other day as I was contemplating my next trip this summer to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Battlefields and to do some genealogical research on my paternal grandparents (the Millers of Sharpsburg) in Hagerstown. "Why not write a little book on personal valor during the American Civil War with an application to the Christian life?" This crazy idea was only reinforced when I was talking recently to a friend of mine from Pennsylvania who said he had never been to Gettysburg. It's true: When you live in a certain place, sometimes tourists have seen more of the sights there than you have. The Civil War is one of the most riveting stories in history. At heart, it's a family tale and one that is worthy of a Shakespeare tragedy. I entered this drama when I was contacted by the 1st Maine Cavalry many years ago in California to ride with them in battle reenactments. I knew little of Civil War history at the time, like so many Americans today. Sure, I had read "picklock biographies" that did little more than set the stage. Today I am more interested in books on the Civil War that amplify my understanding of how ordinary men and women faced the vagaries of those times so that I can better understand how I can face the vagaries of my own. The people of those times faced unflinchingly the vicissitudes of life and in so doing transcended them. Beyond that, the war provides us with endless examples of personal courage and valor. "Duty" was a word that still meant something, and as I face the closing years of my career as a teacher and writer I have come to see the value of that word and all that it means. Jesus said, "Happy are you if you know these things and do them" (John 13:17). One of the main spiritual challenges I've faced in my 55 years as a Christian is being strong on knowing and weak on doing. The head and the hand must go along together if we are to be happy. So says Jesus. Since I was 16 the word of God has been my constant delight, but it wasn't until fairly recently that I entered the fray of Christian warfare, at times taking the Gospel to the front lines in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. I am slowly discovering that there is no simpler way to enjoy the Christian life than to translate doctrine into duty. Some of us who have been on life's road for quite a stretch grow anxious and worry if old age will still find us useful for the kingdom. We need not worry. We can still fight the good fight. We may not mount up with wings as eagles, but we can run and not be weary -- or at least we can walk and not faint. Walking along the Bloody Lane at Antietam or the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg or the Clump of Trees at Gettysburg, it feels like you are seeing what those soldiers saw in those bloody battles of 1861-1865. When the war was over, these Americans from North and South came together again and the nation was reborn, this time without the scourge of slavery. Today, buoyed partly by their example of reconciliation, I work together with believers in many nations to preach the Gospel of reconciliation and to expand the only kingdom that, in the end, really matters. But it calls for courage, tireless devotion, and sacrifice. As in Red Badge of Courage. (Oops, that title's already taken.)
Now you know how a jetlagged brain works. There are many other publishing ideas dangerously percolating in my mind as well -- things "that human lips may not speak" (2 Cor. 12:4), at least not yet. Any academic who has achieved a modicum of success in the publishing field knows that dreams often do not become a reality. But every book starts somewhere, and for me, the incubation period usually begins in the intersection of my personal interests at the time and my personal journey -- where I find myself in life at any one stage of my earthly existence. I'm an entrepreneur at heart, and I suppose I love reading and writing books more than even surfing or horseback riding, which is saying a lot. Let me thank you for supporting my already-published books, and let me thank you in advance for your loyalty in praying for me as I contemplate future writing projects.
Wednesday, July 1
8:28 PM Good evening to fertilize the fields.
5:20 PM When I think of family, I think of my persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world. One of them is named Asia Bibi.
If you haven't already heard, Asia is near death having already suffered for 5 long years in a Pakistani prison. Please, let's intercede on her behalf as we are commanded to do. I'm sure she is willing to die for her faith, but at least we can pray for some relief from her pain and discomfort. If anyone wants to do more, petitions for her release can be signed at Change.org:
In the meantime, I've copied her picture and taped it to my frig so that I can remember her in prayer daily. Remember: praying for the imprisoned is not really a choice, but a command (Heb. 13:3). And to the extent to which we obey probably says more about us and our Christianity than anything else.
4:45 PM What better way to end a long day of work than by having homemade stir-fry and fleshly picked blueberries over ice cream?
2:04 PM Kudos on the launch today of the Exegetical Tools Quarterly.
A sampling: Discourse Analysis Annotated Bibliography.
1:50 PM My life: Mowing and editing, mowing and editing, mowing ....
Tuesday, June 30
5:42 PM Added to my Mark list:
And yet there is room.
5:10 PM Had a two hour nap. Exquisite.
11:50 AM Just back from running errands in "our fair city." In order of visits: post office, gas station, vegetable stand, bank, Food Lion, Ace Hardware, and the local Mexican eatery.
Love Clarksville. For a small town it's got everything.
Plus good old Southern hospitality. People greet you by name. You wave at the occasional car or truck you pass. No one is too busy to chat. Oh, see my shirt?
The Hesses sent it to me. They run a great equestrian camp called Leg Up Christian Ministries that I support. Summer camps feature horsemanship and Bible study (this summer's theme is the names of God). Hence this shirt. Ain't it cool?
8:56 AM Great quote from Randy Alcorn:
A cute idea, this prosperity gospel, but in your "fight of faith" you will face temptations daily that blitz your belief. You've got to make it to the final bell, and that ain't easy. Paul had no prosperity gospel -- but he did have beatings, whippings, stonings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and threats. Yet he endured through every trial and bout with despair. In the part of the world I just visited, "name it and claim it" is making deep inroads into the church. Paul makes hamburger of this creed. We've got it all wrong. God never promised us a risk-free, fail-safe life. But Jesus is making a return trip, and when He does everything will change. Talk about peace and prosperity!
8:40 AM The book of Hebrews with illustrations. But how can you say that the opening paragraph is 1:1-3?
1) I'm compiling a list of "issues" to be discussed in my Mark class this fall. Thus far I've come up with a preliminary list to which I will be adding many other items:
Can you think of others?
2) Jacob Cerone, Joshua Covert, and I are making the final edits on our forthcoming book The Pericope of the Adulteress in Modern Research (T & T Clark).
3) Last night I listened to an excellent discussion (hardly a "debate") on homosexuality which included Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Seminary. You can find the link to the audio at Robert's website (scroll down). Be sure to also read his post-discussion response called On Love, Misrepresenting Jesus, and the Spirit of Self-Delusion. Lots of good stuff at Robert's site, including a piece called "Does the Bible Regard Same-Sex Intercourse as Intrinsically Sinful?"
4) As I've said, I am deeply humbled and honored to be asked to teach a weeklong course in Kahuluu, Oahu in October and am praying about my topic. The venue is Windward Baptist Church, which has just started a Bible institute on its church campus. My prayer is that God will use this discipleship school to prepare God's people in Windward Oahu to fulfill the vital role God has for them in the kingdom movement He's inspiring in the islands these days. It is so exciting for me to be able to return "home" as it were and make even a small contribution to the work of the Lord and repay the investment so many made in my own life while growing up there. I'm thinking of discussing basic New Testament hermeneutics and calling the class "How to Read the New Testament for All It's Worth." How's that for an original title!
5) I see that the Vocal Majority, which is merely the best men's vocal group in the universe, is offering a free outdoor concert in Dallas this weekend. Wooooooohoooooo! I "just happen" to be going to Dallas this weekend, and my in-laws are great fans of that singing group. Maybe we can ham it up and sing along with the men.
6) Didn't sleep a wink last night. I'll probably fall asleep at noon today. But no worries -- the government has it all figured out!
Monday, June 29
8:08 PM Just ordered:
6:06 PM George Weigel has written a sobering piece called The Church and "the New Normal." Here's a telling quote:
In crucial areas, many Christians are simply out of touch with the majority of people outside the church. It is utterly critical for those of us who are serious about communicating the Gospel in the twenty-first century to take the time to understand how different the world's thought forms are from ours. Evangelism is not for some kind of contentless, anti-intellectual Christianity. We can study Scripture without ever studying culture. The result is pseudo-Christianity, false orthodoxy, and simulated piety. Our supreme business today is not one of success or self-satisfaction but stewardship, and it is required of stewards that they be found faithful, both to know the truth and to live it out in Calvary-deeds of love.
10:58 AM The audio of my interview with Michael Lorin has now been posted.
10:18 AM On the flight from Asia to Detroit yesterday I watched a movie about surfing in -- New England of all places. It's called The Granite Stoke. I had no idea Vermont had such amazing waves. Seriously, though, where's the fun in surfing in 10 degree weather? But surf they do. I guess there are some things you just don't forget in life. For me, that includes surfing. The first thing I did after Becky went Home to be with Jesus was go surfing on the North Carolina coast. It was a time to get away and just be by myself doing what comes naturally. I would catch a wave and just weep. But it helped me. A lot. Sitting on your board gives you time to think, to sort out your life, to come up with a plan to cope with tragedy. The icing on the cake was that there were some pretty nice swells too. I was completely alone on the beach. Not another soul in sight. (Probably because it had been snowing.) Surfing will always be that way for me. Since those days at Wrightsville Beach I've made three trips to Hawaii to surf. Like the waves of the ocean, life ebbs and flows and sometimes the only way you can survive is just to let the breakers wash over you and receive the healing as well as the pain. In the movie, a surfer relates the story of the loss of his five-year old daughter to cancer, and how the surfing community rallied around him and his family during that horrific experience. It seems like such a small thing, this thing we call community, but it makes a difference. Never alone. Just that. Nothing more.
Wish me well. I'll be surfing again in October. The swells should be big at that time. This could be interesting.
9:04 AM Home again. I've unpacked. The washing machine groans. I'm sitting here at the keyboard wondering what words my jet-lagged brain will type. To every single one of my blog readers -- you know your beautiful names -- this trip was successful at least partly because of your prayers, and I will never be able to thank you enough. All is grace -- the safe flights, the students, the wildly warm teaching sessions, the God-strength, the astonishing joy of watching one of my Greek students begin teaching a Greek class himself after years of training. I am so thankful for the gift of community, the principle of doing life together, the appalling thrill of the soul's intercourse with God. Is this the apex of truly living? Lewis said, "I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation." Indeed. The extravagant pleasure of serving others; the lavish encouragement from friends; the radical demands of Jesus' upside-down kingdom -- all is grace. It's an astounding truth that while we serve Christ it is He who is constantly serving us. You go to bless others and you come back blessed out of your gourd. I'm busted open. I kneel in gratitude. This is the crux of Christianity: to give and receive grace.
There is not a better time in history to be involved in global discipleship. Travel is simple (but never easy -- it took me four days to arrive at my destination). Communications are a miracle. Resources abound. Somehow I feel like I'm 19 all over again -- passionately excited to be alive and going off to Bible college, a bright future ahead. But suffering prepares us for a higher calling. Job had to learn in his older years that God becomes everything only when everything else is stripped away. If we are obedient to God in the place of suffering, He will give us from His unlimited resources everything we need to endure and even overcome. I'm discovering that being refined in the furnace of grief is remolding my character and giving me a deeper understanding of God's nature and His perfect love. If we cast all of our cares upon Him, He will reward us in due time. He is in control. He creates, sustains, and governs even the smallest details of our lives -- like the extra leg room of an exit row in last night's flight from Detroit. There isn't a day go by where I don't consciously thank God for His goodness to me. He never intended widowers to live in isolation. Even Jesus had close friends. If you're like me, you thank God every day for people who know you and love you and support you, fellow believers with whom you delight in serving, friends who help you become that child of God whom God planned all along. On Nov. 2, 2013, my life changed forever. On that day, I had two choices. I could face death and loss on my own, or I could trust God, go on with life, and even perhaps draw closer to Him and enjoy a deeper relationship with His Son. At times I feel overwhelmed by it all. But that's okay. His grace is enough. If we are willing, that grace can wash over us like the cascading waterfalls one sees on the road to Hana in Maui.
So what's ahead? Resting up for three days. Answering emails (please be patient with me; it may take several days). Then on the road again. On Thursday I leave for Dallas to spend some time with Becky's mom and dad. In October I teach in Hawaii and visit New York. In November I revisit Asia. And of course I'll continue blogging -- for you give me shoulders to lean on, listening ears, and hearts ready to pray for my needs. Fighting the good fight of faith -- and make no mistake: a trip abroad is spiritual warfare -- is akin to a Civil War battlefield, of which it has been said "A battlefield is the loneliest place which men share together." Soldiers of both North and South knew the importance of camaraderie on the field of battle. They sought the "touch of the elbow" with their fellow troopers on either side of them who served as reassurance they they were not being deserted or overly exposed to enemy fire. When Union General Dan Sickles placed his 3rd Corps in line of battle on the second day at Gettysburg -- extending it from Sherfy's peach orchard to the strong ridge and then down to the rock outcropping known locally as Devil's Den -- his 10,000 men had to cover more than 2,700 yards, which meant 3 men for every yard, if you included in the total every non-combatant. This placed a terrible burden on the every-day soldier who had been on the march for almost 12 hours without pause. When Longstreet attacked them en echelon, the 3rd Corps was chewed to pieces. The collapse of Sickle's troops could not have come at a worse time for General Meade and his Army of the Potomac. "Desperate and sanguine" is how one eyewitness described the fighting of July 2. The fight at the Trostle farm claimed a sensational casualty in the person of Dan Sickles himself, who lost a leg. Likewise, in spiritual warfare, we need the "touch of the elbow." This trip reminded me that I must never underestimate God's love and power -- or the power of Christian community. If you are caught up in the great battle for souls, be careful not to go it alone. Take heed to "mellowing" with age. It is easy to say, "I've done my share, paid my dues, so let the younger generation handle these issues." Our day is not had until our day is over. No Christian retires from duty as long as he or she is still on earth. Paul fought to the finish. Nothing develops a Christian's own spiritual life as much as sharing one's blessings with others. Yes, we need to be alone, to enjoy the solace of the retreat, but it is to be spent preparing us to return to battle. A comfortable Christian is an oxymoron.
If you are walking through the valley of weeping today, be careful not to resent God. He's simply trying to get your attention. He wants to strengthen your soul and equip you for service. If you submit to God, He will honor you. That's for sure. But it is His gift of patient endurance that will keep your path clear until the results you are expecting are evident.
Thursday, June 18
6:18 AM I was up early today. This morning I feel strangely sensitive to the small pleasures around me -- a cup of coffee, my Bible, the quietness of the morning dew. On mornings like this I feel voraciously alive and my anxieties evaporate in the dawning awareness of the Presence. Yet "the world languishes and withers" (Isa. 24:4). There is work to be done, and that is true regardless of how I am feeling -- whether my energy is diminished or overflowing. We Christians, as a panelist said yesterday, are to offer the world what Jesus offered the adulteress woman in John 8: non-condemnation, and then a call to repentance. I almost wished he hadn't brought up that passage. The great majority of New Testament scholars would say, "Why, that passage shouldn't be taught! It is isn't original." But perhaps uncertainty about this or that textual variation is an avenue of connection. Perhaps those who question what Jesus said or did will see that their views have implications on a huge scale. That dear woman in John 8 needed protection from the demons that were assailing her, just as we all need protection from the fear of death and pain and medical conditions and abandonment and alienation from our loved ones, even fear of the unknown -- "If I repent, what will my friends think of me?" But if we let them, God can use our encounters with this non-condemnatory-ever-calling-for-repentance-Jesus to turn us toward God, who meets us even in the depths of our self-made hells. I know that the Spirit who spoke to you today through His word is the very same Spirit who is leading me to travel far away from home today. I know that whatever needs I might have on this trip He will meet them. I know that whatever strength I have will be His strength alone. This is not my day, it is God's day, held within His hands. I choose to make it an offering to Him. Besides, I'm working with Team Awesome, and you're watching my back. (Credit where credit is due.) Don't you realize? He whispers through the morning dew. My grace is greater than your weaknesses, Dave, My love is stronger than death. He has placed a seal over my heart, and I will rest there.
Wednesday, June 17
7:32 PM Earlier today I watched the live streaming of a panel discussion at the SBC convention in Columbus. The topic was gay marriage and it was handled with grace and profound humility. One thing Russ Moore said really got my attention. He said he wished our church services had more time for personal testimonies. No, not braggamonies, but simply brothers and sisters sharing with their brothers and sisters honestly about their struggles, whether it be with alcohol or gluttony or same-sex attraction. The challenge for me as I blog is to be open and honest with my readers and try to model for them what it means to die to a relationship with hope, integrity, and an open heart. It's surprising to me how many people have tried to encourage me by assuring me that I'll get through it because I am so strong in the Lord. I'm really not. I am as weak as a kitten. So are you, even though you may not realize it or ever acknowledge it in public. Of course, said Moore, biblical ethics is worth fighting for (I am paraphrasing), but one must love sinners to Christ by befriending them. The way we love LGBT people all around us must change. I'm much too tired (and this is me speaking, not Moore) to play along with the polite deceptions of people who insist "I'm okay" when they are really not. All of us can redirect our own lapses into denials ("Well, I may be fat but gluttony isn't as bad as drunkenness"). Folks, we can't wash our hands of the world's troubles simply by piously saying "I am of Christ." Jesus is what really matters, and everything else is to be judged in the light of Him. We can become so upset over the world's condition that we forget to live the Gospel. No one need be ashamed of loving his or her neighbor. We have to take people as they are. But God has also asked us to be holy because He is holy, to be transformed and not conformed to the spirit of this age. The true Christian perfectionist knows that he or she is not perfect, but perfection is still their goal and they constantly move toward it. The struggle is learning how to be patient with ourselves (and others) while not being tolerant of evil that can and ought to be dealt with. But let it first begin in my life. To do anything less is to doubt and disobey God.
7:08 PM Just finished an interview with Michael Lorin on the Messiah Community Radio Talk Show. The topic was "Why Study New Testament Greek?" Not sure when it will air but you can check Michael's website for details.
11:56 AM All dads should read this.
11:45 AM Beautiful day on campus today.
A huge shout out to our fabulous grounds crew.
Tuesday, June 16
9:08 PM I'm sitting in a dark house listening to the rain fall and reflecting on the past 18 months of life. The birds have long since gone to their beds for the night and the only sounds I hear are the bullfrogs and crickets. Somehow, it is peaceful in the midst of the storm. Tonight I wanted to go out for dinner, to the Chinese restaurant Becky and I haunted so many times. Seems a long time ago now. Can I really eat there again? The memories are too vivid, the ache too recent. This is a good time to review all I know about moving on after loss. So many questions arise in a time of grief. "Can I ever sleep in that bed again?" "What shall I do with her vegetable gardens and her berries?" "I still have her reenacting clothes. Who would like to have them?" The odd thing about old griefs is that they keep on triggering new griefs. A simple trip into town erupts in painful memories that you can't suppress no matter how hard you try. Then there are those who promise, "If there is anything I can do for you, be sure to let me know." But people become busy, have their own lives and their own problems and their own schedules and aches. They want to help. Their intentions are good. Maybe the problem is just with me and my expectations of others. I'm realizing that neither coping nor helping others to cope with their losses is easy. "It is what it is," Becky used to say, not so much with a spirit of resignation as with a wisdom borne of experience. I have to believe that even these slight human refusals and demurrals are meant to connect me with the One who sustains me in these difficult and sometimes dark days. Still, I need people. I need people who will know when and how to reach out to me, who will offer the gift of their time or maybe a precious hand showing compassion and offering reassurance. As I find my way, I'm reminded of Denise Levertov's poem "The Avowal" and her description of "all-surrounding grace."
I need this grace desperately. I want to learn again that every "no" or "maybe" by humans is surrounded by God's much bigger "yes." Jesus put up with so many things that must have tried His patience to the core from others who so frequently misunderstood His meaning. Yet He loved them still.
O God, let me learn from that. Grant me that same patience. Grant me clarity to think wisely and well of others who disappoint. Grant me confidence in your peace and love. I release my fears to You in trust. Praise and bless Your name.
8:00 PM Once again the Lord comes through. We got up this orchard grass just before the rains hit us.
Not a lot in terms of quantity but in terms of quality -- well, let's just say that horses love orchard grass and it's really terrific for metabolic horses who just vacuum it up. Good in protein and calories too.
#Love my work.
6:54 PM The Lincoln assassination story continues to fascinate me no end. I'm not 15 pages into James Swanson's book Manhunt when I'm introduced to a major character in the story by the name of Dr. Charles Leale, a 23-year-old U.S. Army surgeon on duty at the Wounded Commissioned Officers' Ward at Armory Square Hospital in Washington. It was Leale who ended up being the first medical professional to attend to the stricken president on the night of his assassination. Three days before the play at Ford's Theater, Leale heard Lincoln speak at the White House. When he heard that the president would be attending Laura Keene's performance of Our American Cousin, he decided to attend. Leale's specialty just happened to be brain injuries, and the reason he wanted to attend the play was not to see the actors but "to behold [Lincoln's] face and study the characteristics of the 'Savior of his Country'." Who was this Dr. Leale? I wondered. What did he witness that night in Washington? So I asked Dr. Google and boy was I surprised at the answer. Apparently Leale's eyewitness report lay hidden in obscurity until 2012, when a researcher with The Papers of Abraham Lincoln stumbled upon his 1865 report. You can read it here. Although Lincoln was technically dead by the time Leale reached the presidential box, he was able to restore his pulse and get him breathing again.
So there he was -- a Union army officer thrust into unexpected duty at a moment's notice. Leale literally saved the president's life, though nothing could ultimately prevent the hand of Death from escorting the president to that far and distant shore. I think we could use a lot of good old-fashioned Christians today who know their duty and are eager to serve their Commander-in-Chief at the drop of a hat. There is nothing weak or effeminate about Christianity. Our Lord told Peter that he faced martyrdom and He told the saints in Smyrna that more persecution lay ahead for them. The kingdoms of this world have not become His yet. But one day they will. Until then, the real test of faith is in doing our duty as God gives us light to see it. Blessed are those who can see the real soldiers among the counterfeits and, beyond them, their Master and Lord, and choose Him and His ways.
4:32 PM And I've got hay to get up today ....
11:50 AM Today I've been watching the SBC convention in Columbus as it's being live-streamed. One of the highlights this morning was the report of our six seminary presidents. Sometimes belonging to a seminary faculty makes you feel like you belong to a secret club of some sort. We have our own language (Heilsgeschichte, eschatology, systemic linguistics) and our own weird customs (like those monkey suits we wear at commencement). It's incredibly satisfying to know, however, as our seminary presidents reminded us today, that it's really much simpler than all that. It's about God, who makes something out of nothing, who delights in penetrating the darkness of our lives and giving us forgiveness and hope, who then sends us back into the work to suffer and sacrifice and even die if necessary. So I cling to that truth. Seminary is much more than knowledge. And I'm glad to serve among people who are truly on target when it comes to eternal things.
You can watch the convention here if you're interested.