Thursday, October 2
9:45 AM Just picked these from Becky's rose garden. Ain't they lovely? They're in memory of the gardener, of course.
Today marks the 11th monthaversary of her death. For me it is an inexpugnable reminder of the incredible grace of God that we experienced during our cancer journey together. It's also a chance to reevaluate my life and ask Where do I go from here? Life has mellowed for me now that I've reached Geezerdom. I've already experienced that stage in men's lives where they have to revaluate the ladder of success they've been climbing and even reappraise the ladder itself. I'm no longer in the grip of the American Dream. Its demands are less absolute and work in general is less stressful. Even though I continue to pursue excellence, I'm frankly more interested now in the process and much less concerned with recognition. Yeats' poem "The Circus Animals' Desertion" says it well:
I've had to climb down a million ladders in order to reach out my hand and grasp what is of eternal significance. When more time stretches behind than stretches before, you see a gap between what you may have wished to become and what you actually have become. I no longer think I have to be a great writer or the perfect classroom teacher and, as I said the other day, the mentor in me is coming out. I hope to show the younger generation that water holes are often mirages, and that to succeed in life is partially to fail. Seasons of life pass in their proper rhythm, and as long as we are alive no season of life marks the end of opportunities for growth or the burdens of further progress. I have long since given up the image of myself as a youthful hero saving the world. I'm just an aging man who has accepted himself as a person of considerable experience and achievement and who feels privileged to be able to do work I enjoy and become a teacher-mentor to the younger generation.
God's dialogue with Job comes to mind as I contemplate life without Becky. "Have you descended to the springs of the sea or walked in the unfathomable deep?" The answer is no, of course not, Lord. But You have. To God, at least, nothing is new or surprising, least of all the death of a spouse. As for me, I will try to regard whatever time and energy He grants me as His property and not mine.
To change the subject: I've made an appointment with an ENT specialist. From Googling the symptoms, I probably messed up my eardrum on descent. My guess is that the drum is stuck or else there is fluid in the middle era. But really, I have no clue. I do know that whatever dark tunnel we may be called upon to travel through, God has been there first.
Wednesday, October 1
9:05 PM Well, it turns out that the week I had planned is going to be very different from the one God has in store for me. Yes, I have decided to cancel my trip. Because life isn't about what we want. It's about doing the right thing. Now, I'm not saying I'm very good at this. There are lots of wrong decisions I've made in my life. And no, I don't expect to feel totally at peace with myself about this decision. Let's be honest. As wonderful as life is, it can also be a bummer at times. But the truth is that God is at work even when we are clueless. He shows up even when we feel lost in the fog. I won't be coming. That wasn't easy to write. But when I look back at what I wrote, when I realize that I've got to deal with this ear problem before it gets worse, I realize that I made the right decision -- an incredible, awful, difficult, abrupt about-face, a 180 - but the right decision nonetheless.
There's something almost comforting about how you can find your balance even when you're riding a roller coaster. Of course, just the mere fact that I have the option of seeing an ear specialist is itself mind-boggling. He is caring for me. None of this is happening outside of His loving arms. For most of my life, when faced with decisions like this, I would tell myself, "Push yourself, Dave, and get the job done even if it wipes you out physically." I've now decided that voice is a lie. It doesn't matter how much you enjoy serving Jesus or how much others need your service, it's okay to get tired and sick or to have an ear infection. Sometimes when I read blogs, there's a very real sense that life is nothing but a series of victories and happy moments, and indeed at times life is like that. But we need to get real. It's not okay to pretend. Yes, I want to know about your joys, but I also want to hear about those times when you feel you can't go on or when you are empty and confused or when your view of life is obscured by tear-clouded eyes or when you want to bury your head in your knees and cry your heart out. Think of John (whose head was cut off) or James (killed in prison) or Job (yes, that Job) or Paul (who could heal others but not himself). Is the implication there that life isn't always a bowl of cherries?
Maybe this sounds a little melodramatic, but I hate having to make decisions like the one I had to make today. It is so humbling. I seem completely unable to wrap my head around the fact that God once stripped Himself of everything and put on weakness and humiliation so that He might pour out His love on us without qualm or reservation. I never want to get numb thinking about how low He stooped to lift me up. Today I asked for a miracle, and though He didn't grant me the miracle I was asking for or take the pain away, I would be a fool not to recognize that a miracle has been given to me in the form of a Savior who is with me (as He promised) "day after day after day until the end of the age," regardless of my health or my ability to travel.
To those of you who emailed me with advice and prayers, my deepest thanks. We're all in this together, and not just us. He is eager to help us in ways we don't dare to imagine. So before finishing my emails and going upstairs, I thank you. I totally agree with the apostle Paul: I have no idea how people can live without Christ or apart from the community He established called the church.
6:07 PM Getting caught up on answering your text messages and emails. I was blessed by this text:
God is so good to me to give me encouraging friends like this one!
5:54 PM Evening, friends!
It was a busy day today. My Greek 1 class graded their exams and then I had to introduce what is probably the lengthiest chapter in my beginning grammar (chap. 7 on the imperfect and aorist tenses). In addition, my left ear has really been bothering me. I think to myself, You're such a wimp, Dave. The apostle Paul was shipwrecked 3 times and spent 24 hours in the open sea. He knew "exhaustion, pain, long vigils, hunger and thirst, doing without meals, cold, and even lack of clothing" (so he tells the Corinthians). I guess he never experienced the real hazards of travel -- no soap in the airplane's lavatory, or the flight attendants running out of blankets on an overnight flight.
Right now, at this very moment, I am having to decide whether or not to fly out tomorrow on my next international trip. I am packed. I am ready to go. I am eager to go. But my left ear is killing me. Do I risk a long-term chronic problem for the sake of short-term gains, or do I cancel out and have my ear checked by a specialist before boarding another airplane? If I do leave on this trip, this will involve 6 different flights in 10 days -- which means 6 ascents and 6 descents with the concomitant pressurization and depressurization involved. I have decided to make my decision by 9 pm tonight. I am willing to take risks for the sake of the Gospel. But I also want to be wise. How do I go about doing this? It will take more wisdom than I have.
Thank you. Thank you for letting me be honest with you. Thank you for sharing my journey with me. I wish Becky (a former ICU nurse) were here to offer advice. I so want to follow Christ. I so want to "carry each other's burdens and so live out the law of Christ." I know the conditions: "Let a man deny himself and take up his cross." But I can't do this by myself. He needs to enable me -- the One who Himself relinquished all His own rights and His own will as well.
I'll let you know what I decide. And I'd appreciate your prayers.
8:18 AM You turn the computer on -- a simple push of a button that shows you a date stamp, a reminder that a new month has begun. It jolts you, this rush to the future, this flight from summer to fall and eventually winter. You laugh out loud. It was almost a year ago, you think to yourself. That can't be true. It happened just yesterday, didn't it?
Over the past few months, I've shared with you my raw experience of coming to grips with Becky's death. For four and a half years prior to that event, I watched the gradual weakening of her body and the long, slow loss of her ability to manage such basic needs as ambulation and toileting. I had become her caregiver, and it was a job I neither expected nor felt myself prepared for. My experience was hardly unique: Millions of people are unable to care for themselves. Becky's way of handling the crisis was simply to carry on with her life and ministries as planned. We experienced countless "new normals" as the disease progressed. But we both knew that the Long Goodbye had begun. Thankfully, we were never meant to travel this journey alone. Over and over again we experienced the support of countless people, including many of you. How much longer must I watch her suffer? I'd whine. A watch or timepiece is useless when it comes to determining how much longer until Jesus comes for you and takes you Home. But you're wasting your time if you are standing around checking your watch all day long. The Bible says "Keep busy until I come." Our lives should be ready for that day. Our hearts should be ready too.
When I go on a trip I often have to leave the house early in the morning to catch my flight. So when I go to bed at night I make sure everything is ready. I don't want to have to fumble around in a sleepy stupor packing my bags. I want to be ready. And so it is spiritually. I want to live today in anticipation of Christ's second coming. Yes, I'm still time-conscious, except now I realize that the best way of waiting is by keeping busy in the work of the Lord until He makes the final move. "We all find time to do what we really want to do," said William Feather. Goethe agreed: "Nothing is worth more than this day." Even in this age when we know the price of everything and the value of nothing, I can be about my Father's business.
When it comes right down to it, it really doesn't matter what season of the year it is or what my calendar says. I know the Home Coming party is near. Any day we'll hear the trumpet blow. Until then, I have still have lots of (hopefully) sanctified goals and dreams.
Jesus never told me or Becky when He would call either of us Home. He just urged us to live in anticipation of that Day at all times.
Tuesday, September 30
5:34 AM Think missions is only for professionals? Think again. Read Philippians, Missions, and You.
5:30 AM "It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows." Epictetus.
5:22 AM "We should serve God even if there is darkness enveloping our life and even if we don't understand what's happening ... even when the circumstances of our life don't make sense. Because He is worthy of praise. Because He is God." Max Lucado.
Monday, September 29
7:42 PM Hope you had a great day. I'm enjoying the sunset and getting caught up on some reading.
Tonight it's Daniel Levinson's classic The Seasons of a Man's Life. The section on mentoring is especially interesting. He describes a mentor as one who combines the qualities of a good father and a good friend. I like that! A good mentor "invites and welcomes a young man into the adult world." I like that too! And just what is the function of a mentor? According to Levinson it is to (1) guide, (2) teach, and (3) sponsor. As a guide, the mentor represents the qualities a young man aspires to acquire in life. As a teacher, the mentor shares his knowledge with the young man. And as a sponsor, a good mentor is of practical help whenever possible. Mentoring, says Levinson, is the exception to the rule. "Many adults give and receive very little mentoring." In other words, mentoring is noticeable by its absence in most cases. Most men, he says, have few mentoring relationships and even fewer friendships.
So where do I fit in?
Well, I am past the so-called prime of life (40-60). Yet the Talmud says that full wisdom and the dignity of an "elder" starts at 60. I enjoy several close friendships with men. Some are colleagues. Some are peers. Some are former students. We offer each other encouragement in our struggles and advice and counsel in our quandaries. In addition, I am trying to be a good mentor to several young men who are about to enter their prime, attempting to "guide, teach, and sponsor." None of these relationships involves formal roles. They just "happen." My goal is to act as a guide, using my influence to facilitate their entry and advancement in the work place and to help acquaint them with the values of adult life. I am not a pseudo parent to these men. Indeed, giving and receiving is fairly equally balanced. These relationships, in addition to those I have as a father and a grandfather, sure keep me busy. But it puts a human face on relationships, and few things capture the essence of Luke 6:40 better than elders pouring their lives into the "youngers."
Mentoring. Try it; you might like it!
1:36 PM Regular exercise? Who needs it? I do! The older I get, the more I realize how I need to keep the old bod in shape. Slack muscles can't be expected to cope with the demands of constant travel, farm labor, etc.
So once again I took a long walk on the farm. (My jogging days are long gone.) Fresh air and great views. Can't beat the combination.
I'm not my younger athletic self, but I'm not decrepit either.
12:52 PM In the summer of 1978, I found myself as a short-term missionary in (West) Germany. The world will little note nor long remember what I did there, but I will never forget the thrill of playing my trumpet that summer on an evangelistic brass octet that travelled the length and breadth of that great nation.
Since then I've hazarded about a bazillion missionary trips to foreign lands. So convinced am I about the value of short-term missions that I wrote a brief piece by that title for DBO. How about you? Have you become a world Christian yet? Even if you never leave the shores of the good ol' U.S. of A., you can still become in some way involved with global missions. Missions is the normal Christian life. It is not a reality reserved for super-saints who have been to seminary. The Lord Jesus Christ has the full right to expect all of us who are blood-bought to abandon our lives to Him. Indeed, blood-bought redemption is the only acceptable motivation for serving King Jesus.
All over the world men and women are dying for such ephemeral causes as political freedom. Isn't servanthood the least we can offer God in response to His mercy and grace towards us?
11:56 AM "Leadership is only worthy of allegiance when the led freely grant it to the leader in response to the leader's servant posture." Donald Kraybill.
8:28 AM Very often (nearly always, actually) I'm in a contemplative mood. It takes no effort at all for me to cogitate. Feelings are there, too, especially when I think of loss. I read yesterday a beautiful blog post that I thought you might want to read too. It's yet another reminder that the Christian life often entails a giving up to God what we deem most precious in life. Matthea and Jon had to offer up, as a couple, their young son and allow God to do His transforming and healing work. They are learning, as I am learning, to become (as the saying goes) "masters of themselves that they might be the servants of others." Of course, the Christian can do no less. "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable to him" (Rom. 12:1, Phillips). You can't talk about God's mercy and your self-pity in the same breath. It is only through "intelligent worship" that we come to know the fullness of joy. (I know whereof I speak.) No one can fully face up to loss without faith. Faith that the God who created life also gives grace in time of need. Faith in the God knows every detail of our lives.
Thank Him for this, my friend, and live in its light to the hilt.
Sunday, September 28
4:36 PM The old saying goes, "God comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable." In my message this morning I think God was trying to disturb us. I am convinced that the needs in India can be met when the church sees the poor and says "enough is enough."
When the church becomes a place of sharing rather than hoarding, there will finally be the equity that Paul speaks of in 2 Cor. 8. Mother Teresa used to say, "There are Calcuttas everywhere if only we have the eyes to see them. Find your Calcutta and do what you can to help." Today, Calcutta for me is Bagdogra and the school Mammen Joseph is building. So this morning I shared from Philippians about leadership = service = sacrifice. The needs in India are real, but the root of the solution is right here in our neighborhoods. And so I'm an optimist. God will accomplish His work. He always does. In the words of Hudson Taylor, "There are three stages in the work of God: impossible, difficult, done." Selah!
You might say that today's theme was "India" in more ways than one. Attending Cresset today "just happened" to be a believing couple named Ravi and Mary who hail from the Indian state of Kerala.
When I told them I had once spoken at the dedication of a new Bible college in the city of Mavelikara in Kerala, they exclaimed, "That's the city we're from!" Small world. Afterwards a group of us enjoyed lunch at the Rasa Indian-Chinese restaurant in Chapel Hill, where our host Lasmi treated us like kings.
The ambience was wonderful and the cuisine outstanding. It's amazing how the world has come to America. Missiologists call this "missions in reverse." I'm so grateful that God allows us to live out our faith in this world and not just the next. And what an interesting world it is!
I had to rush home sooner than I had wanted to, since the hay had to be baled before tomorrow's rains. It's always a blessing to be outdoors. To think that we can find God only in a church building is as absurd as thinking that you can find beauty only in an art gallery. Today I watched the trees of the field clapping their hands and heard the birds singing God's praises.
Not a day goes by when I do not consciously praise the Lord for puppies that love me and donkeys that bray when they see me in the morning and goats that gleefully butt heads together. The Psalmists likewise observed the ways of bears and badgers, the turbulent waters, the glory of nature. Read any creation Psalm and you will see that the real significance of the universe is understood only by the eye of faith. And this faith was not in some man-made deity but in the eternal God Himself. All creation depends on the Creator for birth, life, and sustenance. "You open your hand, and they are filled with good." Even death is controlled by the Sovereign God. "You take away their breath and they die and return to their dust." The point is that God has established creation, and everything God created is a gift from Him.
Today I'm basking in this God of the Universe. May I never get so busy that I do not notice His handwork.
8:50 AM Inspired this morning by my daughter's linking to a post called 20 Signs You're Entering Your Late 20s, I offer my list of "20 Ways to Know You've Entered Your 60s":
You regret loaning out so many books that have never been returned.
You actually fill out performance reviews of your restaurant servers.
You have no idea who's on TV.
You are turned off by noisy restaurants.
You think aspirin is the greatest invention in history.
Your ears start growing hair.
You refrigerate leftovers and then forget to eat them.
Your students weren't even born when you began teaching.
Your grandkids look you up on Wikipedia.
Your children have to explain to you how to use your iPhone.
You yell at kids at the public swimming pool to stop running.
You understand how transient life is.
You feel like a 25-year old trapped in the body of 62-year old.
You don't sweat the small stuff.
You get compliments on how "young" you look.
You wake up at 5:00 am and again at 7:00.
You hate flying.
You no longer use a land line.
You think "the" war was World War II.
You know what an encyclopedia set is.
And finally ....
You think "getting old" lists are interesting.
Saturday, September 27
8:06 PM This is how my desktop looks at home. A constant reminder ...
7:54 PM More miscellaneous meanderings from a macrobian migraineur:
1) I've been having the time of my life this evening listening to some wonderful Latin audio files. Just go here and let the fun begin. Cap II pars III is my favorite so far.
2) Beginning Oct. 1, I will be offering my Greek DVD set at a discounted price of only $150.00 (25 percent off!) while supplies last. The sale ends Oct. 31 (and will apply to any order I receive that is postmarked on or before that date). Here's a sampler in case you're interested:
3) We tedded (aerated) the hay today and will try to get it baled tomorrow. Rain is expected on Monday. Yes, I work on Sunday when I have to.
4) Learned a new word today: paranurterer. It means something like "Caring for others with the kind of nurture customarily provided to a spouse." I always knew I was "para" something!
5) Here's a question. Do you think we can finally lay to rest "the call to the ministry" language? Each Christian is called of God to fulltime Christian service. The "secret" call of the pastor does not make him more called than the nurse or the bus driver. The life that I live for God as an academic is not less "called" than that of an elder in a local church. The whole church is God's clergy, and all of us are appointed by God for a ministry both to the church and the world. Note how Ephesians 4 moves from our one calling in Christ to the many gifts for ministry. My friend, if you a member of the body, your ministry is indispensable. Will we ever get this right?
Back to my Latin stories. I think I'll read Caesar Permanens in Fresno. What a great title!
11:52 AM Just changed some bedding over at Maple Ridge for the guests who will be here while I'm gone.
Not bad for an old bachelor, eh?
9:40 AM OK, here's a brief update from Rosewood Farm in case anyone is even faintly interested. I'm continuing to write, using short sentences (thanks, Hemingway). I've also got to finish mowing several acres of "yard" (I don't mow the pastures). I leave Thursday for Asia and plan on working on my book about being Becky's caregiver while gone. You won't be getting any blog posts during my trip but that doesn't mean I won't be writing. As you know, Bec's autobiography in Spanish will soon be released. And right now we are working on the final pages for the Spanish edition of my beginning grammar. I'm honored, really, to be a part of all of these projects. Thanks to my assistant, my friends, and my publishers for making it happen.
Being gone on Oct. 2 means I'll be traveling during the 11th monthaversary of Becky's homegoing. You don't realize it at the time, but when you get married and give yourself to your mate, you're actually giving them life. Not eternal life, of course -- but life nonetheless. You are injecting a certain meaning into their life that was absent before, a meaning that itself is a grace gift from God. There is no true marriage without this life, without this gift. In fact, the greatest fear of married couples is that this gift might be taken away from them. And so you treasure this gift -- this "other" person whom God has brought into your life to build, encourage, strengthen, and comfort you. But this gift is not unlimited. It is not eternal. The One who gave it to you gave it to you for a particular time, and should He remove it from your grasp you needn't fret or try to grasp for it or become bitter because it's no longer there. You are simply to accept that fact and be at peace with Him, for He is still your kind Master and greatest Lover. You learn how to celebrate the gift even in its absence. Those little gestures that made the gift so special to you -- seating her at the dinner table, opening the car door for her, walking on the outside of the sidewalk -- become special memories, unforgettable tokens not of her helplessness (as if she couldn't seat herself or open her own car door) but rather of the mutual care you shared with each other. Marriage is love in action, but it always involves a cross. For a husband, the cross means giving yourself wholly and joyfully to your wife because you are joint heirs together of the grace of life, always moving towards that final goal of glorifying God to the very end. I have no use for theoretical love. Even as a widower, let me have something definite to call love, for love is more action than words.
Becky was many things to me. My life was enriched because of her, and it is a naive sort of masculinity that tries to be tough when the pain calls for tears. I who have enjoyed the gift of marriage have no difficulty whatever in saying that my deepest earthly fulfillment in life came not from teaching or writing but from being Becky's husband. I never thought I would outlive her, that I would be single again. But the will of God is the only true and complete freedom. To think otherwise is to settle for a pseudo-personhood.
So there's my update!
Tomorrow I'm speaking at Cresset Baptist in Durham. Your prayers would be appreciated.
9:10 AM Yesterday the BBC posted: Speechless: Three big sins of public speaking. No need for bombast. Just be as natural as you can possibly be.
I think church architecture has huge implications here. John Darby, one of the founders of the Brethren church, encouraged the construction of simple chapels or assemblies with architecture that emphasized the priesthood of all believers. Pulpits and platforms were avoided. A typical chapel was a square room with a table and chairs for the speakers. Darby insisted on sitting among the members during the service and standing among them when he spoke (rather than from behind the table). The Anabaptists denied the significance of church buildings since physical structures were irrelevant to God. The buildings themselves were emblems of mere formalism. Large stone structures could never replace the true church of Christ that is comprised of two or three living stones gathered in His Spirit. They felt that with the addition of large numbers of extravagant temples the church had compromised with worldly standards of success. The Anabaptists energetically condemned this "externalization" of the Body of Christ. See my The Jesus Paradigm.
Friday, September 26
6:25 PM I never heard anyone refer to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as "anorexic" before, but I like the word.
It reminded me of a blog post I read years ago called Blogging and the Value of Conciseness, in which we read:
Notice that conciseness is not necessarily brevity. My books are getting shorter and shorter but that doesn't necessarily make them better. The key is value, not length. I want my doctoral students associating conciseness with efficiency. Our audiences should be able to "get the point" quickly, and without any undue suffering. Just leaving "that" out can help. Avoiding the passive voice likewise ("The passive voice is always to be avoided" -- hahaha). Use topical sentences. Etc.
So a tip of the kepi to Ol' Abe. He was on to something. And today, people's attention spans are even shorter than in 1863.
Get straight to the point.
12:52 PM Just got my annual flu shot. Had yours yet?
The good folks at CVS were so kind. Everyone wanted to know how I was doing. You see, last year at this time I was almost a daily fixture at the pharmacy, picking up this or that med for Becky. It felt good to be able to say, Yes, I'm doing fine, God is sustaining me, I miss her terribly but life is going on. Through it all, I was constantly amazed at not only the efficiency of the local pharmacy staff but also their kindness, their genuine empathy. Because that's how life is supposed to work. When one member of the community suffers, we all suffer.
I don't miss making dozens of trips to CVS each month. But I do miss the staff. There's such a peace knowing that, no matter what happens, I'm among people who are interested in more than just a quick business transaction.
11:14 AM Henry Neufeld continues the discussion about divorce and remarriage over at the Energion Discussion Network. I think the church marquee he posted is pretty telling:
9:48 AM Russ Moore asks a very good question: Is Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality? His answer is both balanced and biblical. Where I might demur is here:
I am curious as to how widely this view represents the thinking of evangelicals on this debated issue. 1) I think a case can be made, scripturally, that even when divorce is justified on biblical grounds, remarriage is still forbidden by Jesus as long as the first spouse is still alive. And 2) an instance of divorce-remarriage (where the first spouse is still living) would, on its face, constitute sin (adultery). The irony is that, while evangelicals are rightly concerned about the homosexual agenda in our society, they are moving away from a high view of marriage, thus leading to what Moore calls "the charge of hypocrisy."
So, my message to my fellow evangelicals, in a nutshell, is this: cherish your marriage! Not in a sinful or prideful way, of course, but simply as a precious gift from God that needs to be nurtured and protected. Be daringly committed to your spouse, and hold fast to the vows you once took before God and others. Warning: Do not read this is as a screed against divorced or divorced/remarried Christians. I know of two divorce situations involving Christian friends of mine that are ripping my heart out right now. Those who have read my book The Jesus Paradigm will have no trouble understanding why I feel so deeply for Christians who struggle in life. I realize that my view on remarriage is a minority view in Christian circles, but given the overall theological, psychological, and spiritual implications of divorce and remarriage, I think this one point of disagreement is worth registering.
Thanks to Russ for his stimulating and courageous essay. I'm sure those with interest in this topic will read it with great benefit. In the meantime, let's all keep reading and thinking ....
9:20 AM She died in an old folks' home in England, ignored and forgotten. This moving poem was found among her possessions:
Who are the aged in your life? Remember: They were once as young and healthy as vibrant as you are today. Take a deep breath. Speak a word of thanks to God for them. Then write them a letter or pay them a visit.
It's called love.
(Below is a young woman/old woman optical illusion. The old woman's eye is the young woman's ear.)
9:01 AM "The world needs young men and women who say no with emphasis, though all the rest of the world says yes." Josiah Holland.
8:54 AM You know you're getting old when you talk about Carl Henry, Donald Bloesch, Ron Nash, David Wells, and Francis Schaeffer and people say, "Who?"
8:48 AM "There is a kind of cloud of confusion surrounding politics, a political obsession according to which nothing has significance or importance apart from political intervention and, when all is said and done, all issues are political." Jacque Ellul.
8:43 AM Writes Thomas Hudgins:
Thursday, September 25
3:58 PM How do you spell "I love you"? Here's how: Kimberly, Nathan, Rachel, Caleb, Michael, and Abigail. They each helped me clean the house today and get ready for the next batch of guests (next weekend), followed by some play time in the "mud" box (the erstwhile "sand" box), a story from Papa P, some Doritos, and then they were gone. All in all, the place is looking a lot better than before. Becky would be so proud of me. I haven't let the house go to pot, and I'm not too proud to ask for help when I need it. So ... thanks to my daughter Kim and the kids for making this day so wonderful for me. It's good. So very good.
12:50 PM Forthcoming. Should be good.
9:48 AM Sure glad I didn't download iOS 8.0 like my "smart" phone asked me to do!
9:32 AM It will a great day today. One of my daughters and her kids are coming over to help me wash the linen and towels from our last retreat here, and I will be writing. Frantically. Yes, a deadline approacheth.
9:24 AM Allan Bevere links to a great post about Noisy Worship. My how the church needs this message today. How many times have I spoken in a large church where parents are made to feel a wee bit unwelcome if they have small children with them. Yes, I know you're recording your service. Yes, there might be a few "interruptions." But honestly, I don't see Jesus telling James and John to "take the children down the hill until I'm done preaching the Sermon on the Mount." Gatherings can be messy, noisy, risky, and unpredictable.
I'll let Spurgeon have the last word (Met. Tab. Pulpit, 1873, vol. 19, p. 323):
9:08 AM "Church structures are not inherently good or evil." I remember missions professor Lloyd Quast making that statement when I was a student of his at Biola in the 1970s. It has stuck with me ever since. He went on to say, "Church structures are either legitimate or not legitimate." Needless to say, that saying stuck with me too. You see, in those early days I was already becoming an ordinary radical who wanted a revolution in the church. Of course, there are much cooler ways to follow Jesus. But asking questions about church is okay with Him; after all, the church is His idea. Christians are called to be extraordinary, not cool. So what are some extraordinary ways we might follow Jesus when it comes to doing church? Let's begin by asking ourselves two questions:
1) Are our church structures biblically valid?
2) Are our church structures task-focused?
For example, it seems that Paul was eager to appoint elders in the churches he had established. He himself did not have a settled ministry (with a rare exception or two -- e.g., Ephesus). He left leadership to the local believers. Thus we read that the Philippian church had both overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1). At the same time, a local church can exist without elders. This was evidently the case in Asia Minor where Paul appointed elders in churches that were already in existence. When a local Baptist church in North Carolina decided to have elders (instead of one pastor and deacons), suddenly they were left with no elders at all. The question was asked, "How many elders should we have?" My thought was, "It's better to have no elders at all than to have unqualified elders." You see, in the early church, eldership was essentially a matter of recognizing who in their midst was divinely appointed by the Spirit to lead them. Qualified elders are not made; they are recognized. And so this congregation now has several excellent elders. These men do not carry out their mission in splendid isolation or independence from the church at large. Their mission is carried out in the context of community. Their philosophy of leadership also recognizes and allows for a great diversity of personalities and spiritual gifts in the congregation, and through their leadership the church's cooperation and participation in global missions has increased. The elders lead but they also facilitate. In fact, I get the very distinct impression that they are there to serve and not be served. Titles seem completely irrelevant to them. In fact, if you go to their church's website, their names aren't even mentioned. They are eager to recede into the group, just as "fellow-elder" Peter seemed to be in the early church (see 1 Pet. 5:1). Their leadership, in other words, is functional rather than titular.
Does this church in North Carolina have a biblical structure? I think the answer has to be yes. Is the structure inward-focused or outward-focused? Is it centered in on itself or is it task-focused? The latter, for sure.
How about your church? Many churches today are caught up in an "edifice complex" or in rigid structures based on inflexible human traditions. The early church was amazingly unfettered by such factors. There is much to be learned from this. Jesus is the Head of the church, and yet He has graciously given His body equipping gifts. If we look to Him and Him alone, He will provide for our congregations the leaders we need, and they will come from our own number.
8:24 AM "Blessed are they who die in the Lord, for their works follow them."
Yep. Becky's My Life Story is now available in Spanish. This was the "second-to-the-last" work that God had foreordained for her. In the postscript I wrote these words:
It is extremely gratifying, to say the least, to see this project come to fruition. If you would like to acquire a copy, it is available for preorder here.
There were so many things I loved about Becky. She lived as though every day were her last -- even before she got sick. Just trust me when I say that it was one of the best moves I ever made when I married her. For years we were able to live out the love that God had given us, and that ministry continues even to this day through her writings. Add to this the fact that it was Becky who put together the logistics for the school in India (this was her final earthly work), and it's comforting to know that God is still at work in bringing these projects to completion. In fact, yesterday I received yet another check for India, this one totaling $2,000. Yes, Jesus is making every single day new, and we are part of that work, every single one of us, whether we're sitting on a sick bed planning a school thousands of miles away or helping our elderly neighbors clean out their rain gutters. We are part of that "making all things news," and it is beautiful.
Wednesday, September 24
4:58 PM Odds and ends ...
1) Had a great lunch today with Heath Thomas, who heads up our Ph.D. program at SEBTS. He's doing a bang-up job too.
2) Ben Merkle asked me to consider writing an endorsement for his forthcoming intermediate Greek grammar (co-authored with Andreas Köstenberger and Rob Plummer). I like what I see. Blurb forthcoming.
3) Checked out from our library today a brand new book on church eldership. The author is adamant: unpaid "elders" and paid "pastors" occupy the same role in the church; "pastor" = "overseer" = "elder"; "it's all the same job"; "...just because a paid pastor may have more availability, education, or gifting, it doesn't follow logically (or biblically) that a lay elder is any less a real pastor"; "lay elders are still equal"; etc.
Then why is the author described as his church's "senior pastor" on the back cover? Am I the only one who sees a disconnect? Can a person ever become too much a part of the church culture to be prophetic within it?
4) Talked to a colleague today whose parents were both killed in an automobile accident 30 years ago. The pain seemed fresh in his voice. Thankfully, nothing in the dark and hidden caverns of our hurting hearts is hidden to our God. We can trust Him with the unfathomables.
7:04 AM "Popular opinion is the greatest lie in the world." Thomas Carlyle.
7:00 AM "There is nothing in Ephesians 4 (or elsewhere in the New Testament) to suggest that pastor in the early church had anything like the highly specialized and professional sense it later came to have in Protestantism." Howard Snyder.
Tuesday, September 23
5:15 PM From the time I joined the Jesus Movement in the 1960s I've always been excited about the church. The very thought is staggering: What Jesus began in His flesh He now continues in His "body," the church. There are some honest disagreements among sincere Bible scholars about church leadership, but the Bible is clear about one thing: God's master plan is for home-grown, non-hierarchical leaders who recognize that Jesus Christ alone is their Senior Pastor (1 Pet. 5:4). This fact by no means cancels out pastoral leadership. But the preeminence of Christ is fundamental. This has immediate implications for church polity. Each believer's first responsibility is to the entire Christian community and its head, Jesus Christ. The church grows by bringing people to faith in Christ and then leading them to submit completely to His word. Ray Stedman (Body Life) and many others have rightly called attention to the unbiblical clergy-laity division that stifles "lay" initiative and the broad exercise of the church's spiritual gifts. Although this pattern should be obvious, it is often overlooked or violated. We may pay lip service to the headship of Christ, to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to the priesthood of all believers, but our structures reveal how little we truly believe in these tenets. The senior pastor model is flawed, no matter how efficient or venerated it may be. The New Testament writers were zealous to guard the truth of the Gospel against encroachments from the world by a "Diotrephes." The point to emphasize here is that gift-based lay leadership was, in practice, normative for the early church and not just a pet theory. The fact that Jesus alone is the head of His body provides the foundation for all of New Testament ecclesiology. The important thing for every form of ministry is that the biblical church be built upon Christ and grow to maturity in Him and not in any man. Locally, this means mutual involvement, interdependence, and ministry within the congregation by every member.
This is what it means to be Christ's body in and for the world. Increasingly, Christians are recognizing that many of the problems they face are self-inflicted. To say that Jesus Christ alone is the Head of the church is to say that none of us can ever assume that title or occupy that position. The church's call is thus a call to become a community that takes form around Jesus, based on His resurrection and the work of His Holy Spirit. Through the Lordship of Christ, true unity finds concrete expression.
So ... let those of us who call ourselves biblical Christians imitate the example of the early church and work for a biblical ecclesiology. It worked well in the past. Why stop now?
5:31 AM "We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people." Arthur Schopenhauer.
5:25 AM "Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways." Stephen Vincent Benet.
Monday, September 22
7:38 PM Has here ever been a more beautiful day in the Piedmont?
1) Washed the car:
2) Fed the donks a few carrots:
3) Walked the dogs:
4) Admired the hay in the front yard:
5) Enjoyed the sunset He provided.
I repeat: Has there ever been a more gorgeous day?
6:15 PM Goodness! There's so much to blog about I hardly know where to begin.
1) Just got back from seeing my primary care physician about the painful left ear I've had for a week. She irrigated it and then sent me to CVS to get some antibiotic ear drops. Hopefully that will resolve the problem and I won't have to whine to you any more. I really don't want to have to fly to Asia with an ear infection, if you know what I mean.
2) NPR is usually on in my car radio, and today a "culinary linguist" (of all things) was being interviewed about the words we use to describe the way we eat and the terms we use in the kitchen or restaurant. I laughed out loud when he mentioned the real meaning of "entrée," which in most European countries refers to an appetizer, whereas in the U.S. it refers to the main course. Our linguist friend pointed out that we Americans actually get it right: the term originally referred to the first meat course (of several meat courses) and hence the meaning "main course" is the correct one (take that you Brits!). The reason I laughed is because the word for appetizer in Hawaiian Pidgin (my mother tongue) is "pupu," and I will never forget using that term when I arrived in California to attend college. People stared at me in open-mouthed amazement that I would refer to an appetizer as "poo poo"!
3) While waiting in the doctor's office I stumbled across Henry Neufeld's post about the loss of his son 10 years ago. This is blogging at its very best. A sampler:
That kind of writing leaves me breathless. Read Ten Years Ago and be blessed.
4) I don't know about others, but wherever I go, my trusty writing pad always goes with me. As I sat in the waiting room, I began jotting down a few thoughts about church leadership, primarily because in the past 4 days I've had major discussions on the topic with 3 different people. If I have the time I'll share my perspective with you later. Folks, it's all about getting the sole headship of Christ right.
5) Among my other errands today was a trip to Dollar General and to the local post office to mail out some Halloween presents. I was reminded just how polite and friendly everyone here is in the rural South. No one is in a hurry, and small talk is not only acceptable, it's expected. So I chatted with the lady at the post office for about 10 minutes and with my nurse and with the lady at the checkout counter. Here people grin and say howdy to complete strangers and mean it. By the way, remember if you do visit us, "y'all" has two syllables, not one. If you can't say it with two, don't bother trying to say it.
All y'all get it?
10:16 AM Every September we get up our last cutting of hay.
It's a reminder that fall is here and that winter is not far behind.
Bursts of orange will soon be replaced by bare hardwoods and ice and snow. I can't think of that without thinking of the people in my life who have entered the winter of their earthly existence. Mercifully, spring always come after winter, and the brown trees will suddenly burst forth with luscious green growth. On that Day of days we will stand together, face-to-face with our Savior. Winter will be a thing of the past. The Spring of springs will have arrived.
In the days and weeks ahead, pray for those you know who are living in the winter time. Ask God to keep them joyful in their anticipation of the spring that is sure to follow. More importantly, pray that God will keep them focused on living daily with a desire that others might come to know Christ as Lord.
9:58 AM I thought I knew a lot about New Testament Christology. Boy was I wrong. This morning during my daily Bible reading/devotions/academic study (can one really make such distinctions?) I saw something I had never seen before.
In Acts 16 Paul tells the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your family" (Acts 16:31). Then, a mere three verses later, Luke comments: "He and his family were filled with joy, because he [the jailor] had believed in God." I let out a cheer when I saw that. Here "Jesus" is being equated with "God." Now that's Christology! It's a cameo appearance and you'd miss it if you blinked at the wrong time.
Aren't you glad that there are always new discoveries to be found in the Scriptures?
8:14 AM "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Gen. 8:22).
Happy first day of the Fall season!
Sunday, September 21
9:32 PM Student, are you a Greek apostate?
9:28 PM As the population ages and more and more people acquire health insurance ....
(Source: AAMC.) Could high debt loads be part of the problem? So grateful for the Cooperative Program of the SBC that offsets student tuition at our seminaries. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for your generosity!
9:01 PM "Prayer is not only asking, but an attitude of mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural" (Oswald Chambers). This week God answered yet another prayer of mine. Very grateful.
8:50 PM "Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon!" (Phil. 4:4-5).
4:10 PM As you know, India has been at the center of my ponderings for a long time now. The Peniel Gospel Team is providing genuine help to orphans in addition to reaching many unreached people groups in the northeast corner of that great nation. It's hard to quantify just what makes a good mission work that is worthy of support, but I have personally known Mammen Joseph for many years along with his wife Alice and their son Moncy (who was my student at SEBTS). That's why I'm so excited about their vision to complete the construction of an English-only high school that will serve potentially up to 2,500 tuition-paying students, allowing the proceeds to fund their ministries (orphanage, Bible school, evangelists, etc.). I received a check this week for $10,000 for that project, which makes the total that has been provided thus far around $60,000 (out of the $200,000 still needed). Of course, once we reach $100,000, the remaining $100,000 will be matched and the need will be fully met.
My thanks to all who have given. Remember, the purpose of this project is to make the ministry there in India completely self-supporting and indigenous. I think this is a very worthwhile goal!
9:22 AM On Saturday, Nov. 1, we will gather as family to remember the death of Becky on Nov. 2, 2013. Becky was not a public celebrity so it will be a quiet ceremony. My goal is to remember the legacy she left to so many of us. To her last breath she was a woman who honored God. A year ago our family was tight, perhaps tighter than we had ever been in the past. We needed each other. We felt abandoned and frightened. Since then, we have moved on. I was no longer a caregiver but a widower. A study made between 2001 and 2006 showed that men made far less adequate caregivers than did women. In fact, women with a serious illness were seven times more likely to be divorced as men with similar health problems. I have also heard it said that men are less able to cope with loss than women. I don't know if that is true across the board, but I often wonder what Becky would be doing today had the roles been reversed. I know, speaking personally, that I almost reached the point of "I can't do this anymore." I was facing not only the loss of a spouse but the loss of a relationship that mattered. There is, of course, no escaping death for any marriage. One partner sooner or later will depart before the other one does. When this happens, the Christian partner must put him- or herself entirely in the hands of God and let Him rule. Love ultimately wins only when it relinquishes its object. I stress this point because it's hard to see a divine purpose in life without devoting ourselves entirely to Jesus. I used to think that neither Becky nor I were perfect partners. But actually, we were perfect -- perfect for each other. And so are you and your spouse, the person God has brought into your life. As I watched Becky die, there came a sense of urgency, even a sense of clarity. Death, in its basic definition, is separation. We knew it was coming, this separation, and so we were reminded of the preciousness of life. We strove to live each day as if it were our last together. Husband, wife -- that day of separation is coming for you, and somehow you must learn to mourn your loved one while they are still alive. Today is the day to love, and to love unconditionally. And the only way you will be able to do this is to receive God's unconditional love for you.
I don't know about you, but I've noticed that people who have lost a loved one through death seem to be more sensitive to the loved ones they still have. Some even find a deepened relationship with God. This is the result of pain. Being without Becky doesn't mean that I no longer feel sorrow or that I no longer mourn. It simply means that now I must invest my emotional energy elsewhere. And this involves a choice. It means that I must reevaluate my relationships. It may mean reordering my priorities. When death comes, all of life is reexamined. This is a good thing. The goal is interdependence rather than dependence or independence. Dependence is when we have to have others in our lives. Independence means always sorting out our problems on our own. Interdependence is how God made us to function. We ask others for help when we need them. We open ourselves up to the joys and pain of relationships. We care for each other and support each other. In short, we feel connected. This sense of connection is, I think, the greatest blessing I have experienced since Becky's passing. There are people in my life I know I can count on to be there for me, come hell or high water. I do not cling to them. I do not expect them to meet my deepest needs. But we make huge deposits in each others' lives. What a blessing. What a joy. Interdependence means purchasing others at the cost of ourselves, just as the Lord bought us through His self-giving on Calvary.
The best and deepest of earthly relationships grow out of the realization that there is nothing we can do to earn the love of another human being. If they love us, they choose to love us. And when this choice is exercised consciously and habitually, there is nothing quite like it on earth.
Saturday, September 20
6:40 PM Gail Sheehy, author of the book Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, was interviewed this evening on NPR. I listened to the interview while I was driving home from dinner in Henderson, NC -- you know, one of those old haunts that Becky and I used to frequent. Sheehy's book traced the "passages" of life through the age of 55 only, so I was intrigued when she was asked, "Now that you're 70, what have you learned about life after 55?" Her answer both surprised and delighted me. In essence, her response was that people go through a "second adulthood" once they get past 55, and the chief mark of this passage is that they no longer have to "have it all" but have learned to be content with "enough." I can attest to that. Reaching mid-life was indeed a bit of a crisis for me, partly because I was never taught about coping with transition by my elders and partly because the so-called "mid-life crisis" is often joked about but rarely discussed. But I like Sheehy's distinction between "all" and "enough." I once read that men and women who live to their 65th birthday usually end up living to 85 and, if they become widowed, can actually learn to enjoy their independence. Sheehy, who (like me) watched her spouse die a slow death, seems content to be single at 70, and is still productive -- still writing, still interviewing, still living. To put a spiritual twist on things, for me aging has meant operating in life from a completely different motive I had when I was younger. Verses like Eph. 6:6 -- "As the servants of Christ conscientiously do what you believe to be the will of God for you" -- take on new meaning. No, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the kind of ambition I had when I was in my twenties, but the nature and focus of one's ambitions can make all the difference in the world. The older I get, the more I realize just how much we are made out of dust and how we need lots of grace. And this grace is something that God supplies plenteously, sufficiently, and at times even abundantly. I know that grace. I've experienced it time and again. A hopeless failure, I know that kind of love because I know that kind of a God.
Really, I don't mind getting old. The closer I get to glory, the better I can see the Unseen. Sure, I'd love to have it all, but enough is, well, enough.
10:48 AM Even if I'm not 100 percent, farm work goes on. Just finished bush hogging the edges of the fields in preparation for mowing, raking, and baling. The weather could not have been better. Right now it's 69 degrees and sunny. We've got several clear days ahead too. God has been so good to us Piedmonters this year.
Gotta go. One of my kids is coming over to visit dear old dad.
9:08 AM Nice note here:
9:04 AM Just bought 2 tickets for the North Carolina Symphony's performance of Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto in Raleigh on Oct. 24. Love the solid chords played at the opening by the pianist. Love classical music period!
8:40 AM Hey friends! I hope you're enjoying your weekend so far. Mine is going great, though in a fallen world things won't always be wonderful. My left ear is still aching (it wasn't a good idea to fly with a head cold) and I'm still coughing, but I'm improving slowly but surely. Today I'm trying to wash the linens and towels left behind by our retreatants and get the fields ready for haying. Yes, the Lord is granting us a second cutting, and we are thrilled!
But moving on....
This morning I was reading some of the "Christian agrarianism" blogs and stumbled across a post that basically called for everyone to leave their jobs and begin farming. After all, doesn't Paul tell us to "work with our own hands"? Think about it. I run a 123-acre farm but I'm not an "agrarian" because I don't see this is as the only legitimate Christian lifestyle. I enjoy it. It's healthy. It's hard! All well and good. But I am not an advocate, if you know what I mean.
Of course, all of this is to miss the larger point, the elephant in the room if you will. You see, regardless of the work we do or where we live, we forget that the main purpose of work has nothing to do with us. Note what Paul says in Eph. 4:28:
That's The Message. The NLT puts it this way:
Sadly, instead of confessing that the real purpose of our work is to help others, we idealize a particular lifestyle that enables us to be "fulfilled" or to home school or to never retire, etc. I suspect that even the Christian agrarian movement has been influenced by narcissism and greed every bit as much as capitalism. Related to this, I think we've relinquished the care of the needy to the government for so long that most Americans can't picture themselves as doing anything to help them or taking responsibility for the social needs all around them. Due to this faulty way of thinking, we sadly imagine that our greatest duty in life to work the soil and we tend to avoid the messy realities of poverty and need all around us.
I know this issue is terribly complex and ambiguous, but I think it's clear that once we "take a stand" for any kind of "Christian" lifestyle we miss the point. We become Christian archists (and the "archy"/"rule" we are defending can be any number of things) instead of anarchists whose only concern is with expanding the kingdom of God. (See my book Christian Archy.)
The real divisive issue is not the way we earn our living but the way we polarize around our belief systems to the neglect of what is of most importance. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven our concern isn't to criticize what Caesar does so poorly or even to eschew the "American Dream" of bigger and better, but to try and understand the needs all around us (both in our families and in our world) and do whatever we can to help others through making radical sacrifices with our own earthly goods. If we would learn to do this, then the glory would go to God (where it belongs) instead of to us (and our paltry little "movements"), and the kingdom would advance. And we would keep the kingdom holy. Now, I'll admit that I'm not great at doing this. But I'm trying. When I see genuine unmet needs in my family, if I can meet them (and if it is right for me to do so), I will try and meet them. Ditto for the work of the Lord in other nations. You see, the cross of Christ revolts against all that is self-centered. But you'll have to work against going with the flow of our culture.
"Give generously to others in need." This is where Christianity really shines. But it means that we will have to give up our platforms and get off our soap boxes and put our arms around this confused and dangerous world. I'm proud to know several Christians who live this way. They are a model of the kingdom for me and others. To them I say, thank you!
Friday, September 19
7:40 PM A couple of highlights from my day:
1) Stopped by Bethel Hill and left some roses for my rose:
2) Spent the early evening on the front porch re-reading this book by Paul Himes. (Full disclosure: I was Paul's Ph.D. supervisor and wrote the foreword.)
Paul's concluding chapter is a doozy. In fact, this is one of the most clear-thinking books I have read in a long time. Under "Theological and Practical Implications," the author makes several important points. Perhaps the most important is that "this world is not my home." That fact, says Paul, is overlooked because we American Christians take one of two incorrect theological approaches. First, while we claim that "our citizenship is in heaven," we forget that we do indeed have an earthly home as well, namely, the church, the body of Christ. "Consequently," writes Paul, "there is no excuse for a 'holy' withdrawal from engagement with the world." In the second place, Paul says that we American Christians are all too eager to set up a rival kingdom in place of kingdom of heaven in the form of the United States of America. The result is that "...nationalism and politics are inadvertently set up as idols against the God who alone deserves the praise of the Church." This is so right on. The Gospel that Jesus preached isn't one that boasts about American freedoms but instead is one that turns the other cheek and in which there is no difference between Jew or Greek or (by implication) American and Chinese. This is a corrective that is needed more today than ever, and Paul is correct to emphasize it. I am not sure that we Christians in America get it. We tend to elevate political power to the level of a theological virtue. Paul Himes clearly shows how this is misguided as he debunks the myth of Christian America.
This is a very thought-provoking book, as I said. I highly recommend it (again!).
3) Finally, my thanks to everyone who played our little "guess the scholar" game. The answer, of course, is A. T. Robertson. And the winner is:
John of Greenfield, Indiana
Congratulations, brother. I'll get the book in the mail next week.
5:22 PM Let's see... what does this double delta stand for?
Nope! How 'bout Rob Plummer's Daily Dose of Greek! Greek students, take note! Especially if you are using the grammar written by yours truly!
11:48 AM Hello bloggers,
Sorry for posting so much about me of late. I think we all need a break from that, don't you? So, to change the subject ....
The journal New Testament Studies has kindly been allowing access to several of its essays for free. I have been reading Graham Stanton's "The Fourfold Gospel" with great interest, since I am a proponent of the "Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis." (See my Why Four Gospels?) The essay, of course, assumes a commitment to the Markan Priority Hypothesis.
If I may be permitted a few random reflections ...
I deeply appreciate Stanton's tireless work in Gospel studies. However, as I have tried to show in my book, to understand how the four Gospels got to us, one needs to forget virtually everything that has been previously accepted as fact about the Synoptic Problem. The Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis does not allow readers to acquire a new idea that can be applied to their existing solution to the problem. Simply put, students of the Gospels cannot hold to the traditional solution of Markan Priority and accept the concepts that are put forth in Why Four Gospels? Let me elucidate:
1) The Markan Priority Hypothesis -- which is the "affirmed" interpretation of history based almost exclusively on the internal evidence -- is fatally flawed when one takes into account the writings of the earliest Christian fathers. Regrettably, any theory of New Testament interpretation, once it is established, becomes nearly impossible to dislodge, even if new (and seemingly contradictory) evidence is produced. Any new interpretation of the events, if it is to be accepted, must be built around the old consensus and incorporated into it, even at the expense of logic. An example of this is the Farrer Hypothesis, which dispenses with "Q" while insisting on Markan Priority. Indeed, so embedded is the popular view in the public consciousness that it is nearly impossible to dismiss it. The story is "safe," and the matter is not really open to debate. In my opinion, New Testament scholarship has become so preoccupied with maintaining the status quo that it has neglected to explore the external evidence. Moreover, I think there is insufficient curiosity, generally speaking, as to why the Gospels were written in the first place.
2) As I have noted, the accepted version of the story focuses on the internal evidence. If, however, one were to seriously investigate the external evidence -- the evidence provided by the patristic testimony -- it would become evident that current explanations are incongruent and incompatible with the opinions of the fathers. Why, for example, did Clement of Alexandria insist that the Gospels "containing the genealogies" (i.e., Matthew and Luke) were written first? And why is Matthew always listed as the first Gospel? Why is Mark's Gospel consistently described not as an independent work of Mark but as a record of the words of the apostle Peter? In light of this evidence, it seems illogical to believe that our earliest Gospel was written by Mark, a non-eyewitness.
3) Ensconced deeply in the affirmed version is the notion that Mark contains inferior grammar to that found in Matthew and Luke. Some Markan priorists have even gone so far as to claim that Mark contains "errors" that were subsequently "corrected" by Matthew and Luke. Yet each of these supposed "errors" allows for a plausible alternative explanation that does not require Markan priority (as I have attempted to show here). If the New Testament student desires a complete understanding of the factors that led up to the writing of the Gospels, the internal evidence alone simply does not provide it. The external evidence keeps getting in the way of the affirmed version.
4) Again, why are the fathers so adamant that Matthew came first? Why did Clement aver that Matthew and Luke came before Mark? Why do the fathers go to great lengths to show that Mark never set out to write a Gospel but simply recorded the words of Peter as they were spoken before his Roman audience? What has prevented proponents of the affirmed view from asking these vital questions? The answer, in my opinion, is that the consensus view is falsely shackled to a misguided preference for the internal evidence. In short (and this post is already way too long!), as long as the patristic testimony is ignored, the internal evidence, which by its very nature is subjective, will continue to reign supreme. And as long as the traditional view is anchored in the minds of scholars, the solution will remind hidden.
So what is the simplest explanation of the facts -- all the facts? To discover that, one must be bold. The missing pieces of the puzzle must be included if we are to assemble the whole puzzle rather than leaving them out because they do not seem to fit. Taking the external evidence into account will have serious repercussions. The answer to the Synoptic Problem will remain incomplete until a central piece of the puzzle is in place.
Think about it :-)
10:45 AM New Festschrift in honor of Keith Elliot: Texts and Traditions. Just had our seminary library order it. (At $171.00 it's a bit expensive for us average Joes.) The contents follow. I am eager to see the essay on "St." Mark's style.
10:28 AM "Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life."
Good word from the apostle James (James 1:19, The Message). In recent days, God has been doing things in my life that I don't understand. Sickness. Disappointment with people I trusted. Cancellation of ministry trips. When God's actions -- or the actions of others -- do not conform to what I think is "justice," I am tempted to act in the flesh. But God is perfect in wisdom, power, and love. James says we must trust Him to "landscape" our lives. And so we must be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." It is my hope that as you go through the day you might remember that God can do what you can't do. Seek the lessons God wants to teach you today. Pray repeatedly, earnestly, even for those who have let you down. God is your Father still and He has a good plan for your life. Absolutely nothing can get in His way if we will only submit to His way.
Thursday, September 18
7:14 PM Just added this portrait to the mantle in my library at Bradford Hall. A good friend gave it to me.
This scholar was born not far from where I live near Chatham, VA. He attended Wake Forest College prior to opening the Civil War. My favorite quote of his? "The greatest proof that the Bible is inspired is the fact that it has withstood so much bad preaching."
And his name?
Send me the correct answer (along with your mailing address) and I will add your name to the pool of contestants. I'll announce the winner this time tomorrow. The prize is a copy of my It's All Greek to Me: Confessions of an Unlikely Academic.
5:42 PM My little buddy Sheba getting groomed.
5:22 PM Why we need to lift both hands up to God when praying:
Read What is in a name? I'm glad I did.
4:04 PM Along with my iPhone 5s I bought a recharger that also functions as a phone case. It is pretty nifty. I've been talking on the phone all day, so when the "20 percentage battery life left" message popped up on the screen I immediately flipped the little switch on the back of the phone and now it is recharging. Oddly, every time I do this I notice something strange. The iPhone heats up. You can literately feel it get hot in your hands. It's an odd feeling, let me tell you.
Right now I am allowing my spiritual batteries to be recharged. And slowly, very slowly, the life is returning to my weary soul. I'm beginning to warm up again to life, to the responsibilities I face, to the challenges I must conquer. It's a good feeling. No, it's not happening all at once. No legion of angels has intervened. Even the apostle Paul (whose handkerchief healed others) had to become weaker in himself until the divine power (and heat) was seen in his life. He slogged through life with his "thorn" (or, better, "stake") in the flesh. That was simply God's will for him.
What is your thorn in the flesh? How are you handling it? Know where to find help? There was once an old rugged cross, on a hill far away, and it freely offered to anyone who would receive it everything the Father promised -- forgiveness, renewal, strength, passion, power. I'm not the least bashful telling you that I have grown weary in well doing. But two things are holding me up: the hands of God. "Oh God, all my life I have proclaimed Your marvelous works, and now that I am old and my hairs are gray ... I will sing songs to You, because You have redeemed me" (Psalm 71:17-24). I am meeting God. Alone. That is the energizing principle of everything we do. I am in my "closet" (Matt 6:6), apart from the eyes and ears of others, alone with my Savior and Best Friend. My Heavenly Father knows my needs. It is my faith in Him that sustains me.
As God has promised, His word always proves true.
11:02 AM I am feeling worse today so I have cancelled my trip to Guyana. I need rest and replenishment. A quick nap isn't enough. A daughter of mine reminded me today of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. What a lesson! What an encouragement! "The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters; it may seem to some people that I ought not to mention such small things as food and rest, but these may be the very first elements in really helping a poor depressed servant of God." So said Spurgeon. This is a profound lesson that I have been all too slow to learn. So I will rest up and be ready to teach my classes next week and for my trip to Asia on Oct. 2. I'm thankful for your prayers -- and for the Scriptures: "Don't worry over anything whatsoever. Instead, tell God every little detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer. Then the peace of God that transcends human understanding will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus."
Wednesday, September 17
5:23 PM Last Sunday someone noticed that I was still wearing my wedding ring. They even commented on it to me. I hadn't realized that people were actually checking out my left hand to discover whether I was ringed or not! I said that, yes I was, and that my heart is still held in a vice-like grip by my bride. I recalled that in the Garden the two genders were already joined together and had to be separated by the Lord in a surgical procedure. Death is that surgery for a widower, but the loss is more than a rib, way more.
Anyway, in case you were wondering, I'm still ringed.
12:04 PM "I do not want to act in the flesh. I want the church to act in the Spirit." These are the words of "Brother Victor," a Christian on the ground in Iraq. Please listen to the interview with him called The Trauma Is Indescribable. The suffering has been going on for centuries. The atrocities are barbaric. Christians have never been accepted in the Middle East, merely tolerated. What can you do?
1) Pray. This is what Brother Victor calls for more than anything else. When we look at the life of Christ, we see how important He considered prayer. Pray that the God who designed the universe will intervene and bless. Let us wait upon God for His grace and mercy to help in time of great need.
2) Surrender. Do not be surprised when suffering strikes you. Paul says that suffering is as much a gift of God as is faith (Phil. 1:29). I believe we are on the verge of the time when genuine Christianity will be considered a cult in America. Be prepared to accept suffering as a normal way of life. Be willing to enter the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. Don't listen to the lies of American churchianity. Our culture, even our church culture, is geared to avoid sacrifice and suffering. But that's not the way real life works.
3) Give. Don't just talk about the trauma in the Middle East. Here's my challenge to you. Live on less if that's what it takes for you to give and to give sacrificially so that your brothers and sisters might have food, clothing, and shelter. I recommend the Baptist Global Response. But don't just talk about the problem. Don't just link to the above interview. Don't just pray about the situation. May I ask you, dear reader, to prayerfully consider giving at least $10.00 to this need? You see, love is the only force that can draw us to reality in the handling of our finances. Let love rule!
10:50 AM Just received this awesome email from a dear friend:
I wrote back (in part):
Barry Manilow's Could It Be Magic is so good it hurts. It came out a year before Becky and I got married.
I watched this YouTube on my anniversary. Becky was my best friend. "You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes" (Song of Songs).
Lady take me
In 1976 God opened my side, placed a woman there, permanently, intrusively, achingly. We cleaved to each other the way flesh cleaves to the bone. Out of the world's billions she was the one He had chosen. Thus began a rich adventure ended only by death. Loved she was, imperfectly but deeply. Missed she is, deeply and achingly. Regrets? Many. But the greatest is not telling her daily -- many times a day -- how much I loved her.
Maybe it's time you called your wife?
9:50 AM Hey thoughtful readers! I've got a new book for you. If you're looking for a great discussion of the ever-debated subject of foreknowledge, then this is the book for you.
It is not a philosophical work. It is rooted in the actual situation facing the readers of 1 Peter. I think Paul has done a masterful job, and my opinion is completely unbiased! As my SEBTS colleague Dave Beck puts it:
Also, I think we owe good deal of gratitude to Wipf & Stock for publishing the work of freshly-minted Ph.D. students. This is Paul's first entrée into the wild and wooly world of publishing but I am quite certain it will not be his last.
9:22 AM As a follower of Jesus, an attitude of gratitude is to be an everyday thing, but today I am thinking deeply of all the things I am thankful for.
1) I'm thankful for your prayers. Whatever I have is nasty, but I'm already feeling a bit better. I need to catch a flight to Guyana on Friday so your continued intercession would be appreciated.
2) I'm thankful for a very good night's rest. I slept 10 hours straight until I was awakened by the dogs barking loudly. I got up to see what the fuss was all about and saw the donkeys grazing happily in my front yard. Recalling James 1:14 ("Each person is tempted when he is lured by his own desires"), I got a bucket of oats and the donks were back in their pasture in no time. Five minutes of fence-mending and I think we're good to go -- until the next prison breakout.
3) I'm thankful for family. Here's my grandson Bradford celebrating his third birthday at the family's favorite Mexican haunt.
Nate sent me this pic yesterday. Sweet!
4) I find that I am especially grateful for friends who constantly write and check up on me. These guys are the greatest.
Oh God, forgive me when I whine. I am as blessed as any other man on earth. Yes, Becky is gone, but I can think of much harder ways to lose a spouse than to cancer. Today I am resting up and working a little bit on a Festschrift article that's due on Nov. 1. It's on the origins of the Gospels. I want to give a quick summary of the external evidence. It's not easy to do, I'm finding.
The past 7 days have been a time of triumph as well as some pretty rough stuff. So I give thanks for the good and the not-so-good and touch the words of Scripture and pray for the Lord who heals to do His work.
Tuesday, September 16
11:42 AM Watch this beautiful time-lapse video of the aging process. The idea that we have all the time in the world to serve Jesus is a myth. We can't give God "a little bit" of our time to keep Him happy. If we are serious about following the way of Jesus, we have to submit each day to Him as if it were our last.
9:45 AM Hello blogging friends,
Well, here I am sitting at the computer again, this time sipping hot tea and nursing a cold I picked up in California. I want to begin by saying that speaking at 412 Church was one of the highlights of my teaching ministry this year. Never have I met people more hungry for simple Bible study. And this in a denomination often called out for its anti-intellectualism. Hogwash. Each Sunday service was packed. I guess I spoke to upwards of 1,500 people this weekend. I had very much looked forward to getting reconnected with my friend Don Stewart and meeting Joe Holden of Veritas Seminary. My talks focused on the reliability of the New Testament and Jesus' call to follow Him in radical obedience and love, expressed both through correct doctrine and scandalous acts of Calvary-love. American exceptionalism runs deep in evangelicalism, so I also felt I needed to address the futility of politics. Jesus Christ is the only answer to the malaise that afflicts our homes, families, and societies. Well, it was a great time. I've posted some pix below. I'm told the church will have DVDs made of the conference in case you're interested.
You would think that a guy who lived in California for 27 years could have adjusted to the heat, but I wasn't used to experiencing temps in the 100s each day. My main problem was going from the heat into frigid, climate-controlled indoor venues. I guess the old bod couldn't take it, hence this bout with pneumonia. (Just kidding. But whatever I've got is nasty.) I have nothing but the greatest envy for people who can sleep on airplanes, but I guess that's just not my gift. Also, Thursday I was hit by an emotional firestorm as I remembered my wedding day. I hope it's okay if I tell you what I was feeling. It felt like the night was black. It felt like the dawn would never come. It felt like the clouds were veiling the sky. I was in the Dust Bowl and the pain of loss was overwhelming. I told the folks at church, "Thursday was the second most difficult day of my life." And it was. Again and again that day I had to relinquish control. You know, self-pity can ruin a life. Grief reduces all decisions to one, one simple decision that must be made over and over again. When God brought Becky and me together it was a true joining of two unrelated people through a solemn exchange of promises. But that covenant we agreed to so many years ago was but a foreshadowing of the greater covenant that God made with me by bleeding for me on the cross, enabling me to become His own blood relative in a relationship that, unlike marriage, will last forever. On Thursday past, there was an overwhelming reality of loss to come to grips with again, and it is little wonder that people try to evade it through drink or busy-ness. Yet even while I was struggling with the absence of Becky, I had a sense that Jesus was every bit as involved with me as a wife could be, only more so. Last Thursday on this blog I gave voice to my memories of Becky, and don't be too surprised if I continue to do that from time to time. I'm creating a biography for my children and grandchildren, and it's not just stories. It's who she was as a person. It's about the one person in my life who, apart from God Himself, was the impetus for me becoming more conformed to the image of Christ. Letting go doesn't mean you don't remember the past. It's just a shift in focus, from presence to precious memory. And how painful those memories can be! I had a rich life because of her. I'm still learning how to say goodbye so that I can eventually move on to another hello. I'm still learning how to mourn in a way that doesn't interfere with my new lifestyle. Alas, so much to learn!
Today, I'm just tired. Last night I never worked harder at sleep or failed more miserably to attain it. And now, here I am. Blogging about Becky when I should be in bed. For now, I'm content with sipping tea and resting in the love of my Savior -- and hers. As for Becky, it's time to say goodbye to her again. I'll see her on the other side. I know that. And that's the truth that will fill me again each time I pour myself out.
Thursday, September 11
11:50 AM ¿Tiene usted el deseo de aprender el Griego del Nuevo Testamento? ¡Si es así, estamos contentos de anunciar la publicación de la gramática introductoria de David Alan Black!
Read more here.
10:12 AM Today, as you know, marks my 38th wedding anniversary. Where to start? How about with a little reminiscing. Let's go back a year, to the last time Becky and I celebrated "our big day" together. Never was a couple treated more royally. All day long, Becky and I had been excommunicated from the south side of the house while the conspirators carried out their carefully planned plot. This included seeing that the Waldorf Astoria cake (our favorite) was ready to go. Eventually the dinner bell was rung and out came the honeymooners. We were both in a goofy mood, so we began singing the "Wedding March."
All of a sudden our piano picked up the tune. Does Karen play the piano? I asked myself. No, they had connived our church pianist into providing live piano music during our meal. Leanna played all of our favorite hymns and worship songs.
It was the perfect ambiance for our evening. Here you see our first course. Karen and Becky's mom (who had been visiting with us) had thought of everything. Recalling our days living in Switzerland, they started us off with delicious fondue and fresh, crispy vegetables with a side of humus.
The only thing lacking in the fondue was the wine but, hey, we're Baptists. The main course consisted of roasted veal and artichokes tenderly wrapped in bacon, and the dessert, as I said, was our favorite cake. Becky and I just talked and reminisced and read the cards that had been laid on the table. We had shared life together and we knew that soon we would share death. I was never more at peace, and yet I was never more scared than that night. Just when I thought they had thought of everything, out comes a box of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii.
Becky and I immediately went into reenacting mode. I offered her a nut (just as I did 40 years ago in the cafeteria line at Biola when we first met), and she accepted it, saying to me, as she said to herself those many years ago, "You don't know this, but you've just met your future wife."
My favorite moment of the evening was inviting Becky to take a drive with me. She had just enough energy to make it down the front steps, so off we went into the sunset, as they say.
Then it happened. Suddenly I could smell it all over again. It smelled like youth, and it smelled like innocence. All of a sudden we were young again, and life seemed like an endless highway.
It's hard for me to explain how looking at this picture brings unspeakable joy to my heart even as it is breaking it. We were young, and then we were old. It seemed to happen just that fast. (Take note, you younger couples.) Before you knew it we were back home. We got Becky reconnected to her oxygen supply and she fell fast asleep, exhausted by the day's events. We didn't know it then, but she had less than two months to live. We settled into an easy rhythm, preparing the best we could for the inevitable. Many friends emailed us words of encouragement. We knew we were very nearly there. And then she was gone.
And so here I am, on one of the most surreal days of my life, sitting at the computer trying to tell complete strangers what I'm feeling. I still can't get used to Becky's death but I have accepted it. My mind is flooded with images. It's as though I can't stop talking to her, telling her how beautiful she is, how much she means to me. I say to myself, You should be adjusted by now, but death is a terrain so vast and rugged that you never adjust completely to the loss. It's been said that it takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months to recover from the death of a spouse. So I'm being patient with myself. I'm so encouraged to see how God is working through all of this, and not only in my life. I'm so grateful to be able to look back and not see just the darkness but also the light of the Lord breaking through the dark clouds. I know that I am not the same person I was on this day a year ago. If nothing else, I've learned to love more and empathize more and serve more. I can't be the same when He is in my life, when He makes everything new, when nothing in my life is hidden from Him. "It matters to Him about you," says Peter. Allowing God's presence to penetrate our lives and renew our hearts is the first step toward healing.
One thing is for sure. I can't wait to see her again. I want to sit here and write for hours. I want to type a million words and underscore them and yell at the top of my lungs, I love you! I know she can't hear me but I'll say it anyway.
I miss you, Becky.
I will never forget you.
7:45 AM Received some sad news from Odessa today. The elders there are anticipating the war to spread to their city and hence they have cancelled my trip in November. Please join me in praying for the peace of Ukraine. Speaking of traveling, as you know today I leave for California to speak at an apologetics conference on Saturday and to minister the word on Sunday. While I am gone a group of elders from a Raleigh church are meeting on the farm for a retreat. (I always try and have someone on the farm while I am traveling.) On Monday one of my colleagues from SEBTS will be holding a personal retreat here. I am so glad to see this ministry, the vision of Becky, continuing in her absence. Before I leave for the airport I hope to share some thoughts about her and about this, our anniversary. In case you were wondering, the speakers' schedule at 412 Church in San Jacinto is as follows:
9:15: Don Stewart, The Case for Christianity.
10:15: Dave Black, Can We Trust the New Testament Text?
1:30: Dave Black, Why So Many Bible Translations?
2:45: Joe Holden, Archaeology and the Bible.
4:00: Q & A.
Hope to see many of my friends who live in SoCal there.
Wednesday, September 10
10:18 PM Weekend weather forecast for San Jacinto? 104 degrees. Yep, it's Southern California during the month of September.
9:44 PM A few more odds and ends ...
1) Aussie Craig's latest post will get you thinking. Read Neither Calvinist nor Arminian; but, I’m not sure I’m Baptist either.
2) What's new at our Greek Portal?
Thanks to my ever-able assistant Joshua Covert for adding the links.
3) I want to put in another plug for my friend Robert Martin's excellent book The Caregiver's Beatitudes. I am deeply grateful for what his words meant to me when I was caring for Becky, and I predict that the same will be true of many other caregivers who acquire this book.
6:14 PM Good reminder here: Learning Contentment.
6:04 PM A friend just sent me this from Kona with the words, "For several reasons, this made me think of you."
Everyone's a comedian.
5:50 PM Hey friends. I hope you had a good past couple of days. Mine were just fantastic. Got to teach my classes and meet with friends and students and write and spend time with family -- nothing too out of the ordinary but every facet I just mentioned made my life wonderful. Anyway. I'm too tired right now to blog about anything too heavy (but wait till the morning -- the actual day of my anniversary!) so I'll leave you with a few odds and ends.
1) Our porous borders. Shameful!
2) Brian Fulthorp reviews my Why Four Gospels? I love his sense of humor:
3) The Spanish edition of my Learn to Read New Testament Greek is now available for pre-order. Sweet-tastik!
4) This email brought a smile:
5) I am eager to hear the president's speech tonight and his plans for degrading and defeating ISIS/ISIL, a group that is perhaps the epitome of evil. But let's remember that our uniqueness as Jesus' followers isn't in how we vote but in how we live, even how we pray for our enemies and seek their salvation.
Walk in love.
8:12 AM As you know, on Saturday I am speaking at an apologetics conference on the Left Coast. My talks will center on the veracity of the New Testament. Indeed, I wrote my book Why Four Gospels? not so much to argue for Matthean priority as to affirm the complete historicity and apostolicity of the Gospels. Early in my Christian experience I discovered that the Gospels were -- and needed to be -- central in my understanding not only of the Good News about Jesus Christ but of life itself. Only the cross of Jesus can supply meaning to life, and that is because the cross and the resurrection are an interwoven reality. Of one thing I am certain: Christianity is a historical faith. It is rooted and grounded in historical fact. No "leap of faith" is required to believe in Jesus. As I once heard Francis Schaeffer put it in Switzerland, you don't have to put your brain in park or neutral to become a Christian. His cross is the center of all history. It is the crossroads of the universe. No one can avoid confrontation with it.
It is my prayer for the weekend that skeptics may come to the Gospels with an open mind and heart, for there the living Christ is ready to meet Doubting Thomases in their pessimism and travelers to Emmaus in their intellectualism. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated.
8:04 AM Check out this headline:
Well, Eddie may have stopped blogging, but Matthea Glass has just started. She is on a roll, let me tell you. Her site is called Nevertheless...
Tuesday, September 9
9:28 PM It's hard to sit down and try to summarize what a great day I had today. One of the best moments of the day came right after my Greek 3 class when I had my third interview with brother Abidan Shaw of Hoi Polloi podcast fame. We discussed my book Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.
I'm told the link should go live in a day or two. Then I hopped into the car and drove to our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, the justly famous Queen of Sheba in fabulous Chapel Hill, where a group of us met to eat, drink, and be merry -- and just remember the marriage God blessed me with.
We sat and talked and hugged and held babies and as we all went our separate ways I think we had grown just that much closer and our hearts were a little lighter because of the fellowship. Now that I'm back home I can't stop thinking about it. I can still see my grandson Graham's clear blue eyes.
I can see little Christian yakking about his dog and, in the midst of it all, I can still see a beautiful women I married 38 years years ago. You see, I love her still, after all these years, and let's be honest, if you had been married to Becky you would too, for she was, well, Becky. Is there anything better on this old earth of ours than to love and be loved? A bereaved spouse is like a double amputee, and only the Lord can heal the wounds, can close up the naked flesh. Tonight, again, it was perfectly evident to me how blessed a man I am, have always been, a man who is grateful to God for the bizarre and beautiful mystery of marriage, a mystery that becomes more profound to me as the days and weeks wear on. Thank you, family, for standing with me, for loving me and loving on me tonight.
As all of you know, I had nothing to do with the gruesome, unwelcome stranger that visited my house 10 months ago, but I can determine to live my life in gratitude toward the One who is greater than death, who called Himself the resurrection and the life, who reconciled both me and Becky to God through His blood, and who walks with me and talks with me day in and day out.
Glory to God!
5:40 AM Ever considered what to make of so-called "seeker-sensitive" churches?
5:30 AM Some of you may have wondered why we call our home "Bradford Hall." The Hall is named in honor of three of Becky's ancestors: Governor William Bradford, Dr. William Bradford Brooks, and Mr. Bradford Noyes Lapsley.
William Bradford, author of the Mayflower Compact, was governor of the Plymouth Colony for 30 years and helped shape the political institutions of the first permanent settlement in New England. Bradford is remembered for establishing traditions of self-government (such as the town meeting) that would set the pattern for national political development in years to come.
William Bradford Brooks, Becky's paternal great-grandfather, grew up in East Texas and operated Brooks Saline, the largest supplier of salt to the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy. During the war he served in the First Texas Heavy Artillery guarding the Texas Coast. Later he became a medical doctor in Fort Worth. A pioneer in the field of medicine, he founded the Texas Medical Examiner, the first medical journal in Texas, and was also the first doctor to specialize in the treatment of chemical dependency.
Bradford Noyes Lapsley, my wife's father, served with SIM as a pioneer missionary to Ethiopia in the 1950s. Today he continues to publish works for Ethiopian pastors in the Amharic language. (See Good Amharic Books.) He has left a lasting legacy in the lives of thousands of Ethiopians whom he has touched with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So now you know.
5:22 AM "If we are going to be made into wine we will have to be crushed; you cannot drink grapes." Oswald Chambers.
Monday, September 8
8:22 PM Tomorrow night a few of us are getting together in Chapel Hill to celebrate my 38th wedding anniversary. "Celebrate"? Crazy I know, but my theologian brain stops me in mid-sentence. Why "celebrate"? Don't you mean "commemorate"? Or "remember"? Or "honor"? Or "memorialize"?
What difference does it make? God gave Becky and me 37 years together, and then some. And that is worth celebrating. Yes, we had our share of problems, but we eventually learned to endure them joyfully. It's as though God were making a pearl out of our relationship, taking an irritating grain of sand and embedding it into the soft inner folds of our lives and then turning the irritant into a fluid that, in time, formed a pearl. A good marriage can't be rushed. God needs time to work in our lives, turning our biggest irritants into priceless gems.
How's your marriage? There is no escaping the need for patience as God works His miracle in your lives. For in one way or another, we must all be humbled. We must all die to self, for there can be no peace in a marriage without it. Marriage doesn't mitigate the struggles of life; it only deepens them, makes them personal. It is this unrelenting personalness of married life that makes it so rewarding and pleasurable. So what if you've got struggles. View them not as a threat but as a great blessing. God is making a priceless pearl out of the two of you.
And that's something to celebrate, even if your spouse is now in glory.
7:40 PM I leave for California on Thursday. Thankfully, the waves have been blessed before my arrival.
Yep. Truth is still stranger than fiction.
5:25 PM Care to ride the tractor with me? Be sure to turn up your speakers. Ain't nothin' in this ol' world quite like the purr of a Massie-Ferguson 135!
5:04 PM Been praying a lot today for some friends who are going through a tough time. I sent these thoughts to them in an email. Maybe they will encourage you if you are experiencing adversity. (Of course, the message is just as much for me as it is for you.)
3:32 PM Greek students! Check out the New Testament Textual Commentary produced by the Center for New Testament Textual Studies at New Orleans Baptist Seminary.
10:32 AM Last night I received an email from a brother who has been receiving a great deal of what he considered to be unjust criticism lately and was wondering how to handle it. Here was the gist of my response:
9:28 AM Looking forward to resuming my Ph.D. seminar on Philippians tomorrow. The book of Philippians has changed my life forever. My study of it, published in Novum Testamentum, showed me what Paul lived for, and what the Christian is to live for. It is our privilege to stand together in one spirit and contend as one person for the faith of the Gospel (1:27-30). Paul's language pictures an athletic team in which every team member has a job to do -- a joint effort, not an individual one. It is a life of selflessness, of giving rather than getting. And it is costly. Kingdom service involves sacrifice. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, "I learned to hold everything with a loose grip because it hurt when God had to pull my fingers away." Salvation involves more than accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. It must include a commitment to becoming servants in the world. The church of the New Testament does not merely "do missions" or "send" missionaries. It is missions. If we are to be the church we must go to all nations. Please do not learn this lesson as late in life as I did.
9:15 AM My latest essay in Spanish: Recuperando la Perspectiva Paulina sobre el Liderazgo Pastoral. Grateful to mi hermano. I now have 12 essays in Spanish. Praise the Lord!
7:56 AM "What God says is best, is best, though all the men in the world are against it." John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress).
7:50 AM It's not something I do often, but let me talk to you this morning about the "Pastoral Epistles." (The quotation marks are intentional.) But first, an analogy from the Civil War. There are several myths that surround the war, but none greater than the myth of "Pickett's Charge." It should be called either Longstreet's Assault or the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Attack. But convention trumps truth. Ditto for the Pastorals. As Curt Parton writes in his blog post What about Timothy and Titus?:
My colleague Ben Merkle agrees. Read Were Timothy and Titus Pastors/Elders? I love what these "myth busters" are doing. Just one example. Often we hear that pastors are in view when we read such injunctions as "preach the word." That command, however, was given to Timothy, not the Ephesian elders. The same holds true for "do the work of an evangelist." The reason Paul is eager for Timothy to do the work of an evangelist is precisely because Timothy was an evangelist/church planter (like Paul), not an elder in a local church.
I ponder what would happen if we took biblical eldership seriously. We would insist that our elders/pastors were home grown. We would also eschew the notion of a "senior pastor" other than Jesus Christ. (See Curt Parton's Why we don't have a senior pastor.) Folks, the Scripture is our greatest strength as church leaders. It's our only guidebook. Yes, I realize that its probably much easier to lead a church with only one man in charge. But the fact of the matter is that Jesus never entrusted the leadership of His church to a single individual. If we want to truly follow and obey the Scriptures, we've got to adjust our mental picture of the church so it looks more like the book of Acts. Can you see anyone claiming to be the senior pastor of the church at Thessalonica? Or Philippi?
So I encourage you to read the posts I've linked to above. But if you really want to have a life-changing experience, try reading the book of Acts and the "Pastoral Epistles" in the light of their historical background.
Sunday, September 7
2:44 PM It seems like it's been forever since I last shared with you my thoughts about Becky. The day started out like any other, but right now I am bawling like a baby, my emotions having been triggered by this rendition of "When I Survey" I heard on BBN on the drive back from church today.
Becky loved to sing. For years we sang together in the Northeast Piedmont Chorale. But it was in California, in one of those larger churches with a professional-like choir, that she found her greatest joy as a soprano. And no hymn did she enjoy singing more than this arrangement by Gilbert Martin. Becky enjoyed the hymn as much for its words as its wonderful harmonies. She would often sing it at home.
I've said it before: losing Becky to cancer has been the hardest thing I've ever had to face in my 62 years of living. All too often it's easy for me to forget how truly dependent on God I am. Things go right, and so I start to rely on my own wisdom and strength. But from time to time God, in His great mercy and grace, rocks that confidence to its core. My feelings ebb and flow, still to this day. Maybe it's because my 38th wedding anniversary is this Thursday. Maybe it's because I still miss her deeply and love her deeply, even though she's gone. Usually my emotions erupt because some trigger activated them. Sights, smells, sounds -- you never know what it will be. I just sit here and say, "Oh Lord, Oh Jesus," again and again, thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me with groans that words can't express (Rom. 8:26). Saint Patrick wrote the following words in 433. They are still apropos today.
Some days, nothing hurts. At other times it seems like the pain is unbearable. I am still a teacher and a father and a grandfather and a missionary, but there's a huge vacant place where Becky stood. Her loss subtracted part of who I am. Grief is an unwelcome intruder. I ask painful questions of God, unanswered questions. One day, if you live long enough, you will ask them too. The bottom line is that God's ways are not our ways. He is way too big and sovereign and mysterious to fit into any of our little boxes. And that is how it should be. The Father of the Lord Jesus, who spoke not a word because He knew we could never hear Him, sent His Son, crushed Him, and now He loves me with the same love. I need Him. I need Him to hold me and to hear my heart break again and again and again and to shoulder the burden of grief with me. And I'm not too proud to say that I need others to hold me too. Community means everything to me right now.
Speaking of community, here's where I spoke this morning.
Clement is a favorite of mine, not only because Kim and Joel attend there (Joel is the pastor), but because this church loves Jesus and loves the Gospel. I spoke about when I first caught a glimpse of the hidden treasure that Jesus talks about in Matt. 13:44, an earth-shattering time in my life, and then I spoke about the need to finish the school building in India. That sub-continent is gaining an ever-increasing hold on my heart. I pray that the American church would somehow get a glimpse of the needs there as well as the opportunities. "To love at all is to be vulnerable," wrote C. S. Lewis. "Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken." India has been born in my soul. I will do whatever I can for her. Why? Because Jesus is coming soon. Whatever your eschatology might be, His return is promised. I have lived a long time on this earth and have studied every conceivable position about the return of Christ, from pre-trib to historic premillennialism to amillennialism. But I refuse to argue with anyone about the matter. For what it's worth, my own personal eschatology can be summed up very simply. When Jesus comes, I'm going. Until then, until He comes back, He told us to occupy, to keep busy, to give His Cause our best rather than trinkets, to use earthly things correctly, to live in the light of spiritual reality, to choose the way of the cross daily, to think of as many ways as possible to simplify our lives and save money for world evangelism, to take no thought of tomorrow, to be willing to lose everything for the sake of the Gospel, to turn the world upside down for Christ. The alternative is the merry-go-round of churchianity that Satan uses to hold our families in bondage. So I agonize over India. I share the opportunities with others every chance I get. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This is really the hinge upon which all genuine Christian outreach turns.
You ask, "What can I do?" Be an informed intercessor. Be a faithful prayer partner. Get personally involved by giving and going. Sponsor a missionary yourself. Arrange for a missionary conference at your church. (I would be happy to speak.) Finishing the task of global evangelization has never been more possible that right now. Yes, I have problems, and yes, you have problems. "In even the happiest of Christian lives there are deep pockets of incurable pain" (Larry Crabb). Let that pain make you more sympathetic with others who suffer. Let it spur you on to greater love and good works. I think the time is now to get started, don't you? This has been the hardest year of my life. But God is my co-pilot. With Him I can always be myself. Being with Him makes me want to serve more and love more and be more.
How about you?
8:45 AM Over the past week I've received several emails from those of you who are Civil War buffs. Well, can you handle yet another post about the "wo-a" ("war" has two syllables where I live)? If you've been to Gettysburg you will be able to recognize the Leister House. I snapped this photo just over a week ago.
It's a very humble setting but it was the Union HQ during the battle. It's got just two tiny rooms. In one of them, General Meade had his council of war on the evening of July 2. I have absolutely no idea the exact words that were spoken during that meeting. I doubt if anyone does. But here's the gist of what took place. Meade, in command of the entire Union army, essentially asked for the opinion of his Corps commanders. That takes both humility and courage -- courage because what they said might have come out different from what you wanted. But it was important for Meade to ensure that everyone was on the same page. Here was an authority figure who cared about what others in his inner circle thought. He valued their opinions. Just another reason why I admire Meade so much. Turns out old goggle-eyed, snapping turtle Meade did an extraordinary job at Gettysburg, playing the cards he was dealt with exceptional skill. Even Robert E. Lee, some years after the war, commented, "Meade, in my judgment, had the greatest ability. I feared him more than any man I ever met upon the field of battle."
Just think. It was in this shabby little farmhouse that this conversation took place. I'm glad it was never torn down and forgotten. I think it holds lessons on leadership for us today.
7:58 AM The Peach Orchard. The Wheatfield. The Cornfield. The Sunken Road. Places in American history that, for better or for worse, earned the right of capitalization. The everyday became historic. At each place the stakes were high. At each, soldiers laid down their lives for their cause. I have great affection for these historic sites, which keep history alive. Many of the men who fought and died in these places had not been born in the United States. German, Italian, even Hawaiian immigrants formed a large part of the Union army. Hawaiian did you say? Yep. Just read this. 200 men from Hawaii served in the armed forces during the Civil War, including forces that fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. A film is currently being produced to document this historic fact (go here).
What were my ancestors doing during the war? My paternal great-grandparents were farmers and German Baptists. They lived beside a meandering creek in western Maryland. Part of a great battle was fought on or near their farm. They were the Millers. You will read about them if you study the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg.
History. How can you not love it?
Saturday, September 6
4:14 PM The ancient Greeks had a saying: gnothi seauton ("Know yourself"). In April of 1862, Union General George McClellan wrote about his potential adversaries Joseph Johnston and Robert E. Lee.
"I prefer Lee to Johnston -- the former is too cautious & weak under grave responsibility -- personally brave & energetic to a fault, yet he is wanting in moral firmness when pressed by responsibility & is likely to be timid & irresolute in action." Amazing. If you know anything about the Civil War, you know that McClellan isn't describing Lee but himself! He didn't know himself any better than he knew his enemies, including Lee.
3:48 PM A topic making the rounds in the blogosphere is the problem of evangelical superstardom and its consequences both for the church and for the church's witness in the world. First of all, let me say a word of appreciation to my own elders who have done a great service to the body by making decisions together and being accountable to each other. Moreover, our leadership has never been sensational or flamboyant, and their genuine humility (humility can't be faked) has helped our congregation avoid the superstar-loving mentality of the surrounding culture.
Whenever I think of the problem of superstardom, I think of Paul's correspondence with the Corinthian church. His approach to the problem of superstardom is thoroughly christocentric. His purpose is to bring the thought of every Christian (including the thought of every leader in the church) into obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:1-6) and to ensure that all boasting is boasting in the Lord alone (10:17). Believers must live with single-minded devotion to Christ (11:2). Today, I think our preoccupation with superstars stems from an inadequate understanding of Christ's sole headship and authority (Col. 1:18). Christians are called to ensure that Christ alone has the preeminence ("the first place") in everything and to see that He and He alone is acknowledged as the only Senior Pastor and Head of the body (1 Pet. 5:4). Paul's theology in 1-2 Corinthians is nothing than a theologia crucis, a theology of the cross -- that is, Christianity is the way of weakness (corporate and individual). "When weak ... then strong" (2 Cor. 12:10; see my book Paul, Apostle of Weakness). Everything Christians have they have in Christ. Nothing, therefore, is to be added to Christ and His archy (see my Christian Archy). The spectacular ego-stroking understanding of the Spirit that had infiltrated the Corinthian church must be stopped, says Paul, for the work of the church is to be the honoring of Jesus Christ. No leader, however "charismatic," can be allowed to supplant the sole supremacy of Christ. In Him we are all one, and whatever differences exist are primarily functional. The pastor/elder is therefore no more "spiritual" than the least impressive member of the body. Each part needs the other. Hence no part should feel either inferior or superior, for "God has arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as He chose" (1 Cor. 12:18). The result? A rich harmonizing of purpose (advancing the Great Cause) and an amazing supplementation of each other in the service of equipping the whole.
I encourage you to put no trust in a Christian "superstar." The only real security is in Christ and living His way.
9:50 AM It's a gigantic universe but a very small world.
Laniakea is our supercluster in the universe. But it's also a beach on the North Shore of Oahu that I often surfed in the winter time. Great waves too.
9:40 AM Sitting on the front porch last night enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream and homemade peach pie (courtesy of one of my daughters). Life don't get no betta!
Friday, September 5
5:22 PM New book on Hebrews. Looks promising.
5:18 PM Chatted yesterday with someone who is thinking about starting a blog. Though hardly an expert, I had this advice:
1) The first key to a successful blog is quality. "Content is king."
2) The second key is frequent updating.
3) Try to make your blog personal if you can.
I rather like blogging. Even now, 11 years after I began DBO, I still get excited about it. As a general rule, I will probably read your blog if you adhere to the above qualifications.
5:10 PM In his latest blog post, Thomas Hudgins calls our attention to a major conference on Erasmus' Greek New Testament to be held in Basel. Wish I could attend. In just two years, the city will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the publication of this, the first-ever published Greek New Testament, and what a celebration I imagine it will be. It is widely assumed that its publisher, Froben of Basel, had heard about the forthcoming Spanish/Catholic Polyglot and wanted to beat the good folks in Alcalá to the punch. A helpful resource is an essay written by my Basel Doktorvater: Bo Reicke, "Erasmus und die neutestamentliche Textgeschichte," Theologische Zeitschrift 22 (1966), pp. 254-265. Reicke coordinated the 450th anniversary celebration in Basel.
I love church history! I love Basel!
4:56 PM My thanks to Katy Isaacs, daughter of Kevin Brown, for a copy of her latest book. I finished reading it today.
Katy is one of the most remarkable young ladies I have ever known. Unlike many authors today who write for fame and money, she writes so that others might come to know Christ. The key, of course, is to have an ear cocked toward heaven above the constant drone of the humdrum.
Thank you, Katy, for writing this book. Looking forward to your next one.
10:12 AM Nice write-up here about my favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Raleigh: The Queen of Sheba. This will be the place where I will be commemorate my 38th wedding anniversary next week with family and friends.
9:10 AM The Christian Post is reporting some sad news: The president of a major Christian university is getting a divorce. I need to tread softly here. I do not know the couple. But any divorce is a tragedy. Any time we break our vows it is a tragedy. "Irreconcilable differences"? I think every marriage has them. On the other hand, Scripture allows for divorce in certain circumstances. The report does imply that the divorce has yet to be finalized; it's still in process. I am praying for this couple. I am asking God to work a miracle. Can God heal a broken marriage? The answer is yes -- in terms of the kingdom. A simple step of obedience can issue in the miraculous repair of something we think is a hopeless mess. I hope there is still time to restore a shattered relationship.
8:58 AM You'll get a kick out of this: 'Why are you still single?' My favorite comeback line?
8:38 AM Hey folks! Just a reminder that I'll have the honor of speaking at a major apologetics conference in Southern California next weekend. The details are here. Also, in case you didn't know it, Biola University's apologetics department has published a two-CD audio resource called Key Issues in New Testament Criticism by yours truly. It runs about 2 hours.
On another note, here at the farm I met yesterday with an elder from a church in North Raleigh whose leaders are planning a retreat at Rosewood next week. To date we have hosted many hundreds of guests here at the farm and indeed I must say (without any bias whatsoever) that the farm is very conducive to spiritual retreating. So, folks, let me know if you want to take advantage of it for anything from a personal retreat to a family reunion. The price is right (free). Finally (for now), I've heard from quite a number of you about my book on Becky's and my cancer journey, and I'm delighted you think it's a good idea. Thanks for your prayers as we begin this project.
Thursday, September 4
6:24 PM So what did the bachelor cook for supper tonight? Korean Bulgogi.
Yep. The real deal too. Well, truth be told, all I did was add some store-bought flavoring, and there you go. The purists might demur. But since I am the cook, I get to name my supper whatever I like. Oh, and here's yours truly putting everyone to sleep today in chapel.
Sounding like a broken record, I praised God that Christendom is dying a slow death in America, and I reminded these young people that God is positioning them to be used powerfully to advance His kingdom in the years ahead. And they don't have to graduate in order to get started. Thank you, Jon, for the gracious invitation to share the word today. I counted it a great privilege.
Oh, don't forget to pray for Saeed!
1:48 PM Just had the privilege of speaking in the chapel at Cresset Christian Academy in Durham. Actually, that was my excuse to go to Durham to visit with my daughter and her husband -- and the kiddos. Love my family!
8:15 AM "Do good because God wants you to be happy."
I'm not sure where we get the notion that Christianity is safe or the cause of ephemeral happiness. Sometimes people ask me if I'm afraid of going to places where the church is persecuted. I'm more afraid of the American suburbs to tell you the truth. Jesus told us not to fear the things that can destroy the body but to fear the things that can destroy the soul. The giddy American church is obsessed with happiness and infatuated with super-stars. Following Jesus is cool. Not to mention all the temporal benefits it brings.
Yeah, it's funny and disturbing to watch a video like this. But aren't we guilty of the same philosophy?
7:48 AM This morning I recived an email from a friend who lives in Odessa, Ukraine. He just visited Artiomovsk, Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, Lisichansk, Severodonetsk, Pervomaisk, and Mariupol. He met with local pastors and others who are living in the savage conditions of war. In his email he included letters from eyewitnesses. One such testimony reads as follows:
These believers are being challenged to follow Jesus to the max. While we in America find ourselves embroiled in the narrow issues that define conservatism, our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world are suffering unspeakable horrors. I challenge us to become radicals (in the original sense of the term -- people who want to get back to the roots of what it means to love and serve). Obviously, I have not cancelled my trip to Ukraine in November. The world will always be a scary and insane place. Christ is breathing new life into His body in Ukraine, and I want to be a part of it. No doubt, there is much you can do too. Begin by praying. Pray for the moneychangers to be driven out of the temple. Pray for the little voices, the ordinary radicals who are trying to love their enemies. Pray for a new kind of Christianity in Ukraine, a new kind of revolution. Pray for unity among God's people both there and here, whether Republicans or Democrats, capitalists or socialists, pacifists or just-warriors.
Pray for the peace of Ukraine.
7:32 AM Kevin Brown's latest blog post (Who Has Access to Your Brain?) has me all choked up.
Where to start?
I can't read anything Kevin says without feeling totally unworthy of his remarks (not an exaggeration). I am woefully inadequate to mentor him or anyone else for that matter. It's hard to explain how Kevin's words encouraged my heart just as they were breaking it. I am utterly overwhelmed by what I read. Honestly, I just can't get used to it -- being considered someone's mentor. It was just yesterday, wasn't it, when I was sitting at the feet of Jim Cook at International Baptist Church in Honolulu or Harry Sturz at Biola or Bo Reicke in Basel? I'm so encouraged to know that God does indeed provide us with mentors when we most need them. Kevin, I'm floored by your kindness and your heart for truth and genuineness. One thing I cling to is the knowledge that you would never follow me as you do Jesus. I'm so grateful for your friendship. This is jumbled I know, but so are my thoughts right now. All I want to say is God bless you. There is still so much learning and growing I need to do. You have been a spur to my own walk with the Lord.
7:22 AM Civil War trivia -- true or false:
1) Union General Abner Doubleday invented baseball. False.
2) Prostitutes became known as "hookers" because of Union General Joseph Hooker's predilections. False.
3) "Sideburns" get their name from Union General Ambrose Burnside. True.
You can't believe everything you read. Even the "experts" make mistakes. So test everything (1 Thess. 5:21). Be a Berean.
Wednesday, September 3
8:15 PM Well, several of you talked me into it. I've decided to write the story of Becky's (and my) cancer journey from the perspective of what it looked like as her husband. I'm tentatively calling the book Grace for Each Hour: A Care-Giver's Story of Cancer, Loss, and Hope. I hope the book will be honest, sensitive, and occasionally humorous. Please pray for me. Honestly, I don't know if I'm up to it. But I want to write it for the honor of the Lord, who kept me going when I stumbled and who infused my grief with hope. May the blessing of God be upon this project. Ready or not, it has begun.
Let me know if you're praying for me, will you?
7:26 PM Help needed! I have a student in my doctoral seminar who is looking for the following essay:
It's not available in our library. Please let me know if you can help us out at email@example.com.
7:18 PM Let's say your husband or wife was in prison simply for being a Christian. How would you feel? That's the case with Saeed Abedini. I hope you will consider joining me in praying for him on the second anniversary of his arrest (Sept. 26). I believe that God can release him. I believe God can keep him faithful to the Gospel even in prison. After all, as Christians we believe in things we don't see (Heb. 11:1). If you have the gift of frustration and the sense that this old world is in a pickle, thank God for that. Not everybody shares your vision. The true servant of Christ realizes that obedience will often be dangerous and unpleasant. But such servanthood is the normal Christian life, or ought to be. I am boldly asking you to join me in fulfilling Heb. 13:3: "Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them." God is, after all, in the prisoner-loving business. Thank you.
7:02 PM Taking the quiz today over chapter 3. I was so nervous!
8:34 AM Look who's memorizing Philippians in Greek.
8:23 AM Lincoln's Gettysburg Address said the same thing as Edward Everett's speech but in 1/60th the time. Less is more.
(Just in case you were wondering why my books are getting shorter.)
8:16 AM Glory be. Abidan Shaw has already scheduled me for my next podcast interview with him for next Tuesday at 3:30. The topic? Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I think he likes my books.
8:02 AM I forgot to show you pix of the conference center in PA. Here's the chapel and dining hall.
And here's the lodge where guests stay.
The whole place is serene and picturesque. It's not uncommon to watch deer bounding across a field and disappear into the brush or see a wild turkey race along like Beep Beep the Road Runner then flee around a curve in the road, looking as though it should be accompanied by skidding sound effects. At night the place sounds like a bullfrog on steroids, amplified with a loud speaker. It leaves an impression, I tell you. Thomas and Lesly drove up from Maryland for the weekend. Here he is lecturing me -- again. I like him anyway.
Ken Coley message's was on "wholeheartedness." Loved it.
Again, I want to thank Ken and Kathy for the honor it was to serve them (and the Lord) this weekend in Pennsylvania. And oh, by the way, the food was really good.
Tuesday, September 2
6:35 PM This and that ....
1) Enjoyed lunch today with Kevin Brown and his daughter Kandace at the Red Robin in Wake Forest. What did we talk about? Missions of course. Kevin (who blogs here) and I are so much on the same page that it's downright scary. We agree that the most important thing is to employ material things for the kingdom of God rather than ourselves or our own churches. I am thrilled to be able to speak to his congregation later this year and share with them my vision for India. Thank you, Kevin and Kandace, for driving all the way from North Wilkesboro to have lunch with this old geezer!
2) My recent podcast interview about my book Why Four Gospels? is now available at the Hoi Polloi website. I love interviewing with Abidan.
3) Greek 1 students! Be sure to check out this parsing guide to all of the verbs in the exercises from chapter 3 (due tomorrow). And thanks to Jacob Cerone for this labor of love.
4) Why participles are important. (From our Greek 3 class today.)
5) The "Our Father" written to honor Hugo Chavez?
6:12 AM It was 10 months ago today that Becky passed into the arms of her Savior. What to write? My mind draws a blank this morning. So let me share with you the words I posted on my blog an hour after her passing. Blessings, Dave
The moment I have dreaded, and the moment I have been praying for, has arrived. Exactly one hour ago my beloved wife, precious lover, mother of my children, and closest partner in the Gospel, surrounded by friends and family, crossed the finished line. Yes, folks, she made it.
Hooray for Becky!
Three cheers for my gal!
You did it, honey!
Faithful to the end!
Praise the Lord!
Glory to God in the highest!
In case you didn't know, Becky is scheduled to receive official sainthood from the Church. Well, not really. But she should. Why? Because she married the world's biggest knucklehead. For 37 years she put up with his rough-sawn personality and taught him how to love other people. She is one of a handful of people you will never forgot. God used her time and again to remind me what life is all about -- that people are more important than one's profession. You really gotta hand it to old Solomon when he penned Proverbs 31. How in the world could he describe Becky when he had never even met her? I bet he's standing in line to greet her now. I can't imagine the crown that's awaiting her as she enters her heavenly Home. "'Crown' did you say, Dave?"
Honey, if I could send you a letter up there in glory, it would probably say something this:
This morning, I held my wife's cold hand as she took her final breath. I wish you could have seen her face. I have never in my 61 years witnessed anything more beautiful. Oh my Becky, how beautiful art thou! The moment she crossed the finished line a huge sense of joy swelled my breast as I thought of what she was doing that very moment at the feet of Jesus. Then I led the family in prayer and we sang the doxology.
The Scripture says, "Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His holy ones." No, I did not write "saints." If ever there was a holy one, that person was Becky Lynn Lapsley Black. Her life was separated, sanctified for the Master's use -- every last cell of it, even the cancerous ones. She has left a legacy that will last into eternity. Will you, will I, follow her lead? Will we live as well as she did, and die as well?
Fare thee well, my darling. I love you with all of my heart. You loved me well. I shall never, ever forget you.
Monday, September 1
8:58 PM "Never let your studies interfere with your education." Mark Twain.
8:25 PM Hey folks! I'm back after a whirlwind trip to the great state of Pennsylvania. I tell you, it feels good to be blogging again. The other day Henry Neufeld and I were talking about the joys of blogging. Seems he's been blogging up a storm lately as have several of my favorite bloggers (Jacob Cerone -- welcome back!). I think many of us find blogging to be both addictive and inspiring. I can see why it's still so popular despite Facebook and Twitter. While some people seem to struggle to post a pic or a comment on Facebook, bloggers are having fun writing away with whatever thoughts come to mind. I once thought about opening a Twitter account but then decided against it. Blogging is lots more fun. I realized I had stumbled onto ideas that people seem to really care about. I write for folks who like to cogitate but who also enjoy curling up in the sofa with something that's unpredictable. When I'm reading other people's blogs, I'm always looking for quick bursts of motivation. If the blogger is personable, so much the better. As I read blogs like Henry's and Jacob's I discover lots of new ideas that get my own writing juices flowing. You know, blogging can either be a huge waste of time or a very productive avocation. In the end, it's become one of my most high-value activities as it nurtures my own soul and hopefully the souls of my readers.
Well, as I said, I just returned from 4 days in Gettysburg speaking at a conference as well as revisiting the site of the nation's bloodiest battle. When it comes to the Civil War, I am mercifully free of all bias on the one hand and personal advocacy on the other. And oh -- I've got some beach-front property in Fargo, North Dakota for sale as well. Actually, it's probably impossible to find a completely unbiased American when it comes to the war, perhaps least of all in Gettysburg. Through the town men and women in Union blue and Confederate gray weave their way through the crowds, doing their best to remain in period. Not a few of them are severely overweight -- which would have been an absurdity back in the 1860s. Period music wafts through the air, while suttlers push their wares, and store owners sell their gaudy Gettysburg t-shirts by the hundreds. I enter a friend's photo studio on Steinwehr Blvd.
Rob Gibson is known and revered throughout the reenacting community as perhaps the best period photographer in America. As I climb the stairs to his studio I hear Rob explaining to a group of tourists how a tintype works. Many people are too frugal to sign up for a portrait, but yours truly, under pressure from a good friend who dared me, I stop and pose as one of the more famous combatants of the battle.
Rob gave me the jpeg, which I sent out to my family and friends with the caption: "Look who I ran into while in Gettysburg. Looks a little miffed that he lost the battle."
There seems something both silly and noble about trying to portray a man like Robert E. Lee. But Gettysburg will do that to you. One can't help but feel overwhelmed, excited, amazed, and humbled that an actual battle took place right where you're standing. Like millions of other Americans, I found it engrossing. Having my likeness taken is a reminder that the soldiers who lived 150 years ago and who stare at us from the old daguerreotypes are really not all that different from most of us today except for all that facial hair. I have been to Gettysburg 5 times and still I find the site of Pickett's Charge mindboggling. I have reenacted the assault 4 times, twice in a full woolen uniform. This time I did it in shorts and sunglasses with a bunch of buddies who met me for breakfast in town. It was their first time to cross "that bloody space." We talked about the war and about reenacting. Much to my surprise, none of them had attended a big event. You've never really lived until you've spent the day roasting under a July sun confronted by faux-officers brandishing period sabers in front of a long row of Porta-Potties. Over here is JEB Stuart, instantly recognizable by his red beard and plumed hat, while over there stands Lee himself, resplendent in his colonel's uniform. My Yankee friends would be able to recognize Grant and Meade in their new blue uniforms. Irony of ironies, Meade's statue at Gettysburg is dwarfed by Lee's. Lee you can lionize and certainly Grant, but Meade? Still, I give old Meade a lot of credit -- a lot of credit -- for the Union victory at Gettysburg. That day the South was outmanned, outgunned, and outgeneraled. Stuart had foolishly deprived the Army of Northern Virginia of its eyes and ears; Longstreet was slow and half-hearted; Ewell's bloodied and tired men failed to take Cemetery Ridge. Meade, on the other hand, was as tough as nails and all over the battlefield, personally directing his troops. As my friends and I made it past the Emmitsburg Road and began to climb Cemetery Ridge to the Bloody Angle and Copse of Trees, I thought of Pickett's famous answer to the question of why his division's attack failed. "I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it," was his laconic reply. Last Friday, my friends and I stood on the very place where hundreds of Americans were killed, blown apart by musket fire or double canister. During a Civil War reenactment, Federals and Confederates blast away at each other, but no one dies. Not so on July 1-3, 1863. War happened, it really happened, and the results are more significant that the 1,400 plaques and monuments you see plastered all over the battlefield. As Faulkner once said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Gettysburg proved that the seemingly invincible Lee could be defeated. It also led to heroic acts of kindness on both sides. Take the field hospital that was set up at the Lutheran Theological Seminary along Seminary Ridge. I had always wanted to climb into the cupola that stands atop Schmucker Hall (as the building is called). What would General John Buford have seen from those heights? Well, last week I wrote Mark Hoffman, who teaches New Testament and Greek at the seminary. I told him, "Basically you don't know me from Adam, but since we are colleagues and both teach Greek, perhaps you might be willing to do me a big favor and see if I can get up into the cupola during my visit." Mark wrote back a very cordial letter with the surprising and welcome news that the building has been turned into a museum, and that anybody can tour the copula by paying an admissions price.
Both Isaac Trimble and James Kemper (Confederate generals) were treated here after the battle, along with hundreds of wounded from both sides. Below I am standing in the exact spot where Sam Elliott (playing Union General John Buford in the movie Gettysburg) calls down to General Reynolds and says, "There's a devil to pay."
The seminary even allows skirmishing on its property each year. It has four stories of unforgettable displays, like this one showing Union wounded after the first day of battle.
I was ecstatic to have been in the cupola. The view was more than spectacular. The rest of my time in Pennsylvania was spent speaking at a conference at the Middle Creek Bible Conference Center in Fairfield, only a few miles from the Round Tops.
My hosts were Kathy and Ken Coley. The retreat center has been in Kathy's family for years. It's 535 acres of pristine Pennsylvania farmland devoted in its entirety to King Jesus. I was joined by my new friends Matt Olson (former president of Northland Bible Institute) and David Foster (a biology prof at Messiah College), both of whom brought excellent messages.
I spoke twice on missions and sacrifice in the cause of the Gospel (no surprises there, I suppose). Definitely a great time. A thousand thanks to the Coleys for their gracious invitation to minister the word. I kept praying that the Lord would fill us up with love and strength and wisdom so that we could all go back to our daily routines and pour ourselves out all over again. I'm starting to think He may well have accomplished that. To Him be the glory. Here's a few more pix for you to enjoy while I go and cook supper. Good night.
The place where General Armistead was mortally wounded.
The Codori farm, famous for being right on the Emmitsburg Road.
This is the ground Lee's men had to cover to reach the stone wall on the third day.
Lee's HQ. It's only a block from the Lutheran Seminary.
The site where John Reynolds was killed while leading his First Corps against Heth.
I drove up to Cashtown to see the place where Lee's troops bivouacked the night before the battle.
Pickett's reconstructed "Division."
The Virginia Monument on Confederate Ave. Our "charge" began there.
We reach the Emmitsburg Road!
During the last few yards, we went at the double quick. There's Armistead (Ken Coley) waving his hat.
Standing with Michael Cooper-White (to my right) and Mark Hoffman, president and professor of New Testament respectively at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg. Two more gracious hosts I have never met.
The Round Tops as seen from the Longstreet overview along Confederate Hwy.
Rob Gibson displays his magic. I was tongue-tied.