Saturday, May 18
10:18 AM Okay, folks, Becky's done it again -- written a fantastic essay. It's called Living with Resilience. It's a great reminder from someone who walks the talk.
9:33 AM Glad to report that 12 students have joined my "Five Minute Greek Club" this summer (where you translate two verses of Greek daily and thus earn a copy of one of my books for free in the fall). I'm also looking over the class list of my Greek 1 course that starts on Monday. The class has been closed at 40, which a good mixture of college and seminary students. This will mark my 37th year of teaching Greek. I never tire of it.
9:15 AM Just received this photo from one of our Korean grads:
Thank you, Peter!
9:10 AM Do you remember Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top? He was born in Maine and educated at Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. His teaching career at Bowdoin was a stellar one. As Professor of Natural and Revealed Religion, he spoke seven languages. After Gettysburg he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1871 he was persuaded to accept the presidency of Bowdoin, where he reshaped the curriculum to include modern scientific and engineering subjects. It is mainly as an educator that I remember him. Jeff Shaara, in his outstanding book Gods and Generals, describes Chamberlain's style of teaching (p. 198):
I fondly remember the Joshua Chamberlains who taught me at Biola, at Talbot, in Basel. Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about learning. Good teachers genuinely respect their students and show it. They have no need to require attendance since their students are their peers in the learning process. Good teaching is about style as much as it is about substance. Good teaching is about mentoring, about listening, questioning, seeking and eliciting responses. It expects students to accept responsibility for their own education.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a good teacher. His qualities are worthy of emulation today.
8:54 AM Right now I'm reviewing my lessons on Philippians for my June class at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Pennsylvania. The book, of course, is all about missions. Talk about practical applications.
1) For starters: The church at Philippi began in the place of prayer. That was due to Lydia, you will recall. For example, our Ethiopia 2013 team dares to do nothing without intensive prayer. The team will pray, as a team, twice daily. And, as you know, Becky will provide a prayer itinerary for you all of you to use. Why? "We have this treasure in earthen jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power might be of God and not of us."
2) Then, too, have you noticed that women played a very prominent role in Philippi? This included Lydia as well as Euodia and Syntyche. Many on our team are females. Truth is: we could not do this work without the ladies, and this includes one special lady who is phenomenally gifted in organization.
3) The ladies in Philippi, unfortunately, began quarreling. It was such a grave danger to the Gospel that Paul had to confront them -- by name -- in 4:2. We leave for Ethiopia aware of the dangers that face us externally but the even graver danger of internal strife. Disunity is a sin that threatens the heart of the church. It destroys the church's witness and effectiveness. It was abhorrent to Jesus, who prayed that we "may be one." I think it helps to recognize that this is a constant danger and to pray accordingly.
4) Paul addresses both the saints and those who oversee and serve (these are not titles) in 1:1. These latter folk are not "over" the others but "alongside" them. Every member of our team is a priest, a minister, a servant. Yet there are leaders. Bottom line: on our team we have some leaders and some followers but we are all slaves of Jesus.
5) Oh, and how about the theme of "joy"? Paul is joyful! The Philippians are joyful! I'd say our team is very joyful! You know why so many Christians are unhappy? Because they fail to acquire what they think is essential to their happiness. (I know this from many years of experience.) The key to joyful Christian living is acquiring what will bring true, lasting joy. For Paul, that was partnering in the Gospel (1:5) -- becoming a Great Commission Christian. So, Paul can be in prison and still rejoice because the Gospel is being proclaimed. Now, I admit I haven't always had that kind of joy but I do now, and I want to taste more of it.
6) Missions is the work of God. See 1:6. Yes, we will preach "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." But the work of the Gospel is the work of God from beginning to end. To return to Lydia for a moment, here's a wonderful verse that says it all: "The Lord opened her heart to listen to what was said by Paul" (Acts 16:14). I am praying for the Lord to open many hearts on our trip this summer. That's His job, not mine.
7) Finally, Paul prays that the Philippians might "choose what is best" (1:9-10). Christianity gives us a new priority system. A new value system. What's best? Not my health. Not my comfort. But the Gospel. As Paul says in 3:4-11, everything the world values turns out to be unspeakable filth in comparison to Jesus.
Well, you didn't need this little sermon, but I did. Between now and December I will leave for Ethiopia and then Asia and then Guyana and then India and then Asia again, no doubt a bit bedraggled in body but convinced that my calling in life is not to be just a Greek teacher (or even a just Greek teacher) but to be a Christian.
"Join me in suffering for the sake of the Good News, with God's power," wrote Paul in 2 Tim. 1:8. Okay Paul, I'll give it another whack.
Friday, May 17
7:32 PM It's early evening. Nigusse is recording a book in Amharic, while Becky and one of her adopted daughters are working over at Maple Ridge. I'm sitting here at the computer trying to take it all in. I honestly can't say enough about today's commencement service at the seminary. I think everyone was ready to breathe one long collective sigh of relief that the school year was finally over. Now all that's left is to pray that these graduates would find their fulfillment in serving Jesus. I'm ready to see God do great things through them. I am now, more than ever, convinced that nothing is more important in life than putting our God-given assets in service to His kingdom, and that includes whatever paltry academic achievements we have been blessed to have earned. And earned they were. Just ask my two doctoral students. They worked their tails off. But God's grace was (and is) always sufficient, both for them and for me. There are so many things I love about teaching. But at the top of the list is watching well-educated men and women place their learning at the feet of Jesus and live out the love He's given them to share. Add to this the fact that we are privileged to have the most beautiful campus on earth bar none, and you can see why I feel super blessed today. He is making everything new, and that's true whether you have just earned a doctorate or whether you are serving Jesus in absolute obscurity. Folks, I'm officially declaring today a day of rejoicing and praise to the One who makes all things possible. Care to join us in the celebration?
Pix (of course):
1) My my, but don't I look somber.
2) Here we are hooding my Ph.D. student Paul Himes.
3) Here's Paul with his dad, a missionary to Japan for over 30 years.
4) My only other doctoral student to graduate today is Thomas Hudgins, who also served as the first assistant to the chair I am honored to hold, the Dr. M. O. Owens Jr. Chair in New Testament.
5) Here's one brudda from da Islands. Poor Jayson, his prof is still telling him what to do.
6) We LOVE our international students.
7) Guess what? Today Becky was able to attend the service with us. The icing on the cake.
P.S. If you'd like to see the "SEBTS faculty shuffle," go here.
7:02 AM Memorial Day is fast approaching. Years ago Jacque Ellul warned us that the greatest danger to liberty in Western society proceeds from the military-political state born of a dream of utopian perfection on earth. It seems clear to me that Ellul has touched on something of very great importance. As one who rejected out of hand the para-Marxist realism of my practical theology professors in Basel, I find it just as easy to part company with those on the theological right who argue that evangelicals should inject Christianity into politics. A close reading of the Gospels would show that the opposite is true. Neither Jesus nor His disciples ever engaged in or showed any interest in politics. Our Lord refused to be the political liberator of Israel. I fully agree with the Anabaptists that the state is meant to be secular and that a dualism exists between church and state, between political power and the proclamation of the Gospel. There is in my opinion neither "Christian" liberalism nor "Christian" conservatism. Equally valid (or invalid) perspectives can be found on both sides, but there are no Christian grounds for preferring one side over the other. If Jesus was a capitalist (or a socialist, or a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian), I fail to see anywhere in the Gospels where He has made that known to us. The fact is that political loyalties are always relative and determined for purely individual and conscience reasons.
To state that the church should reject any form of allegiance with politics does not, of course, imply the separation of church from society or that Christians should not hold or express political views. Quite the opposite is true. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord over all things means that we will seek to be biblically informed about our political decisions and discussions. But it does not mean that a Christian politician can claim to support distinctively "Christian" policies any more than an auto mechanic can claim that he practices distinctively "Christian" car repair. It is the duty of the church to penetrate society as salt and light – this is acknowledged by all – but it fails in that duty when it rubberstamps the platform of politicians of any stripe. According to the Scriptures, the church is not a political community at all. It is a brotherhood that proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord and that expects the coming of his kingdom – or, to put it another way, a brotherhood that lives with a view to the time when Christ will ultimately prevail over all earthly kingdoms. The church knows, therefore, that it lives in the midst of an eschaton that has not yet come, and that the polar realities of the church and the world are the twin sociological units within which it lives. We must be very careful, then, not to confuse the kingdom of heaven with the kingdom of man even as we love and serve the world in Jesus' name. Whatever political differences exist between Christians can be transcended by the common ground of the cross and empty tomb.
(For more, see The Jesus Paradigm).
6:43 AM Good morning, graduates! On Tuesday I mentioned that one of the dangers of the institutionalized form of Christianity is that it fosters a status structure. These structures are perhaps unavoidable in a fallen world. In a highly competitive society, we establish our self worth by rising to the top of our professions. Success is defined by achievement. Even children feel unaccepted unless they are achieving -- or excelling. We talk about "career moves." Even pastors talk this way. "My next church will be a very important move in my career." Status symbols mean everything. At the bottom of the ladder is the pastor of a small rural church. At the top is the "senior pastor" of a large suburban church. How many associates you have under you is also a status symbol. In our prestigious universities, a "successful professor" is one who works for his own fame or perhaps the fame of the institution, while the students are exposed to second-class teachers. The pressure to participate in the rat race is overwhelming. Salaries, even in the pastorate, are competitive. Go-getters prosper. If you are "on the ball" or "well-liked" by the right people you can jump over the heads of your peers. Worth is often defined in terms of bigness -- bigger churches, bigger staffs, bigger budgets, bigger popularity, bigger authority. Academic degrees become more important than character. How can a man in his 50s who pastors a small country church, who is getting nowhere as far as his vocation is concerned, be considered "great"? Yet the words of Jesus are clear: "Many who are first will be last, and the last first" (Mark 10:31). In one stroke Jesus deflates our hankering for status by redefining greatness:
In Jesus' kingdom, humble servants are honored, not assertive individualists. Slogans, titles, status symbols mean nothing. Each of His followers is treated with equality, dignity, and respect. Everyone matters. There are no small people. Each one of us has a gift from the Holy Spirit. We equally esteem each contribution, whether seminary teaching or cemetery mowing. And we use our positions and power to serve God's kingdom.
Thursday, May 16
7:49 PM Today has been a good day. I've been thinking a lot about and praying for our graduates tomorrow. You will begin writing a new chapter of your life. Truly, you will be stepping out into the deep waters of life. Obstacles aplenty there will be, too. When General George Pickett was asked to explain the failure of his charge at Gettysburg, he dryly replied, "I think the Union Army had something to do with it." Yet press on you must. There's a good reason why tomorrow's celebration is called "commencement." Nothing is really coming to an end. The Battle of El Alamein was the turning point of World War II for the British Army. Winston Churchill said of it, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Happy "End of the Beginning" to each and every one of you. You've done us and the Lord proud.
9:28 AM It's that time of the year when everybody is buying textbooks for the summer term. And it's no easy task to assign texts these days. Sit down with most any textbook and you'll discover that after a brief period you can't read it. It's too textbooky, too factual, too dull, too dry. Believe me, I know: I've produced my share of them. What brings on this long-winded, heart-breaking wordiness? I'm not sure, but I have a hunch. Everyone who writes textbooks knows that they are written for teachers, not for students. As long as the textbook pleases the teacher it will make the revered and unassailable list of "required reading." Students will be forced to read it, whether it is well-written or not. I think we textbook writers are finally wising up, though. About two or three books into my writing career I decided I would try to write for the student and not for the teacher. (Whether I have succeeded is up to you, dear reader, to decide.) This means that a good textbook will have a simple style. It may even contain personal anecdotes, cartoons, jokes, puns, and -- dare I say it? -- first person pronouns. Scholars will call it unacademic, but students will love it. And, after all, we're here to serve them, aren't we?
What do you think?
9:21 AM Speaking of Ethiopia, a wise old preacher once said, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Eccl. 3:1). It seems that in this season of my life God has called me to be intentional in carrying out His loving and merciful purposes in the nations of this world. As long ago as 1906 G. Campbell Morgan said, "Any man or woman in the church who does not know what it is to share the travail that makes his kingdom come is dishonest and disloyal to Jesus Christ." The early Christians found out that there was no joy like the joy of sharing Jesus with others. They saw evangelism as enabling people to escape from the snares of the devil and be transformed from darkness into light. Once you have been gripped by the need of people who do know the Lord Jesus Christ, you will need no other to reason to spread the Good News about Him with every person you can possibly reach.
To be quite frank, nothing in my life has brought me as much joy as being about the Gospel business. Missionary work allows me to participate in the greatest commission ever given to believers – to make disciples of the nations through Christ’s authority and presence (Matt. 28:18-20). This is the primary way the church glorifies God, and the heart of the great commission is to "make disciples." The tense of the command implies, “Do it, and do it now!” I admit that I have not always felt this urgency. But I do now, and I look forward to discovering in the future even more deeply what it means to disciple the nations for Christ. Notice that there is no option in Jesus’ command. Either we are doing it or else we or not. Either we are being obedient or we are not. There can be no disciple-making without a spirit of intentionality – a spirit of active pursuit that looks for opportunities to evangelize and edify. A great commission person is sharply focused. He or she doesn’t get bogged down in selfish agendas or the soft cultural values of modern American life. A great commission person is one who chooses to be so. We must be intentional about going into our communities and our world in order to turn people into committed followers of Christ. I have decided that my focus in life must be on making disciples. If a ministry does not aim at making disciples, why do it? I am learning to measure everything I do by whether it contributes to the disciple-making process.
If nothing else, missionary work has challenged my smugness and lethargy. I was born and raised in laid-back Hawaii. My spiritual muscles are naturally flabby and soft. But Jesus calls us to deny many of the comforts and pleasures we take for granted every day. His disciples saw how He refused the things they cherished – physical pleasure, popular approval, prestige – and accepted willingly the things they sought to escape – poverty, humiliation, sorrow, even death. In ministering to the sick, comforting the sorrowful, and preaching the Gospel to the poor, Jesus showed us that no service was too small and so sacrifice too great when it is done in His name. Being a missionary has forced me to renew my dependence on the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of God can enable believers to carry on the redemptive tasks of evangelism and edification in the midst of the watchful eyes of others. I teach three classes each semester, but on the mission field class is always in session. Our every word and deed is constantly scrutinized by believers and unbelievers alike. We must be willing to be transparent, and the people to whom we open our lives will see our many shortcomings. But hopefully they will also see that the heart of the whole miraculous drama we call salvation is dependent not on any man but on One who sacrificed self for the blessing of others.
Someone once said that to be "in Christ" is to be "involved." A burden is not a burden as long as it is on the ground. Only when it is on our own shoulders is it a burden. Have you taken up the burden of world evangelization? May the Spirit be the prime mover in our hearts today. For only He can give us a desire to see the nations reached with the Gospel. Not only can He break us of the pride and lethargy that come so naturally to us, He can thrust us out into the mission fields of the world so that our lives bear much fruit for Him.
9:15 AM An unknown writer once penned the following limerick: "There was a young poet in Japan,/Whose poetry no one could scan./When told it was so,/He replied, 'Yes, I know,/But I try to get as many words in the last line as I can.'" I am currently chin-deep in preparing my lectures to be given at the Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa in July. I am going to try and speak to the issue of translating the poetry of the New Testament into English, using the ISV New Testament as an example of what might be done in this area. The larger issue I would like to address is the question of why we as students of the New Testament are so insensitive to the rhetorical level of language when it comes to reading and interpreting our Bibles. I think Old Testament scholars are doing a much better job of it than we are, but we can all do better both to understand and translate the poetry of the Bible. Why am I so concerned about this matter? Only because my view of verbal-plenary inspiration extends not only to the words of the Bible but also to the rhetorical devices that God the Holy Spirit led the writers to employ. Shouldn’t that drive us all to be sensitive to this level of language as a meaningful level for receptors?
9:12 AM I love the idea behind the Texas German Dialect Project. It's highlighted in this recent BBC report. As Texas German dies out, scholars are beginning to record it. There remain only about 8,000 speakers today in a part of Texas that looks a lot like Germany. An example of this peculiar dialect:
Isn't that quaint? I would love to get back to the Texas Hill Country again and speak German with these folks.
9:08 AM I must break the news to you that I have decided to review my French, starting today. I cannot help it. I enjoy speaking in tongues too much to stop. Language study is a great work upon which to engage one's mind, and is a solace for my senility.
9:02 AM Congratulations to all of our LXX students who did so well on their recitations yesterday. Here's Psalm 1 in Hebrew:
And in Greek:
Wednesday, May 15
8:32 PM Raked and baled a couple of small fields today. Great fun. Perfect weather. Good fellowship. Excellent hay. Already have a buyer too. God is good, all the time.
8:12 PM When we first moved to the East Coast 15 years ago, we were invited to participate in a Civil War reenactment in the historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Battle of New Market was fought on this day in 1864 and is famous because of the exploits of a young group of cadets from the Virginia Military Academy who were called upon at the last minute.
I'll never forget the reenactment we did. Our unit was encamped alongside the Interstate the night before the battle. Needless to say, no one got any sleep that night. I was overwhelmed at first by the miserable conditions, but one incident, trivial enough in itself, comforted me quite out of proportion to its importance. During the reenactment a huge thunderstorm descended upon us troops, scattering the spectators to the four winds. We, of course, kept fighting. ("The show must go on.") In retrospect I reflected that this was only appropriate as the original battle had been fought during a severe rain storm. The scene was later dubbed "The Field of Shoes" since so many soldiers, on both sides, were deprived of their foot wear because of the mud. In these untoward conditions, the participation of the VMI cadets achieved a direct benefit for the Southern forces.
Likewise, it must be remembered that the youth in our churches are no less to be involved in the work of the ministry today. This summer, in fact, several young adults will be traveling with us to Ethiopia to serve under difficult circumstances. It will be the rainy season, and rain and mud will be our likely companions. But these "thorns in the cushion" -- as Thackeray once called them -- are not deadly, and indeed I find such obstacles fascinating and exhilarating. Young and old alike will face the elements, and a lot more. A friend of mine once said to me, "You know, Dave, there is no teenage Holy Spirit and adult Holy Spirit. There's just the Holy Spirit." He was right. The VMI cadets at New Market delivered a sharp hammer blow to the Federals, enough force to do more than surprise. They turned the tide of battle. The extraordinary event that occurred exactly 149 years ago today is a stark reminder of what a group of young people can do when sufficiently motivated and equipped. (I think my friend Kevin Brown would agree.)
8:02 PM Good evening, blogging buds! I suppose everyone's seen Ariel Castro's backyard by now.
When I lived in Europe I often rode the train, and I would frequently travel through the residential parts of small towns. The tracks would often run along the back side of a row of houses, and I got a good view of the backyards and porches. Many yards were filled with junk—they obviously hadn't been cleaned in years and had become catchalls for odds and ends. Had I been able to walk down the front street instead, I imagine I would have found these homes quite respectable. But because visitors don't usually enter from the rear, the backyards tend to be neglected.
It's easy to keep up a good front when you’re a Christian, but the backyard of our minds and hearts can become cluttered with much that no one should ever see. The Pharisees were good at decorating the front yard in a profession of public piety, but the Lord condemned them for their hidden sins. The Bible says that all things are open and naked before the eyes of God. You and I can only look on the outward appearance, but God sees our hearts in their deepest recesses, grunge and all. The Psalmist prayed, "Cleanse me from secret faults" (Psalm 19:12), and I too must pray for cleansing. Moreover, I must be willing to get rid of all the "stuff" that displeases my heavenly Father.
One of the first passages my Greek students translate is 1 John 1:9: "If we make it our habit to confess our sins [rather than justifying them or rationalizing them away, see vv. 6, 8, and 10], He is faithful and just to forgive us the [aforementioned] sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Here the verb confess means something like "openly acknowledge," and the verb tense suggests continuous or habitual action. I have found that one of the most important aspects of my Christian walk is ongoing confession of sin. When is the right time to confess a sin? The moment we become aware of it. This means that most of us will have to confess our sins on a daily basis. We know we are saved because we have Christ in our lives, but daily confession is fundamental.
God, in His grace and mercy, offers forgiveness and cleansing to confessing Christians. But practicing daily confession of sin is not easy or always pleasant. As Erwin Lutzer has said, "Forgiveness is always free. But that doesn't mean that confession is always easy. Sometimes it is hard. Incredibly hard. It is painful (sometimes literally) to admit our sins and entrust ourselves to God’s care."
God's invitation to us today is clear. Why would anyone want to live with the guilt and despair of sin? Why would we wish to risk so much for so little? Why would we want to live like spiritual paupers and with such mediocre results in our lives and churches and in the propagation of the Gospel around the world?
Tuesday, May 14
4:48 AM Looking forward to our study of the doctrine of the church on Sunday mornings. Much of what we call "church" today originated, not in the New Testament, but in post-apostolic times.
The New Testament shows us that the need great of modern Christianity is to return to biblical faithfulness and the profound simplicity of the New Testament.
4:40 AM William Gurnall was a Church of England minister who lived in the seventeenth century. In the introduction to his classic work on Eph. 6:10-17 he writes, in the elevated prose of his day:
"Send faith oft up the hill of promise." We are all likely to need this word of encouragement today. Whatever trials we might have to endure this day, we can face the battles of life with blessed assurance. We can enter our battles with genuine optimism and with complete confidence that we will emerge victorious. Gurnall was expressing his unflinching faith in one decisive fact -- that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
4:32 AM This week I finish my 15th year at SEBTS and my 36th year of fulltime teaching. What an undeserved blessing. Congratulations to the class of 2013. Every seminary grad needs to read Nate Claiborne's post called Theological Identity Crisis. He writes:
"Play the pope." That would be funny if it wasn't so true. Students, let's never forget who we are: fallen human beings. Wear your learning humbly.